Santa Rita History
By Terry Humble
In 1799, Lt. Col. Jose Carrasco, a Spanish soldier stationed in Janos, was
shown a copper deposit by a friendly Apache Indian. Thus begun Santa Rita
del Cobre, a property that has been mined almost continuously since. A
military presidio was established there and convict labor used to extract
copper that was shipped by mule to Janos, Chihuahua and on to Mexico City.
It has been said that the metal in almost all of the copper coins minted in
Spain and Mexico between 1800 and 1840 originated in Santa Rita.
During the 1800s, Santa Rita was a stopping place for all of the mountain men who were trapping beaver on the nearby Gila River. Notable among them was Kit Carson, famous trapper and scout, who worked for a short time at the mine as a teamster.
Santa Rita was also home for such Apache Indian chiefs as Juan Jose Compa, Mangas Coloradas and Victorio. Indian depredations were a constant threat to the occupants of this town until the 1880s.
Santa Rita was under Mexican rule for twenty five years after that country gained her independence from Spain in 1821. The mines were abandoned about 1838 and not worked again until just before the Civil War.
In 1846, a portion of the Army of the West, under Colonel Kerney, marched through Santa Rita enroute to California to battle the Mexicans there when war was declared between the United States and Mexico. Five years later, in 1851, Santa Rita was used as a base for the United States - Mexico Boundary Commission while they were establishing the boundary between these two countries.
In 1873, clear title of the property was obtained by Martin Hayes from the original Spanish owners and underground mining continued until 1910. This year was the beginning of steam shovel mining in the open pit method. The Santa Rita mines have been owned by several major mining companies such as the Santa Rita Mining Company, Chino Copper Company, Kennecott Copper Corporation and the Phelps Dodge Mining Company since 1986.
This small town underneath the mountainous bluff called the Kneeling Nun has disappeared due to mining expansion and is now the site of a giant open pit copper mine measuring a mile and a half across and 1600 feet deep. It has had the flags of Spain, Mexico and the United States flown over it and has been the home of Indian, Spaniard, and American. It began with a few mule loads of copper and has grown into an annual production of about 160,000 tons. The pick and shovel extraction has given way to giant electric shovels scooping up more than 90 tons at a time and loading the ore into diesel haulage trucks with a capacity of 320 tons.
ABOUT THE CEMETERIES AND THEIR LOCATIONS:Santa Rita is located 14 miles east of Silver City, New Mexico, on State Highway 152. The former town of Santa Rita has been completely consumed by the large open pit copper mine presently owned by Phelps Dodge Mining company. An observation point is located next to the highway overlooking the Chino Mine pit. There have been a total of four cemeteries in and around Santa Rita, two of which are still in existence.
The first cemetery in Santa Rita was located on the south side of Santa Rita Creek, at the approximate location of 32 degrees, 47 minutes, 46 seconds North latitude, (0324746N) and 108 degrees, 3 minutes and 38 seconds West longitude, (1080338W). The exact location was known by several old time residents of Santa Rita but was never plotted on a present day map. It was evidently used by the Spaniard and Mexican residents of Santa Rita from the early 1800s until the town was abandoned in 1838. Graves in this cemetery were moved in 1911 in anticipation of open pit mining. There were re-interred on the east slope below the Iron Hill water tanks, probably the first burials in Cemetery #3, which will be discussed more later.
More graves in this first cemetery were discovered when steam shovel operations dug into them about 1917 or 1918. Oak trees eight and ten inches in diameter had grown up through many of the burials. Some of the remains had the appearance of Spaniards with the type of facial beards used by them still visible. In one burial a piece of a breastplate was found and a broken sword in another. The relocation of these remains was not documented but they should have been taken to nearby Cemetery #3.
Santa Rita Cemetery #2 was located a short distance behind the first Catholic church, built in 1902 and used until 1910. The location of the graveyard was 0324724N, 1080345W, on the northern slope of what was then Gold Hill. When mining operations reached this point in March, 1916, the graves which were still marked were moved to Cemetery #3. In August, 1916, three more graves were found in this cemetery and were moved farther up on the hill. Why they were not taken to the #3 cemetery which was in use by time is unknown. A Chino Copper report for August, 1916 stated:
"Three graves which were on the south end of the Sierra Ore Body, were moved from a point in the northwest corner of the cemetery to a point in the southwest corner. This places them where they will be in no danger of caving into the Hearst Pit. The graves were arranged in the same relative position as they were originally, with exception of the coffin of Myron L. Chase, which was originally placed with the head in the opposite direction from the other graves in the cemetery. This coffin was turned around, which places the head in the same relative position as all the others that are buried in this cemetery. The graves are now at a point bearing South 10 degrees, 15 seconds West, 150 feet from the original location. Pictures were taken of the three coffins and showed none had been disturbed and only one of the three was opened, which was the one of the child which we were unable to identify. Headboards are being painted showing the names of the persons and a fence is being placed around the cemetery. We had considerable difficulty in learning who was buried in these three graves and found that two of the graves were occupied by E. Martin and Myron L. Chase, but were unable to identify the child."
