Wild and Wet – the Old Mining Towns of Arizona.

Posted on February 5, 2015


The 1870’s and 1880’s were wild times in Arizona, as copper, gold, silver and other precious minerals were suddenly discovered in many areas of the state.

Hordes of people flocked to each new strike, everyone wanting to get rich – either from the mines or from the miners. Businessmen, prospectors, cowboys, lawmen, homesteaders, prostitutes and gunmen and crooks quickly flowed into mining towns.

And where did they all meet up? At the saloon.

Saloons were among the first businesses to open in mining camps. Men met and mingled, played cards and gambled, hooked up with women and…drank.

The saloon was such an integral part of early Western life that cities designated entire blocks for them – Whiskey Row in Prescott,  Saloon Row in Williams, and Brewery Gulch in Bisbee, to name just a few.

Downtown Bisbee

Downtown Bisbee

Bisbee got its start as a mining camp after large deposits of copper were found in 1877, though in time gold, silver, malachite, turquoise and azurite were also found in abundance.

Bisbee’s tremendous mineral wealth turned the camp into a flamboyant boom town. By 1900 Bisbee boasted 24,000 inhabitants, and many of them were sedate, upstanding middle to upper class citizens, who built beautiful Victorian-styled homes and businesses.

However, Bisbee also had more than 50 saloons jammed mostly out of sight in Brewery Gulch, an area that was also home to a nice selection of gambling joints and whorehouses.

In Jerome, the story was much the same. It was a wild and woolly copper town in the 1880’s – a hotbed of prostitution, gambling, and vice. Its huge deposits of copper made East Coast investors fabulously wealthy, but few miners came away from Jerome with cash in their pockets.

Grorge Laman's saloon, Jerome, 1887

Grorge Laman’s saloon, Jerome, 1887

On 5 February 1903, the New York Sun proclaimed Jerome to be “the wickedest town in the West”.

Tombstone's Bird Cage Theatre featured risque stage performances, gambling, prostitutes and plenty of booze making it a town favorite.

Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater featured risque stage performances, gambling, prostitutes and plenty of booze making it a town favorite.

Down in Tombstone, a prospector by the name of Ed Schieffelin found a vein of silver in 1877. Soon all the usual riffraff swooped into town – along with more respectable folks, of course – to get what they could out of Schieffelin’s Good Enough Mine.

At its peak, Tombstone was said to have been the fastest growing city between St. Louis and San Francisco, with over one hundred saloons and a large red-light district bumping elbows with schools, churches and newspapers.

But wet and wild Arizona couldn’t last.

‘Respectable’ folks were moving into Arizona in droves just about the time the temperance movement was gaining nationwide momentum.  The idea of drying out Arizona really resonated with settlers and homesteaders sick and tired of the fighting, gambling and prostitution so often associated with saloons .

So the weather started to turn dusty and dry when statehood arrived for Arizona on February 14th, 1912. Now that they were a state, they had the option of voting themselves “dry.” And they did.

In 1914, voters elected to ban alcohol sales and consumption starting Jan. 1, 1915, five years before prohibition on the national level took effect.

Bisbee Brewery, at the entrance to Brewery Gulch. Today, it's the Stock Market Saloon.

The Brewery Saloon building, at the entrance to Brewery Gulch. Today, it’s the Stock Exchange Saloon.

Bisbee, like the rest of the old hoot and holler towns, couldn’t smooth out all its rough edges immediately. The town celebrated statehood in true mining-camp style – setting off 48 sticks of dynamite in a mining hole near its downtown.

Most of the old saloons from the rip roarin’ era are gone, but one of several still in business is the Stock Exchange Saloon in Bisbee’s old Brewery Saloon building.

In 1914, a brokerage firm located on the second floor was convinced to move their offices downstairs to space left vacant when the old saloon closed. A stock board was installed where the bar was previously located, and the E.F. Hutton offices in Manhattan sent out a ticker tape machine.

The New York Stock Exchange in Arizona was born, and remained active until the stock market crash in 1929. It reopened as a saloon in the early 1980’s.


The New York Stock Exchange board is still hanging in the Stock Exchange Saloon.

The New York Stock Exchange board is still hanging in the Stock Exchange Saloon.

Posted in: Travel - Arizona