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Juan José Gradillo (ca. 1830 - unknown)

Tohono O’odham Discoverer of the Vekol Silver Mine

2019 Inductee from Mining's Past

Before the earliest European miners explored the Southwest in the sixteenth century, Native Americans had been collecting minerals and rocks in the region for thousands of years. Puebloan peoples worked deposits in the Santa Fe area more than a thousand years ago, mining turquoise and galena from quarries and underground workings, and early European miners at Morenci found wooden ladders and stone hammers in ancient stopes. Around Tucson and Phoenix, the O’odham and their Hohokam ancestors collected brightly colored pigments and local stone for a variety of utilitarian and spiritual purposes. In the late nineteenth century, O’odham traditional knowledge of mineral resources led to the discovery of one of the richest silver lodes in Arizona Territory: the Vekol mine.

Juan José Gradillo was the Tohono O’odham man who discovered the Vekol silver mine in 1879. The mine is in the Vekol Mountains, about 30 miles southwest of modern Casa Grande, on land that is now part of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The exact circumstances of the discovery are uncertain, but Gradillo alone seems to have discovered the lode that came to be known as Vekol, Tohono O’odham for “grandmother.” Shortly after his discovery, Juan José shared the news with former Army captain and federal Indian agent John D. Walker. Gradillo, Walker, and another man, Peter R. Brady, soon staked out the rich silver cropping, and in February 1880 the three men together filed a claim on it. It was one of the few times in Arizona history where Native Americans and Anglo-Americans jointly filed a mining claim. Later in 1880, Juan José sold his interest in the mine to his two partners and settled down on his homestead near Florence, not far from the farm of Captain Walker. Within a year, the Vekol had become one of the largest producers of silver in Arizona Territory, and a substantial town had grown up around the mine. The mine remained a top silver producer through the 1880s and was worked to lesser degrees until 1894, the year Captain Walker died.

Because of the strong prejudice of most nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans against the Tohono O’odham, Gradillo was given little credit for his discovery of the Vekol. But his contributions as a pioneer miner of Arizona are worthy of remembering and honoring. Long after Gradillo’s death, the partnership between the mining industry and the O’odham continued with the development of the Cyprus Tohono mine on the Tohono O’odham Nation, in the shadow of the Vekol Mountains. The Tohono O’odham and other Native Americans continue to contribute to the American mining industry today.

Sarah Herring Sorin (1861 – 1914) 

Arizona's First Woman Lawyer

2019 Inductee from Mining's Past

Sarah Herring Sorin was Arizona's first woman lawyer and the first woman to argue a case at the United States Supreme Court unassisted by a male attorney.  She was born in New York City on January 15, 1861, to William and Mary Inslee Herring. The Herrings had five children: Sarah, Howard, Mary, Bertha and Henrietta.

Sarah attended Normal College and after graduating began teaching grammar school in 1879. Her father inherited mines in Arizona Territory and moved with some of the family in 1880 to Bisbee then to Tombstone. The three oldest children stayed in New York City until Howard graduated from high school the next year when they joined the family out west. Sarah taught school in Tombstone and served as principal and school librarian. Her favorite activities were riding horseback and playing music.

In 1891, Sarah quit teaching to read law and to assist her father in his law office. In November 1892 she passed a rigorous oral examination in open court and was admitted to practice in the First Judicial District Court of the Territory of Arizona in Tombstone. She became the first woman lawyer in Arizona. She was admitted to practice at the Arizona Supreme Court, also. Desiring more legal education, Sarah attended New York University's School of Law, one of the few law schools to accept women students. She graduated with an L.L.B. in 1894, ranking fourth in her class. She returned to Tombstone to practice civil law and specialize in mining law.

In 1896 the Herring family left declining Tombstone and moved to thriving Tucson, Arizona. Sarah married Thomas Robertson Sorin, a mining enthusiast and rancher, on July 21, 1898. She continued to practice law with her father in Herring & Sorin. In 1906 she was the 24th woman to be admitted to practice at the U.S. Supreme Court. After her father's death in 1912, Sarah moved to Globe and became counsel for Old Dominion Copper Mining & Smelting Company. 

On November 6, 1913, Sarah argued on behalf of United Globe Mines at the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the first woman to plead her case alone without accompanying male counsel. She won the case that involved the disputed ownership of two mines. She was only the fourth woman to argue a case before the high court.

On April 30, 1914, Sarah died from pneumonia at the age of 53, but her name lives on. Each year, the Arizona Women Lawyers Association bestows the Sarah Herring Sorin Award to a member who supports the advancement of women in the legal profession. Sarah Sorin has been inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame and the Women's Plaza of Honor at the University of Arizona. A Sarah Herring Sorin Professor of Law faculty chair has been inaugurated at New York University School of Law. She is also included in Stanford Law School's Women's Legal History Biography Project.

Charles J. Senter (1845 - 1924)

Discoverer of the Climax Molybdenum Deposit

2019 Inductee from Mining's Past

Charles J Senter served in the Union Navy during the Civil War. After the war, he traveled west where he joined the army, helping to open the expansive west to early settlers. At the end of the South Dakota campaign, he mustered out with the rank of sergeant and first worked freighting supplies.

Then, after marrying a Plains Indian woman, Senter made a living by placer mining in the mountains along the Continental Divide in Colorado. In his quest for the source of the gold in the creeks, he came upon a mountain covered with small veinlets of mineral resembling graphite. He finally found out from assayers and from the Colorado School of Mines that the mineral was molybdenite (a sulfide of molybdenum).

He had only a few assays run - the cost being $5, which was ten times what a gold assay cost. He was impressed by the enormity of the deposit - virtually the entire mountain had the tiny veinlets. He figured that such quantity would be worth something. He staked several claims, which were formally recorded in 1893.

The following years saw Senter’s hopes rise and fall, with an uncertain outlook for molybdenum. Finally, with the outbreak of World War I, the German discovery of the alloying properties of molybdenum and the discovery of the flotation process for upgrading molybdenite, Senter’s discovery finally had value.

Enos Andrew Wall (1839 - 1920)

Mine Operator and Entrepreneur

2019 Inductee from Mining's Past

Enos Wall lived in Indiana until he was twenty. He then moved west, mining, freighting and selling goods in Colorado, Montana and Utah. In 1868, he moved to southern Utah, to the newly discovered mines at Silver Reef. Here he discovered and operated the Kinner mine and also met and married his wife, Mary Mayer.

After a financial setback in Silver Reef, the Walls moved to Idaho in 1882 where he operated a mine, and was elected to the legislature. Three years later, they moved back to Utah where Enos successfully owned and operated mines at Mercur and Ophir.

Moving north in the same mountain range, he developed and sold the Yampa mine at Bingham Canyon. He noticed widespread low grade copper mineralization elsewhere at Bingham and sampled several abandoned adits, which indicated a large tonnage of low grade copper. He located about 10 claims and maintained the assessment, despite the derision of having only “Wall Rock” for ore.

The profits derived from the sale of his other mines were not enough to develop the copper claims, so he optioned them to Captain Joseph DeLamar (a successful mine operator), who ultimately had two engineers in his employ conduct an examination.

 Daniel Jackling, one of the engineers, was so convinced of the value of the property that he devoted the next four years getting investors to develop the great Bingham Canyon mine. Enos Wall retained a 20% interest, but has largely been forgotten as the man who discovered Utah Copper and inherently realized its value.


P. O. Box 42317

Tucson, Arizona  85733

Phone - (520) 577-7519


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