Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project


Version 090707


Arrastre and Grave Site in Slim Jim Creek

By: Allan G. Hall



(Click on BLUE text below to go directly to subject)

Introduction. 1

Historical and Physical Context. 2

Physical Context of the Arrastre and Cemetery. 4

The Graves at the Arrastre. 7

Making Sense of a Mystery. 12

Scenario One. 13

Scenario Two. 13

Scenario Three. 13

Survey Techniques Used at the Arrastre. 14

Clearing Brush: 14

Grave Marking: 14

Setting Survey Grids: 15

How to Get There. 15

Map to Arrastre & Graves. 16

Safety Considerations. 17

Reference. 17



If you are not already familiar with the Monte Cristo and Black Rock Mines near Constellation Road (northeast of Wickenburg), these are only two of the more visible remnants of gold, silver and copper mines in this area.  This article documents one of several pioneer cemeteries located in the vicinity of these two mines.  We have thus far identified five other cemeteries or grave clusters in the area, and – as survey and documentation efforts move toward completion in the next few months – I hope to develop another article that includes additional details and photos of these other sites.  Two cemeteries are located above the arrastre in Slim Jim Creek; two more are of the Arrastre Site in the creek.


At the end of this article you will see map and coordinate data that will aid you in locating the arrastre and cemetery in Slim Jim Creek, as well as some important safety considerations if you plan an outing into the area.


If interested, you can also read some “high level” information about the “Arrastre” site by accessing www.wickenburg-az.com, where I have posted some early findings.  The two articles are:  Hard Way to Make a Living,” and “Hiking Through Legend & History in Middle Slim Jim Creek.”

Historical and Physical Context

The historical context of any pioneer cemetery is important.  If pioneer settlers died as the result of an encounter with Apaches, that provides important historical context.  If a miner died from an explosion or cave-in, or in a gun fight, that is equally important knowledge.  In this case, we have no documented information that can guide us in determining who is interred at this cemetery, or what led to their deaths.  Instead, we are limited to the physical evidence of the grave sites and the limited historical information about the mines and trails that existed in the area in the late 1800’s and early 20th Century.


The arrastre and cemetery are located just west of the confluence of Mahoney Wash and Slim Jim Creek (Morgan Butte Quadrangle sections 4 & 33).  See map and coordinates below.  Research of modern BLM maps indicates this site is on State Trust Land, although it is surrounded by BLM-administered, as well as patented land.  A quick examination of the Morgan Butte Quadrangle map will show that the Monte Cristo and Black Rock Mines are separated by a distance of “only” .67 rugged miles.  The arrastre site is approximately half-way between these mines in distance, and is nearly due north of the Monte Cristo. (See coordinates and map.)


The first map produced by the USGS of this area (1885 Prescott 60 Minute Quadrangle) shows no trails in the vicinity of the Monte Cristo and Black Rock Mines.  The omission of trail data was more than likely brought about by the “scale” of the map, since it was 60 Minute.  The O’Brien/Gold Bar Mine to the northeast had been in operation since approximately 1877 and major trail work had been undertaken by George Mahoney in 1884 to improve access to the Gold Bar.  So, there were already established trails through this area.  The second USGS map, (1904 Congress 30 Minute Quadrangle), shows a rich population of old trails.


The differences between the 1885 and 1904 maps become important from a research perspective - particularly with regard to the arrastre and cemetery.  The “absence” of a trail on the 1885 map does not mean it was not there; it may only mean that it was not documented.  In contrast, the “presence” of these trails on the 1904 map (surveyed in 1902-03) confirms that mining-supply routes existed prior to 1902.


Why is this important?  The ore veins of Black Rock Mine were not discovered until 1902 and this mine did not commence operation until 1906.  In other words, in 1902 it was nothing more than a series of claims.  By 1906 it was nothing more than a “prospect” and serious development of the ore veins did not begin until some time later.  Consequently, the Black Rock Mine does not appear on the 1904 map even though there were important trails in the area.


Similarly, the Monte Cristo Mine was a more or less “hidden” operation in the years leading up to 1909.  A vein of very rich horn silver was apparently discovered and mined by Mexican nationals over a number of years prior to 1904, possibly dating back to the 1870’s.  In any case, they made efforts to disguise their operations and to conceal the entrance to the silver vein.  The original miners were eventually run off by claim jumpers.  It was not until 1909 that Frank Crampton rediscovered the carefully hidden ore vein.  (See Reference 1)


As you hike around the arrastre area you will quickly confirm that it could not be seen from the Monte Cristo or Black Rock Mines, nor was it visible from the very old pack trails that lead in an eastward direction over the mountain toward the Gold Bar Mine.  This would seem to indicate that the arrastre was as well hidden from view as the entrance to the silver vein at the Monte Cristo – perhaps for the same reason.


