A PRESIDENTIAL TOUR: 

PRESIDENT McKINLEY VISITS THE CONGRESS GOLD MINE

By Robert L. Spude

 In May 1901, the small town of Congress, Arizona Territory, celebrated the arrival of the Presidential train and subsequent tour by its occupants of the town’s single industry, the Congress Mine. Fifty-eight year-old President William McKinley had just been re-elected and sworn into office for his second term, and had decided to tour the country. McKinley was at the peak of his power, had pulled the country out of its deepest depression, and led the country in war, creating its first overseas empire. He expected four more years of prosperity– thanks to an underway gold-mining boom.1 Arizona and, especially, the mines of Yavapai County were doing their small part in the gold production increase. The Congress Mine represented the western mining community’s recovery from the depression of 1893-7. It was also a successful statement about the validity of the gold standard, one of the Republicans’ political platforms; popular with Eastern businessman and unpopular with western silver miners. As territorial Arizona’s most productive gold mine, the Congress Mine was placed on the President’s itinerary while the mining camp’s residents put up flags and banners, bows and bunting to greet the presidential train.2

President McKinley’s train left Washington in April for a loop around the country, first through the southern states, and then across the Southwest to San Francisco.3 The eight-car special arrived in Phoenix at 3:30 a.m. on May 7th and was turned north to the early morning arrival at Congress. The president’s private car Olympia was backed up the spur to the camp and mine. Newspaper reporters from a dozen dailies and the three major illustrated weeklies— Harper’s Weekly, Leslie’s Weekly, and Collier’s Weekly— were on board to capture the details of the day. Also on board were Governor Nathan Oakes Murphy, his brother Frank Morrill Murphy, a major stockholder in the Congress mine, and other territorial dignitaries. Eliphalet Butler Gage, president of the Congress Gold Mining Company,4 served as tour guide for the President.

Nearly all of the one thousand inhabitants of Congress – in addition to brass bands, people from Tucson, Prescott and Phoenix, as well as photographers and newsmen, congregated at the Congress Gold Mining Company’s store to welcome the Presidential entourage. On May 7, at 8:13 a. m., the crowd burst into a frenzy of cheers, brass band clatter, steam whistles, and exuberant cries when the train came chuffing up the tracks on Main Street. The President, already on the Olympia’s platform, immediately began, in the words of one reporter, “shaking hands with those more accustomed to wielding a pick and shovel or operating an air drill in the workings of the Congress mine.”5

Reporters also described the scene: crowds were bubbling over with excitement and merriment. Old timers were tickled at the sight of a United States President in the wilds of Arizona. Mothers showed their babies to the President while brother or sister, caught up in all the fun and frolic, scampered off amongst the dignitaries, newsmen, and photographers, who were discreetly trying to make or capture tomorrow’s headlines.

Typical But Bigger Than Most

Congress was a typical gold mining camp—only a little bigger than most. Located near the mine shafts and tunnels were the company’s works: stamp mills, cyanide plants, boarding houses, store, and Gage’s office. Here, 450 miners carried out their routine duties. McKinley began his tour, and to the surprise of all, mixed right in with the people in order to see their world. In the ominous words of one observer, “there is no other country under the sun where a ruler would have been safe under such circumstances.”6

Just beyond the boundary of the Congress property lay the businesses common to mining camps. Adobe saloons, gambling dens, wood frame saloons, dance halls and more saloons were all mixed in with the schoolhouse, church, theater, clubhouse and “ballroom,” and even more saloons. (One Congress wag exclaimed, “Ye hardy miner scorns water when Anheuser is on tap.”)7 Included in this odd concoction were the miners’ family homes constructed of materials ranging from adobe brick or wood to canvas or the mesquite wikieups of the Native Americans. The streets were not laid out in any uniform fashion; the town just grew along the 3.6 mile branch railroad to the mine. Street urchins, children copping fruit from stands, dogs, pigs, chickens, and burros running among the buildings all entwined to create the city fabric that day.

President McKinley did not visit the lower section of town. Rather, he inspected the hoists, head frames, mills and tunnels of the mining company. E. B. Gage ordered the company train, whose engine you could hardly see because of the flags and bunting, ready to take the President from the company store up the three steep (4% grade) switchbacks to near the mouth of the incline shaft. From here, Gage led President McKinley, Governor Murphy, members of the cabinet, and others out to walk along the dusty trail to the main mine shaft.

