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Reviewed by:
Christopher J. Huggard & Terrence M. Humble. Santa Rita Del Cobre: A Copper Mining Community in New Mexico. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2012. xvii + 272 pp. ISBN 978-1-60732-152-1, $26.95 (paper).

The foundation, development, and final destruction of a mining community to make way for a huge open-pit operation is a poignant story, repeated many times throughout the industrialized world. The labor demands of industry helped populate isolated regions, particularly [End Page 180] ore-rich provinces. Where they were miners, there were families, and associated trades and services. Different types of communities developed to service these mine sites. Santa Rita in south western New Mexico, USA, was a copper mine that emerged from contested and humble origins in the early 1800s to become a major company town, owned and managed by some of the biggest mining corporations in the USA, including Kennecottt (1933–1986) and Phelps Dodge (1986–2007). This is the focus of Christopher Huggard’s and Terrence Humble’s Santa Rita Del Cobre, a collaboration between the visiting academic (Huggard) and the local historian and collector (Humble).

The book’s major themes include the conflict between Native Americans and European peoples; the complex negotiations between Mexican and Anglo interests, the imposition of control in the company town period and its contestation by the labor movement. After a period of legal and operational uncertainty in the late nineteenth century, the focus shifts to corporate mining and later big labor in the twentieth century.

Chapter 1 covers the period from the arrival of Spanish explorers and entrepreneurs in the 1600s, the beginning of Mexican independence in 1821, as well as the arrival of North Americans into New Mexico in the 1830s. That the copper mine produced so much copper-bearing ore in this isolated, harsh environment, is a remarkable achievement of the early superintendents and mine workers. The Apache people sought an independent homeland, a proposal which had some US support, but ultimately this was quashed in favor of economic interests based on mining and control of railway routes.

After New Mexico became a part of the USA in 1849, complicated ownership issues ensued. The mine eventually returned to production though the Mexican influence continued on both the mining methods and the mining workforce. These borderland areas were nothing if not porous. By the early 1860s, the mine was an important copper-producing field in the US, second only to the rich Michigan copper field.

By the early twentieth century the frontier mining period was over. A railroad link to Santa Rita had been achieved by 1898, and nearby Silver City and Hurley had industrialized. By 1920 Santa Rita had a population of 3,565, of whom 33% were Mexican born. The Chino Copper Company formed in 1909 and instituted a company town from 1910, taking over the commercial stores and building housing, the same year that the era of open-pit mining began.

A further theme of the book is the power of mining to re-order and re-configure the landscape not only through open-pit mining but also through extensive railway and road transport networks, control over [End Page 181] the water supply, and the use of the water precipitation as a method to extract copper from stockpiled ore. The company’s power extended to social relations as well as it successfully introduced a company town and managed dissent at least until 1942 when a National Labor Relations Board ruling and the Supreme Court decision forced recognition of the local union.

The section on the crews, locomotives, and blasting techniques reads too much like a list of useful information rather than a sustained argument, but the final chapter sees a strong return to form as the authors elaborate on the dimensions of the company’s power through strategies such as selective policing, control of the town curfew, use of special constables, a powerful company store, and the provision of education. They also cover the widespread investment in new technologies and production techniques, and after 1942 the rise of a labor movement. Chicano workers and activists were emboldened by World War II; their experiences in the US military and...


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pp. 180-183
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