In Southwestern Gila County nestled in the remote canyons of the Dripping Springs Mountains, just west of Jerusalem Peak lies what remains of the old mining town Christmas. In the early 1880s prospectors Dennis O’Brien and Bill Tweed staked out copper claims. They then sold the claims Dr. James Douglas, President of Phelps Dodge but he was unable to file them after it was learned they were located on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Federal law forbade them from working the area, so Douglas hired O’Brien to squat on the property and for 20 years he did.
In 1900 George Chittenden, another prospector, also had his eye on the claims. He used his influence to have a bill introduced in Congress to gerrymander the boundary lines to place the claims outside of the reservation.
Two years later it was about to happen, so Chittenden posted relay riders across the desert and pitched a tent for himself just outside the boundary. The bill passed and word reached the telegraph station at Casa Grande the day before Christmas 1902. A relay rider jumped on his horse and word was passed from rider to rider for 75 miles. The last rider arrived on Christmas Eve to the message Chittenden and his partner N.H. Mellor at their camp.
Meanwhile, O’Brien had gone into Globe for some holiday cheer. The next morning Chittenden and Mellor rode into the canyon and staked their claims. Chittenden said later, “I guess we jumped the claims all right, but it was Christmas day, so we filled our stockings and named the place Christmas.”
During World War I, Christmas was a boom town. It continued to thrive as a copper ore town boasting a population of 1,000 at its peak in the 1920’s and 30’s. During those years people from all across the nation sent thousands of Christmas cards to the town so they could carry the postmark. That ended when the post office closed on March 30, 1935.