fossil collecting



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Minerals Fossils and Artifacts Tucson Mineral and Gem World
Family owned and operated in the same location since 1968
2801 South Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85735 Phone: 520-883-0682
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by Ron Ratkevich

Fairbank: Where Ghosts Mingle With Guests

Fairbank, Arizona

is a ghost town preserved within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, along the San Pedro River. The town was founded in 1881 as a convenience for railroad workers who were constructing the railroad spur leading to Tombstone, which at the time, was one of the largest western cities having a population of about 15,000. Its life as a town began with the construction of a railroad in 1881, and it soon became an important depot as well as the closest railroad stop to Tombstone, then one of the largest cities in the Arizona territory with a population of 15,000 in 1882.
Originally called Junction City, Kendall, then Fairbanks, it was finally named Fairbank on May 16, 1883. The town was named to honor N.K. Fairbank who was from Chicago, a prominent businessman who helped finance the railroad.
Fairbank was built on a pre-19th Century Mexican land grant called the San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales. This land grant, though old, remained a legally binding document that was bought by the Boquillas Land and Cattle Company in 1901. The company evicted all homesteaders, but allowed a small number of town residents to stay, and continued to lease the mercantile building until the mid 1970's.
In 1986 the Bureau of Land Management purchased the old land-grant to become part of the San Pedro Riparian Area. Today the riparian area is open to the public, as is the Ghost Town of Fairbank. Take a self-guided tour through the ghost town that was thriving through Arizona's cowboys and Indians era, and probably saw its share of bandits, bank robbers, saloons and lynching. There are really ghosts in Fairbank, or at least an eerie feeling that a gun-slinger or a man with a tin badge, is lurking in the shadows.
Be on the look out for historic points of interest. There are a cluster of ghost towns clustered around Fairbank. These include Boquilles, Boston Mill, Millville, Charleston, Brunckowa's cabin, Pick-Em-Up, Contention City, Richmond, and the Spanish presidio of Santa Cruz de Terrenate . . . Please note: "It is illegal to remove any historic (older than 50 years) artifacts from public lands. Please leave everything in its place." Your cooperation in preserving Arizona's historic resources is greatly appreciated.
For further information and maps concerning the Fairbank area, please contact the Sierra Vista office of the BLM (520-458-3559).


"will eventually be the county seat"

Bleak and desolate are the words for the scene at this old mining town, ruins of the jail house and store buildings with windows that gape in nothingness and, somewhere in the hills, the mines that spawned the place.
Yet the historical vibes are good. It was once a booming mining camp pulsating with people and the usual accoutrements of a lifestyle befitting the age and purpose of the frontier community. Courtland had a newspaper--The Courtland, Arizonan, established in February, 1909, and published every Sunday. The town even had a baseball team. In fact in April, 1909, the Arizonan discussed the town baseball nine's coming season as promising to be a "hot one." It added that the team manager Hazard (not bothering with the first name) "is going to spring something good." On another subject, the paper noted that Courtland "is growing rapidly, the raftroads will Soon be unloading freight in the city limits and then the population will grow by leaps and Bounds."That Cortland will eventually be the county seat of Cochise County is just as certain as its Destiny as the population and commercial center of the county," the paper waxed on. Old files at the Arizona Historical Society indicate that Courtland received its name from Courtland Young, one of the owners of the Great Western Mining Co. Courtland, established Around 1909, was considered to be one of the most promising copper camps in Arizona. Four large mining companies were working in the area since surface conditions indicated the Presence of a copper bonanza. In the vagaries of mining, the boom waned. But, it wasn't until 1942 that the post office was closed. As late as 1968, a newspaper reported that the hills around Courtland were still rich inore and that leaseholders there were active. In June, 1959, a wire service story datelined Courtland, said ghost here had been caught after only two months in operation. The ghost had been described as "white, shooting out sparks and screaming like a cat at midnight Saturdays when it jumped out of a mine shaft at people."; A distraught woman hired a Tucson detective agency to dig into the mystery. In the end, the ghost proved to be a 55-year-old local citizen dressed in a sheet to scare his three teenagers into coming home before midnight on Saturdays.
Courtland is located on a dusty, unnumbered road between Toumbstone and Sunsites


, Take a walk in the past

Bisbee is the picturesque county seat of Cochise County and is only 100 miles southeast of Tucson. The community was founded in 1880 and named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the Copper Queen Mine. This old west mining camp proved to be one of the richest mineral sites in the world, producing millions of ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper, not to mention the silver, lead and zinc that came from these rich Mule Mountains. By the early 1900s, the Bisbee community was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. It had a population of 20,000 people and had become the most cultured city in the Southwest. When mining operations became unprofitable in 1975, Bisbee could have become just another of Arizona's ghost towns, but it soon was "discovered" and was transformed into an attractive artist colony and retirement community. Since the late 1970's, Bisbee had attracted people from all over the world who savor its unique uncommon bled of creativity, friendliness, style, romance and adventure all wrapped in the splendor of the old west.

