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Toughnut Mine, Tombstone Arizona

Last Updated: 17th May 2018

By Rolf Luetcke

Toughnut Mine, Tombstone Arizona
By Rolf Luetcke

When I moved here in 1971 I drove right through Tombstone Arizona on highway 80 to get to Bisbee, which was where I moved to back then. I had of course heard of Tombstone in many ways, mostly because of the films made about the shoot out at the OK corral. It was not until later that I learned about the rich history of the mining there. Where Bisbee was mostly a copper mine town, Tombstone was mostly silver mines.
Tombstone has always been fairly closed off to collecting except the outlying areas. After I learned about minerals from friends in Bisbee, I started exploring surrounding areas. Tombstone was a place I drove through often but there was not much opportunity to collect near town. I went to outlying areas where there were various mines to collect. The one group of mines east of Tombstone are the Tombstone Extension mines, including the San Diego Mine. From here one could actually drive an old dirt road over the hills and past many of the mines one could see from Tombstone but these had very little to offer except manganese minerals on the surface dumps. To the southwest is Charleston road that goes between Tombstone and Sierra Vista. Along this stretch are various mines, some open and some closed off to collecting. I have visited a number of mines on this end of town. There was a town of Charleston and Contention, both towns built around the railroads that hauled out the ores from the mines of Tombstone. Early on the ore was shipped from Tombstone by wagon to Charleston, on the San Pedro River, where there was enough water to process the ores. The small town of Contention was on the railroad between Bisbee and the connecting track at Benson. Contention is now gone and only hiking to it is allowed. I remember in the 1970's, the road along the old railroad track was wide open and I drove the route between Sierra Vista and Benson. It was a rough road and off road vehicle was nice to have. Charleston is also mostly rubble now and also only a place to hike to near the San Pedro River. The hauling costs to the crushers by wagon was so high the mine owners built a railroad from Tombstone to Fairbank to haul out the ores at a much lower cost. I later discovered that the railroad bed was built up using old overburden from the early Bisbee mines. Kind of funny to be able to collect Bisbee minerals near Tombstone. The track was begun in the late 1800's but falling silver prices kept the track from being finished until about ten years later.
Near Tombstone itself, just to the south of town were a group of mines that had produced much of the early ore from the mines. These were the Toughnut, discovered in 1878 by Sheiffelin and one of the first mines to be worked in Tombstone and several other mines just south of town. The Toughnut had about 1200 meters of workings and in the late 1800's to early 1900's produced several thousand tons of ore. It was a lead, silver, zinc, copper, gold, vanadium and cadmium mine and over forty species of minerals have been reported from there. I had heard over the years that the mine dumps of the mines close to Tombstone had mostly been removed to use for various projects and often remaining material was simply pushed into the open mines to make them less dangerous to people wandering around the area. So, the rare and interesting minerals that had at one time been available on those dumps were now completely gone. Much of the overburden from the larger mines ended up being used for many projects and it is often found far from the original mine it came from, like the material from Bisbee used between Tombstone and Fairbank.
Further out of town were the West Side Mine, Goodenough Mine, Way Up Mine, Silver Thread Mine, Tranquility Mine, Empire Mine, Old Guard Mine, Emerald Mine, Sulphuret Mine, Intervener Mine, Hawk Eye Mine, Defence Mine, Girard Mine, Ingersol Mine, Grand Central Mine and the Contention and Grand Central group of mines. They varied in the number of things listed in the literature of the minerals found but only a handful produced a larger number of minerals. Since the mines may have closed very early and the dumps later disappeared, they may have had many more minerals found than are now reported. The mines close to Tombstone itself were covered over by housing and roads as Tombstone spread out.
I never wanted to tempt fate by wandering around near town since I had heard stories of the locals taking great offense to "strangers" walking around near town. One friend who did venture to the mines just outside of town had been approached by someone carrying a gun and told in no uncertain terms that people were not allowed there. The problem is that there were no signs to keep out when my friend was collecting there and people were allowed to go to those areas but the Tombstone residents think they "own" the area and have the right to tell people to leave. I would certainly never challenge someone carrying a gun.
The Toughnut Mine is in Tombstone and has been covered over by the town. They have a mine tour that goes into part of this mine through the Goodenough Mine, just a little to the SE of the Toughnut. I have never taken the mine tour but have heard from people who have taken the tours.
