January 19, 2020

The Forgotten Mother-Load at Richenbar, AZ

Many are familiar with the mining riches that came out of Tip Top and Crown King, but there was another mother-load of gold in that area known as Richenbar.

It was 1867 when three miners decided to explore what appeared to be an ancient worked-out mine. They descended a 45 degree angled shaft into what appeared to be a cave. There were no timber reinforcements to be seen and the only thing connecting the ceiling to the floor was a single 4 foot pillar in the middle of the expanse. Upon closer inspection, they noticed a pure vein of gold within the pillar measuring 2 inches thick. Two of the miners wanted  to extract it, while the third thought it too dangerous. The two carefully worked the pillar and were successful in extracting a “coffee sack” full of ore which eventually was found to contain a whopping 937 ounces of gold.

This mine would come to be known as the Aztec Mine when ancient Native American tools were discovered inside. Eventually the entire surrounding area would have claims and the town of Richenbar was born. Soon the gold deposit there became famous, and the famous would invest in an area so rich that one miner thought it would bring "death to gold."

The first person to see the area’s potential was George Zika. He acquired several mines and worked for years developing them, pouring his profits back into development. Unfortunately, he became seriously ill and had to slowly sell off his holdings before he could realize their full potential. Although it was no surprise to his family and closest friends, his death February 6, 1905, was a shock to the community.

Tales of early production spread across the nation. One of the first bars of gold produced weighed over 100 ounces. One railroad car from the Eclipse or Lute mine carried nearly 11 tons of ore. After processing and reduction nearly 400 pounds (6,316 ounces) of gold were extracted. 

This peaked the interest of the estate of Sen. George Hearst of California, father of William Randolph Hearst. At the beginning of 1899 the Hearst estate constructed a pipeline which “proved to be a great success and one of the best feats of mechanism ever performed in this territory,” the newspaper said. The pipeline was 3 miles long and furnished power for 20 stamps in operation that could also be run on a gasoline engine when water was low.

One man who was well-known in Arizona also bought in to the Richenbar district. It was Dan Gillette, for whom Gillette, Arizona was named. He owned the Gold Note and Surprise mines. At the beginning of 1898, he put in the pipeline and other infrastructure to process the ore. The pipeline would be used to run dynamos to provide electricity for the ore machines and lighting at the mines. “Mr. Gillette has been engaged for 18 months in developing these properties,” the paper reported, “and during that time he has spent what would be deemed a comfortable fortune for the majority of people, but he has reached a point now where he will be able to realize handsomely on his investment during the above. He has shipped several thousand dollars worth of the high-grade ore taken from the property…”

By July of 1898, 40 to 50 men were working on Gillette’s properties and he had expended about $80,000 in developing the mines.

True story of the founding (1877) and passing (1912) of the boom town, Gillette, AZ

Ex-Gov. Trittle showed interest in investing in Richenbar. However, trying to examine one of the shafts, he descended 60 feet “when his rheumatic knees gave out, and he had difficulty in getting back to the surface,” the paper related.

Richenbar saw many other owners over the years, mostly groups of investors and capitalists. Frank Gould, “a member of the famous (investing) family of New York,” bought the Richinbar Mine in January, 1924.

For some of the mines it seemed the more they were worked, the more gold appeared. Richinbar helped greatly during the Depression when, in 1935, it produced over 1800 ounces of gold. The following year it was extracting 100 tons of ore a day.

There was at least one fatal mining accident in Richenbar. After setting explosives in the Gold Note mine, Ed Barden was being hoisted by a looped rope to the ladder of the shaft. Unfortunately, when he tried to jump from the rope to the ladder, he missed and fell back down the shaft. A minute later, the explosives went off. When Superintendent Darnell was lowered to the scene, he found Barden’s body “covered with rock,” the paper reported. “The left leg was broken off at the ankle and was only held by shreds of skin.” It was only his fourth day working at the mine and he was buried on the hill above it.

As for the town itself, Richenbar was described in 1897 as “the new and promising gold mining camp.” It reportedly grew out of Johnny Webber's camp on the Agua Fria. In August, 1896, “a post office (was) established…called Richenbar,” the paper reported, with “tri-weekly mail service…between Prescott and Phoenix.”

Relatively speaking, the town seemed to be quite peaceful. If there was a murder or large robbery there, it was not published in any major surviving Arizona newspaper. Indeed, the most scandalous event occurred between two brothers named Nelson who owned a saloon there. One brother was married, the other was not and in the rugged wilderness of the Bradshaws, women could be rare.

One evening the unmarried brother suggested to the couple that he and his brother should share his wife. Even more shocking, he punctuated his request with the exclamation point of a loaded gun! “Thereby hangs a somewhat sensational social stir up in the land of the Richenbar,” the paper quipped.

Getting to Richenbar has never been easy. It’s location is 27 miles from Mayer and two miles away from Black Canyon Highway. The very act of shipping ore from Richenbar to the railroad at Mayer helped Mayer grow from a stage-stop into a town. “Mayer is a splendid site for a terminus and it would not be surprising to see a town spring up in this basin,” the paper predicted.

The founding and early history of Mayer, Arizona is inseparable from the biography of the man who founded the town--Joseph Mayer.

In February, 1898 a daily stage began running through Richenbar, but the road was terrible. Six months later, residents of Richenbar and Bumble Bee asked Yavapai county to adopt the 3.5 mile road between the two locales. The petition was granted. In May 1905, a new road was completed between Richenbar and Turkey Creek.

Two weddings were performed in Richenbar. One occurred Christmas Day 1901; the other took place December 20, 1938 when Thora Fulton married Henry Cordes, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H Cordes.

Perhaps Richenbar’s most prominent citizen was Judge AJ McPhee. He attended the democratic state convention in Prescott for the Richenbar area for decades. “About the only time he is seen in Prescott,” the paper observed, “is on the occasion of democratic conventions.” At the start of 1906, he was named postmaster. In 1910, “the sage of Richenbar” was commissioned a notary public.

There have been several spellings for the town of Richenbar, the author choosing the the earliest one used in newspapers and maps. The second most popular spelling is “Richinbar,” but this did not come into wide spread use until the 1920s. 

Finding the reason why the town was so named is sketchy. Byrd Howell Granger chose the Richinbar spelling and suggested that George Zika “hoped the place would yield bars of gold.” However, the the post office spelling, which Granger usually relied on, was Richenbar.

According to research by the Arizona Pioneer Cemetery Research project, Richenbar was named after Rich(ard) N. Barker. However, there is no mention of such a man in any Arizona newspaper at the time.

The main workings finally closed in November 1939 and the once famous town slipped into obscurity.


At this date, 37 towns and places are described.

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