To stop in Bisbee, is to stop in time. Nestled in the mile high Mule Mountains of southwestern Arizona, Bisbee has maintained an Old World charm seldom found anywhere in the United States. It is so well preserved that it has been featured in many movies, not as Bisbee, but with a little movie magic, the town was transformed into turn of the century New York, Spain, Italy and Greece, to name a few.

The fine collection of well preserved, turn of the century, Victorian structures are full of old west history and copper mining lore. Old miners' boarding houses have been refurbished into many charming small Bed and Breakfast establishments, of which no two are alike. Former Saloons are now quaint shops, antique stores or art galleries, cafes and restaurants.
If you are taking a walking tour don't miss the world famous Brewery Gulch, which in its heyday, boasted 47 saloons and was considered the liveliest spot between El Paso and San Francisco. Other activities include the Queen Mine Tour, that transports guests down, into the now inactive copper mine, and a visit to the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. The Muheim House, best seen on your walking tour, is an outstanding example of 19th century architecture and elegance, and the Lavender open Pit Mine is breathtaking in its size and is a monument to miners who struggled to extract metals which laid hidden below hundreds of feet of solid rock. Visit the Chamber of Commerce, located at 31 Subway Street, to pick up a free copy of an excellent walking tour guide of historic Bisbee.
If you are new to Tucson, don't miss the opportunity to visit Bisbee. If you have already been to Bisbee, you are probably hooked and will visit this remarkable community many times. For more information about Bisbee, call (520)432-5421. Day Trip

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

by Ron Ratkevich

One of the most interesting sites to visit in southern Arizona, especially for those fascinated by the "Indian Wars" of the 1880's, is Fort Bowie National Historic Site.

Within the 1,000 acre commemorative preserve, The Fort Bowie National Historic Site vividly tells the story of the long and anguishing military conflict between the Chiricahua Apaches and the United States. For over 30 years, Fort Bowie and Apache Pass became the central point of military operations which eventually culminated in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the forced emigration of the entire Chiricahua Apache Tribe to Florida and Alabama. This was the site of the battle of Apache Pass which followed a bloody a wagon train massacre. The Battle of Apache Pass, was one of the largest battles of the "Indian Wars", where a large force of Chiricahua Apaches under Mangus Colorados and Cochise fought the California Volunteers.

Not far from the present town of Wilcox, Fort Bowie has been carefully preserved by the National Park Service. The walls of various adobe post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station provide the visitor a good visual snapshot of what the fort looked like and the relatively primitive conditions of life with which the soldiers had to endure. Fort Bowie stands as an important monument to the bravery, hardship and endurance of the U.S. soldiers who spent long tours of duty hundreds of miles from home. What ultimately happened by the military actions taken from this fort was the removal of the Apache threat and allowed a multitude of settlers to pave the way westward and begin the taming and expansion of the western frontier. The story of Fort Bowie also helps us to understand the inevitable and controversial "clash of cultures," that pitted a young nation pursuing its "manifest destiny" against a proud hunter/gatherer society which rapidly saw themselves valiantly attempting to preserve their traditional way of life, and keep the lands they needed to remain Apache. The efforts of the brave men at Fort Bowie finally crushed the Apache resistance, and ended the Indian wars in the American west. Getting to Fort Bowie is not difficult for most people who are able to make an easy hike. From Willcox drive southeast for 20 miles on State #186 to the Fort Bowie turn off, then drive another eight miles to the Fort Bowie Trailhead. Look forward to an enjoyable walk of about three miles round trip to the ruins. From the town of Bowie, the trailhead is located on Apache Pass Road, 13 miles south. Taking I-10. the park is 118 miles east of Tucson.

The hike in to the ruins of Fort Bowie is a big part of your journey into the late 19th Century historical experience. The trail snakes past the historic remains of a Butterfield Stage Coach Station, Fort Bowie's military cemetery, the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency, Apache Springs, the original fort and finally the National Park Service facilities and visitor center. It takes about two hours for the round trip visit. This is a hike you won't want to miss because of the scenery, wildlife and historic points of interest along the route. Return via the overlook trail for great views of the fort and the battle site.

For more information, call Fort Bowie National Historic Site at 520-847-2500.



by Ron Ratkevich

The Arizona State Parks Department will be opening Kartchner Caverns to the public, but this has taken years of secrecy, negotiation, study and assurances that every safeguard has been made to protect the integrity of this rare natural geological formation.

