Vulture City

Historic Building Fact Sheet

vulture city ghost town

Vulture City once served the most productive mine in Arizona history. (Jan. 2017) Photo Credit: Midnight Believer

Need to Know Info

Built1863
Address36610 355th Avenue
Wickenburg, Arizona
Coordinates33°49′02″N 112°49′59″W

In 1863, prospector Henry Wickenburg discovered a rich gold deposit in Arizona that became the extremely productive Vulture Mine, sparking a mining boom and the establishment of Vulture City which grew to around 5,000 people at its peak.

This mining operation producing over 340,000 ounces of gold is credited with founding Wickenburg and promoting the agricultural development of Phoenix, but persistent theft issues led to hangings and its ultimate shutdown during World War II in 1942 after which Vulture City became a ghost town. Today, the historic Vulture Mine site and remnants of its ghost town are open for tours showcasing this impactful chapter of the American West.

The In-Depth Story

Vulture City: Major Gold Strike Turned Ghost Town

In 1863, prospector Henry Wickenburg made a pivotal discovery in the Arizona Territory that would spark a mining boom and influence the development of the region. While traveling through the harsh desert landscape of what is now Maricopa County, Wickenburg stumbled upon a quartz outcropping containing rich veins of gold.

There are varying accounts of precisely how he made this find. The most common story is that Wickenburg threw a rock at his stubborn burro, the rock split open, and he noticed the gleam of gold inside. Other tales suggest he shot a vulture that fell onto the gold-bearing outcrop, or simply spotted the telltale white quartz protruding from the ground. Some versions even claim Wickenburg was near starvation, circled by vultures, when he located the deposit he would name after the ominous birds.

Regardless of how it was discovered initially, the Vulture Mine proved to be an extraordinary mineral strike. Wickenburg began mining the deposit himself, but it was soon acquired by investor Benjamin Phelps, who organized the Vulture Mining Company to increase production. From 1863 until its final closure in 1942 during World War II, the Vulture Mine produced a staggering 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver. This made it the most productive gold mine in the history of Arizona.

The plentiful riches from the Vulture deposit attracted thousands to the remote area, and a mining town quickly materialized to support the operation. Known as Vulture City, it swelled to a population of around 5,000 at its peak in the late 1800s. The town featured over five boarding houses, stores, saloons, a school, a post office established in 1880, and large mine buildings including the impressive Vulture Mine-Assay Office constructed of stone in 1884 which still stands today.

While unconfirmed, it is estimated the Vulture Mine may have yielded over $200 million worth of precious minerals during its decades of operation. However, the exact total is unknown due to persistent issues with theft and “highgrading” by workers. The problem was so severe that 18 men were eventually hanged on an ironwood tree near the ruins of Wickenburg’s house as punishment.

The abundance of the Vulture strike was not limited just to direct mining profits. With such a large population working the mine, the harsh desert environment could not supply enough food for Vulture City. This prompted an enterprising individual named Jack Swilling to reopen and revitalize irrigation canals abandoned by Native American tribes in the fertile Phoenix valley. Agriculture blossomed again, and a grain supply route was established along what is now Grand Avenue to provision the booming mining town.

As the decades passed, the Vulture Mine’s production gradually declined until its ultimate shutdown during World War II in 1942 by Presidential executive order focusing all resources on the war effort. Despite briefly reopening after an appeal, the mine shuttered permanently a few years later. With its economic engine gone, Vulture City was abandoned for good, leaving its buildings to decay into a ghost town amid the hot Arizona desert.

Today, the Vulture Mine and its surrounding ghost town are privately owned but open for guided tours. Visitors can take two-hour dirt path walking tours viewing the remaining buildings, learning about the boom days of Vulture City and the history of this legendary strike that helped shape the American West.