“Colonel” William C. Greene was directly responsible for the development of the great copper mining properties of Cananea, Mexico. In seven years, he went from ragged cattleman and adventurer to the greatest captain of industry the borderlands have ever seen. In 1898, while rounding up his steers, Greene spotted a brilliant, reddish stain that covered the entire slope of Cananea Mountain. He investigated the area and began purchasing mining properties there. This was the beginning of the “Greene Empire.”
In 1901, Greene formed the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company and headed for Wall Street to promote his mines. He reportedly added “Colonel” to his name at this time as a way to impress Wall Street financiers. His reputation as “The King of Copper” spread throughout the financial districts. Meanwhile, under Greene’s direction, a fine new town was going up south of the border, and things were thriving at Cananea. He bought up more than 4,000 square miles of Mexican gold and silver claims, but the king of all these orebodies ran wide and rich in copper. Nothing like it had been seen since Butte! Greene put thousands of men to work building highways, hydroelectric power plants, cyanide mills, and lumber camps.
At first, the Cananea was very rich, so high in its copper content that a crusher and blast furnace were about all that were needed for production. Stories got back to New York that there was so much rich mineral near the surface that it was not necessary to sink shafts. This was a slight exaggeration, but Greene was fortunate at the beginning of his activities in being able to produce a great deal of copper at a minimum of expense. Unfortunately, Greene was not a frugal man, and by 1905, he had romped through $12 million of the stockholders’ money. By late the following year, Cananea Consolidated was totally bankrupt and was forced to sell out to Amalgamated Copper Company (Anaconda).
Before his downfall, however, Bill Greene had built two railroad lines, great steel and brick reduction works, factories, a thriving town, and mining operations; and, the story goes, he even helped capture Geronimo and his band of renegades. Although his mining career lasted only a few short years, Bill Greene of Cananea started a prosperity that will not be over for many generations.