Bisbee, Arizona: Attitude with Altitude
Spending a year in Bisbee as a 5th grader was a neat experience. When I wasn’t rabbit hunting in the hills with biggest brother Creed, or listening to the mountain lion eat brother Mark’s pet rabbit on the carport, I hung out with my best friend Gigi, an 11 year old raspberry snuff-chewing cowgirl whose father worked in the Copper Queen Mine, Lavender Pit.
We had great adventures together on her family’s small cattle ranch or shopping at the Phelps Dodge Merchantile Company store, where Gigi was allowed to put the snuff purchase on her dad’s store credit. It was a different time.
Crumbling Victorian homes still cling to the steep hillsides of the mining town with 1880’s buildings and the ghostly memories of tawdry red light districts and the dangerous saloon crowds of Brewery Gulch.
Come to find out, my mother’s family had history here. Her father, Willard White, was born in Bisbee in 1910 when his father, uncle and maternal grandfather worked in the Copper Queen mines.
As a young girl, I knew Willard’s mother, Laura Edna Brizzee White Lee and loved her dearly.
Great Grandmother Laura and son Willard White, with impish grin.
This time, as I strolled through the quaint streets of Bisbee, I pictured Laura in a prim starched white blouse with long skirt and hat, looking in these same shop windows or reading a book in the old library that is still being used today.
There are tons of stairs throughout the town going from street to street at they climb the hills.
The mine shut down in 1975, just 3 years after we left Arizona. That was tough on Bisbee and the town nearly died until the hippies, looking for cheap drugs from the nearby Mexican border towns, moved in with their VW vans, free love, guitars and dogs and resuscitated the economy.
Talented artists, shops and tourists soon followed and now the town is back with a new, funky vibrance.
From what I have observed of the native inhabitants, this motto seems about right.
I spent time at the mining museum library finding some relatives names in the payrolls and town directories, then we took the Copper Queen Mine underground train tour with Clay’s sister Teri and brother-in-law Doug Cole (who came down for the day from Phoenix). It’s so nice to see relatives and friends!
After taking the old-fashioned work train deep into the mine, I pictured my Great Grandpa Charles Thomas White and Great-Great Grandpa Henry Willard Brizzee, Jr. using faint candlelight to pinpoint the swinging of their sledge hammers against a heavy round iron tamping bar over and over to create a 2 foot deep hole in the granite. When they had 20 such holes clustered close together in the rock face, they would load each with dynamite, light it up and scurry away. Each blast created 30 tons of rubble which they would shovel out in choking dust before hammering holes again to repeat the process. Dangerous, hard work, but it paid well.
As I stood exactly where my ancestors had worked under such brutal conditions, I felt some tender nostalgic roots find their way through the hard rock into fertile ground.
Stay tuned for Part Three– Gunfights!