The temperature was 70 degrees with a “beautiful turquoise sky, bright sunshine, and invigorating air.”8 The scenery was exotic to the visitors. The hills were covered with saguaro, cholla, and barrel cacti. Sharlot Hall described the Congress hills scenery: “the giant cactus appears, marching rank on rank over the rocky peaks like our Rough Riders storming San Juan hill.”9 Ex-Governor Myron McCord, a former Rough Rider, must have appreciated the description. He may have also planted the often asked question “where was Colonel Roosevelt,” the popular vice-president. But “Teddy” had been left behind.

Rattlesnakes and Cactus

Some of the Eastern urbanites in the party expressed concern about rattlesnakes and cactus. President McKinley, while posing for photographers, was one of the first stuck by a saguaro cactus. No harm was done. The party arrived at the banner-covered head frame atop the mine incline shaft #3, where special seating, in mine haulage carts called “skips,” was waiting to take members of the group 3,050 feet down into the mine. Cabinet members James Wilson and John Hay and their wives, the president’s secretary George Cortelyou, and other members of the party boarded the skips and caught glimpses of “dark underground workings relieved here and there by the pale light of a candle [where] the scenes of many busy miners, and the sound of the pick and air drill greeted every ear.” Women in the Presidential party “each picked out of the ledge with a miner’s pick a rich specimen of [gold] quartz.” 10 One reporter who took the trip, wrote: “I know now what it means to go to hell in a hand-basket, and the author of that classic phrase got the idea in an ore car, while going down the shaft of a mine.”11

The President and First Lady, urged by caution and “not wishing any responsibility for possible injury to befall others,” declined the excursion in a mine skip. Gage encouraged the President to walk 1500 feet into a tunnel “where he was greeted by a number of miners waving American flags, in the depths of the earth, the tunnel being illuminated by electric lights. The scene made a decided impression on the mind of the president, as he remarked that he had seen the flag floating from public buildings and from battleships, had seen it waved by school children and had seen it in almost every conceivable shape and form, but that was the first time he had ever seen it waved beneath the earth’s surface and in the hands of the sturdy American miner.”12 The press had a field day with this episode.

All the plant machinery was toured and inspected. The President and his party enjoyed watching the transformation of ore into sands by huge stamp mills. They watched the progress of the sands across vibrating concentration tables or in slowly churning tanks, where solutions of deadly sodium cyanide washed through the sand and dissolved the gold out of its crushed ore.13 Finally “the feat of an employee, who, handling hot metal like so much milk, molded a $28,000 bar of bullion.”14 Also, Mrs. McKinley received a small ribbon-bound gold bar courtesy of company officials.

Mrs. McKinley, who had lost her two daughters when they were very young, paid attention to the children. Superintendent of the mine W. F. Staunton wrote home that “Mrs. McKinley presented little Byna Kinsley, whose mother was visiting us, with a pair of knit slippers.”15 The community warmed to the First Lady.

The three-hour tour ended at the mill. The McKinley party re-boarded their train and headed back towards Phoenix. On the journey Gage pointed out other sites of other gold mines. The President showed a decided interest in mining and jokingly remarked “that it seemed to him as if Yavapai County had been silently nursing the gold standard for many years and quietly clinging to it, too, before it became a political issue.”16

Why a Congress Mine Visit?

One has to ask, why did McKinley visit a gold mine, and why this mine? Many others of Arizona’s mines could be reached by railroad car. The copper camps were far larger and more symbolic of territorial Arizona’s prime industry, mining. But the Congress was impressive and would prove to be territorial Arizona’s most productive gold mine.17

The history of the mine exemplified the 1890s McKinley era theme of industrial progress. Prospector Dennis May had wandered the hills of southern Yavapai County since the 1860s, scratching and digging its rugged outcrops. He finally hit it big when he staked the Congress mining claim in 1884. Its golden outcrop became richer as he dug into the Congress lode, and three years later Prescott mine promoter Frank Murphy brokered the sale of May’s claim to colorful Chicago steamboat and railroad magnate Joseph “Diamond Jo” Reynolds. By 1890, when a Prescott reporter visited Congress, the mine, with Murphy as superintendent, was opening up into a bonanza and the operation was becoming the showcase of Yavapai County. The reporter continued: “The Congress stands as a tribute written and riven deep into the rugged tablets of the Bradshaws, to the sagacity of Jo Reynolds and the energy, skill, and good judgment of his superintendent, F. M. Murphy.”18

Reynolds desired to reduce the cost of shipping concentrates from the mill and proposed a railroad be built from Prescott to Phoenix, via Congress. Then tragedy struck. The seventy-two year old Reynolds died while on a visit to the mine. Operations halted, Murphy hung up the stamps in the mill, and concentrated on building the Santa Fe, Prescott & Phoenix Railroad.19 Frank and Oakes Murphy, through their millionaire “uncle” Simon Murphy,20 well connected with the Republicans of Michigan, brought in a new group of Midwestern investors to push the railroad through Prescott, to the Congress Mine in 1894, and completion to Phoenix in 1895.

