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The Man from Scotland


In 1881, Henry Lesinsky, one of the owners of the Arizona Copper Company in Clifton, recorded the arrival of some foreign investors, “. . . a party of Englishmen and Scotchmen (sic) came our way. They had bought some mines in the neighborhood and began to investigate our property.” The foreigners ultimately offered $1.2 million for the Arizona Copper Company and bought the operation in 1882.

The next year, in August, James Colquhoun, the Scottish mining engineer pictured above, arrived in Clifton. He was a gifted innovator who, during his many years with the company, installed a new leaching operation, a sulfide concentrating plant, a power plant run by a gas generator and a Bessemer plant.

Upon arriving, Colquhoun was given a room at Jake Abraham’s Clifton Hotel, in the section known as Telephone Row. According to Colquhoun, Abraham told him he “. . . would not find its equal in all of Arizona (and) he was right.”

The rooms were constructed of one-inch lumber with a canvas roof, each divided by sheets of cheesecloth nailed to scantling. Colquhoun said the row had mysterious powers “akin to what is now known as the wireless. A whisper at one end of the row easily could be heard at the other. In the summer it acted as a Turkish bath and it was to the local scorpions what the Riviera is to the Parisian.”

On Sundays, Abraham served the boarders wine, which “had the consistency of crude oil and the soporific quality of chloroform.” When Abraham wanted to get rid of a boarder who was inclined not to pay, he merely moved him to Telephone Row. The Row did the rest.

While Colquhoun was settling in at Clifton, the company’s owners were busily running the company into the ground.

After acquiring the Arizona Copper Company in 1882, the owners, a Scottish syndicate, sold shares to the public. They then went on a wild spending spree, pouring money into the development of the mining operation and spending almost all of their available capital.

Scotland’s investing public at first watched the news from Clifton with excitement. The Scottish Banking and Insurance Magazine reported that the property was so valuable that the governor of New Mexico sought to have the state line resurveyed and Clifton brought into New Mexico as the seat of a newly created county.

However, the company’s lavish spending pushed the company nearly to bankruptcy. To make matters worse, U.S. mining companies began to agitate against foreign investors. Arizona Copper and its Scottish owners sought a legal opinion and were advised that U.S. statutes did not prohibit the acquisition of mining property by aliens.

However, in London, shareholders learned that while the company could buy working mines, it could not hold title to land or operate railroads.

When that information became public, the Dundee Advertiser and The Edinburgh Courant published outraged editorials. William Lowson of Dundee resigned from the board of directors, citing unpleasant “insinuations,” and Sheriff Guthrie Smith was forced to relinquish his chairmanship. George Auldjo Jamieson, a shareholder with mining experience, agreed to direct the company, acting to restore public confidence by organizing the Arizona Trust and Mortgage Company, Ltd., and proposing a merger with Sir George Warrender and his Scottish Pacific Coast Mining Company.

The London Statist, speculating on the likely atmosphere of the upcoming shareholders meeting in July 1884, noted: “It will be an exceptional indignation meeting (sic) if there are not a few clergymen present, and a shrewd lawyer or two.”

The shareholders voted to dissolve the Arizona Copper Company and found another company with the same name (we assume to protect assets from bankruptcy proceedings). By the end of the year, the new Arizona Copper Company had established an efficient mining and railroad business and owned 40 mining claims.

James Colquhoun was named general manager of the company in 1892, and in 1894, the company was able to pay a small dividend.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the Arizona Copper Company liquidated all outstanding debts and distributed large dividends to shareholders. Profits finally flowed to Scotland.

But following the end of World War I, copper prices dropped precipitously. The property was acquired by Phelps Dodge in 1921. James Colquhoun, by then living once more in Scotland, described a bitter shareholders meeting on October 3, 1921, held to approve the sale.

“The assembly was stormy, and devoid of the charms which adorn the meetings of the YMCA . . . A thousand shareholders were present and when the board filed into the room a few shareholders gave expression to their feelings in a manner not unusual at a boilermaker’s meeting. The situation was further embittered by the fact that both sides had to dilute their lunch with 30 underproof whiskey, and the exorbitant price they had to pay for it added the last drop of gall to their cup of bitterness.

Photo and research by Jane Eppinga. ©Arizona Capitol Times.

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