Mining History of Mogollon, New Mexico

Mining History of Mogollon, New Mexico
Northeast of Glenwood, New Mexico lays Mogollon. An isolated ghost town with but fifteen permanent residents, it was once filled with all the clamor and excitement of a gold and silver mining camp.

The town was named for the nearby mountain range, the Mogollon Mountains. These peaks were originally named after Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon, New Mexico’s Spanish governor in the early eighteenth century.

Though fires and floods plagued Mogollon, NM many times over in its boom days, its residents were persistent for decades. And that is how Mogollon began, with persistence.


James Cooney of Fort Bayard


While scouting in Mineral Creek Canyon for the 8th U.S. Calvary, soldier James Cooney of Fort Bayard discovered deposits of gold and silver ore. The discovery was made just north of where Mogollon would one day exist and would eventually become the Little Fannie Mine.

His discovery occurred sometime between 1870 and the fall of 1872, during the time of the Apache Wars. Conney could not immediately pursue his discovery, as he was still committed to duties with the army.

But he kept this secret with him, and in 1876, he returned to Mineral Creek Canyon to file claims along with his business partner, Harry McAllister.

Soon after establishing their mining claims, both men were expelled from the area by the Apache. Yet again, Cooney would return two years later to continue his pursuit of mining, though this would not be the last he saw of the Apache.

It was at that time that news of the vast amounts of silver and deposits of gold would become widely known; a rush of prospectors flowed in. Though Mogollon was not yet a town, its roots were being formed as miners set up camp in the area.


Dangers of Mining in New Mexico


Mining in the Mogollon Mountains was precarious. The mines themselves were particularly unsafe with high amounts of dust causing enough health problems in workers to cut their mining careers, or their lives, short after just three years of work.

In addition, the Apache were attempting to hold onto ancestral lands through strategic ambushes and attacks on American settlers prospecting in the area. Cooney had already experienced run-ins with the Apache during his military service and when he first discovered the Little Fannie Lode.

In April of 1880, Cooney and a fellow scout would be ambushed and killed by Apache on their way to Alma, a nearby mining town that would suffer the Alma Massacre around that same time. Chief Victorio of the Chiricahua Apache would also raid Cooney’s claim, killing two prospectors working in the area.

Raids would become a regular part of life in Mogollon and its mines. Yet prospectors kept coming in hopes of a better life through newfound wealth. After James Cooney’s passing, even his brother Michael left his home in New Orleans to work the Little Fannie mining operations.

It seemed that the miners would not be leaving anytime soon.


Little Fannie Mine


Several mines opened near Mogollon including the Deep Down, Maud S., Confidence and Last Chance Mine. Mogollon’s mines would produce around 20 million dollars of gold and silver across their lifetimes. But the one that drew the most crowds was Little Fannie Mine.

Little Fannie primarily produced plenty of silver with gold being mined as a tertiary product. Unfortunately, it was also the worst mine in the area for dust. Miner’s consumption and black lung contributed to employee turnover at the mines and resident turnover within Mogollon.

Little Fannie’s operators created a method of dispensing pressurized water from jackhammers as they broke the quartz. This helped reduce dust particles in the air, improving work conditions. Little Fannie would have a long life, staying open until the early 1950s.

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Mogollon, NM Becomes a Town


The very first log cabin in Mogollon, NM was constructed by John Eberle, the prospector who found the Last Chance silver vein. He set the ball rolling and soon Mogollon was not just a mining camp; it became a town.

By 1890, Mogollon had all the trappings of a frontier settlement: a jail, a post office and a sawmill. Daily transport to and from Mogollon was provided by the nearby town of Silver City as well as Mogollon Stage, making the isolated community accessible to hopeful miners.

Silver bullion and gold moved out of Mogollon and supplies moved in via the 80-mile route. In 1897, an additional mountainside road to Mogollon was built by state prisoners to facilitate transport.

Mogollon’s population bounced back and forth between as few as 3,000 residents and up to 6,000 residents throughout the 1890s. It was a tumultuous time with miner turnover due to black lung and a variety of shady characters residing in Mogollon. Stagecoach robbers, claim jumpers, gunmen, gamblers--they all earned Mogollon a title as one of the wildest settlements in the West.

By 1909, Mogollon held a population of 2,000 people. The Midway Theatre, several saloons, restaurants, hotels and brothels had established Mogollon as a place for entertainment and wild times.

The mines did especially well in 1913, pulling half a million dollars worth of gold and silver from the ground, amounting to nearly 40 per cent of New Mexico’s total precious metal production that year.

But Mogollon was advancing in terms of technology, too. By 1915, the school was offering education to around 300 students and the town was outfitted with running water, electricity and telephones.


The End of Mogollon Gold and Silver Mines


World War I was hard on Mogollon and caused the demand for gold and silver to decline. Many mines closed throughout 1914-1918. But in 1934, a rise in the price of gold from $20.67 per ounce to $35.00 boosted the population of Mogollon once more with mining hopefuls.

When World War II took down the mining industry again, the population declined drastically and Mogollon never quite recovered. In addition, a fire swept through the town in 1942, prompting most residents to abandon their homes.

Mogollon became more like a ghost town than a thriving village. Those who remained kept the Little Fannie Mine going until the early 1950s. And that was the mining industry’s very last breath.


Mogollon Today


Often described as eerie and beautiful, Mogollon’s buildings sit quietly along empty streets. Though it has been described as one of the top three ghost towns of New Mexico, you certainly won’t find it bustling with tourists.

If outdoor adventures are to your liking, a hike through the Gila National Forest will take you to Mogollon. Updates about trails or nearby events can be accessed via the Mogollon Facebook page.

Tailings, mining equipment, tracks and the Little Fannie Mine itself can still be seen.The J.P. Holland General Store has been converted to an inn, open (very) seasonally to tourists. As you drive into town, you will likely take that very same mountainside road constructed by the convicts at the end of the 1800s.

Next: Gold Mining in Elizabethtown, New Mexico