Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day

Oct 9th

  • Hours1-4:30 PM
The Cave Creek Museum will offer demonstrations of its stamp mill on October 9 from 11:30 -12:30 PM.

Evelyn Johnson, interim executive director, says the museum will start up its incredible stamp mill, water tower, mineral panning, blacksmithing and more that Saturday.

“Cave Creek Museum is proud to feature Arizona mining history,” says Johnson. “Our historic stamp mill and tramway is from the Golden Reef Mine on Continental Mountain and is the only one in Arizona within five miles of its original site. We want people to come and experience how gold mining was done.”

The stamp mill will be operated on the second Saturday of each month during the museum’s 2021-22 season.

About the Stamp Mill Project

William B. Hellings, at the age of 26, was extremely ambitious, strikingly handsome, and the “post-sutler” or storekeeper of Camp McDowell. Camp McDowell was one of eleven military posts in the new Arizona Territory. He was aware of the high cost of bringing fodder from Mexico and California to feed the hungry Cavalry horses. Hellings was also aware that Salt River Valley soil was the richest and most productive soil in the southwest. With the Hohokam canal-system dormant, it could be revitalized to irrigate this fertile soil. Within a few years Hellings was farming 1,280 acres (two sections), built a flourmill and started a lucrative business. William B. Hellings & Co. sold flour, hay, alfalfa and other farm products to the pioneer-protecting Cavalry.

Hellings also had interests in the mining business north of Phoenix. After privately funding and building the first wagon road from Phoenix to Cave Creek, he purchased the Golden Star Mine on Continental Mountain. Cave Creek historian, Frances C. Carlson, tells us that the Golden Star Mine eventually became the Golden Reef Mine. Always thinking in grand style, Hellings enticed four California investors to create the Golden Star Mining Corporation, capitalized with ten million dollars (stocks sold at one hundred dollars a share). This was the first large-scale mine in the Cave Creek area – complete with an assay office, store and saloon. And, with this newfound capital, the first ten-stamp mill, in the Cave Creek area, was purchased for $35,000! (This is not the Museum’s stamp mill.)

The next chapter of the Golden Star Mine was fraught with problematic real estate issues including bad deeds, lawsuits and bankruptcy. Cleverly, Hellings maintained ownership of his mine by creating the Gold Hill Mining Company. However, by 1890, his enterprise folded. Hellings relocated to Globe, Ariz., and eventually left Arizona with his presumed fortune.

By the 1890s, the Golden Star became the Golden Reef Mine, owned by W.A. Bondurant. A mining boom in the early 1900s motivated Bondurant to seek a group of Chicago investors to capitalize a new mining operation. A new ten-stamp mill was purchased and this particular mill now resides at the Cave Creek Museum, just 5.2 miles from where it toiled gallantly on Continental Mountain.

The Golden Reef Mine was back in business on the same spot as Hellings. Twenty miners working double shifts kept the stamp mill humming until a fire silenced it in 1913. The stamp mill was rebuilt in 1917 and after failed attempts to sell, the mine was abandoned.

A mining boom in the early 1900s motivated a group of Chicago investors to capitalize a new mining operation, the Golden Reef Mine. As a result, a new ten-stamp mill was purchased for operation on Continental Mountain. It was shut down due to a fire in 1913 and was rebuilt in 1917. The mine was put up for sale and eventually abandoned. The stamp mill was donated to the museum and in 2009, moved from Continental Mountain to the museum. It was restored to operation in 2013. It currently is run at least once a month to demonstrate what the miners had to do to extract gold from the quartz in the 1920s.

The 51-year-old museum preserves the artifacts of the prehistory, history, culture and legacy of the Cave Creek Mining District and the Cave Creek/Carefree foothills area through education, research and interpretive exhibits. The Cave Creek Museum is located at 6140 E. Skyline Drive in Cave Creek, Ariz. Open October through May. The museum can be reached at 480.488.2764 or cavecreekmuseum.org. Where History Comes Alive.
  • Location Cave Creek Museum
  • 6140 E. Skyline Drive
  • Cave Creek, Arizona 85331