Pearce Mining Metropolis

Arizona Capitol Reports Staff//September 9, 2016

Pearce Mining Metropolis

Arizona Capitol Reports Staff//September 9, 2016

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This board and batten shack at the mining camp of Pearce in southeastern Arizona was photographed sometime after 1894, the year of a gold and silver strike there. The shack appears to have been built in two pieces – an addition is tacked on to the side of the main room with a one-by-four. The incongruous address above the doorway suggests that the shack was hauled from another location – perhaps Tombstone. The seated man is identified as Monte Montgomery.

The gold and silver strike at Pearce was made by Cornishman James Pearce in 1894. He was a hardrock miner who had lived in Tombstone during its heyday. His wife had run a boarding house; the couple lived frugally and finally saved enough to buy a cattle ranch in the Sulphur Springs Valley.

Pearce made his discovery purely by chance. He was riding the range and coaxed his horse to the top of a hill. He dismounted and sat down to rest. For no particular reason he picked up a rock and hammered idly at a nearby ledge. A small nodule broke loose exposing ore that – to his astonishment – appeared to contain gold. Ore specimens were taken to Tombstone and – even more astonishingly – assayed out at some $22,000 to the ton in silver; $5,000 to the ton in gold.

The discovery was most unusual. It was thought that every foot of ground in the area had been thoroughly picked over by prospectors during the 1870s, when gold fever hit Tombstone.

Pearce staked out five claims, one for himself and each member of his family, and called his mine the Commonwealth.

For a time he and the family worked the strike, while promoters eager to share in the wealth looked on in frustration. But like most miners, Pearce lacked the capital necessary to effectively exploit his claims. When John Brockman, a banker from Silver City, New Mexico, offered him $250,000, Pearce decided to sell – but with a unique stipulation.

Brockman would have 90 days to develop the property and work the claims. If he could mine enough gold and silver during that time to pay Pearce $250,000, the deal would be consummated. If Brockman failed, however, the Pearce family would retain ownership of the mine – and all the equipment and improvements made by the banker.

The deal appeared weighted in Pearce’s favor, but the strike proved so rich that within 60 days Brockman met the terms and the Commonwealth Mine was his.

But Mrs. Pearce had added a stipulation of her own. She asked for and was given exclusive rights for 10 years to operate a boarding house at Pearce. That was a lucrative enterprise in a place full of transient miners. Although she was wealthy from the sale of the claim, she continued to run the boarding house for some 30 years.

The town of Pearce sprang up in the blink of an eye. By 1919, with a population of some 1,500, Pearce boasted a school and churches, saloons and restaurants, even a theater for newfangled motion pictures. Among towns in the Sulphur Springs Valley, it ranked third in importance behind Douglas and Willcox.

But the Commonwealth finally played out. During the 1930s, as the nation sank into the Great Depression, the mine closed and residents of Pearce packed their belongings and left.

A few buildings remain – the post office, school, jail and a remarkable adobe structure built as the Soto Brothers and Renaud mercantile in 1894. Today, Pearce is one of Arizona’s most interesting ghost towns and well worth a visit.

   Photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society, Tucson; research by W. Lane Rogers.