For the first 20 years of its life, Bisbee had one major mining company, the Copper Queen unit of Phelps Dodge. As the century began to turn, however, a second such firm, representing interests from Minnesota and Michigan, began to develop copper mines in the area.
A problem immediately arose. There just wasn’t enough land near the mines to provide a site for a second smelter. In fact, the Copper Queen mines themselves were growing do fast, that company was being held back by smelter capacity as well.
At first, the companies looked to create a smelter city at Naco, just a few miles south on the Mexican border. That didn’t work out, however, so they put the need in the hands of a few local businessmen, who proceeded to tie up land about 25 miles to the east and began to build a city. The city was named in honor of James Douglas, the man who had developed Bisbee for the Phelps, Dodge interests over the prior two decades.
The new company, which soon would be known as Calumet & Arizona (showing its Michigan heritage), built its smelter first, since it didn’t have one. Then the Copper Queen built the second facility at Douglas, then by 1903 was able to tear down its antiquated Bisbee facility. (That smelter sat where the Queen Mine Tour parking lot is today.)
Developing south of the border at the same time was the city of Agua Prieta. It would become a major shipping point for Mexican cattle, which helped feed the booming county to the north.
To a great extend, Douglas was a ready-made town. It was laid out with broad avenues and there was plenty of capital available to put in all the businesses a city would need. The two large smelters provided a population that was gainfully employed at good wages. With the smelters came the railroads, including a line from the south. Phelps, Dodge owned a mine about 60 miles due south of Douglas, and its ore also fed the smelter.
Douglas also drew a bad element, as new towns on the frontier tended to do. In fact, at the time of its creation, the Arizona Rangers (1901-1909) were around and mandated by the legislature to be based in the most lawless city in the Arizona territory. The Rangers’ headquarters was in Douglas for a while. (It also was in Bisbee and Naco.)
But as the population and the wealth of the community grew, it was able to get a handle on the criminal element and became one of the most important cities in Arizona. In fact, it was pressure from Douglas in the 1920s that forced the countywide vote on the relocation of the county seat from Tombstone. Douglas wanted it, but Bisbee had more votes and won the day.
The two cities shared a lot, including a livelihood and a baseball team. Later, in the 1960s, they would share the county’s new community college, which was build between the two, though closer to Douglas. They also competed, however, and the Bisbee-Douglas high school football rivalry is one of the oldest in the nation. The battle each year is over a copper pick, symbolizing their mining heritage.
Mining ceased in Bisbee in 1975, but smelting would continue, bringing feedstock from elsewhere, until 1986. (The two mining companies merged in the 1930s and one of the smelters was demolished.)
By then, Douglas’ economy was a-changing. Shortly thereafter, a large state prison was built north of town. Already, manufacturing under the maquiladora concept was taking hold. And within a few year, the Border Patrol would have a major presence in the community.
While the population of Douglas would remain at about 12,000 or so, about twice the size of Bisbee (and an explanation of why DHS has won more of the copper-pick games in recent years), the population of adjacent Agua Prieta is well over 100,000.
Douglas attracts some visitors. Agua Prieta has a small district that offers curios to the tourist and quite a few pharmacies that provide low-cost medicines. Its major attractions, however, are the Gadsden Hotel, which boasts a glamorous lobby that includes an expansive Tiffany window that apparently is the firm’s only desert scene, and the Cochise County Fairgrounds, which hosts horse racing in the spring and the county fair in the fall.