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Gold From the Arizona Territories!
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On Valentine's Day in 1912, Arizona became the last of the contiguous 48 states to be admitted to the Union. The Anglo history of this state starts with mining - first gold, then silver, and, even today, massive amounts of copper. And once in a while, we see artifacts from the old days…

One of the joys of living in Arizona is the fact that the English-speaking settlement of this state is so recent (it didn't even become a US territory until 1867) that we often encounter reminders, some living, of the state's earliest Anglo pioneers.

This week I was honored to meet the grandson of Moses B. Hazeltine, a man who served as cashier and president in the formative days of the first bank in the Arizona Territory - the Bank of Arizona. The bank was established in the territorial capital of Prescott in 1877, a town that owed its existence to the gold-mining activity in the surrounding area.

Back then, banks were much more than electronic depositories with drive-thru ATMs. Bankers were money-men: they changed paper to specie, and vice versa. They provided safe-keeping for bullion, and, in the early days of the West, loaned money for worthy mining ventures when a reliable citizen wanted to pursue a claim that showed viable 'color.'

A large part of the early business of the Bank of Arizona was that of buying placer gold 'nuggets' from the local miners, converting the native gold into US cash. From it founding in 1877 through the early 1900s, the most prominent physical feature of the bank's interior was its substantial balance scale for the weighing of native gold.

Perhaps someday in the future banks may return to their time-honored role as reliable buyers, sellers and assayers of precious metals. In the meantime, businesses such as ours continue in their role as money-changer for the general public. But I digress.

Our introduction to this grandson of a Territorial banker came via a phone call last week. Through banking channels, our firm had been recommended to him as reliable gold buyers, and he had some gold items to sell. But they were neither coins nor bullion.

It seems that his grandfather, Moses B. Hazeltine, an early partner in the Bank of Arizona, had over the years accumulated some of the more substantial gold nuggets that he had purchased through the bank. In the year 1925 he commissioned a local jeweler to fashion a necklace of these nuggets which he gave as a wedding gift to his son's fiancé. That woman's first child was the fellow that I met, M.B. Hazeltine's grandson, now living in Phoenix.

This 71.8 gram necklace was made of gold nuggets
from Lynx Creek in Yavapai County, Arizona, in 1925.

I'm sure that this gift, fashioned of over two ounces in weight of gold nuggets, was appreciated. But since it was rather large and showy, it was seldom worn.

Another souvenir of his grandfather's banking career also came with a story from Arizona's territorial days. Around 1890, the bank was approached for working capital by a group that had begun development of the Hillside mine, a gold claim some 40 miles west of Prescott that was first discovered in 1887. The group seeking the capital was probably H. H. Warner's Seven Stars Mining Company, which records show owned the mine from 1890 to 1904.

This gold mine went on to be the most productive mine by far in the high desert area of central Arizona that came to be known as the Eureka District. During the 20th century, the mine changed hands a few times, and operated intermittently for several decades. Its shafts eventually reached thousands of feet underground, following the various gold-bearing veins during the mine's heyday.

When the Hillside Mine finally closed for good in 1942, it had given up some 58,000 ounces of gold over the course of its existence. Today, sixty years after its tunnels were abandoned, its tailings are still slowing leaching metallic residue into nearby Boulder Creek. The Hillside Mine today is monitored by the EPA as Superfund Site # AZN000905867.

But back in 1892, before there was an EPA or even a state of Arizona, payoff came for Moses Hazeltine and his Bank of Arizona's investment in the Hillside Mine. And as was often the custom in those days, the investors were paid in physical gold, divided proportionally by shares.

The bank received a crescent-shaped, poured piece of unrefined native gold, nearly four ounces in weight. Moses Hazeltine hacked a bit of gold off one end of the crescent, and forwarded it to Louis Tiffany & Company in New York. His instructions to the Tiffany jewelers were to produce, using the native gold for raw material, a ring with tri-color ornamentation, to be inscribed inside "MBH, Hillside, 1892."

This 3.125 troy ounce (97.2 grams) lump ingot was poured from Hillside Mine gold in 1892. Note the chunk missing from the right side.

As to the bank itself, it flourished on the corner of Cortez and Gurley streets in Prescott for many decades. In 1900 it established Prescott's first brick building on that corner. The Bank of Arizona went on to open branch locations in Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Winslow. In 1956, it was absorbed into the First National Bank of Arizona, which was subsequently merged into First Interstate Bank.

Moses B. Hazeltine was joined in the bank's operation during its early years by his brother W. E. Hazeltine, each alternately acting as president and cashier. Later, W.E.'s grandson Matt Hazeltine had an illustrious 13-year career as a linebacker and captain of the San Francisco "49ers" pro football team, making the Pro Bowl team in 1963 and 1965.

The man I met, Moses' grandson, was an officer of the Bank of Arizona since sometime after WWII, and for decades the nugget necklace, the gold crescent from the Hillside Mine, and some gold coins belonging to his sister were displayed inside the bank in Prescott. They remained on display until the late 1990s, at which time Wells Fargo bought out the bank.

During the transition of this final buyout of what had once been the very first bank in Arizona, officials from Wells Fargo packed up the gold Arizona souvenirs for transfer back to corporate headquarters in San Francisco. Alerted to this, my customer explained to the Wells Fargo executives that these items were on loan from his family for display purposes only. The necklace, gold crescent, and his sister's gold coins were duly returned.

Today, the grandson, now approaching his 80th year, still has the ring with the Hillside inscription. Because the Tiffany jewelers made it using the nearly pure native gold from the Hillside mine, and the grandson wore it daily during his WWII service in the Marines, it is showing some wear, but the inscription inside is still plainly legible. The gold coins are back in his sister's possession.

But today's higher gold prices convinced him to let us have, for a price, the nugget necklace, the gold crescent missing a small piece, and this tale from Territorial Arizona's not so long ago history.

 

 


 

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