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History of the Mine

Standing on top of the Chief Silver Mine at 5,000' elevation. I am so blessed to wake up to this every morning. My front yard is 500 square miles of conservation land where no one can ever build.

Chief Silver Mine

To start off with, many natural born Arizonans do not know that during the Mesozoic period, 500 million years ago, all the rocks and mountain ranges were created by natural force.  Some 300 million years ago during the Paleozoic period, that all of NM, AZ, UT, NV areas were under a deep sea.  That’s why we find fossils of sea shells, trilobites and other sea creatures in the area.  All the tan color on the limestone rocks are the sediment from the sea floor at the time.  Even big pieces of limestone bedrock have various light colored lines or veins going thru them.  Yes, that is algae.   You will also see that much of the limestone bedrock on the surface has what appears to be prehistoric dinosaur dung on it, but it is not.  Those odd formations are coral left over from 300 million years ago.  The history of Arizona is truly amazing.

I own the private property the Chief Silver mine is on.  I am located in Pima Country, AZ in the Empire Mountain range.  This area was owned by the Hilton family.  The Hilton Group of Mines, named after rancher H.P. Hilton and located 3 miles southwest of the Total Wreck Mine, were discovered in the 1870s and operated up to the 1960s.  More than 1.65 million pounds of high-grade oxidized lead, silver and more than 300,000 pounds of zinc ore  valued at $161,000 and were mined there, mostly between 1928 and 1948.

The Chief, Gopher, 49 and Prince mines were the highest-producing mines in the group.  Back in the day, these mines produced 400 ounces of silver from 1 ton of silver ore.  According to government audit records from 1964, the 11 mines in the Hilton Group of Mines still have over 130 million tons of silver ore in them.  One ton of ore is 3’ x 3’ x 6’.  If I could mine, crush and melt one ton of ore a day, in today’s market, that would yield me $6,000.00 a day.     The mines were just left as the mining techniques became faster and safer.  Up until the 1980s, the government would send out inspectors to calculate the remaining amount of ore and minerals in each mine.  This was done for national security during WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam.  Unfortunately, today we have to buy all our precious minerals and silver from China.   How ridiculous is that?   

The Total Wreck Mine was discovered in 1879 by John T. Dillon — an employee of Vail namesake Walter L. Vail  who pronounced the bolder-strewn landscape surrounding the future mining property a “total wreck.”  The mine, at an altitude of 4,600 feet, was acquired by the Empire Mining and Development Co. upon the arrival of the railroad and after several years of litigation.  

A 70 ton milling plant ran at the site from 1881-82, supplied by water from nearby Cienica Creek.  The Boss continuous process was partly implemented there, reducing manual labor for the amalgamation of silver ores. The rich surface ore played out and silver prices dropped, causing mining to be suspended by the end of 1884.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, prices in 2016 are 1,732.11% higher than average prices throughout 1870. The dollar experienced an average inflation rate of 2.01% per year during this period, meaning the real value of a dollar decreased.   In other words, $100 in 1870 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $1,832.11 in 2016, a difference of $1,732.11 over 146 years.

The price of silver more or less stayed at $1.30/oz. from the founding of the United States through the Civil War. Prices were exceptionally turbulent during the Civil War (rising to nearly $3/oz.) and stayed above $1.30/oz. until the late 1870s. Prices generally declined through the latter years of the 19th century, dipping below $0.60/oz. in 1897, mostly hovering in the $0.50s through to World War I. From a low of about $0.25/oz. in 1932, silver generally climbed thereafter, moving to above $0.70/oz. after World War II, past $0.80/oz. in 1950, and crossing $1/oz. in 1960.

“PATENTED MINING DEEDS” vs CONVENTIONAL PROPERTY DEEDS:  All of the individual mines throughout the Hilton Group of Mines hold “US patented mining deeds”.  These patented mining deeds are much different than your conventional property deeds.  With regular placer, lode, or dredge claims the claim holder has the right to mine the minerals but does not hold title to the property. However US Patented Mining Deeds include the deed to the property and the right to minerals on and below the ground. In order to be patented, significant mineral values were proven to exist on the property, or the patented status would not have been granted. When you own a patented property you own the minerals and the land. Unlike mining claims, permanent structures can be built on patented properties, and the land can be divided and sold like deeded real estate. Depending upon when the patented status was granted, many local and federal laws do not apply to patented claims. For all of these reasons patented mining properties are preferred and command higher prices than mining claims.

After going to Pima Country office to get my proper and legal address, I went to the Building permits section.  I told the guy I have a US patented mining deed, I intend to operate the mine and will build 3 underground houses along with other out buildings on the property.  The guy behind the counter kind of threw his hands up in the air and said:  “Mr. Miller, I had a guy in here this morning that schooled me for 3 hours about patented mining deeds.  You do not need any zoning or building permits, no septic or sewage permits, no property line setbacks, no restrictions what so ever or any other kind of permits we normally give out here.  You legally operate under the 1872 Mining Laws of that time.  Mr. Miller, go and have a beautiful day”.   And a beautiful day I did have.


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