Arizona's Invaluable Cornish Gold Miner Connection

Updated on February 16, 2018
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John loves writing about Arizona, gold prospecting, and stories of treasure. Beyond finding his gold, he likes reading about others' quests.

Cornish miners in the mid-19th century. A demise in mining in Cornwall prompted an exodus of Cornish miners and families resulting in a displaced Cornish diaspora.
Cornish miners in the mid-19th century. A demise in mining in Cornwall prompted an exodus of Cornish miners and families resulting in a displaced Cornish diaspora. | Source

A Bit of History

Cornwall is a county in Southwest England in the United Kingdom and is surrounded by water. The English channel is to the south, the Celtic Sea to the west. Arizona is very dry and bordered by no oceans. Cornwall has historically been 99% White British. Arizona has historically had a broad ethnic spectrum: 43% white, 50% hispanic, and native, black, and asian making up the balance. It would seem that the two states have had little in common. But that would be misleading.

In the 19th century (1830s -1840s), hard rock miners from Cornwall emigrated to the western United States and Mexico to find their fortune. During the last half of the 19th century, 20% of the male population went abroad. Disease, taxation, a decline in mining, and dwindling trade helped breed poverty and led to their diaspora.

Over the centuries Cornish hard rock miners had become adept at breaking rock. They knew how to build sturdier shoring, and they invented contract mining (as opposed to hourly wages). Many inventions came from Cornwall including: the safety fuse, high pressure steam engines, furnace technology, rock drills, and the Cornish pump. Cornish engineers were highly sought after while the Cornish miner was not only hard working, but very knowledgeable. The miner's candlestick and the lunch bucket were Cornish blessings.

Settling in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, and Colorado the Cornish found a home. When the huge placer gold fields in California started to play out in the 1850s, Cornish miners were a cinch to find work in Arizona with its fantastic mineral wealth. As it turned out, many of Arizona's gold and silver mines were financed by British investors, and who to better recommend the some of the world's finest miners. Copper, gold and silver mining would be a boon for the Cornish.

The Cornish pumping engine 1877 - when mining at depth, water seapage is always a problem. The Cornish pump helped Arizona copper miners deal with flooding.
The Cornish pumping engine 1877 - when mining at depth, water seapage is always a problem. The Cornish pump helped Arizona copper miners deal with flooding. | Source

One Sample of Typical Cornish Mining Acumen

Both hard rock and placer gold have been mined in Quartzite, Arizona for about 125 years. The earliest mention I can find about a producing gold mine is 1862 – the Pyramid Mine. In 1896, the King of Arizona mine began about 22 miles southwest of Quartzite, Arizona.

As an example of the Cornish influence in Arizona, the land was purchased and fascilities for processing the gold ore were built nearby. Gold mining requires a lot of water, and that is something Arizona has been short of historically. Not far from the mine a 1000 foot well was dug to provide the necessary water. In 1899, the mine was purchased for a quarter million dollars. The mine featured vat leaching with cyanide while the gold and silver was precipitated in zinc boxes. These enhancements were achieved with the construction background of 125 Cornish miners and mining engineers.

The surface ore at this mine was valued at $2000 a ton, which is very rich. By the time it was done producing, that mountainous area referred to as Kofa (from King of Arizona) yielded 226,654 ounces of gold. In addition, 103,257 ounces of silver, 3.5 tons of lead and one ton of copper were brought forth. It is estimated that the value of the final production was 4.8 million dollars.

There is no underestimating the contributions of Cornish immigrants to the strength of the Arizona and U.S. economy.

A Cornish Water Wheel

Cornish Mining Culture

American miners referred to the Cornish as "Cousin Jacks", their wives as "Cousin Jennies". Frequently enquiring about Arizona jobs for relatives in Cornwall, Cornish miners took on these names. Much of their lifestyle brought to the Americas became adopted in mining towns.

One of the delights to reach Arizona was the pasty. Not only delicious, these pastries could be carried in a lunch box and provided a substantial meal . These filling pastries were stuffed with a combination of meat and veggies. They were cooked to a golden brown.

The miners of Cornwall also brought their folklore. Arizona miners soon learned about the Tommyknockers. These were mythical creatures who were supposed to be about two feet tall and dressed in ordinary miner garb. A familiar sound in a mine is a knocking, indicating a weakness that could result in timbers collapsing and mine cave ins. The Tommyknockers supposedly warned the miners of impending danger. Making fun of Tommyknockers could result in terrible misfortune. This belief spread and took on a serious significance. There are stories of mines being shuttered after a disastrous accident. Distant relatives believed that Tommyknockers may have been trapped and in 1956 demanded the mine be opened so the little men would be free to go to other mines to help those miners. Companies were known to have agreed to this, such was the strength of belief.

Outside of warnings, the Tommyknockers were myschievous and were frequently blamed for taking a miner's tools. Not unlike leaving cookies for Santa Claus, the Cornish would leave a bit of their pasties for these leprechaun-like beings, whom they depended on to keep them safe.

Mining Signals

Note the signal board in the top left corner.
Note the signal board in the top left corner. | Source

Mining Terminology

We can thank Cornwall for much of the mining language we use today. Mine pits were shafts; horizontal tunnels were levels; tunnels connecting two levels were winzes and raises, depending on the direction they were cut; and drainage tunnels were adits.

A code of signals was brought over and let a hoister communicate with miners below. Hauling men in their cages and buckets up and down a mine shaft is inherintly dangerous. the Cornish signal code used bells. A standardized version of the code in Colorado gives an idea of how it worked. One bell meant hoist, one bell (if in motion) meant stop, 2 bells meant lower, 3 bells meant men on, and 7 bells was a shaft accident and danger signal. Combinations of these signals with a short pause meant other things. Three bells followed quickly by another 3 bells meant cage release.

An Affinity for Music

The Cornish enjoyed music and had a passion for brass bands. These groups were formed in many a mining town. In fact, their love of music and song made them a force behind the construction of opera houses in larger towns. These music halls attracted professional artists and provided a cultural outlet and diversion from an otherwise rough life.


Across our vast continent in search of metallic windfalls, the Cornish people have played a vital role in the evolution of the western United States, as well as shaping our country's modern industry.


"Pyramid Mine" in Mohave, AZ Gold Vein, Discovered in 1862, Diggings, retrieved 2/8/2018,

Mine Tales: Kofa Mountains gave area golden glow, William Ascarza, September 7, 2014, Arizona Daily Star,, retrieved 2/5/2018,

History and pronuciation of "pasty", January 17, 2013, McMinnvilleBakers, retrieved 2/6/2018,

How Miners Dug Gold in Old Arizona, Andrea Aker, March 19,2011, Arizona Oddities, retrieved 2/7/2018,

The Significance of the Cornwall and West Devon mining Landscape, Cornish Mining World Heritage, Our Mining Culture Shaped Your World, retrieved Feb 13, 2018,

Fun Facts, Daryl Burkhard, The Cornish Miners, 2006, retrieved Feb 1, 2018,

Cornish engine, Wikipedia, last edited December 27, 2017, retrieved Feb 4, 2018,

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© 2018 John R Wilsdon


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