One fellow we met in the late 1980's where we had our mineral shop near Benson was from Tombstone. He worked for someone we knew who had a store in Tombstone and on days off and on some evenings would go underground in the Toughnut Mine to collect. Apparently there were a few ways into the mine and he knew some "back door" entrances. When he stopped by our store he often had flats of minerals he had collected in the Toughnut Mine to sell. He was making the rounds and selling what he had collected. We purchased minerals from him when we had money to spend.
Since we liked selling local minerals we often bought what he had. Mostly fluorite with wulfenite in the material but he sometimes had other material as well. One batch was an odd etched calcite that we picked up. It was not very pretty but the location was what we liked and the crystals were large and we sold all of what he had before long. He never did bring any more of this calcite material.
The fellow had told us when he stopped one time that he was on his way to Tucson to buy new tools. He said he was down in the Toughnut mine working on a seam he had found when he heard voices. Knowing he was not supposed to be down in the mine he just took off to one of the other entrances he knew about quickly. Unfortunately he didn't have time to get his tools or his specimens and had to leave them behind. He was on his way to Tucson to purchase a set of new tools and needed money and we picked up what material he had. He later found that an inspector from the State of Arizona had been in Tombstone and was doing an inspection of the mine that was being used for the tours and those were the people that had nearly found him in the mine. If he had been caught it may have meant jail time since they took trespassing seriously.
In the years he stopped by we purchased quite a number of boxes of minerals he had collected. I did go through the material under my microscope and held out any material that was interesting for later study. Just recently the later study time came around and I started looking at the material I had set aside with fresh eyes.
In the mines of Tombstone we have heard that many of the mines connected underground and it is hard to say exactly where the fellow had been collecting but he always went in the Toughnut mine he told us. The minerals we found in the material I had set aside had a number of new things for the list on mindat. The list has about 42 species and of those we have found 16 different minerals and about 7unknown minerals. I think, as with many mines, collectors never really look for the common species but have only a few that they are after. In my own collecting I have often taken a wide range of material from a mine dump just to see what different minerals I can find in the rock I bring home. This is the way I have been able to add minerals to the list of what is reported from a location. Unfortunately I never personally visited the Toughnut Mine.
Having purchased a number of the rare species from the Tombstone mines over the years we have a decent number to use as examples when I come across something I don't recognize. At one time a friend from the area asked if I wanted to go collecting with him to one of the Tombstone mines he had heard had rare minerals. The ones he mentioned were quite interesting but what I told him was that even if we actually found some of the minerals he had heard about, there was no way to really tell which minerals we had since so many of the rare ones looked like more common things that only analysis would be able to tell them apart and that was way beyond what I wanted to spend. We never did go looking for those minerals.
Most of my time has been spent visiting the outlying mines around Tombstone. To the east are the Tombstone Extension Mines and San Diego Mine. I have collected quite a bit at these and had even met the man who used to own the San Diego Mine a number of years ago. He was not a mineral person and had no idea about the things that came out of his mine. The mines there have 18 and 14 mineral species respectively that we have been able to find. There are several unnamed mines we also visited a bit farther from these mines, a few things also at these. One outlying mine was at the end of a very rough and difficult dirt road and my first trip there was with my old VW bus in the 1970's. The mine was small but the dumps were full of massive calcite in a few forms. When I visited the mine the shaft had a bee hive in it but the bees were not aggressive and I was able to collect a lot of calcite from the dump. Turned out the calcite was fluorescent in two colors, one a dull yellow-white but it was phosphorescent and the other nice orange and it was not phosphorescent. Over the years I returned to this mine a few times and each time the mine had bees still. Since the bees had by later all become Africanized, it was not good to go too close to the shaft. The last time I went to the mine about 5 years ago, the bees were gone. Some of the calcite was in cave forms, stalactites and such and I had a feeling that the shaft had intersected some small caves. Since it is all limestone here it could even have a larger cave underground. I never had an urge to rope down and see just what was down there. Many caves in our area are hosted in limestone and these hills were all thick layers of limestone. The small mine could have intersected a cave system that has never been explored.