Neal Du Shane and I originally named this cemetery site “Black Rock 1” because of its proximity to the Black Rock Mine and a trail (probably more modern) that connects these two locations in a rough way.  However, given the historical context that I have provided in the above paragraphs, I am inclined to drop the term “Black Rock” and simply identify this site as “Slim Jim Creek Arrastre & Cemetery”.  The reasons for this will become more apparent as the article proceeds.


Physical Context of the Arrastre and Cemetery

The arrastre/cemetery is located on the north side of Slide Jim Creek, just a few yards west of the confluence with Mahoney Wash.  The first physical sign of its presence will be a low rock wall that runs parallel to the creek in an east-west direction.    I have identified eight graves on the terrace and there is a possibility of one or two more.  Of the eight that are confirmed, six have headstones that bear no inscription.  No wood markers or crosses have been found.


The area is rather densely covered with mesquite, Palo Verde and other desert vegetation.  In fact, it has been necessary to do a rather substantial amount of clearing to remove brush and prune overhanging tree limbs (mostly dead), to enable easier movement on the terrace. 

The rock wall forms a terrace that is approximately 46 feet in length with an average depth of about 14 feet.  On the east end of the terrace (nearest to the confluence of Mahoney Wash) you will find the arrastre.  See Photo #1.


Photo #1

“The Arrastre”


Arrastres were important in early mining days for the pulverizing and amalgamation of gold and silver ore.  This arrastre measures 112” by 108”, so it is reasonably close to a circular dimension.  Its size suggests that a single drag stone was used to crush the ore charge.


The photo shows an outer ring of “wall” stones that is nearly intact.  Just above the bottom of the outer ring (above the blue hip pack) there is a single stone that leans sharply toward the viewer in the center of the photo.  This is the only remaining stone of the “inner” ring of the arrastre.  The width between the “inner” and “outer” rings matches very closely to the width of the drag stones that are found at this site.  The two “grayish” granite rocks on the lower right side of the photo (to the right of the canvas bag) are “floor” stones that have been removed from the arrastre.  The ore charge would have been poured on top of these floor stones; then the drag stone would have been pulled over the ore to pulverize it before initiating the amalgamation process.  Beyond the Mesquite tree you can see Slim Jim Creek.  Mahoney Wash joins Slim Jim about 50 feet to the left of this photo.


There is no question that the terrace wall is the reason why the arrastre and graves have survived to present time.  Otherwise, heavy storm runoff through the creek would probably have destroyed any evidence of this site long ago.  The cemetery to the west of the arrastre terrace has not fared the ravages of Slim Jim Creek nearly as well, but that is a story for a future time.


So, what’s wrong with this photo?  For starters, the arrastre has been partially disassembled.  The interior ring is virtually gone and the outer ring is missing several stones!  Furthermore, there are a number of floor stones that are sitting outside of the outer ring of the arrastre.


I can’t imagine that anyone would have cannibalized a functioning arrastre for grave stones while it was providing value to the miners - that just doesn’t make economic sense.  So, there are two plausible explanations:  The arrastre eventually served no economic or operational value after more efficient techniques became available or, the arrastre was abandoned without prior intent.  A more speculative way of saying this would be as follows:  The arrastre could have been abandoned when the Mexican miners were run off or; it was abandoned when the Mexican miners found a more efficient way to process the silver.  For example, they may have started transporting the high grade ore to a nearby mill site via pack train.


In any case, the stones from the arrastre were eventually scavenged for grave material as you will see in the following photos.  Without historical documentation, there is virtually no way to determine how long the arrastre was in operation, or when that operation actually began.


Incidentally, with a bit of elevation you can actually see an old trail that leads down the east side of Mahoney Wash from the Monte Cristo Mine site to this location.  The angle of view for locating the trail is best achieved if you climb above the arrastre to the north a few yards.  Morning light angles reveal the trail very effectively.

