Greenlee County, Arizona’s 14th county, was treated in 1909 by an act
of the 25th Territorial Assembly. The county was formed from the
eastern portion of Graham County and named for Mason Greenlee, an early
settler in the Clifton area. There was significant resistance to the
formation of the new county because Graham County would lose
considerable revenue as a result. As a compromise, Greenlee County was
considerably smaller than originally proposed. Clifton is, and has
always been, the county seat.
Copper ore was discovered in the Clifton area in 1869, and claims and
mines were established two years later. By 1918, most of the early
copper mines the King at Metcalf, the Longfellow claim near Clifton,
the Shannon Copper Company holdings at Morenci had been absorbed by the
Arizona Copper Company. Later, Arizona Copper was purchased by Phelps
Dodge Corp., which had developed its own mining and smelting interests
in Morenci. Phelps Dodge remains a major employer in the county.
The topography consists of high mountain ranges, river valleys and
desert terrain. The famed Coronado Trail (U.S. 191) twists and turns
117 miles from Clifton (elevation 3,466) north to Springerville in
Apache County (elevation 6,856 feet) and affords breathtaking,
In addition to the major contribution copper makes to the county’s
economy, ranching, agriculture and tourism are factors as well. Apache
National Forest in the northern half of the county is home to deer,
elk, antelope and bear. Hannagan Meadow, at 9,092 feet, and the Blue
Range Primitive Area are popular for hunters and campers.
Greenlee County covers 1,848 square miles and is only one of three
counties in Arizona without an Indian Reservation. The vast majority of
land is government-owned. The U.S. Forest Service controls 64 percent;
the U.S. Bureau of Land Manage-ment, 15 percent; the state of Arizona,
15 percent; and individual or corporate ownership, only 7 percent and
other public lands comprise the remaining 1 percent.