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Santa Rita
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When they arrived at the surface, Humble was amazed to see a crowd of people gathered. "Mike was loaded in the back of an ambulance, while I hobbled to the front seat and we rolled off to the hospital. Meanwhile, Ben went back underground to blast the loaded round of dynamite holes. After all, the mine was paying a bonus for the amount of work completed."

The mine then sent two more men on the second shift to begin cleanup, and a man was injured when that area further caved in on him. The third, "graveyard" shift continued the cleanup and yet another man was injured before the soft rock was finally secured and they could continue work on that drift.

Reflecting for a moment, Humble quietly summarizes, "There were four lost-time accidents in less than 24 hours. In fact, Mike was injured so severely that he never returned to work underground."

 

Despite such harrowing experiences, Humble maintained a fondness for the mining district and an interest in mining history. As he saw his precious Santa Rita literally disappear, an idea for a book chronicling that history began taking shape in his mind.

His father provided incentive and assistance. Pat Humble liked history. He admired a former Silver City and Deming lawman, Dan Tucker, from the area's Wild West past. When author Bob Alexander came to Silver City to research a book about Tucker, he stopped in to visit with Pat Humble. Because Pat was still working six days a week in the mines, Terry found himself helping both men with the research for the book. By this time, he was working in the open pit mines himself, but he had Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. He would take those days to read microfilm and newspaper articles kept in both the Silver City and Western New Mexico University libraries.

mining
From the perspective of this image, you are sitting in the hoist operator’s chair. One of the hand brakes, to control the cable going down into the mine shaft, is seen at left, while the depth indicator wheel shows the end of the cable stopped between levels three and four when the mine was shut down years ago.

Meanwhile, the move of the town of Santa Rita continued and was completed by 1970, allowing the copper-hungry mine to resume its relentless, round-the-clock processing of the precious ground where Santa Rita once stood. It was then that Santa Rita's former residents began calling themselves "born in space" — because the ground where they'd grown up was gone.

Others had already begun capturing the history of Santa Rita and the mining district. In the 1950s, Lou Blachly formed a Pioneers Foundation and began interviewing those old-timers still living, recording them on reel-to-reel tapes. Blachly was the editor of the Silver City Enterprise newspaper, and he'd read stories of the pioneers of the area in the old editions.

When Pat Humble retired from underground mining in the 1970s, he pursued his interest in mining history, finding copies of the Blachly tapes at WNMU. Listening to each of the hundreds of tapes, he built a catalog and also made cassette copies for his own use. He would then take the stories he heard on the tapes and give talks to various groups around Silver City, such as The Westerners, Grant County Archeology Society and the Silver City Women's Club. Meanwhile, son Terry continued collecting as many photographs, stories and mining records that he could about Santa Rita del Cobre, keeping alive his goal of a book.

mining
The Princess Mine dates from 1940 and was owned and operated by United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Co.

Pat Humble died in 1997. Four years later, Terry Humble retired from active mining and proceeded with renewed vigor to capture every scrap of mining records and photographs possible.

 

In the early 1990s, while doing library research in Silver City, Terry Humble had run into a young man named Christopher Huggard who was also doing research. Huggard was working on his doctoral thesis in mining history. Humble mentioned his long-term desire to publish a book about Santa Rita and the mine. The two men agreed to stay in touch.

Then, in 2008 the break Humble needed happened, as Chris Huggard agreed to partner with Humble on his long-dreamed-of book. Huggard took advantage of a sabbatical to leave his teaching position in Arkansas and come to Bayard to work with Humble. Says Humble, "It was total immersion. We worked from sunrise to sundown three or four weeks at a time." These sessions went on over the course of two years, culminating in a manuscript that both men felt they could present to a publisher.

Huggard had already published two books on mining history. He was also known at the University of Colorado, whose publishing department specialized in books dealing with western mining history. As soon as Huggard's colleagues at Colorado heard about the book, they agreed to publish it and have the University of Oklahoma print it.

 

So what does the future hold for Humble and his not-to-be-forgotten Santa Rita? Prior to the intensive work sessions with Huggard, Humble had started a monthly Mine Tour, using the Corre Caminos bus to take people down Highway 356 out of Bayard and through the central mining district. He relates the history of what it was like to work in the mines and for the mine companies. The mine tour remains extremely popular, resulting in several tours a month, plus special tours for various Silver City festivals and events.

And then there's another book in the works. Humble is collaborating with Carolyn Davis and Arcadia Publishing on a volume dedicated to the town of Silver City and Grant County.

 

 

Santa Rita del Cobre: A Copper Mining Community in New Mexico by Christopher J. Huggard and Terrence M. Humble (University Press of Colorado, $45 hardcover) may be purchased from the author or from the Silver City Museum, Aunt Judy's Attic, JD's Feed and Supply and Royal Scepter Gem and Mineral in Silver City and at JW Art Gallery in Hurley. It is available online from Amazon (also in a Kindle edition, $34.95) and Barnes & Noble (also in a Nook edition, $19.22).

 


Ann McMahon is a photographer who moved to Silver City in mid-2010.
Visit her website at www.AnnMcMahon.com.

 

 

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