The Ghosts of the Vulture Gold Mine
Eureka! We found gold! The Vulture Gold Mine in Maricopa County was one of Arizona’s most productive and influential gold mines. The mine was in operation from 1863 to 1942 and produced over 200 million dollars worth of gold. The town around the mine, Vulture City, was a boom-and-bust town. It disappeared as fast as it sprang up. At its height, the Vulture City had a population of about 5,000. Vulture Gold Mine is credited with founding the nearby town of Wickenburg, and the agricultural area that sprouted to serve the mines also helped spur growth in Phoenix. The mine was built when Henry Wickenburg, a prospector who had arrived from California, discovered a high-grade form of gold ore in the area. Miners flocked to the area in hope of getting rich. In the spirit of the Old West, Vulture was a rough place. Miners often died in cave-ins, while dozens were hung from the infamous Hanging Tree when they were caught stealing gold. There were many gruesome tales of rapes, murders, and freak accidents in the mines and surrounding towns, which left a haunted legacy in the now abandoned ghost town. One such tale is the sad story of Jimmy Davis, who got his arm caught in a piece of machinery and was then repeatedly flung into several pieces of heavy equipment, breaking every bone in his body before dropping him down dozens of feet into a mine shaft. The ghost of Jimmy Davis still haunts the mines, and his voice can be heard crying for help in the middle of the night. Several other ghosts inhabit the mines, including the greedy miners who were killed for trying to steal the precious gold. Their ghosts can be seen around the Hangman’s Tree at night, trying to protect the gold they worked so hard to dig up. The Vulture Mine and nearby Vulture City is now a ghost town, long abandoned after being forced to close in 1942.
Henry Wickenburg Strikes Gold in Arizona
Vulture Mine was founded by a Prussian miner named Henry Wickenburg. When the rights to his family mine back home were claimed by the government, he traveled to the United States to participate in the Gold Rush, hoping to make it big. He landed in New York, then made his way to California upon hearing about its thriving gold mining industry. He got down with the Pauline Weaver Party, a particularly successful bunch of gold miners, who then took off to the Arizona Territory.
The Weaver Party settled near Hassayampa Creek. While on a gold scouting mission, Wickenburg spotted a quartz ledge a few miles from the camp. The rest of the party brushed it off, but Wickenburg knew it was a good find, so he went to check it out on his own. He struck gold.
Henry and his associates made a stake in the area and founded Wickenburg Ranch, which would later become the town of Wickenburg, and the Vulture Gold Mine. The mine became the most productive and influential mine in Arizona, producing 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver over its lifetime. The Phoenix Valley became a major agricultural center to help feed the miners and cater to their needs, helping to spur development in the region. The grain route established to Vulture from Phoenix later became Grand Avenue. Vulture Mines and the nearby town were ordered closed during World War 2 as a way to conserve resources for warfare. Vulture City has been a ghost town ever since.
The Rough & Tumble Times in Vulture Gold Mine
Vulture Gold Mine was prosperous, but the miners led hard lives. The day-to-day grind inside the mines was tough. It was dark, dusty, and dangerous. There were plenty of fights, and the feuds followed the miners back into town. Once the mines closed, the miners went back to Vulture City to ease up for the next day, and when the saloons and brothels filled up, you’d get the exact kind of rowdiness the Wild West is known for. Shootouts, murders, and rapes were common in Vulture City.
Thieves ran amok in the mines. High-grading was common. Some estimates say that up to half the ore mined from Vulture was stolen by high-graders. Though everybody stole from the mine, stealing was punishable by death. The town never had an official lawman, so punishment was dished out vigilante-style. The Hanging Tree was just outside of Henry Wickenburg’s old home and was used to hang high-graders who got caught. Eighteen men were hung on the Hanging Tree in Vulture. It was said the men who were hung took hours to die and were left to rot in the hot sun until they were buried near the tree.
The Assay Building was where the gold was assessed for quality and appraised. It’s also where they kept the gold. The building was the scene of quite a few shootouts, as bandits rogue miners attempted to rob the precious gold bullion under the building. It was successfully robbed twice. On one occasion, three bandits stormed the Assay Building, killed the guard, and took off into the desert. When guards from the mine caught up, they found out that nothing was stolen, to the surprise of both the bandits and the guards. They were killed on the spot. After the guards carried them into town, the locals protested the burial of criminals in the city, so they were taken back out to the desert for burial.
The Ghosts of the Haunted Vulture Gold Mine
Today, the Vulture mine is privately owned, but it’s open to the public for a small fee. Guided tours are also provided. It’s also overrun by the ghosts of the long-forgotten miners, who love to haunt gullible tourists. Tourists and staff alike often hear footsteps creeping up behind them, strange disembodied voices whispering in their ears, and ghostly apparitions wandering around the mines. Many often report shadows on the walls when nobody else is there. The sounds of pickaxes striking the walls are also quite common.
One of the more infamous ghosts is that of Jimmy Davis. Jimmy was a hard-working man, well known amongst his colleagues for getting the job done right. One day while Jimmy was working the mines, the pulley system malfunctioned. Jimmy got up on a ladder to fix the belt when his arm got stuck in the loop of the pulley. The belt tightened when he tried to get out, and Jimmy was launched several feet in the air with his arm still stuck in the loop. His body smashed into multiple pieces of heavy machinery, breaking every bone in the man’s body, before dumping his body hundreds of feet down into the central mine shaft. The worst part was that Jimmy wasn’t killed right away. It took 5 hours for Jimmy to die. He cried and begged for mercy, being in excruciating pain, but it was no use. His body was too far down to be recovered.
Jimmy’s ghost still lives in the mine shafts. His blood-curdling screams can still be heard echoing through the mine, though some have heard cries for help in other parts of the Vulture City grounds. Others claim to hear the sounds of the pulley machine whipping around as if it were malfunctioning. Paranormal investigators claim to have discovered Jimmy’s spirit hanging around the mine’s powerhouse, and his ghost has been seen at the entrance to the mine on multiple occasions.
The ghosts of the high-graders who were punished by death are still seen around the mines. The Hanging Tree is said to have been the burial site of dozens of men who were condemned after being caught red-handed. Eighteen men were hung from the Hanging Tree, but it’s not known if they were all buried there. Either way, many tourists claim to have been harassed by the ghosts of the dead thieves. Tourists have had rocks thrown at them while near the Hanging Tree. They also hear footsteps scurrying around them near the area, and some have even heard strange voices call them by name.
A group of thieves killed in a freak accident also haunt Vulture City. A particularly prosperous area near the head of the mine, called the Glory Hole, was the site of much high-grading once the main body of ore was dug out. The miners would come around sunset and dig out the remaining ore near the support beams. After a while, there was no rock to support the beams, and the Glory Hole collapsed, trapping and killing seven men and twelve donkeys. The bodies are still there today, and their ghosts haunt the former Glory Hole. The apparitions can be seen around the head of the mine, and witnesses report unusual cold spots and feelings of being watched.
Learn More About the Haunted History of Arizona!
The bloody history of Arizona has made it a haven for ghostly spirits. The Congress Hotel in Tucson is one of the country’s most haunted hotels, and once served as a hideout for John Dillinger. The strange architecture of the Casa Grande Domes attracted Satanists who tried to channel dark energy through the building’s unique shape. If you want to learn how wild the Wild West really was, you should read about the Birdcage Theatre, where a jealous mistress carved a woman’s heart out with a stiletto. You can also read about the top ten most haunted spots in Phoenix right here!
Main Image Source: Wikimedia/Tony the Marine