Nevada and Arizona are known for their frontier history including mining and all that goes with it. But who were the first miners in the greater southwest? When and where did they come from?
The question for today is who were the first miners in the Great Southwest? When and where did they come into what is now the U S A.? The earliest miners in the Southwestern U S were the Native Americans. Yup, the Indians mined salt in many locations in the southwest states. Several salt mines are found to be Archaeological sites today. Like the sites near Hawthorne and Gypsum Cave, Nevada, south of Mesa Verde in Colorado and New Mexico and around dry lake beds (playas) in several areas of southern California.
Native Americans also mined for gold, turquoise, and other minerals throughout the years from pre-historic to modern. But the first placer and hard rock miners came up from Old Mexico in the seventeen hundreds or earlier. The Spanish colonized so much of North and South America looking for precious metals like gold, silver and others to ship back to Spain that it is only reasonable to expect their descendants from Old Mexico to explore north into present day New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, California and Nevada to be on the lookout for gold and silver, copper and lead mining opportunities.
Today we can see remnants of these first miners in many areas. Archaeologists have found mining camp sites of these early miners with artifacts that indicate mining was one of the motivations to explore so far from home. Miners who successfully located gold had to have a way to get it out of the rock and one way was to use a burro, horse or mule to crack the minerals out of the rock with an Arrastra. This was a primitive stamp mill with its own ecologically friendly power source. Some Arrastras were chiseled out of bedrock and others were a ring of boulders to hold the ore in place while a beast of burden or a human pulled the crushing stones over the ore to release the gold. I visited one of these at the base of Gold Butte in the Gold Butte area in Nevada when I worked for the local Bureau of Land Management District.
Some of these ancient mining sites were in Nevada south of Tonopah, in the Gold Butte area on the Nevada/Arizona border and the Temple Bar area on the Colorado River in the area covered by Lake Mead. Some mining was looking for placer deposits and did not involve removing gold from the ore as in hardrock mining. It would be interesting if we could determine or at least estimate how much precious metal was removed from our Southwestern States and sent home to Spain.