The Human Habitation in the Superior, Arizona Region: A Selected Cultural and...

The Human Habitation in the Superior, Arizona Region: A Selected Cultural and Historical Timeline

The historic area of the Town of Superior includes many abandoned buildings, like the one on the far left, where “La Mina” Bar used to be. Photo: Eduardo Barraza | Barriozona Magazine © 2014
The historic area of the Town of Superior includes many abandoned buildings, like the one on the far left, where “La Mina” Bar used to be. Photo: Eduardo Barraza | Barriozona Magazine © 2014

During the Tertiary Period of geologic time, dynamic forces in the form of volcanic activity spewed lava from below the ground approximately 29 million years ago and shaped the mountainous region in and around the town now known as Superior. We call these mountain rock formations Apache Leap, Picket Post, Pinal and the Superstition Mountains. Superior’s geological history is also linked to those cultural influences that have remained as a strong presence over time in this region:

AD 500 Anasazi Indians, a pre-historic group
AD 900 Hohokam Indians, whose culture was influenced by the Anasazi
AD 1225 Salado Indians, a mixture of the Mogollon, Hohokam and Anasazi Indians
AD 1600 Apache Indians, comprised of the Chiricahua Apaches and the Mohave-Yavapai Apache Indians
1539 In his search for the fabled “Seven Cities of Gold”, Fray Marcos de Niza led Spanish explorers to surrounding areas. From their stop at the Gila River, they marveled at the mountain they named La Sierra de Espuma, “the mountain of foam,” later re-named the Superstition Mountains
1539 The Spaniards called the Apaches who roamed the mountains Piñaleros, meaning those who lived in and around the Pinal Mountains near present-day Superior. The word “Pinal” means “deer” in the Apache language 1860s Mexican miners explored the area within the Queen Creek Valley looking for Spanish treasures of gold in and around the 1800-foot mountain they named La Montaña Tordillo, “the gray-spotted mountain”, later called “Picket Post Mountain” by the U.S. Army in 1871
1870 The U.S. Army is in the region to ensure a military presence and to protect small Mexican and Anglo encampments nearby from the Chiricahua Apaches
1871 The butte called “Picket Post” is used by Army soldiers on sentinel duty to watch for Chiricahua Apache Indian activity
1871 Camp Pinal, sometimes called “Fort Pinal”, is developed on a small scale by General George Stoneman, U.S. Army
1871 Picket Post area, known as “Piñalito” by the Mexicans and “Pinal” by the Anglos, emerges as a small campsite, ready for settlement
1871 San Carlos Apache Indian land established by Executive Order, signed by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant
1871 General Stoneman leaves Camp Pinal for another assignment
1872 Apache Indian land and the general area becomes home to the Chiricahua, Warm Springs, and Mohave Apache Indians
1872 While digging a new road to the Globe Mine further north, a U.S. Army soldier named Sullivan discovered the silver ore. He delivered several specimens to a Florence farmer, Charles G. Mason, at his ranch on the Gila River
1875 William Tuttle claimed the Irene and Hub silver mining sites and developed the “Silver Queen mine.”
1875 The escarpment called the “Apache Leap Mountain” acquired its legendary name after a roving band of 75 Apache warriors rode their horses off the mountain to their deaths thousands of feet below in order to avoid capture by the U.S. Army in a small skirmish atop the mountain. When news of their tragic deaths reached the Apache camps nearby, the tears shed by their families are said to have turned into the translucent merikanite obsidian gemstones called “Apache Tears”, found in abundance in the Superior area. Arizona historians, however, say there is no historical basis for this story.
1875 Two small silver lodes previously discovered by the U.S. Army soldier named Sullivan in 1872, are claimed by Isaac Copeland; William H. Long; Charles G. Mason; and Benjamin W. Reagan. This claim led to the establishment of the prosperous Silver King mine
1875 The Pioneer Mining district is founded around the Silver King mine and the small mining town became known as “Silver King” and lies within the newly-formed Pinal County, comprised of Maricopa, Yavapai, and Pima counties
1875 The Silver King mine shipped 30 tons of silver per month to Florence for refining, with a silver value of $1,000 per ton. The mine disbursed over $1,500,000 in dividends, with its stock quoted regularly in the San Francisco Stock Exchange
