Papago Indian Chief Mine

One of the many intriguing features of the Sonoran Desert National Monument is the Papago Indian Chief Mine.  Located in the Sand Tank Mountain south of Interstate 8 the outline of the mine’s copper smelter can easily be seen silhouetted against the blue shy punctuated by a saguaro cactus forest.

Nearby the brick, concrete, rock and steel smelter are mine tailings as well as the trash left behind by the miners.

The mine and smelter was operated by Tom Childs, Jr. in the early 1900s and it is believed to have been abandoned sometime before the 1920s. Most mines in Arizona, particularly small mines such as this one, did not have its own smelter. All the ore was packed and hauled to a nearby smelter for processing. The Papago Chief’s copper ore was processed in place. Presently the smelter is in great shape and should be appreciated for its contribution to Arizona’s local history and a legally protected archaeological site.

Tom Childs was local miner and cattleman who worked the local deserts from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. He was born in Yuma, AZ in 1870. Together with his father Tom Childs, Sr. they prospected and ranched in southern Arizona.

In 1912 Tom Child Sr. and Jr. sold their interest in a copper claim in Ajo to Calumet and Arizona Company. After some years of operation this company became part of the Phelps Dodge Corporation. The Childs would certainly be astonished to see Ajo today and what became of their claim.

Tom married a local Tohono O’dham[1] woman, and had twelve children. The most famous of his children, Fillman Childs Bell became an author and historian.

Tom Childs served Arizona as a territorial and state legislator.

Unfortunately I could not determine when Tom Childs passed away, but his contribution to the area continues to remind us of the people who also loved the Sonoran desert as we do today.

For more information about Tom Childs or the history of the area from Organ Pipe National Monument to Gila Bend go to Ajo Copper News www.cunews.info  or read Dry Borders Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert, edited by Richard Stephen Felger and Bill Broyles, University of Utah Press, 2007



[1] Tohono O’dham translates as people of the desert. Papago is the name given to these people by the early Spanish settlers. Papago is considered a disparaging word and should be avoided when possible.

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