The series Copper at the Crossroads takes a closer look at copper mining in Arizona. In part three, "That Mine Was My Mother" we meet Onofre Tafoya, who worked for years at the San Manuel Underground Mine.
Hear part three of the series:
Onofre Tafoya got a job at the San Manuel Mine as a young man. He spent the next 25 years there, doing hard and dangerous work. But he also enjoyed it. And the mine served another role for Tafoya. It gave him, for the first time, the ability to support his family. "Once I got a job at the San Manuel Mine," he says, "my children never went to bed hungry."
Tofoya tells his story with an obvious sense of pride. He's the product of a time when most men worked long hours doing hard physical work to support their families. In his case, the work meant 40 to 50 hours a week processing and hauling ore in 90-degree subterranean conditions.
Today, Tafoya is the author of two books about the San Manuel Mine, Mother Magma and Los Mineros.
Hear the complete interview with Onofre Tafoya:
Please note that Mr. Tafoya uses adult language in the complete interview.
Horse and mule teams drive loads of ore through underground copper mine tunnels.
The San Manuel Mine was located near the town of San Manuel, AZ, northeast of Tucson. It began production in the 1940s and became the largest underground copper mine and smelting facility in the U.S. It employed up to 2,200 people, working in 356 miles of tunnels and the smelter. Australian mining company BHP Billiton took over operations of the mine from Magma Metals in the late 1990's. In 1999, the San Manuel Mine was permanently closed. The tunnels were flooded and the smelter stacks demolished.
The smelter stacks at the San Manuel Mine come tumbling down in a planned demolition on January 17th, 2007. The 500-foot twin smokestacks, and the mine itself, were idled by new owner BHP Billiton in 1999.
Next in the series Copper at the Crossroads, we'll re-live the history of some of Arizona's most colorful copper mining towns.