The first mining claim was filed in 1878 in Gila County, Arizona and another one was filed in 1882, but both were invalidated in 1884 when it was found the claims were located within the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.
Enterprising miner George B. Chittenden lobbied Congress to change the reservation boundaries and on December 22, 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt signed an executive order reverting the land back to the public domain. Chittenden and N.H. Mellor immediately staked their claims on Christmas morning – thus the name of both the mine and the town. According to an Arizona Republic article, the two men stated, “We filled our stockings and named the place Christmas in honor of the day.”
The Christmas copper mine produced 55 million tons of copper from 1905 to 1943 and various mining companies operated it throughout that time period including Phelps Dodge, Saddle Mountain Mining Company, and Christmas Copper Company. The Panic of 1907 caused rampant bankruptcies throughout the country, and two years after the Panic’s financial upheaval the mine was owned and operated by the Gila Copper Sulphide Company. The smelter was run by coal from the nearby Deer Creek Coal Field.
The town of Christmas was centered around mining activities and included a dairy, meat market, general merchandise store, barbershop, Catholic church and school. For years the Christmas Post Office received thousands of letters to be postmarked from “Christmas, Arizona”. The Post Office would open and close depending on the financial ups and downs of the mine, making it hard to keep a regular postmaster whose wages were based on stamp sales. One element missing from Christmas, however, was the presence of “normal” mining town business establishments such as brothels, saloons and gambling halls.
In 1921 the mine went into receivership but opened four years later under the ownership of Miner Products Company. The new mining company developed a process whereby up to 500 tons of copper could be mined each day. In 1931 the bottom fell out of copper prices and by the end of that year only about one hundred people resided in Christmas. The Post Office closed for the last time in 1935. The Christmas Copper Company, yet another mine owner, went bankrupt and the mine was sold again to various entities. In 1955 mining operations were assumed by Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company, and in 1960 the operation was converted to an open mining pit. Another drop in copper prices necessitated the final closure in the early 1980’s.
Today, for the general public’s safety the mine and town site are access-restricted. According to Find-A-Grave the mine is now owned by Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold, Inc. – those who want to visit family members in the town cemetery must gain permission from the company. There is only one grave marker photographed on the Find-A-Grave site:
The majority of the interments are infants and children – quite a few in 1918 and 1919 and possibly due to the worldwide flu pandemic. I’m sure the mine also had its share of accidents over the decades it was in operation.
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2013.