Nature Club Discovers the Mine with the Iron Door

Michael Buckley

The November Nature Club meeting featured cultural anthropologist and acclaimed author Dr. Barbara Marriott. Dr. Marriott, a SaddleBrooke resident, has published 14 books detailing the history and personality of the Southwest. Barbara wove a wonderful story about the Mine with the Iron Door. Her presentation included a discussion of the legend, the book, the movie, and the reality of the Iron Door Mine.

Like any legend, the story of the Iron Door Mine is based on historical facts. The Spanish explorers opened the rich Potosi silver mine on the Bolivian Altiplano in 1545. This extremely productive mine became the foundation of the Spanish Empire and a worldwide trade in silver. Other mines followed in Spanish America, including numerous mines in Mexico. Eventually, Mexico would be the largest silver producer in the world. The massive Spanish silver mining industry fueled the empire and global economics and trade for over 250 years.

Enter local hero, missionary, and explorer, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, of the Society of the Jesuits. Father Kino arrived in Vera Cruz, New Spain, in 1681 and began a 30-year career of mission building and exploration in current day Mexico, Arizona, and California. Father Kino’s accomplishments during his extensive travels in the Desert Southwest are a legend of its own. During the last 24 years of his life, Kino explored most of Northern Mexico, Southern Arizona, and California and established 24 missions and small chapels, or visitas.

The legend of the Iron Door Mine began in the 1690s when Kino and his party explored the Pimeria Alta. It is surmised that some of his party was more interested in riches than enriching souls. A rich vein of gold was discovered in the Catalina Mountains. Nuggets the size of your fist were abundant and easily mined. In 1711, Father Kino’s long life came to an end. The mine continued to operate until 1767. Issues with the Apache Indians and the royal edict by King Charles III of Spain ejecting the Jesuits from Spain, and its possessions forced the mine to be sealed with an iron door. Many have looked for the door, but it remains a mystery. Buffalo Bill Cody invested in Catalina mines near Oracle in the early 1900s. He claimed to have found the Iron Door Mine, but in the end, it was another mirage.

Author Harold Wright wrote a bestselling book in 1923 about the Iron Door Mine. In 1924, a silent movie was shot in Oracle based on the story Mr. Wright had published.

The reality of the mine remains a mystery. Several Catalina Mountain mines produced gold. The Spanish had numerous mines in the Americas when the Iron Door would have been at its peak. Gold is still occasionally found in the Cañada del Oro. The mountain and the mine just smile.

Joining the Nature Club may not make you rich, but now we know there is gold in them there hills!