The history of Shafter is closely tied to silver mining. There is evidence that the Spaniards prospected for valuable ores in the area during the early 1600s, but Shafter became a mining town only after September 1880, when John W. Spencer, a freighter turned prospector, found silver ore there. Spencer showed an ore sample to Col. William R. Shafter (later General), commander of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Davis, who had it assayed. In June 1882 Shafter and his partners (two Army friends John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi) leased some of their acreage to a California mining group which, in late summer 1883, organized the Presidio Mining Company and contracted individually with Shafter, Wilhelmi, and Spencer to buy their interests. Each received 5,000 shares of company stock and $1,600 cash. At the same time the manager of the company, William Noyes, found silver deposits on the acreage, valued at $45 per ton. The silver deposits found by Noyes were on one of the two sections owned by Bullis’s wife, and Bullis refused to sell. He claimed that the two sections had been bought by his wife with inherited family money and were not his or his partners’ property. He secured a court injunction to stop mining on that section, but the company continued work in the other sections. When the injunction expired in the spring of 1884, the Presidio Mining Company resumed operations in the productive Bullis section. The company hired more workmen and installed milling machinery.
A post office was opened in Shafter in 1885. Though the Bullises sued to retain their interest in the land and a lower court ruled in their favor, the Presidio Mining Company won a decision in 1887 before the Texas Supreme Court. Freed from litigation, the company stepped up its operations as Noyes hired nearly 300 men to work the mine. Workers in the Presidio Mine at Shafter came from several ethnic groups and geographical areas. Mexican citizens and black Americans found better-paying jobs there, and miners from California worked at Shafter until they left to prospect for Alaskan gold in 1897. Shafter miners lived in company houses, shopped at the company store, and received medical care from the company doctor. Just after 1900, Shafter had a population of 110 and two saloons, a dance hall, and a school. During the 1920s and 1930s the Shafter mine closed and reopened several times. In 1928 the Presidio Mining Company sold the mine to the American Metal Company, but there was little change to the mining operation. In 1942, with increased production costs and a shortage of miners, the mine closed again, but by 1943 Shafter had a population of 1,500; at that time it also had twelve businesses that served the military population that was stationed at two bases in the county. After Marfa Army Air Field and Fort D. A. Russell closed, the population of Shafter declined, reaching twenty by 1949. Though from the 1950s through the 1980s several attempts were made to reopen the Presidio Mine at Shafter, the town and the mines remained deserted.
REFERENCE: Julia Cauble Smith, “SHAFTER, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hns37), accessed March 17, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.