In 1888 a unique mining community was established in Sunnyside Canyon on the western slope of the Huachuca Mountains. Initially known as the Copper Glance mining camp, the community eventually became known as Sunnyside. For 13 years the residents were referred to as Donnellites – followers of a fundamentalist Protestant, Sam Donnelly. This is the first in a series of articles that will trace the history of Sunnyside from its establishment to the 1950s. Two publications were especially helpful in the preparation of this article: “A Place Called Sunnyside” by Roberta Lamma (A&W Limited Editions, 1982) and “Sky Island Righteousness above a Desert of Sin: ‘Donnellite’ Seeds in Sunnyside Canyon” by Bruce A. Peterson, undated.
Sam Donnelly was born in Scotland in 1852. He emigrated to the U.S. around 1875, having worked as a merchant marine. He was known to be a hard drinker and scrappy fighter until about 1885 when he was converted at a tent meeting in San Francisco. Donnelly relocated to Los Angeles and joined the Presbyterian Church. However, his interpretation of the Scriptures soon found him at odds with most traditional churches, including the Presbyterians and Methodists. About 1887 he left Los Angeles for Tombstone where he was called to assist Tombstone’s Holiness Mission. There he set to work memorizing the Bible, converting souls, and mining. [Lamma: 5-6].
Two of the souls Donnelly converted in Tombstone were Ed Langford and Albert Gattrell. Langford was a blacksmith, machinist, and inventor. Gattrell had run a saloon in Charleston, AZ, and “had also owned a bank that had been robbed so many times that he went bankrupt.” Gattrell also had “an interest in a mine in the Mule Mountains in conjunction with an …assayer named Ellis Sinclair.” [Peterson: 9]. Donnelly, Gattrell, Langford and Sinclair tried unsuccessfully to obtain ore from the Mule Mountain mine.
In 1887 they filed a claim on the Copper Glance Mine in Sunnyside Canyon, on the west side of the Huachuca Mountains, and the men began mining operations in 1888. They were soon joined by a number of Donnelly’s followers. Donnelly married Alvine Schwartz in 1893, and they had three sons, Raymond, Laurence, and Alvin.
An 1896 Los Angeles Times article touted the success of the Copper Glance and described the unique living arrangements of the “mining commune.” The mine was reputedly generating an average of $3,000 in monthly income. “The Copper Glance camp comprises about 80 souls, about half of the number men, with a score each of women and children.” None of the Donnellites were paid; all income and expenses were pooled and shared.
On Sundays everyone gathered to hear Brother Donnelly preach and to listen to music. [Los Angeles Times, 3/27/1896]. In reality, the mine production was spotty as the ore was in deep pockets sometimes difficult to access. The Donnellites established a sawmill located about five miles below the mine, in a meadow that came to be known as Sunnyside. Supplying lumber to Washington Camp provided another source of income. [Lamma: 21-22].
The communal living arrangement was viewed with suspicion by some, and in 1897 an article in the Bisbee Weekly Orb called for an investigation, claiming that Donnelly ruled the community through hypnotism. He sued and won a case against the editors of the newspaper, but not before he was charged and convicted of child abuse. He appealed his conviction to the Arizona Supreme Court, which sent the case back to Cochise County for retrial. At that point the charges were dropped. [Peterson:18-23].
About 1898 the Copper Glance Mine flooded when a dynamite charge opened an underground stream. Efforts to drain the mine were unsuccessful and most of the community moved from the mine camp down to the sawmill site. Donnelly and his family lived a few miles from the Copper Glance at another mining claim – the Lone Star.
In 1900 Donnelly fell ill with Bright’s disease and died on April 14, 1901. He is buried at the Lone Star site. Alvine and sons left Sunnyside for Los Angeles about 1903, as did most of the other Donnellites.