While Frank Murphy’s energies were focused on the railroad, the Reynolds estate decided to sell the mine. Speculators from Tombstone, led by E. B. Gage--put out of business because of the crash in silver mining in 1893--bought the Congress.21 Gage moved in with an experienced crew from Tombstone and began the real bonanza period. Within three years Congress mine production reached nearly three-quarters of a million dollars worth of gold annually.22

Mine Investments

New investment and new technology had made the Congress Mine. The same could be said for a number of other Yavapai county gold mines during the 1890s. The move of many former silver mine owners and miners from Tombstone to Yavapai County in the 1890s, helped stimulate the mining excitement. From the Crown King District to Fools Gulch, gold camps rapidly expanded. The Crown King, McCabe, Oro Belle, Mudhole, Hillside, Poland, Henrietta, Little Jessie, and Senator mines each became respectable gold producers as Yavapai county’s gold production exceeded one, then two, then three million dollars annually. The cyanide process made the Congress Mine profitable (and a Phoenix reporter noted that the vats at the mill contained “this cyanide mixture [which] is granted to be as deadly as Adams hotel whiskey.”) 23

Mining Technology

The cyanide process, access to smelters which reduced concentrates, and other new technologies aided the revival, as did new investment. Midwest investors funded speculative mining operations and built railroads--the Prescott & Eastern to Mayer and the Bradshaw Mountain to Poland and Crown King. Unfortunately over-speculation and outright fraud hurt the industry, which took a major downturn with the financial panic of 1907 and thirteen-year gold boom ended.24

The Congress Mine, though, benefited from the attention of investors. In 1901 the company was reorganized as the Congress Consolidated Mines Company, Ltd., which in essence was a re-selling of the mine to the old owners, for a reported $3,000,000, but offering stock to new investors. Frank Murphy helped Gage and his partners rapidly increase production by channeling new money into a major plant expansion between 1899 and 1901. The program increased the mill to 80 stamps and extended the main shaft to 3,050 feet, deepest in the Southwest. The new physical plant was in fine working order when the Presidential party arrived for their visit.25

Arizona Mine Investments and Politics

Again, one has to ask, why did President McKinley visit the Congress Mine? Obviously, the lure of a prosperous gold mining operation in the West, especially one that thrived after the mining depression of 1893, was an allure. The President’s quip about the gold standard was indicative of his stand on the monetary issue. Stopping at a prosperous gold mine and having its photograph pasted across the pages of the nation’s press enforced his belief; prosperity returned on a solid gold foundation. In March 1900, upon the request of the President, the U. S. Congress had passed the gold standard bill, a campaign promise of 1896 that meant every dollar was backed by gold. For silver miners, the decision earlier, in 1893, to not provide Federal support for silver caused the metal to plummet in market value, from over a dollar an ounce to fifty cents. Silver mines closed across the West but gold mining boomed. Visiting a gold mine was a positive statement that the mining industry was healthy.

Visiting a “safe” mine, one without labor troubles or fraud was important to the administration. McKinley Republicans had many ties to the Congress Mine; even his friends in Ohio were involved. The Arms family of Youngstown -- not far from McKinley’s hometown of Canton -- was a major stockholder in the Congress. Chicago Republicans, such as the wealthy N. K. Fairbank, owned shares in the Congress, and was a personal friend of Chicago banker Lyman J. Gage, McKinley’s Secretary of Treasury (and distant relative of E. B. Gage). Warren Miller, millionaire Senator from New York, owned shares. McKinley’s former Secretary of War and soon to be Senator from Michigan, Russell Alger, owned stock in the Congress. Other Michiganites, especially Simon Murphy, were Republican backers of Alger’s crowd, and also owned major shares in the Congress. As mentioned, Alger helped N. O. Murphy regain the territorial governor’s chair in 1898. Oakes and brother Frank represented industrial Arizona – and each of the mine backers also owned shares in the Santa Fe, Prescott & Phoenix Railroad, the line that would take the President to the mine’s entrance. Layer upon layer of the Republican Midwest crowd were either directly or through connections linked to the Congress Mine. Not surprisingly, when a tour of the nation began to be planned, Governor Murphy worked closely with George Cortelyou, the president’s closest aid, to organize the trip which would include the mine.26