Santa Rita Cemetery #3 was also known as the East Santa Rita Cemetery and covers a large area around the coordinates 0324816N - 1080339W. This area is inside the property fence of the Phelps Dodge Mining Company which runs along the south side of State Highway 152 and is not accessible to the public. The cemetery can be seen from the fence at a point just west of the turnoff on County Road 73, also known as the Georgetown Road. The perimeter of the cemetery area is marked by several large white barrels as the graves themselves are almost indiscernible. An arroyo runs through the middle of a graveyard area and has been used as a dividing line for the cemetery. A plot map found for this cemetery shows the burials on the west side are "American" and those on the east side as "Mexican." This division, which was prominent at the time, corresponds to the arroyo which runs north and south. The cemetery was in use from about 1909 until 1917. The area on the east side of the arroyo had been almost entirely filled with burials by 1917 and Cemetery #4 had been started the year before in expectation of this.
On a 1909 map only the cemetery on the east side of the arroyo is shown while on a 1951 topographical map there are two distinct cemeteries marked. They are about seven hundred feet apart and are now considered as a single area. At present (1998) there is one headstone lying on the ground on the western edge of the cemetery bearing the name L. Harrison, 1867-1913. A short distance to the south of this headstone is a single rusted cross made from sections of iron pipe. Down close to the arroyo and on its east side are two graves covered with cement caps but no plaques. Several indentations showing former graves are nearby and the remains of a few wooden fences which enclosed plots are still visible. These are the only items that remain today. In the 1950s, the author remembers a military style headstone in this cemetery but it has long since disappeared. This could have been an IOOF headstone on Peter Mariotto's grave. If it weren't for an old engineer's notebook which was found in 1968 we would not have any idea of the people buried here. More about this notebook will be covered later. Santa Rita Cemetery #4 is located about three fourths of a mile to the north from the #3 cemetery. It is open to the public and can be reached by turning north off of State Highway 152 onto County Road 73 and traveling .4 miles. The cemetery is on the west side of the graveled road. If you have a global positioning, system (GPS), the coordinates are 0324850N and 1080326W. Cemetery #4 was started about 1916 and has been in use up to the present. In fact there was an interment in August, 1998.
INFORMATION ON SANTA RITA CEMETERY #3.In 1968, several boxes of Santa Rita paper items were bought at a yard sale by the author. These had originally been picked up at the Santa Rita dump in the 1950s when the houses and company offices of that town were being relocated or in some cases torn down. Among the papers were several very well worn and tattered notebooks of the type carried by engineers in the field. One was labeled East Santa Rita Cemetery and contained the field notes made by the Chino Copper Company engineers who were in charge of the cemetery. Another notebook had information for the Cemetery #4 which will be covered later.
In the back of the East Santa rita cemetery book was a large fold-out plot map showing 73 grave blocks with 8 burial lots in each block. Half were marked "American side" and" half "Mexican side". At the bottom of the map a scale of one inch equals thirty feet is given. This would show a dimension of 24 feet by 35 feet for each of the 73 blocks and an area of 300 feet by 750 feet for the entire cemetery. As mentioned before, there is an arroyo running through the middle of this large graveyard.
Dates for the burials in the notebook began with April 13, 1911 and run through January, 1917. There is an August 1928 date on one of the notes in the front of the notebook. The largest number of burials for any one month was twenty-two in April, 1911, all on the 13th of the month. These correspond to the burials made from cemetery #1 on that date. Another date which showed a large number of burials was in March, 1916 when thirteen bodies were removed from Cemetery #2 and brought here.
The information in this field book was evidently copied into a master book which has long since been lost. There are 260 burials on the eastern side of the arroyo and 30 on the western side. They are given here alphabetically and written down exactly as they appear in the notebook even when spelling is noticeably wrong. Examples are Gausman for Guzman and Rameras for Ramirez. Many other mistakes will be noted but have been retained as they were originally.
Some notes have been made when additional information is known other than what was in the notebook. Supposed and/or illegible information will be enclosed by parentheses and a question mark. The date given is that of the burial except when a d: is present indicating date of death. Also, the last name of the next of kin is not given unless it is different than that of the deceased. This cemetery was on land owned by the Chino Copper Company and only those who were employed by the company or their relatives were allowed to be buried in this cemetery.
Below, in alphabetical order, are the initials of the engineers or engineer helpers who made the notations in this grave notebook and initialed the various entries. If the name is known, it is included after the initials in parentheses.
EE (Ed Esquibel
LKG (Leslie Goforth)
SLH (Sam Houghton)
RMK (Ralph Kiner)
KMS (Kenneth Sully)
FET (Frank Thurber)
HET (Harry Thorne)
JT (John Trevarrow)
End Cemetery #3.
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