1875 Estéban Ochoa, civic leader and prominent Mexican merchant from Tucson and recognized as establishing the public school system in the Arizona Territory, organized the Tully, Ochoa and Company, a leading freight company in the Arizona Territory. Ochoa obtained the Silver King freighting contract to Florence. Ochoa sub-contracted the Silver King, Pinal, and Florence freight run to the Mexican freighter José A. Gonzáles, of “Piñalito”. Rather than use the weather-ravaged route that followed the flow of the Queen Creek to Florence, Gonzáles selected an alternate and shorter route directly west and across Queen Creek from Pinal and over a “saddle” of the Mineral Mountains south of Gonzáles Wash. This “saddle” route became known as the historic “Gonzáles Pass”, which is aligned with U.S. Highway 60 today
1877 Mexican and Chinese storekeepers began providing services to Silver King and the smelter town called Pinal City, Pinal or Piñalito. The Chinese merchant known as “Jim Sam” operated a café and soon, Chinese laundries began to appear in Pinal City. The Chinese grew vegetables and fruits and brought produce to Pinal City on wagons and sold them to the U.S. Army and families in the area
1877 The Silver King post office was established and S.B. Chapin served as its postmaster
1878 The Picket Post post office was established and William H. Benson served as its postmaster
1880 The Pinal school was established, with children from various ethnic backgrounds in attendance
1881 The Silver King, Pinal, and Gila River Railroad Company was established. The railroad brought supplies and people of various backgrounds to the growing area
1881 Gold was mined at D.T. Elmore’s “Surpriser mine.” Elmore joined with C.C. Hastings to develop the “Surpriser mine #2”. Elmore organized the Hastings Gold and Silver Mining Company. The area became known as “Queen City,” but is re-named as “Hastings” after a well-known San Francisco clothing merchant in 1900. Hastings was the forerunner of today’s town of Superior
1881 Financial support cames from the Gem gold mine of the Wide Awake Prospecting and Mining Company to build small rail cars that ran to ore bins at the ore crusher of the Gem mill near Hastings
1881 Silver King boasted 37 wood-framed and well-constructed buildings, at least 14 homes, two hotels, and a population of 245 people
1881 The Pinal County Bank opened in Pinal City
1882 A 20-stamp mill at Hastings began to prosper and Hastings began mining copper ore
1882 Pinal City has approximately 200 adobe buildings, with saloons, hotels, boarding houses, two Protestant churches and offices for doctors and lawyers, all of which served the community of 861 people
1882-83 A shortage of water began to affect the production of silver ore at the Silver King mine, a sign of bad things to come. Families began moving away from the Silver King area
1883 The Pinal post office was established
1886-87 The market price of silver began its decline
1888 The price of silver drastically declined and the silver mines begin to close
1891 Pinal City closed its post office
1900 The price of copper began to rise and the community of Hastings, now known as Superior, comes alive
1900 The townsite of Superior was laid out by George Lobb. The town is named “Superior” after Superior, Michigan, where some of the Lake Superior and Arizona stockholders lived
1903 The Superior post office was established. George Lobb served as postmaster
1903 Superior’s first elementary school teacher was Miss Nellie Bartelson, from Florence. She lived in a tent house on East Main Street
1904 Tom Kelley established Superior’s first saloon in a tent house
1910 William Boyce Thompson formed the Magma Copper Company, owning the Silver Queen mine outright
1910 The Magma Copper Company began operations at its mine-site near the Arizona-Eastern Railroad 30 miles southwest of Superior. The word “magma” means molten rock material, from which igneous rock, or lava, is formed
1910 More and more immigrant workers, merchants and their families continue to come from Mexico, England, China, Norway, Ireland, Serbia, and Spain to Superior to work and to establish and create a new way of life. They bring with them a rich vitality of customs, languages and cultures
1910 The Roosevelt Elementary school was built

A Mexican Family and their tent-house; Superior, Arizona, C.1910. Photograph: Chicano Research Collection, Hayden Library.
A Mexican Family and their tent-house; Superior, Arizona, C.1910. Photograph: Chicano Research Collection, Hayden Library.

