Backpack Trip to Re-visit the Gold Mountain Millsite, Powers
and the Powers Mine in the Galiuro Mountains of Arizona
The Galiuro Mountains are located in southern Arizona northwest of Willcox. In the 1970's, my high school students and I had hiked into the Rattlesnake Canyon area several times. We enjoyed the physical challenge of the hikes; the scenic views; and the visits to the old cabins and mines in the area.
In April of this year, I had the opportunity to tag along with a group of friends who were going to backpack into the area for the first time. Their primary goals were to see Powers Garden and the Powers Mine and Cabin. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to re-visit some of those places that I had not been to in more than 30 years. I was especially interested in returning to the Gold Mountain area to see what remained of the old mining equipment that had been there years ago. A rumor had come to me that the old stamp mill had been dismantled and removed. I hoped that story was not true.
Rattlesnake Canyon is one of the major canyons of the mountain range and drains out of the north side of the range into Aravaipa Creek near Klondyke. We accessed the canyon by the way of Rattlesnake Mesa Road. The first 8 miles of that road were 2wd in quality. The final 3 miles off of Rattlesnake Mesa were serious 4wd. It took us more than an hour to negotiate those final miles over to the top of Powers Hill and to the Galiuro Wilderness boundary. That we were able to drive so far cut off a considerable distance and time from the hike. I think that the majority of hikers who use this route start their walk from Rattlesnake Mesa--which means an additional 3 miles of walking each way.
The cabins and mines of the Rattlesnake Canyon area are more than just old places out in the hills. They are associated with a violent incident that occurred in 1918 between law enforcement officials and the Powers family. There was a major gun battle, that ended with three of the officers and the father of the Powers clan dead.
The largest manhunt in Arizona history ensued after the battle as officials searched for the sons of Mr. Powers who had fled after the shootout. They were eventually captured, tried for murder, and sentenced to prison. 42 years later, the brothers were released and soon afterward were granted full pardons. Had the brothers been victims or were they the perpetrators? The circumstances around the shootout have been interpreted very differently by different people! At least three books have been published on the shootout. A summary of the Powers' story can be found at this Forest Service Website.
Powers Hill to Powers Garden
The route off off Powers Hill follows the old wagon road that was constructed by the Powers family to improve access to their mining areas in upper Rattlesnake Canyon and Kielberg Canyon. It is a steep drop off of Powers Hill to the bed of Rattlesnake Canyon. The path remains in the bottom of the canyon, the 4-5 miles to Powers Garden. Long stretches of the old road bed remain and the only challenges are locating the route across the creek crossings. Those crossings are generally well cairned. In April, there were pools of water until the junction with Mailbox Canyon. There are many large trees in the canyon including Sycamores, Ponderosa Pines, and a variety of Oak trees.
According to the author of "The Evaders", Darvil McBride, Powers Garden was originally called Powers Garden Place. The Powers Family located here when they first moved to upper Rattlesnake Canyon. A portion of their log cabin still remains. A newer building has served as a ranger station and as a ranch line camp. A third building serves as a bunkhouse. As can be seen in the photos, Powers Garden today is quite different than it was in the 1970's.
We camped up canyon just north of the corrals toward Powers Garden Spring . That spring was the only water source near Powers Garden. Since Rattlesnake was so dry, we left our base camp at the Garden and dayhiked up to Gold Mountain and on to Powers Cabin and Mine.
Click on photos to enlarge:
Gold Mountain Millsite area
The Gold Mountain claims were located a few miles south of Powers Garden further up into Rattlesnake Canyon. The search for gold in that location had started in 1902/03. The claims were not active for very long, but it must have been very busy while it lasted. One report states that there was a saloon and a red light building. This Forest Service website has info and a photo of the saloon at Gold Mountain.
Tom Powers in "Shootout at Dawn" wrote that the Powers family had moved into the abandoned buildings on the Gold Mountain claims and were doing assessment work there in 1911. By 1916 or so, the Powers had gained majority ownership of the "Abandon Claims Mine" over the ridge in Kielberg Canyon and had shifted their interests to that location. The Abandon Mine would later be known as the Powers Mine. The Powers moved into the cabin at the Powers Mine after the death of Ola Powers at Gold Mountain. She died in December of 1917.
In their early days at the Powers Mine, the family operated on a small scale milling the ore using an arrastre. They had ideas to greatly expand the operation however. With the assistance of Tom Sisson, a wagon road was built in from the Aravaipa across Rattlesnake Mesa, down Powers Hill and up Rattlesnake Canyon. In 1917, a used stamp mill was purchased in Klondyke for $450. The stamp mill was set up at Gold Mountain. Tom Powers wrote that in January of 1918 all that was lacking was a boiler to power the stamp mill. He stated that they had ordered one and were waiting on its delivery. The shootout happened in February, so none of the equipment was ever used. The stamp mill and the steam engine are still in place. The rumor that the stamp mill had been removed turned out to be unfounded.
The Powers brothers lost their claims to the Powers Mine and Gold Mountain while they were in prison. A 1967 Arizona Bureau of Mines bulletin reported that in 1933, the current owners, the Consolidated Galiuro Gold Mines Inc., installed a small Ellis ball mill and 100 tons of ore were treated that yielded $7.50 of gold per ton. That newer milling operation was established at Gold Mountain near the old stamp mill. The ore came from the Powers Mine. There does not appear to be much of any record of production after 1940.
The ball mill, an old cabin, several old engines, electrical generating equipment and other relics remain from that later period of mill operation.
I do not believe that much survives today at Gold Mountain from the original work down in 1902/03 except for the original adits.
Tom Powers wrote in "Shootout at Dawn" that the Gold Mountain claims were returned to him after his release from prison and the Powers Mine claims were returned to his brother John. John returned to the area to do location work. Tom signed over his claims to another person.
Today, the entire area is within the Galiuro Mountains Wilderness Area so no future mining is possible.
Powers Cabin and Powers Mine
A tall ridge separates Rattlesnake Canyon from Kielberg Canyon, the location of the Powers Mine and Cabin. In 1976, I rode with my brother in law as he drove us over to the mine and on to the Long Tom Mine. Where long sections of the road in Rattlesnake Canyon might be driveable today, such is not the case from Gold Mountain over to Powers Cabin. The roadbed has deteriorated to just a couple of feet in width and is really grown over.
The log cabin that stands on the hillside above the Powers Mine is where the shootout occurred in February of 1918. One room of the cabin remains today. It apparently has been stabilized in recent years. At least one of the markings in the wood left by a flying bullet from the battle remains.
The mine is a hundred yards or so away from the cabin. Although the mine portal appears to be nearly covered over, the adit itself is clear of debris. A recent USGS report states that the adit is nearly 480' long and includes two winzes and 1 raise. There is still a small headframe over the winze area. Ventilation air tubes still hang from the walls of the tunnel. What looks like an old mining column that would have been used to support a rock drill lies in one of the short side drifts. An old ingersoll Rand compressor sits at the edge of the dump. Moving that old compressor to the mine site must have taken a major effort!