The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1981, Volume 27, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor
Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
Samuel Peter Heintzelman and the Sonora Exploring & Mining Company. By Diane M.T. North. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1980. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. 248 pages. $12.50.
Reviewed by James E. Fell, Jr., Research Historian at the Colorado Historical Society, author of Ores to Metals: The Rocky Mountain Smelting Industry (Lincoln; University of Nebraska Press, 1980), several articles, and a number of book reviews.
Samuel Peter Heintzelman spent almost his entire career as a professional soldier. He came from modest circumstances-born in Pennsylvania in 1805, the son of a village merchant and postmaster. Little is known about his youth, but at the age of seventeen, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. His record there was only slightly better than mediocre, and after graduation he began a long series of varied assignments as he slowly moved up through the ranks, eventually rising to major general. All during this service, he dabbled in assorted business enterprises, perhaps to an extent that might now be regarded as conflicts of interest, though apparently not by the standards of the nineteenth century which were far less rigorous. Throughout his career Heintzelman kept a journal of the places he went, the things he saw, and the thoughts he harbored; and after his death in 1880, his family gave his diaries to the Library of Congress, where they are today.
It was in 1850, while still a brevet major, that Heintzelman was ordered to the Southwest, to the territory recently acquired from Mexico. Over the next four years he built and commanded Fort Yuma, located at the junction of the Colorado and Gila rivers, earned the dislike of his fellow officers (the feeling was mutual), and speculated in a number of business ventures. Later in 1857 Heintzelman and others, including Samuel Colt, the arms manufacturer and Charles Debrille Poston, the so-called “father of Arizona,” organized the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company to reopen some old mines on a vast tract of land south of Tucson. Heintzelman obtained a leave of absence from the army and spent some six months in the desert managing the company’s property, but with little success. After this, he returned to active duty.
This book is not a biography of Heintzelman, although it has much biographical material that outlines the major thrusts of his life, particularly his career in the Southwest. Rather, Diane M.T. North has presented a selection from Heintzelman’s diary-the period from August 1858 through January 1859 when he managed the Sonora Company’s mines. The importance of this selection lies in Heintzelman’s observations of life in the desert country during this time and in the myriad of problems his firm confronted in trying to develop mining property in so isolated an area. Because Heintzelman was such a literate man, his journal makes good reading which is well complemented by the footnotes and endnotes. Some may question the decision to publish only a six-month selection from the diary, as opposed to all the segments covering Heintzelman’s career in the Arizona-California region, but the book is valuable as is and it should prompt further investigation of the unpublished portions, not only for Heintzelman’s observations of the early Southwest but also for what he has to say about other parts of the country.