The Graves at the Arrastre

In photo #2 you will see four graves.  Each is denoted with a “red” survey flag.  The headstones are aligned on a south to north axis, so the headstones are on the south side of the terrace.  Each red flag marks the centerline of the axis of burial.  Of the remaining four graves, two share the south to north axis and two have an east-west axis.  This curious alignment seems to have been made to maximize space for burials and probably has no other significance.


On the extreme left side of this photo is the terrace rock wall that rises from 18” to 24” in height.  This formed the front edge of the 46’ X 14’ terrace area.  Each of the four headstones that you see on the left in this photo was extracted from the arrastre and they appear to have been drag stones.  Each stone has a characteristic hole that was drilled into the leading edge of the rock – indicating that it was pulled around the arrastre to pulverize the ore.


Notice in the foreground of the photo that there is metal debris.  There is a hillside to the right of the photo and there is strong evidence of a settlement up above (metal debris, nails and some wood).  It is possible that these old cans “floated” down the hillside during decades of repeated runoff, but I cannot verify this.  I can visualize a piece of light metal being carried by heavy rains in a down-slope direction.  Additional discussion about the settlement above this site will be provided in a future article.


Toward the right edge of the photo (generally in line with the third grave) you will see another red flag.  It is partially hidden behind some brush and cactus.  This flag designates the location of another male grave on the terrace (east-west axis).


If you look at the area near the top where the Mesquite tree is located, there are at least two more graves.  It took a bit of effort (including a machete and a saw) to clear this area so that I could effectively survey it.  I am inclined to believe there is another grave in front of the large stone that is in front of the Mesquite tree.  From the perspective of grave dowsing, this area is still a bit confusing.  My current assessment is that there are at least eight graves in this cemetery.


Photo #2

“Main Grave Cluster on Terrace”


All of the graves at this site appear to be male adult or, in some cases, possibly male juvenile.  I have not yet identified any infant graves.  Photo #3 shows a male grave that is immediately north of the arrastre.  I have designated this as Male Grave #1, and it is most likely a juvenile.  To the right in this photo you can see the outer ring of the arrastre.  There are four interesting features to point out in to photo:


 First, the headstone was extracted from the floor of the arrastre.  Close examination shows a circular grove pattern in the stone, indicating that the drag stones and ore were ground in a circular pattern over this floor stone.


Second, the large rock on the right side of the grave is clearly a drag stone.  You can easily see the “bore hole” on the leading edge of the rock.


Third, slightly above and right of the headstone, there is another drag rock that was used in the arrastre.  The “bore hole” is on the opposite site of the rock.


Fourth, with careful examination you can see a metal nail (pin) directly beneath the red flag at the grave.  I have established a procedure of inserting a pin in the centerline of the grave axis to denote the grave.  I use 10 inch or 12 inch pins (available at most hardware stores and Home Depot) to outline the perimeter and center line of all graves.  This helps in the early stages of site survey.


Above and left of the headstone there is a path that I have cleared to reach the flat area above the arrastre.  This area contains a settlement and up to two dozen graves that we are still researching.


Photo #3

“Male Grave – North Edge of Arrastre”


In Photo #4 you will see another male grave that is just west of the arrastre.  There are a number of features about this grave that are worth mentioning.


First, the headstone was also extracted from the floor of the arrastre.  There are strong circular grooved patterns on the stone.


Second, the red flag points to another metal pin that indicates the centerline of the grave.


Third, this grave is most likely an adult male – the length is close to five feet, which would not be uncommon for the 1870-1910 era.


Fourth, the “vacant” space to the right (west) of this grave may actually contain another grave.  Readings on this site are quite weak, and it is possible this could be an infant representing a ninth grave.  As you will note, there does not appear to be a headstone, although there could be one beneath the prickly pear cactus.  More testing of this location is needed.



Photo #4

“Male Grave West of Arrastre”


In photo #5 you will see a different visual angle of what I call the “main cluster” of graves at this site.


Notice first that there are four “headstones” that cover what appear to be three graves.  Dowsing strongly indicates there is a grave to the right of this photo.  I suspect that the headstone placements have been somewhat disturbed over the decades following these burials.  Considering the weight of the stones, it is unlikely that cattle or other wildlife could account for this movement.  So, it is not unreasonable to believe that human disturbance has played a role in this odd alignment.


Notice on the left grave that there is a metal pin near the center line of the headstone.  Again, this depicts the center axis of the grave.  The edge of the rock wall that forms the terrace is beyond the headstones.


