Gleeson & Courtland Ghost Towns
Southeast Arizona is famous for its old western mining towns like Bisbee, Tombstone, and Patagonia but if you’re looking for some history without the touristy fanfare check out the ghost towns of Gleeson and Courtland. They’re actually close enough to Tombstone that you can just tack them on to your visit there. Gleeson is about 16 miles east of Tombstone and Courtland is another 5 miles northeast of Gleeson.
Rockhounding and Mining Claims
I was hoping to do a little rockhounding but hadn’t done all my homework. There are a lot of old copper and turquoise mines in the area but most now have signage discouraging visitation. Many, if not most, have active claims. Removing material from a mining claim used to be a form of claim jumping, sometimes called highgrading, which is now more commonly known as “mineral trespass”. In Arizona, mineral trespass is considered a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail, probation, and a fine of $2,500 or less (plus a surcharge).
By the way, The Diggings website is a great resource for researching claims and claim ownership. A more official resource would be BLM’s Mineral & Land Records System (MLRS). While we’re on the subject of mining claims, GAIA GPS now has a new Mines and Mineral Resources Map Layer, indicating location of mines, mills, and deposits sites. Mindat is another great resource for locating claims and additional information on mining and rockhounding areas.
Sorry, I got off track a bit there. So, our plan was to visit Gleeson, and then drive on to find this Courtland Ghost Town I’d found online, and then stop for lunch in Tombstone on our way back to Apache Flats Campground, Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista, Arizona (about a 46-mile, 1 hour drive, one way to Courtland from Apache Flats Campground).
History of the area
The Dragoon Mountains were home of the Mogollon people prior to AD1200 and later by the Chokonens or Chiricahua Tribe of the Southern Apache. The areas around Gleeson and Courtland were originally mined for Turquoise by the Southern Apache.
Gleeson was first settled in the 1870’s as a mining camp called Turquoise, renamed Gleeson after local miner John Gleeson. Gleeson had registered a copper claim and opened the Copper Belle Mine
The old Gleeson Jail House
I searched Gleeson Ghost Town on Google maps which took us to the intersection of Gleeson Road & High Lonesome Road. The old Gleeson Jail is located on the SW corner and is open on the first Saturday of the month from 9 am to 4 pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that when we chose to check it out on a Friday…bummer. It is still fun to take a look from the outside when they are not open. They’ve done an excellent job of restoring the building and adding some fun artifacts around the property.
The Old Bono Store and Jail Tree
Across the street and on the NE corner is the old Bono Store, a bit of a crushed wreck now but interesting all the same. Supposedly the old Jail Tree is behind the Bono Store. It’s obvious it was a mining area due to the weathered old mine equipment and copper-colored tailings falling down the hillsides.
More of Gleeson…
We drove a ways out High Lonesome, hoping to drive a loop around the northern side of this small southerly section of the Dragoon Mountains to Courtland. Unfortunately, even with four-wheel drive, the road proved to be a bit too much. We made it almost to a stretch of State and BLM lands bordering the roadway. I had hoped to drive that far and then maybe do some rockhounding on the BLM land. Well, it proved too hot, and I was ill prepared, so we’ll save that for a return trip. There appears to be a dirt road up to Turquoise Mountain, mostly on BLM lands – should make a nice hike on a future morning.
The drive from Gleeson to Courtland takes you through Sulpher Springs Valley, past a couple of crumbling brick and adobe structures. Old mine shafts and debris can be seen on the hillsides to the west.
Courtland, Arizona circa 1909
Courtland was founded in 1909 in response to the area’s copper boom, reaching a population of 2,000 at its height. However, the town’s heyday was short lived, lasting only a little over 10 years. The mines began hitting a layer of limestone in 1917, leading to their abandonment. The town was all but deserted by 1921, although the post office remained open until 1942. Courtland was named after Courtland Young, one of the owners of the Great Western Mining Company.
Old West Shootouts and Murder
True to most mining communities of the time, Courtland was the scene of shootouts, murder, raids, and skirmishes. John Henry Bright was both sheriff and constable from 1908 to 1916, a time of bandits and outlaws the likes of Pancho Villa and Francesco Chavez. Bright’s brother-in-law, Wesley Wooten Cates, was the sheriff of neighboring Gleeson. The two are heroes of more than one old west tale from the area. Some interesting stories of their time as lawmen can be found here and here.
The only remaining structure in Courtland is the Courtland Jail built in 1909, once referred to as the “The Bright Hotel”, after sheriff’s deputy, John Henry Bright. It was said that many a miner preferred the hospitality of a night in jail over the sparse living conditions found in the mining camps. The jail stands today as a rough relic of the time. The metal doors and barred windows were removed in 1938 to be used in the construction of a new jail in Benson.
Current day “Courtland Ghost Town”, aka the Arizona Land Project, LLC.
In 2019 and 2020, Michael Oster of Arizona Land Project LLC purchased 15 Courtland Claims, creating the “Courtland Ghost Town”, to preserve what remains of Courtland and evidence of early Native American activity in the area.
When we visited in early 2022, the property had an inviting visitor’s center, complete with a knowledgeable docent, Mat Stoner. The visitor center walls were decorated with historical photos of old Courtland and its mining history, while the many display cases held specimens of local turquoise that were also available for sale.
Other than the visitor’s center, we saw a cordoned off mine shaft, and some modern outbuildings. There are no historical buildings at this location that I am aware of. I had read somewhere that tours are available by special arrangement, but it is difficult to find information on their business.
Their location can be found on Google maps by searching Courtland Mining Company or Arizona Land Project, Courtland, Arizona. Their address is listed as 11724 N Ghost Town Trail, Elfrida, Arizona.
I finished off the day with some journaling reflection aided by my Art Toolkit!