Oujournalist’s Blog

The blog of a freelancing journalist in Arizona

Memorial Day remembrance of miners May 10, 2011

Filed under: Artists in Pinal County,Pinal County,Uncategorized — Candace Hughes @ 4:26 pm
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Miners honor fallen workers

By Candace S. Hughes

Mammoth – Manny Flores remembers the day he was working in the San Manuel copper mine and heard that a miner had been killed. He waited around for awhile, but it was taking some time for the body to be brought up so he went back to work.

Later, he found that his father, Carlos T. Flores, had been killed by three runaway ore carts.

The son was 20 and the father was 64 on July 6, 1956, when the accident occurred. Manny Flores’ friend, Victor Borboa, also lost his uncle, Manuel Jaramillo, in a cave-in.

While the two friends are now retired from the mines, they found that they were no longer seeing each other – except at the funerals of their friends and former co-workers as the men grew older.

To renew their friendships and to honor their culture and workers killed in the mines, they came up with an activity that would bring them back together for several years.

A group of seven retired miners – : Manny Flores, 70; Louie Vargas, 70; Victor Borboa, 70; Alfred “Teddy Bear” Trejo, 73; Abeardo Llamas, 77; Martin Sanchez, 71; and Fred Molina, 76; – decided to have fun and renew friendships by creating a memorial to miners killed in the San Manuel, St. Anthony and Tiger mine operations.

Many of the deaths and injuries were due to falls, cave-ins, electrocutions and falling rocks and sometimes carelessness, said the group, who gathered at the memorial to show photos, a book and other memorabilia concerning the mines.

Flores’ father was trapped in the narrow space in a mine shaft and when three loaded cars uncoupled he was unable to get out of the way.

In addition, a retired miner has written about his mining work life.

Memorial Day of 2007 brought a commemoration in Mammoth for the 55 miners killed in mines in southeastern Pinal County from 1939-1993. While there were deaths before 1939, that was the year when officials began to keep records.

Memorial Day dedication attracts 800

When it was dedicated, more than 800 people attended to honor the workers killed in accidents and to celebrate their lives. The memorial is a large granite boulder carved to hold a miner and depicts the skill necessary to work in the mines.

For more than two years, the group gathered to do clean-ups and yard sales, build an outdoor barbecue and complete renovation and construction projects to raise about $20,000 needed for the memorial. They laughed, joked and ate together as a local restaurant fed the workers who made the memorial.

Flores, 70, who calls himself the baby of the group which ranges up to age 77, says the men searched for a rock for the sculptor to use and found it in the yard of Grant “Loading Stick” Kempton, in Oracle after searching in Superior and Globe.

Kempton is retired, but was a raise miner and a supervisor of raise miners for many years. A raise is a vertical or inclined opening connecting with another level of the mine.

Micky Garcia, a retired tramp miner, found the stone and came up with a model for the scrap iron sculpture, which was made by Bruce Butler of Tucson. A tramp worker is a traveling miner, Flores explained.

Helping carve the opening for the sculpture were: the underground miners Llamas, Sanchez, Borboa, Vargas and Trejo.

By the time the boulder had been carved with an opening to hold the sculpture of a miner, the stone weighed 32 tons. Rock work was done by Vargas, Molina, Borboa, Llamas, Trejo and Flores, who scoured area canyons for flat rocks suitable for the project’s base.

Community and corporate efforts help raise money

BHP Billiton paid $12,600 for a crane to lift the boulder and also helped with additional cash and equipment to haul stone to the site, Flores says.

Contributing to the effort was the town of Mammoth providing $11,200 and equipment and land with the assistance of Town Clerk Shannon Ortiz, and the town also provided sand and gravel and loaned tools. In addition, the volunteer fire department helped.

The Town Council approved the land for the memorial near the Valley View Cemetery. Mammoth resident Onofre Tafoya also received a $500 grant from the Pinal County economic development program to help with the memorial.

Flores adds that the retired miners’ wives also must be recognized because the men weren’t doing their chores at home while the memorial was under construction. They are: Anita Flores, Delores Vargas, Rosie Molina, Maria deJesus Borboa, Norma Sanchez, Rosario Llamas and Angie Trejo.

The Mammoth Miners’ Memorial Women’s Fund Raising Group also helped by creating a large quilt as well as baking food sold to help build the memorial. A tardeada, an afternoon food and dance fiesta, was held at the Mammoth Lions Club.

La Casita Restaurant gave $1,000 in return for a wall that the retirees built, and they also were paid for building a fountain at the facility. In addition, Asarco donated money.

The Saturday morning San Manuel flea market even included some sales to benefit the cause.

Efforts include historical presentations

The project has kept the Mammoth Miners’ Memorial group busy as members participated in Arizona Archives Week in Phoenix by providing a photo of the Tiger Mine as well as articles on copper mining.

“A Pictorial Showing of the San Manuel and Tiger Underground Mine and Surface Areas” was displayed at the Oracle Historical Museum.

In addition to the Miners’ Memorial, Mammoth boasts the first installation of the Ore Cart Trail Project, an effort by artists from Superior to Oracle to place recreated ore carts along the Copper Corridor.

The Mammoth Ore Cart Trail Project shows a skeleton crew of miners created by artist Jerry Parra. With landscaping help from Cisco, the group traveled throughout the area to find the ore placed in the carts.

