Legend has it that when German immigrant, Henry Wickenburg, walked across the Arizona desert in 1863 towards a pile of black feathers to pick up a dead vulture, something shiny caught his eye. He quickly left the dead bird and picked up the shiny stone. It was Gold!
Over 200 million in Gold and Silver would be brought out of the earth before the mine was closed in 1942. The town that grew around the mine was called Vulture City and at its peak had 5,000 residents.
It is called one of the best “Ghost Towns” in the western United States by ghost town authority and author Phillip Varney in his book Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps, 1980.
I gazed at the 200 year old iron wood tree standing like a sentinel in front of the restored stone and adobe cabin of Henry Wickenburg, originally built in 1884. Henry sold most of his interest in the mine and his cabin became the town jail. He shot himself when he was 85 and died penniless around 1905.
I wondered if the sign on the tree was true that 18 men were hanged from the tree for “high grading”, basically stealing gold. A recently added rope noose dangles from one branch.
In 1923, several miners working in one of the large underground chambers were . The Vulture was a “hard rock” mine and had no need of support timbers. The mining company left much of the ore in place as supporting columns.
One large chamber had ore columns that were very rich in gold. The miners were chipping away at these columns when the roof caved in. One hundred feet of rock collapsed on top of them. The cave-in seven miners and twelve burros. They are still buried there legend has it, creating more possible spirits to inhabit the City of Vultures.
Vulture City haunted confines have been featured in books, magazines and even on the television show “Ghost Adventures”. But fact and fiction seem to blur together in the dust of this historic place.
Exploring the nearby restored two story Assay Building, built in 1884, made me feel that I was going back in time.
A Singer sewing machine with its empty chair is poised by an open window, a wooden cabinet with a phonograph stands ready for the next record, a kitchen with canned food still on the shelves seems to waiting for a cook, an old metal bed frame and creaking floor boards enhance that feeling that the people that lived and worked here could be back. I could almost hear music playing and bed springs creaking as I walked through the rooms.
A nearby cook house, saloon and brothel with adobe walls are being restored to support the sagging and sometimes missing roofs. Several more buildings with collapsed walls and rotting roofs stand nearby. One building called Vulture’s Roost is covered in artefacts from horseshoes to old bottles and a sign warning of a rattlesnake crossing. The sheet metal covered fuel shack still has the famed red Mobil Pegasus sign above its doorway with a giant Saguaro cacti standing like an attendant by the old fuel pumps.
The wooden head frame and engine that lowered mining cars down into the earth and brought them back full of ore still stands above the main shaft of the old mine. A mining cart is perched half way up the steeply inclined frame with cables ready for someone to throw the switch.
TIP: Don’t wait, see the town as it is now and you won’t regret your visit to a real western treasure.
The site is located about 50 miles from the city of Phoenix, Arizona and 12 miles from the town of Wickenburg. The town is named for Henry, who provided most of the land for it. The city of Phoenix was born to provide the agricultural products to feed the boom town that sprung up around the mine.
Vulture City is rising up again just like that mythical bird. It has recently re-opened (October 2017) to the public for both self guided and guided tours. These operate only on the weekends and are a real bargain at $10-15.
If Vulture City doesn’t satisfy your need for old west history make sure to stop in Wickenburg and take the walking tour of the historic town centre where you stop at statues of town folk that play an audio about the location.
You can see a Jail Tree, historic buildings and a Railroad Depot. The well-regarded Desert Caballeros Western Museum is also worth a stop.