Pearce is named for Cornishman James (Jimmie) Pearce (pictured here with his family about 1890), a rancher and hard rock miner from Tombstone who accidentally found gold AND silver while horseback riding in 1894. Jimmie immediately staked a claim, opening the Commonwealth Mine in Fittsburg, a mile east, said to be one of the richest mines ever worked in the state, producing over 15 million dollars in gold. Thus was born Pearce, the last of the Arizona gold rush towns.
The Pearce family quickly lost their enthusiasm for mining though and before long had sold to John Brockman for $250,000 and a boarding house for Mrs. Pearce to run. The agreement was that Brockman had nine months to mine enough precious metal to cover the cost of purchase or everything, including what Brockman mined, would revert to the Pearce’s. In the end, Brockman covered his payment in six months with gold to spare. Apparently everyone was happy with the deal. Mining then peaked quickly., In 1896 the post office was established, and the population really boomed, many people moving their entire homes from Tombstone.
Brockman’s operation suffered a few annoying fires and he sold in 1902. But a couple years before Brockman’s sale, Burt Alvord had turned from Pearce lawman to train robber and the infamous Alvord-Stiles gang set-up in town. However, the gang was mostly dead or in jail by the time the railroad finally arrived in 1903. Before that, to deter theft from folks like Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles, gold coming out of the mine was made into bars too heavy to be transported by horseback alone and taken down the road to Cochise by wagon.
By 1919, 1,500 people lived in Pearce. There was a movie theater, hotels, saloons…the works. But, by the 1930’s, the Commonwealth Mine was played out, the Great Depression was in full swing and almost everyone packed up and left, including the railroad, which took its track with it. There are a number of very cool old structures remaining in Pearce. Perhaps most striking is the old general store, built by Soto Bros. & Renaud in 1896 out of adobe, wood, stucco and decorative tin. The post office, just across the street, is a private residence. To the north is the jail, which was built in 1915 and used until around the time the mine closed in the 1930’s. The jail is constructed of 10” thick poured concrete walls reinforced with rebar and contains two cells. The doors are iron and the only ventilation is through tiny windows at the top. During a summer’s day in southern Arizona this would be a most unpleasant place to find one’s self. The Pearce jail is open for viewing on the first Saturday of each month, October - May from 10 AM - 3 PM, or by special arrangement.