Kartchner Caverns were discovered in 1974 by two cave explorers Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen and kept secret until 1988 when they approached the Kartchner family with news of the discovery. It took two years for the Kartchners' to decline the offer of doing it themselves, but the alternative appeared more attractive and the land and the cave were sold to the State for eventual use as a park. After the sale in 1988, scientific research and development began on a frenzied scale, with many delays due to dangerous rocky structures which had to be engineered for visitor safety, and more importantly, every aspect had to be studied and mapped, which turned out to be a project beyond anyone's early estimates. Some of the cave rooms were immense, larger than a football field, the floor was literally lined with pitfalls; deep vertical shafts covered over with thin shells of calcium that could crumble under the weight of an explorer.

Nothing seemed to be going right, and press release after press release announced opening dates that came and went. Originally scheduled to open in 1992 or 1993, work still continues on making proper accommodations for the public. The delays, in reality, were probably a positive thing since Arizona never had to deal with such an amazing and unique park situation. Trails are being constructed to less sensitive areas of the cave, airlock doors are being fitted to control the inside atmosphere and rare fossils, like an Ice Age, bear-size sloth skeleton had to be slowly excavated for display in the visitor's center. Tufts and Tenen do have certain regrets to making their discovery public. Kartchner Caverns is one of the finest cave complexes in North America, and until its discovery the hidden world was safe from the intrusion, at least during modern times. Kartchner is also a wet cave, meaning the delicate formations are still growing and the conditions for such growth are almost unheard of in Arizona. Had the cave been further away from civilization, Tufts and Tenen could have kept its exact location a secret known only to the most credible of cave explorers.

Kartchner Caverns is scheduled to open in November 1999. To make advanced reservations for cave tours call 520-586-CAVE. Be sure not to miss this incredible natural wonder!


by Ron Ratkevich


or more than a year back in the 1930's, John Dillinger and his gang terrorized the mid west. In this short time, the name John Dillinger came to symbolize PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1. Not before in since has one criminal fascinated or frightened so many people. His countless bank robberies, wild chase scenes and daring prison escapes and violent machine gun battles...all were part of a crime wave unparalleled in our modern history made John Dillinger a household name.
During a rest stop in Tucson, Dillinger and his gang rented rooms on the third floor of the Hotel Congress, now Club Congress in Downtown Tucson. What followed was an almost comical fluke which ultimately led to the capture of Dillinger and his gang. A fire started on the first floor of the Hotel Congress and quickly spread to the third floor where Dillinger's gang was quartered. The Dillinger gang was trapped as the elevator caught fire ad the stairwell filled with smoke. With the aid of an aerial ladder that reached the third floor ledge, four men and three women were rescued.. Once out on the street, one of Dillinger's gang members bribed two firemen, William Benedict and Kenneth Pender with a $12 "tip" to return to the third floor and retrieve the luggage. The fireman noticed that the baggage was very expensive and very heavy, but managed to get the suitcases out without any damage. Sometime later, after the police took charge of the luggage, it was discovered that several of the suitcases contained an array of machine guns, pistols, ammunition and bullet proof vests. Several days later, after the fire was extinguished, firemen Benedict and Pender were reading a copy of True Detective Magazine and recognized the face of the man who had tipped him so well a few days earlier. His name was Russell Clark, wanted for bank robbery, murder and prison escape and a member of the Dillinger Gang. After notifying the police, other members were identified and the police department knew that the Dillinger Gang was actually in Tucson.
After the fire, Dillinger and other members of the gang moved into a motel on south sixth street, with other members renting a house at 927 Second Avenue North, near the University.
Several of the Dillinger gang were quickly apprehended. With a tip that Dillinger might show up at the house on Second Avenue North, A stake out was set up. The tip turned out to be bonefied. Dillinger drove by just as the police were parking their car. Dillinger approached the house to see if it was the right address. Just as Dillinger approached, Officer Herron drew his .38 and shouted "Stick em' up!" Dillinger slowly put up his hands and walked off the porch to the sidewalk. As Dillinger was being searched, he hands began to slowly drop. Office Walker noticed the move pulled the hammer back on his gun "Reach for the Moon!" he said, "Or I'll cut you in two. Dillinger obeyed, muttering " Well I'll be damned". In the space of five hours, without firing a single shot, the police of small town Tucson had one what the combined forces of several states and the city of Chicago had tried so long and unsuccessfully to do. Dillinger was behind bars.
The old Congress Hotel, was converted to Club congress in 1985, is open nightly, alternating DJ dance nights and live music. the best local bands playing new music grace the stage at the congress, as well as out of town acts as diverse as Bo Diddley, X, and John Cale. the rooms away from the noise of the nightclub (which is opened till 1:AM) are rented first and earplugs are available from the front desk free of charge for those would like to use them.
Last Updated: May 21,2008
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