Then to the southwest is Charleston road and off this road are a number of mines we visited. The Montezuma Mine has only about 3 minerals we found at the small mine, although the tunnel going into the hill was much longer than what was apparent in the small dump outside. The Florida mine group is mostly manganese and has about 4 or more things. Past this mine is the Arlington Mine and a few more things we found there, about 10 mineral species. Farther down Charleston road is the Gallagher Vanadium and Rare Minerals Corporation Mine with 51 different species. This is mostly because a friend took a few bags of the ore to study at a lab and he found a large number of species in what he studied. The Manila Mine is just SW of the Gallagher by about a mile and has 41 different species of minerals with the same friend taking ore to a lab. The Manila Mine is now within the Riparian area which is closed to all collecting. This happened only about 6 or so years ago when a land swap was made to bring the property into the Riparian area. There is another old mine here, the Brunckow Mine, which has a rich history of deaths that happened at the site of the mine, more deaths than any other mine in Arizona as far as I had read. The Brunckow was also the first mine discovered in the area, a few years before Tombstone was discovered. The Charleston Lead Mine is across Charleston Road from these mines and I never collected material from this mine although I did visit it. At the lead mine were hundreds of old core samples lying about and I picked up quite a few as samples to give to kids. There are a number of small mine dumps in this area and I visited many of them but since they were quite small and didn't have names I never kept material from them.
There are also a few mines out east from Tombstone on Gleeson Road and I did collect at several of those. Gleeson was the next deposit discovered after most of Tombstone had been claimed and the prospectors that had not found ore moved to areas farther away.
The best story of a specimen from Tombstone is from a New York friend who stayed in our area in Winter and became a close friend. He often went to Tombstone and parked just on the south side of town and hiked down the hills to some of the mine dumps there. He looked for color and often picked up bags full of material to work over at his place near us. His favorite were chrysocolla and fluorite and he collected quite a bit of it. He is the one that had the encounter with the armed fellow who told him to leave. He didn't argue and it was the last time he ventured over to those mines. In his collecting he often brought over his leavings he had looked over. He was not a micro collector and knew I was so his dregs came over to me. In them one specimen he had picked up had the best crystals of khinite I had ever encountered when I split the piece open. It was a mineralized piece of quartz with little showing on the outside. It was his throw away and our treasure. I offered it back to him but he said my collection was a far better home for it. The one unfortunate thing is he wandered all over and was not particular which mine he collected from, it was all Tombstone to him. It would have been nice to attribute the specimens to a particular mine for certain but the friend has passed away so no way of doing that now.
A person at a small rock shop in Tombstone had a local piece of "silver ore" as she called it. When I looked at the piece it was mostly galena and I offered to buy it to give them an idea what was actually in it. I took it along and paid the price she was asking, a bit high for a galena but I was curious if it did contain anything interesting. Looking at the piece at home and breaking it up to get a view inside I found little of interest, mostly galena and anglesite. It was lead ore and not silver ore although lead often contained a bit of silver. I took the piece back to the people and they were closed and I left the material by their door with a slip of paper describing what I had found in it. I have at other times seen the lead ore from Tombstone sold as "silver ore" and again, although it may contain a trace of silver, to call it silver ore is a bit of a stretch.
The fellow who used to go collecting in the Toughnut Mine has not been by our place in many years and I think he may have moved away from Tombstone. I was glad to find a number of interesting things in the material we had gotten from him back in the 1980's. I assume that the various veins under Tombstone had similar mineralization and the Toughnut Mine may easily have had the same kinds of rare minerals that were found at some of the other Tombstone mines. Unfortunately the fellow we got the material from was mostly interested in what he could sell and the wulfenite and fluorite specimens were the ones people bought. My kind of odd ball mineralization was not often looked for.
I thought I write down a bit of the history of my involvement in the minerals posted on mindat for the Toughnut Mine and some of the other surrounding mines.




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