Photo #5

“Main Cluster Alignment”


Except for minor amounts of metal debris, the arrastre-cemetery area is remarkably clean and undisturbed, and there are no signs that cattle, deer or javelina have used the terrace for shade or cover.

Making Sense of a Mystery

It was not uncommon for a miner to construct an arrastre for the purpose of establishing the initial value of an ore vein, and this might be tested from time to time to determine if the vein was beginning to yield more or less ore.  However, in the major gold and silver mining districts of Mexico, arrastres were an important industrial method for producing amalgam, and these arrastres operated for decades on end.


Judging from the number of drag stones and deeply grooved floor and ring stones that have been found in the vicinity of the arrastre, the operations at this site must have occurred over a lengthy period of time.  In addition to the arrastre stones that were used as grave material on the terrace, we have found numerous stone artifacts above this site, where there is evidence of a settlement and additional graves.  In this case, “quantity of stone” equates to “time of operation.”


After what appears to have been a lengthy period of operation, the arrastre in Slim Jim Creek eventually fell into disuse.  It was only at this time that this site could have become a cemetery.  This location was convenient – it was flat ground, it was protected from the creek by a terrace wall, and there was soil rather than rock, thereby making it easier to dig a grave.  And, importantly, there had to be “customers” that were near enough to this cemetery to make use of it.


I can only speculate on the following statements, so please do not take them as historical fact.  I can offer no documentation that supports this hypothesis.  Sadly, if there ever was any documentation of this cemetery, it has not survived to the present time.

Scenario One

The cemetery at the terrace could have been used by the Mexican miners at the Monte Cristo after they stopped using the arrastre.  Considering the span of years of this silver mining operation, it is plausible that a number of deaths could have occurred due to accidents, health issues, or hostile confrontations.  It is also possible that some of these miners (and their families) could have lived in the small settlement above the arrastre.

Scenario Two

Some (or all) of the graves that are above the arrastre are Mexican miners and/or their family members.  There was a definite settlement here and there are approximately two dozen graves that we have found thus far.  If the arrastre had a long term use, burials would have more than likely occurred at this upper location during the period before the miners were run off.

Scenario Three

The burials in the arrastre terrace are individuals who worked at the Black Rock Mine after 1906, and may possibly include individuals who died while working at the Monte Cristo Mine after 1909.  Although there are two cemeteries at the Black Rock Mine, I have never found any evidence of graves at the Monte Cristo, which seems curious.  The Monte Cristo probably operated more than twenty-five years longer than the Black Rock and its main shaft was 1100 feet deep, with more than two miles of drifts and crosscuts.  Considering the inherent danger of such activity, it is rather difficult to believe there were no fatalities.


There is no real way to know.  The fact is, there was an arrastre and there are graves collocated on this site.  The fact is, it would take only fifteen to twenty minutes to walk from the Monte Cristo Mine to this location.  It also takes only about fifteen to twenty minutes to walk the distance from the arrastre to the Black Rock Mine.  If these graves are related to the Black Rock, then they date from 1906 to no later than 1941.  On the other hand, if the cemetery is tied to the Monte Cristo Mine, they could date to a period as early as the 1870’s.  So, who knows?


I hope to complete the survey and documentation efforts on the terrace this fall; then resume survey work at the settlement and grave clusters on top of the hill above the arrastre.

Survey Techniques Used at the Arrastre

Clearing Brush: 

As previously mentioned, the terrace was very overgrown with brush and tree branches when we first discovered it in March, 2007.  The only effective way to move about on the terrace was to trim back some of the brush and limbs.  Two very useful tools came into play in this clearing effort:  a short machete and a collapsible saw.  Another handy implement is a pair of wire cutters that I used to prune jojoba and other shrubs.  These tools are not heavy and don’t take up much space in a backpack.

Grave Marking:

Neal Du Shane and I first dowsed the terrace in mid-March, 2007 to initially confirm the presence of graves.  Following that, I probably invested another three trips to the site that were dedicated to continuous dowsing of the area, as well as clearing out brush to gain access to graves on the west end of the terrace.  It was only after I had done repeated dowsing that I really felt comfortable in establishing perimeters for the graves.  The tools that I use for this purpose are 10” or 12” metal nails.  I establish the corners of the grave and also place a nail at the top end of the grave to mark the center line of the burial.