Despite the sadness and loss of life, the crew of retired miners emphasize they remained lighthearted throughout their work on the project. “We’re all in our 70s so we use humor,” Flores laughs.

They also completed the project to honor their history. “This is our culture. After we’re done and gone this is going to stay here. Every day I see someone here taking pictures. There have been miners in our families for years and we’re honoring them,” Flores emphasizes.

“My father, brothers, my two sons, a cousin, nephews all were miners,” he adds.

Borboa, whose family donated the memorial’s flag pole, points out that his cousins, nephews, brothers and son all worked in the mines. Vargas adds that he has nephews who are currently miners.

In Remembrance

The 55 miners who died in the St. Anthony Mine; Tiger Mine; and the San Manuel Copper Mine, mill, smelter and refinery in the Mammoth and San Manuel areas are:

Henry Padilla, Dolores Rivera, Edwardo Chavez, Manuel Jaramillo, Luis Montano, Angel Miranda Jr. (all in the Tiger underground mine).

Others who died are: Carlos T. Flores, Elton E. Bertsch, Hilario Lerma, Walter J. Schmiezer, G.L. Liddege, D.R. Orta, F. Velasquez, K.I. McGuffee and C.L.Romiti.

Also, R.G. Contreras, K.W. Marshall, Alfred Vasquez, Harvey Hendrickson, Lucianne Robles, Ebert S. Johnson, Richard Torres, William G. McInnis and Carlos Cuester.

Others include: Hector Frias, Willie J. Cox, Alberto Aguirre, William L. Boyd, Ricky L. Wannebo, Homer Fresh, Edward Duarte, Jerry Neff, Jim Trainor, Alexandro L. Ahumada and Robert McLean.

Others are: Arnold Sainz, Luis Canez, Teodoro Pesqueira, Bruno Vargas, Reynoldo C. Duran, Damian A. Quijada, Charlie C. Lopez, Bruce L. McGinnis, Donold Hitt and Edward V. Valdez.

In addition, Terry Bunning, Robert C. Brown, James J. Green, Jerry Thomas, Joe N. Armenta, Donald Riggs, Antonio Martinez, Leonardo Diaz, Arlo Wade and Joe A. Romero.

Mammoth miner tells the story
of workers in Magma mine

Mammoth – Getting a job as a hardrock miner at the age of 26 was the first chance Onofre Tafoya had to feed himself, his wife and their six children.

“I could pay cash for my groceries and gasoline,” he says of the job he took in 1955. He worked at the Magma mine for 37 years.

While his job was dangerous and difficult, he says in his book “Mother Magma” that he loved being a miner. The mine was a “magical place” with friendly workers showing a strong work ethic.

The oldest of five siblings, he was born during the Depression and enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 15. His duty took him to the submarine base at Pearl Harbor and he was part of the relief crew on a number of submarines until the war ended.

“I loved the Navy. I had never eaten so good or dressed as warm,” Tafoya says. When he was 18 he was discharged and married and had six children. He and his wife later adopted two additional youngsters.

Before finding work in the mines he was employed at a Phoenix brickyard. He later moved to San Manuel and began his life’s work at the Magma Copper Co. underground mine near San Manuel.

After retiring at age 64, Tafoya penned his book, a memoir of underground life in one of the most productive mines in the world.

Tafoya lowers his readers into the world of the miners, an intense and admirable profession requiring courage and stamina.

Archivist pays tribute to miners

In an introduction to the book, Christine Marin, curator and archivist of the Chicano and Chicana Research Collection at Arizona State University, says:

“They were good and decent men, these miners: ready to do the most precarious work and at dangerous levels beneath the earth. They worked together and some died together. In Tafoya’s eyes, they were heroes in the true sense of the word because of the sacrifices made in the name of ‘Mother Magma.’”

Marin’s grandfathers came to Miami from Mexico and New Mexico in the mid-1900s to mine copper. Onofre Tafoya’s book “Mother Magma: A Memoir of Underground Life in the San Manuel Copper Mine,” may be purchased at Changing Hands Bookstore at Guadalupe and McClintock roads in Tempe, and is available through Amazon.com.

In addition, it may be ordered by mail for $24.95 plus a $3 shipping fee by sending a check payable to the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues, P.O. Box 50553, Mesa 85208.

Contact information for the institute is: http://www.hisi.org or call 480-983-1445.

In addition to writing the book, Tafoya, 78, worked with the Senior Citizens of Mammoth to help build the memorial.

Besides, Tafoya’s book another publication is in the works. “Copper Voices: Images and Voices From the Copper Miners Community of the Tucson Area” is being compiled by students of Arizona International College of the University of Arizona and will cover the Mammoth area.

For more information on this book, which will cover the history of copper mining in the area, contact Alicja Mann at alicja@word-studio.com. The book also will include historic and contemporary photos and a collection of first-person accounts from former miners and their families.

If you go

The Miners’ Memorial is in Mammoth on the west side of State Route 77 in the Miners’ Memorial Park across from the Mammoth Little League field.

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One Response to “Memorial Day remembrance of miners”

  1. Meagan Says:

    When it comes to remeberence. It’s not D.R. Orta it is R.D Orta. I just wanted to point that our because that is my great grandfather and my dad wanted me to point it out. Thank you for including him in this it means a lot! 🙂


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