Many thought, not incorrectly, that Frank M. Murphy had arranged the tour of the mine as publicity for his own business ends. As Wall Street knew, a Presidential visit would mean positive press for a property, and Murphy and his partners were ready to take advantage of the free publicity in order to expand operations. That they were close to the administration was as important, if not more so, than that they were in sync with the reining pro-business philosophy of the administration. In a speech to bankers, Murphy made two major points to which his associates would have agreed: 1) “In my judgment, those at the head of large corporations [should] take an honest and active interest in politics,” and 2) “The results of honest effort should be passed to stock and bond holders who have the courage to embark on a business.”27

Coincidently, in 1901, Murphy planned with these Midwestern and Eastern investors to form the Development Company of America, a huge holding company that would control their Southwest U. S. properties and interests. The Congress Mine would be one of its show case properties. The company would be one of the largest of its kind in the nation, thus favorable public and governmental attitudes were required. The fortunate occurrence of President McKinley’s tour of the West and his acceptance to visit Congress, controlled by Murphy, Gage, and their partners, was an important step in its corporate birth. When E. B. Gage left the Presidential party’s train at Congress Junction that sunny May day, the necessary impression was left with the President and his party – and also with the nation’s populace, who saw the many illustrated newspapers’ images of a jolly Presidential tour. The Development Company of America (DCA) was formed in 1901, and its initial stock offering sold at a rapid rate. The Congress Consolidated, the Tombstone Consolidated, the Yavapai Consolidated, the Imperial Copper, and other operating units would be formed—and stock sold—under the DCA behemoth, Arizona’s first holding company.

“My Dearest … was Shot”

From Arizona, President McKinley’s party continued on west into California. Because of Mrs. McKinley’s ill health, the journey was shortened and stopped in San Francisco before quickly returning to Washington, D. C. The president had planned to end the tour at Buffalo, New York and the Pan-American Exposition, but delayed to tend to his wife and other duties during the summer months. He went to Buffalo after being relieved that his wife’s health had improved.

On September 6, while shaking the hands with well-wishers at the Pan-American exposition’s Temple of Music reception line, an anarchist approached President McKinley, then fired two shots. Mrs. McKinley, an invalid cared for by her husband, wrote in her diary “My Dearest was receiving in a public hall on our return, when he was shot.”28 Eight days later the president was dead.

Cities across the continent mourned the loss, including small Congress, Arizona Territory, where the president had toured just four months earlier. The company store was draped in black, and the mill whistle blew when the telegraph news arrived. A national moment of mourning was observed September 19th, and the giant mills, like factories across the land, fell silent for five minutes in observance of the martyred President’s death.

The new President, Theodore Roosevelt, would have a changed view of government, less devoted to industry and standing firm as an engine for social betterment. For the Murphy gang, Roosevelt was too reactive. He had been an accuser of wrongdoing by Secretary of War Alger, ousted, in part, for the wartime “embalmed beef” scandal. Alger, the millionaire Michigan lumber baron now moved to the U. S. Senate, continued to be a supporter of the Murphys, but with less effectiveness. With the change in presidents, Oakes Murphy was out of the governor’s chair and one of Teddy’s Rough Riders, Colonel Alexander Brodie, became the new governor.

The town of Congress’s own death would come a decade after McKinley’s visit, when mining costs exceeded profits. Frank Murphy, as president of the Development Company of America, ordered the operations stopped January 1911. Yavapai County’s largest gold camp slowly faded away. And the memory of the visit of the assassinated President was forgotten. The McKinley tour through Arizona was like a desert dust devil, swirling and raising momentary attention, but in the final analysis it was but dust in the wind.29

Endnotes

1 On McKinley, the William McKinley Papers held by the Library of Congress have been microfilmed and are at the University of Arizona Library. Contemporary newspapers for April-May 1901 are filled with stories about the tour; most useful for the May 7 tour were the Phoenix Arizona Republican and the Prescott Arizona Journal-Miner. Other newspapers were scanned on the web at Ancestry.com

2 According to manager W. F. Staunton, the Congress Mine produced $7,649,497.64 worth of gold between March 1889 and December 1910; W. F. Staunton, “Ore Possibilities at the Congress Mine,” Engineering and Mining Journal, November 13, 1926, pp. 769-771; also see Morris J. Elsing and Robert E. S. Heineman, Arizona Metal Production, Arizona Bureau of Mines Bulletin 140 (Tucson: University of Arizona, 1936), for comparisons—Congress 7.6 million, Vulture 6.7, Mammoth 3, McCabe 2.2; note the Oatman district production was primarily during the early statehood period, and Arizona’s major copper mines eventually produced more gold as a byproduct than all the gold mines combined.