After the perimeters have been established I attach a Mylar adhesive label that identifies the grave.  For example, “ARR1 Male” denotes the grave number and sex of the burial at the arrastre.  These Mylar strips are very durable and appear to hold up very well to weather and sunlight.  Unlike regular plastic labels, the adhesive bond will not separate.  The device that I use is made by “Brother” and is battery operated with a regular keyboard for typing out the information.  The Mylar tape comes on spools.  I prepare the labels at home before going to the site.


The worst day of work is when you hike in with several dozen nails and a small sledge hammer.  That adds a bit of weight to the backpack and takes up a lot of space.  (Hmmm – water or nails?)

Setting Survey Grids: 

In areas where the distribution and orientation of graves is much more complex than the arrastre site, my son and I have established a “low budget” surveying method that relies upon simple geometry, a long tape measure and a good compass.  This does require two people, since you can’t be on both ends of the tape at the same time.  We set nail corners on 10’ X 10’ grids and connect them with sturdy twine.  This has proved to be very beneficial for mapping and helps us understand how graves are organized.  We are currently using this technique above the arrastre where there are approximately two dozen individual and clustered graves in a widely dispersed area.  If you are interested in learning more about this technique, please drop a note to Neal or me.  My email address is:  allan.hall@mindspring.com.

How to Get There

All coordinates are listed in 1927 North American Datum, (NAD27), which appears on the USGS Morgan Butte Quadrangle.

1.      Distance from the Wickenburg Rodeo Grounds to the lower Slim Jim Creek turnoff at the Monte Cristo Mine is 10.4 miles.

2.      Lower turnoff from Constellation Road to Slim Jim Creek: 

Turn left at 34o 03’ 54”N by 112 o 35’ 04” W - Morgan Butte Grid #4

3.      Lower entrance to Slim Jim Creek:

Turn right at 34 o 04’ 26”N by 112 o 35’ 22”W – Morgan Butte Grid #32

Elevation is approximately 3040 ft.

4.      Arrastre and grave site in Slim Jim Creek:

North side of creek at 34 o 04’ 16.5”N by 112 o 35’ 04.3”W – Morgan Butte Grid #33

Elevation is approximately 3161 ft.

5.       “Upper” turnoff to Middle Slim Jim Creek at Constellation Road:

Turn left at 34o 04’ 12”N by 112o 34’ 35”W – Morgan Butte Grid #4

Map to Arrastre & Graves


Access to the arrastre and graves is best achieved by turning left onto the trail marked “#1” on the map.  This trail connects with Slim Jim Creek at the location marked “#2.”  At that point you should turn right and park your 4WD or ATV vehicle at a convenient spot.  There is a large granite dike that crosses the creek.  Although it is easy to scale the dike on foot, further vehicular travel is not possible beyond this point.  Hiking time from the dike to the arrastre is not more than fifteen minutes and the terrain is not difficult.


The upper entrance, marked “#4” on the map is an alternative way to reach the arrastre.  I recommend that you park your vehicle in the creek bed below the mine and continue on foot down Slim Jim Creek.  You will encounter another granite dike along the way that blocks further vehicular traffic.  So either way – you will be on foot as you approach the arrastre.


This is an active grazing area for the Williams Ranch, which is located at the end of Constellation Road where it meets the Hassayampa River.  The trails marked “#1” and “#4” require that you pass through gates.  Please re-close them after passing through.  It can take days to find and move cattle back into their grazing area!


There is a rough trail that connects the Black Rock Mine to the settlement above the arrastre, but it should not be used by vehicles.  There are several areas of very loose and soft rock that makes this trail unsafe.  Additionally, there is a water line on this trail that runs from a spring to a watering trough for cattle.  This water line can be easily damaged and you could loose rear traction if your tires pass over the line.  The trail is also littered with nails in the area near the mine.


See my article titled “Hiking Through Legend and History in Middle Slim Jim Creek” at www.wickenburg-az.com.  This article will provide additional photos of the area and will show you why you need to be on foot!

Safety Considerations

1.       The most comfortable time of the year to visit the arrastre and grave sites is from October through May.

2.     Expect to see snakes from March through October – Be alert!

3.     Heavy runoff from the upstream watershed can turn Slim Jim Creek into an unsafe area during the Monsoon and winter storm seasons.  Be aware of weather conditions before you head into the area.

4.     Carry plenty of water and energy snacks and, please - pack out your trash.


1.       Deep Enough, by Frank A. Crampton.  University of Oklahoma Press.  Library of Congress #81-43639.



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