Mine tour shows dangerous side of mining life

We stood a few yards from the Glory Hole at the abandoned Vulture Mine just south of Wickenburg, Ariz., and tried to imagine what had happened there in 1923 and why. Seven miners and a dozen mules were buried alive that year when a portion of the gold mine, discovered in 1863, collapsed on them.
The reasons for the catastrophe were two: greed and stupidity.
The Vulture Mine, known as a hard-rock mine, was supported not by the usual timbers but by columns of ore-rich rock left standing in areas where gold had been extracted. Seven “high-graders,” or gold thieves, had sneaked into the mine several nights in a row and chipped away at these columns, figuring they’d get rich on the embedded gold. Their “personal mining” weakened the columns so much that the 100 feet of rock over their heads collapsed on the men and the dozen mules kept in the mine.
If they hadn’t been killed by the cave-in, the “stupid seven” would have been strung up on the hanging tree next to the home of Henry Wickenburg, the man who discovered the gold. At least 18 men found justice at the end of a rope swinging from this tree — nearly all for high-grading.
The Glory Hole is just one stop on a self-guided walking tour of this fascinating historic site that attracts visitors of every sort — the curious, the history buffs, the would-be cowboys and the ghost hunters.
“There’s lots of history here and people come from all over the world to see it,” said 81-year-old Marge Osborne, who with her husband, John, was caretaker of the grounds for more than 30 years. “I haven’t taken a head count, but sometimes there are as many as 100 a day and sometimes it’s zero.”
As for the ghosts, “I haven’t seen one,” Marge said. “But at night, when we first moved here, I heard knocking on the night table. My husband had a hearing problem, so he couldn’t hear it. Then when he did, he asked (the ghost) why he was there.”
Apparently John didn’t get an answer, but the couple later saw a ghostly man standing in the living room, Marge said.
If ever there were a place that ghosts could call home, the Vulture Mine is it. Though rundown and dilapidated, there are enough of the old buildings, machinery and relics to give you a strong sense of what life was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s in this corner of the Southwest.
It is said that the Vulture Mine produced gold worth more than $200 million, but I had a hard time finding whether that was in today’s dollars. Some tell stories of high-graders making off with at least half of the gold, and today, the mine is for sale for $6.5 million. The owner, who must remain nameless, said Roma Hagan, current caretaker and daughter of the Osbornes, claims that 40 percent of the ore remains in the area,” but it will cost a fortune to get it out.”
Roma, her husband, Marty and their dog, Goldie (a refugee who wandered into the mine a month before) occasionally guide visitors around some of the 500 acres, but the tour is mostly self-guided. If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone like my brother-in-law, Ric Duran, who once worked in the mines of Globe, Ariz., to accompany you and explain the mining process.
Admission is $10 and visitors must sign a waiver before combing the property. Footing can be tricky and/or dangerous in some places, so the grounds are not for strollers, the disabled or anyone who has trouble walking. Camping is nearby. Open from Sept.1 to June 30, but hours vary with the season. Call (602) 469-7662 or 7770 or e-mail vulture goldmine @yahoo.com.

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