1914 The new Magma smelter began operations in Superior and a new narrow gauge Magma Arizona railroad was built to transport the copper ore on its steam operated railroad cars to buyers
1915 The Superior Fire Department is established
1915 The St. Francis Catholic Church was established for its Mexican parishoners. José Parra and Francisco Nuñez carried hay from Florence to Superior in a two-wheeled wagon cart to mix the hay for the church’s adobe walls
1922 The Harding Elementarys school was built
1923 William Boyce Thompson began building his 26-room mansion and the Thompson Arboretum on the land that held the earlier Silver Queen mine-site near the foothills of the Picket Post Mountain and located near the Pinal Mountains. Today, the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum is recognized as one of the world’s important arboretums. More than 6,000 plant species from all over the world can be seen there. It is also a refuge for over 150 species of birds and 40 other wildlife species and its name is synonymous with the town of Superior
1924 A more formidable and stable smelter was constructed at the Magma mine
1925 Superior High School was built
1926 The Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church was dedicated and served the Spanish-speaking residents of Superior
1931 The Fundamental Tabernacle church is dedicated. It is later re-named the First Conservative Baptist Church in 1940
1941 The Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved the creation of Superior’s fire district
1946 The Ladies Auxiliary to George E. Truman Post 3584 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars was established
1957 The International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) organized Local 938. The union was later certified by the National Relations Board
1964 The Kennedy Elementary school was built
1965 A new federal post office opened in June
1971 The Magma Copper Company smelter closed
1976 The town of Superior was incorporated
1982 The Magma Copper mine closed
1982 The Town of Superior celebrated its 100-year anniversary with its “Superior Centennial”. The Governor of Arizona, the Honorable Bruce Babbitt, proclaimed the “Town of Superior as a proud example of a bicultural community, within a State rich with cultural diversity” and surrounded by the landmarks known as the Superstition Mountains, Apache Leap, Picket Post Mountain, and the Silver King Mine
1990 The Magma Copper mine re-opened

Compiled on August, 2006


  • Arizona School Census. Pinal County School Census, 1886-1907 (Tucson: Arizona State Genealogical Society,1986), pp. 42-50.
  • Barnes, Will C. Arizona Place Names. University of Arizona Bulletin #2. (Tucson: University of Arizona, 1935).
  • Ely, Sims. The Lost Dutchman Mine: the Fabulous Story of the Seven-Decade Search for the Hidden Treasure in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona (New York: Morrow, 1953).
  • Gonzales, Gilbert Ramirez. “Strategy and Stopes: Mines, Management, and Community in Superior and Jerome, Arizona, 1900-1955.” Ph.D. Dissertation. History. Arizona State University. 2004.
  • Gonzales, Joe E. “Gonzales Pass: Genesis.” Unpublished manuscript. 2000. Chicano Research Collection. Department of Archives and Special Collections. Hayden Library. Arizona State University. Tempe, Arizona.
  • Myrick, David R. Railroads of Arizona. Volume 2: the Central Roads (La Jolla, California: Howell-North Books, 1980), pp. 681-720.
  • Superior, Arizona Centennial, 1882-1982 (Superior: Superior Centennial Celebration Committee, 1982).
  • Walker, Gladys. Copper Country Folklore: a Scrapbook of Memories (Superior, Arizona: Author, 2003)

© 2006 – 2016, Dr. Christine Marin. All rights reserved.


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