In 1539 Franciscan friar Marcos de Niza set out to explore the region north of Sonora, Mexico, fabled to contain untold riches. Fray Marcos found no gold, but he is credited with being the first European to set foot on U.S. soil west of the Rockies.
Following in Fray Marcos’ footsteps in 1736, Jesuit priests found rich silver veins in the Patagonia Mountains. More than a century passed before Mexican prospectors filed the first substantial claim, establishing the Patagonia Mine in 1857.
Two years later Lieutenant Sylvester Mowry left Army service at nearby Fort Crittenden and bought the Patagonia claim for $20,000, unabashedly renaming it for himself. Investing in a dozen blast furnaces, Mowry refined some $1.5 million in lead- and silver-rich galena ore over the next few years. The proud Arizona booster also stumped for its separation from New Mexico Territory.
In 1859 Tubac newspaperman Ed Cross ripped Mowry in print for his boastful stump speeches, so the offended mine owner challenged the editor to a rifle duel. Thankfully, both men proved poor shots, and after firing wildly a few times, they put up their guns, shook hands and toasted one another’s health.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, rivals accused Rhode Island native Mowry of supplying lead to the South for bullets. In June 1862 the Army arrested him and imprisoned him at Fort Yuma. Though released that November for lack of evidence, Mowry lost the mine to public auction for $4,000 —less than its peak weekly profit. He died penniless in 1871 at age 39.
In 1873 the Indian agent at Fort Bowie ordered rancher David Tecumseh Harshaw to remove his cattle from Apache land and relocate farther south to the San Rafael Valley. A few years later Harshaw was out tending beeves in the Patagonia foothills when he discovered a rich silver vein. By 1880 his Hermosa Mine was yielding $100,000 a month in ore, and Harshaw sold out, a happy ex-rancher and ex-miner.
At its peak the town of Harshaw boasted 2,000 residents, its own newspaper, a post office, stores, hotels, boardinghouses, corrals and seven saloons. By 1882, though, all was bust, as flooding, a fire and a drop in silver prices sent prospectors packing.
Tucsonan James Finley bought the mine in 1887 for a mere $600 and turned things around, but when he died in 1903, the town died with him. His house lies up a side road east of the main town intersection, just past the redbrick schoolhouse. Be sure to visit the cemetery with period headstones west of the intersection.
In 1889 mining and appliance magnate George Westinghouse bought up claims around the supply town of Washington Camp and formed the Duquesne Mining and Reduction Co. The dilapidated mining office abuts the road in Duquesne.
While Westinghouse pursued mining in Duquesne, Colin and Brewster Cameron started a cattle ranch farther east in Lochiel, named for the brothers’ Scottish hometown. Lochiel later served as a customs station. Its 400 or so residents weathered raids by Apaches, rustlers and even Mexican outlaw Pancho Villa. Film producers paid more welcome visits in the 20th century, using the San Rafael Valley as a backdrop for the productions Oklahoma, Tom Horn and MonteWalsh.
Accessible from AZ 82 in Patagonia, Harshaw Road/FR 49 runs south about 17 miles to Duquesne Road/FR 61. From there you can drive east to Lochiel for views of the San Rafael Valley or loop west toward Nogales for mountain vistas past the remains of the Kansas Mine.
For more information about the Harshawto-Lochiel circuit, including GPS waypoints, read Backcountry Adventures Arizona, by Peter Massey, Jeanne Wilson and Angela Titus, or Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps, by Philip Varney.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.