When a Frontier Becomes a Town: A Profile of Clifton-Morenci


Situated approximately 150 miles from Mexico, Clifton-Morenci was a border town in more ways than one. In the remote mountains, it bordered between frontier and civilization.  In 1900, Arizona was still nearly a decade away from statehood, and early Clifton-Morenci was littered with stories of gun fights, battles with the Apache, outlaws, prostitutes, and gambling halls.  These stories helped to shape the towns’ legacy - one that continues to give the area frontier credibility over more touristy areas like nearby Tombstone.  Yet, by the turn-of-the-twentieth century, the community and companies that shaped the town were transforming Clifton-Morenci’s frontier into towns where families came to live and businesses grew.  Chapter 1, Sixteen Tons



Between Frontier and Civilization

In 1902 novelist Benjamin Franklin Norris stated, "We liked the frontier.  It was romance, the place of poetry of the Great March, the firing line where there was action and fighting, and where men held each other's lives in the crook of the forefinger."  Its disappearance inspired Americans like Teddy Roosevelt who had loved "the rough, free life" that the West had once offered, to write a colleciton of stories abotu Lewis and Clark, the Alamo, cattlemen, and ranches.  To Easterners, perceptions of the West could take on a nearly relgious quality as people traveled via railcars to tour the wild western frontier.  Clifton-Morenci's ear frontier was slwly fading by the turn-of-the-twentieth century, but many of the towns' residents continued to embrace a romantic vision of the past where they could spae their own ideas of identity, freedom, democracy, and order.

Between Mexico and America

The border culture along northern Mexico and Southern U.S. is key to understanding the complex and increasingly tense relationship between the Mexican and Anglo community in Clifton-Morenci in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Although people could easily cross the newly created border in the nineteenth century, by the turn-of-the-twentieth century demands for immigration legislation made border crossings increasingly difficult and led to anti-immigrant sentiment   Although Clifton-Morenci is situated approximately 150 miles north of the border, its close proximity brought a mix of both Mexicans and Americans into the region.  But a growing anti-immigrant sentiment, along with increased immigration restrictions would change local perceptions of migration many of whom felt the need to secure the border from outsiders.

Between Immigrant and American

Despite their close proximity to one another, Anglo workers tended to remain separate from their Mexican and Italian counterparts.  This segregation was apparent in all spheres of life in Clifton-Morenci.  Yet the common connections forged through shared immigrant experiences strengthened Clifton-Morenci's community and created solidarity amongst mineworkers.