Inside Arizona: If you have never celebrated the Fourth of July in Bisbee you have not experienced part of Arizona's rare living history. This small, historic, copper-mining town was celebrating Independence Day long before Arizona became a state and continues to make a mark in history with this event.
If you have never celebrated the Fourth of July in Bisbee you have not experienced part of Arizona's rare living history. This small, historic, copper-mining town was celebrating Independence Day long before Arizona became a state and continues to make a mark in history with this event.
Bisbee has a storybook look, with its deep blue sky above and Victorian-era, European-style structures below, colorfully decorating from hilltop to bottom the deep red hills and canyons of the Mule Mountains. The Tombstone Canyon buildings remain little changed from their original form of 100 years ago.
Few small, historic towns have been able to preserve their past while managing to survive economically into the present. If not for the dedication of diverse groups within this community over the years, Bisbee would have become just another ghost town, scavenged beyond repair or recognition.
At over a mile high in elevation, even the hottest summers here include cool breezes, and three-digit temperatures are rare.
A variety of events make Bisbee's Fourth of July unique and popular, drawing thousands of spectators over the years. These include one of the oldest continuous Fourth of July parades in Arizona, the Ruthless Run and B-Hill foot races, the hard rock drilling and mucking mining contests and the famous coaster races for kids.
In 1909 the first race for kids who would build their own coasters went three miles down Tombstone Canyon to the post office. There were originally two boys to a coaster, one being the driver, the other the brakeman. Coasters were built from wagons, roller skates, wheelbarrows, mine wheelbarrows and bicycles, anything that would roll down the bumpy hill.
The coaster race was limited to boys under 18 until after World War II, when grown men began entering, with the coasters becoming bigger and more dangerous. By 1952 coasters reached 1,000 pounds. After a collision of two coasters, resulting in serious injuries, adult coaster racing was banned.
In 1976 men's coaster racing was brought back briefly again with coasters limited to 600 pounds, using pneumatic tires, which thrilled both the riders and the crowds. Coasters reached speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. A fatal accident in 1980 ended the adult races again.
In the 1990s local resident Michael Bednorz helped to bring back the kids coaster races, which now have a 300-pound weight limit, including the rider, and are much safer due to the use of disc brakes.
Bednorz placed 11th in the world championship drilling contest in Carson City, Nev., several years ago. There is great skill involved in the mining contests that, unless witnessed, cannot be really appreciated.
Before the turn of the century miners used hand-held drill steel, which they drove into solid rock with either single-jack (4-pound) hammers, swung with one hand, or double-jack (8-pound) hammers, swung using both hands. Dynamite was then packed into the holes and set off, after which the miners then "mucked" the debris into wheelbarrows for removal with their mucksticks. Miners used their drill steel, with either one man holding the drill and also hammering it with a single-jack hammer or with one man holding the drill and the other using a double-jack hammer, to drill into standardized blocks of granite for a solid 15 minutes.
Today's drilling contest is a single-jack contest - one man, who holds both the drill steel and hammer. The deepest hole drilled in 15 minutes still wins, just like in the original contest.
The mucking contest is also a timed event, with two-man teams of muckers who shovel 500 pounds of crumbled rock into an ore car using square-tipped shovels. The clock stops when the car is declared filled by the judges. The team that fills the ore car in the least amount of time wins.
The Ruthless Run and the B-Hill Run are tough races. The B-Hill run is simple. Just run from the starting point up to the white B on the hill, touch it and run down, hopefully without falling. The Ruthless Run is a race run on Tombstone Canyon and kicks off the other events each year.
In the early 1900s residents hung red, white and blue streamers from every balcony and window on Tombstone Canyon to decorate for the Fourth of July Parade. Participants included the governor, local marshals and sheriffs and included elaborate floats and orators for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. The parade was used back then as a tool for teaching about U.S. history and citizenship, since so many early residents came from other countries around the world to work in the copper mines.
Today the parade continues to have political dignitaries, marching bands and pretty girls on floats, continuing a tradition that is more than 120 years old. The population is diverse, and Bisbee still attracts folks from all walks of life and from all over the world to both visit and live here.
Come and enjoy some of the living history of Arizona this Fourth of July in Bisbee.
Find the monthly newspaper AZ Tourist News at participating Village Inn, IHOP and JB’s restaurants as well as your local Chamber of Commerce and convention and visitors bureaus.