Watching the lights of Laughlin reflected in the waters of the Colorado River, and driving the parkway or highway 95, it is easy to forget that this valley was once at the heart of a thriving mining district and was the gateway to the western frontier. Only Oatman, a caricature of the old west mining town, and Chloride provide a tangible link to this rich history.
Before the coming of the railroad it was the Colorado River and three roads that served as the vital arteries of commerce that fueled the growth of the Territory of Arizona. Steamboats plied the river ferrying supplies and people upriver from the Gulf of California, and mineral wealth south to mills in California and even England. The Beale Wagon Road connected the Colorado River, and Arizona, to the eastern states. Two toll roads served as the primary transportation corridors that connected Fort Whipple and the territorial capital of Prescott with the river. Each of the toll roads road crossed nearly 150-miles of rough, inhospitable terrain dominated by increasingly hostile tribal factions. Each also served as vital military roads. One of these roads started at the river port of La Paz and the other at Fort Mohave and Hardyville.
One of the earliest river ports established in the Bullhead City area was Polhamus Landing located near the site of Davis Dam. Named in honor of Captain Isaac Polhamus, a legendary steamboat captain that worked for a Yuma based shipping company, Polhamus had a warehouse, saloons, a rough tent-cabin hotel, blacksmith shop and other businesses. Eclipsed by Hardyville, the rough and tumble town held on until about 1882, and then after abandonment was cannibalized for scarce building materials.
Hardyville’s post office was established January 17, 1865 and discontinued February 19, 1883. Indicative of the town’s prominence was its designation as the first Mohave County seat. Named for William Harrison Hardy, the town survived two devastating fires. With completion of the Colorado River crossing for the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad in 1883 Colorado River traffic was decimated, and the Mohave Prescott Toll Road faded from prominence. As a result, Hardyville entered a period of precipitous decline as Topock and Needles gained in prominence. By 1900 only a few weathered adobe ruins marked the site.
Surprisingly Oatman, Goldroad, Silver Creek, Vivian and Old Trails on the west slopes of the Black Mountains marked the last goldrush in Arizona even though one of the first major gold discoveries in those mountains was the Moss gold-silver mine discovered in 1863. Except for mining in Silver Creek and the surrounding Hardy Mountains, exploration in the Oatman district waned with closure of the Moss Mine in 1866 as the discoveries of rich ore bodies in the Cerbat Mountains sparked a boom.
Then in 1902 a major discovery near Goldroad sparked the last goldrush in Arizona. Within a few short years the population of Goldroad, Vivian, Silver Creek, Old Trails and Oatman soared. It may be hard to imagine today but some historic estimates claim more than 10,000 people were living and working in the mining camps.
Exploring this rich and colorful history is as easy as visiting the Colorado River Museum in Bullhead City, a drive along scenic Route 66 in the Black Mountains, or a day trip to Chloride. For the more adventuresome there are miles of old roads to explore in the Black and Cerbat Mountains, and hiking trails such as those near Kingman in the Cerbat Foothills Recreation area, site of historic Camp Beale at Beale Springs.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America