3 W. W. Price, “President McKinley’s Tours,” Cosmopolitan, (February 1903), pp. 383-392; Sandusky [Ohio] Daily Star, May 6, 1901, p. 2:1, describes the tour and adds a note of fear that a train wreck would wipe out the administration.

4 The name of the company was the Congress Gold Company, incorporated 1895, but the commonly used name was Congress Gold Mining Company, the original 1887 name. To confuse matters, in March 1901, the Congress Consolidated Mines Company, Ltd. was organized to take over the Congress Gold Company, but this name was never commonly used except for official business. I use the name Congress Gold Mining Company for consistency.

5 Arizona Republican (Phoenix), May 8, 1901, 1:5.

6 Undated clipping, 1901, William F. Staunton collection, Special Collections, University of Arizona.

7 Arizona Graphic, February 24, 1900, 2:1.

8 Anaconda [Montana] Standard, May 8, 1901, 1:1.

9 Arizona Journal Miner 1899 clipping, William F. Staunton collection, Special Collections, University of Arizona; also see her longer article, Sharlot M. Hall, “Arizona’s Biggest Gold Mine,” Land of Sunshine vol XI (1899), pp. 148-159. It is possible but unlikely that Hall was at Congress during the McKinley tour.

10 Arizona Republican (Phoenix), May 8, 1901, 2:3.

11 Arizona Graphic, February 24, 1900, 1:3.

12 Arizona Daily Journal Miner (Prescott), May 7, 1901, 1:2

13 On the cyanide process, see Robert L. Spude, “Cyanide and the Flood of Gold: Some Colorado Beginnings of the Cyanide Process of Gold Extraction,” Essays and Monographs in Colorado History (1993), passim.

14 Arizona Republican, May 8, 1901, 2:3

15 Undated clipping, 1901, William F. Staunton collection, Special Collections, University of Arizona.

16 Arizona Daily Journal Miner (Prescott), May 7, 1901, 1:2

17 For Congress, primary materials are found in the Congress mine file at the Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott. W. F. Staunton was manager of the mine and his collection at the University of Arizona includes relevant clippings, photographs, and his personal autobiography, which includes extensive recollections about Congress.

18 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott), October 1, 1890.

19 Arizona Weekly Enterprise (Florence), September 5, 1891, 4:6.

20 Simon Murphy was cousin to the father of Frank and Oakes Murphy, but local newspapers always referred to him as their “uncle.”

21 For Gage and the bust at Tombstone see Lynn R. Bailey, Tombstone, Arizona, “Too Tough to Die,” the Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Silver Camp; 1878- 1990 (Tucson: Westernlore Press, 2004)

22 W. F. Staunton, “Ore Possibilities at the Congress Mine,” Engineering and Mining Journal, November 13, 1926, pp. 769-771.

23 Arizona Graphic, February 24, 1900, 1:2.

24 On the gold boom also see Robert L. Spude, “Elusive Gold: George P. Harrington and the Bradshaw Mines, 1887-1925,” Journal of Arizona History, vol. 33, no. 2 (Summer 1992), pp. 153-182.

25 “Notes on Arizona Mines,” Engineering & Mining Journal, May 30, 1891, p. 629; Mining & Scientific Press, February 10, 1900, p. 153; “Gold Mining for 1902,” Mining & Scientific Press, January 11, 1902, p. 1, 18; “The Congress Mines, Arizona,” Engineering & Mining Journal, January 23, 1904, p. 999.

26 George Cortelyou to Governor Murphy, letters April 13, 19, 20, and 24, 1901, William McKinley Papers, Library of Congress, microfilm copies at University of Arizona. Not surprisingly, the Western Federation of Miners targeted the Congress Mine for a strike the next year.

27 Quote in H. Mason Coggin, “Frank M. Murphy – Arizona Gold Miner,” J. Michael Canty and Michael N. Greeley, ed., History of Mining in Arizona, vol. II (Tucson: Mining Club of the Southwest Foundation, 1991), p. 114.

28 Quote from Margaret Leech, In the Days of McKinley (New York: Harper & Brothers), p. 597

29 Kevin Philips in William McKinley (New York: Henry Holt, 2003) argues convincingly, I believe, that, since Roosevelt retained McKinley’s cabinet, McKinley’s philosophy and influence continued well into Roosevelt’s years as president