Vulture City: home to Arizona’s most successful mine & a much-used hanging tree

Nikola Petrovski
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Vulture City is one of many famous abandoned towns in the American South. The American mining heritage is rich, and if there was a great amount of ore in a location there was a great chance that a town would be born.

Vulture Mine-Gate House. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

According to legend, Vulture City was formed as the result of a German man by the name of Henry Wickenburg unintentionally finding gold in the area.

Wickenburg is said to have been approaching a big dead vulture when he noticed that something was shining on the ground in contrast to the black feathers.

Henry Wickenburg. 

To his amazement, he then realized that the shining stone he picked up was a gold nugget and that the whole area was full of riches.

Vulture City Chow House. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

Whether or not this story has its roots in reality or fiction, it is true that the whole area was packed with gold – and high-quality gold at that. Good news travels fast, and soon a mine was erected, dubbed the Vulture Mine. As time went on, it proved to be the most successful gold mine in all of Arizona.

Part of the old mines. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1866, the Vulture Mine was officially operational. Throughout its history, it was closed and reopened a number of times. It was first shut down in 1888, before being opened again twenty-two years later and shut down in again 1917. It remained quiet for fourteen years until 1931. During the Second World War, the mine’s functionality was at its lowest and it was soon shut down for the last time.

The entrance to the mine shaft. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

A town is almost always born around a prosperous mine. The town of Vulture City had around six boarding houses, a blacksmith’s, stores, a school, and saloons.

Photo of the brothel. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

As years passed, the population grew at a galloping pace. From initially only a few people, it soon reached 5,000. Life in the town was rather like that of any other. However, it had a dark side and was notorious for its numerous hangings.

The famous Hanging Tree. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

The hangings took place on what was known as the “Ironwood Tree” – a tree that miraculously still stands today. Usually, those who hung from it were miners that had been caught in the act of stealing high-grade ore.

According to records, there were around eighteen hangings of this kind. The tree stands right next to Henry Wickenburg’s 15 x 20-foot cabin made with stone and adobe.

The workshop. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

The town witnessed many other forms of violence too, including Apache raids and stagecoach robberies. It is said that Wickenburg, despite having discovered a rich gold vein, ironically wound up in poverty and took its own life.

Photo of the post office. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

Things started to roll downhill for Vulture City in the 1940s. When the mine was closed in 1942, the citizens started to leave one by one until all were gone and the town was left alone and sorrowful, becoming a ghost town.

Vulture mine office. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

The buildings started to deteriorate, and bit by bit the town’s appearance changed from a bustling center to a forgotten wasteland: from a vulture to a carcass.

Some of the abandoned equipment. Author: Tony the Marine – CC BY-SA 3.0

According to records, the Vulture Mine managed to produce an astonishing 340,000 ounces of gold and around 240,000 ounces of silver.

Today, Vulture City still stands even though desert sands are working hard to cover it up forever. Tourists come from all over America to visit the town that, according to many, provides an authentic look at the days when the gold trade ruled America.