Among Bisbee’s pioneers, those movers and shakers who forged a thriving city out of a rough mining camp, Joseph Muheim Sr. ranks among the top. He immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1887 when he was 20 years old living first in San Francisco. One year later, after tracking down two uncles, he came to Bisbee. His uncles, Henry and Frank Dubacher had come to town in 1883. For awhile, they cut and hauled wood from what we now know as Dubacher Canyon to fire the mining operation’s smelter. Hauling wood was hard work and Henry, the better businessman, decided they should change careers. They opened a brewery and saloon on the Gulch using a beer recipe they had brought from their native Swtizerland.
Joseph or Joe as he was known joined in the family enterprise learning the business from the floor up—he swept and mopped, tended bar and along the way learned to speak broken English from a colorful collection of outlaws, miners and drunks. When Joe arrived, Bisbee boasted a population of 800 souls and one store. The town mostly began and ended at Brewery Gulch. In an interview later in life he recalled that there were plenty of bad men around—outlaws, cattle rustlers, train robbers and hold up men, but they bothered no one unless someone got in their way. He knew many old time outlaws and had dealings with some, though none ever took advantage of him. If a cowboy or bandit was short on cash—as was often the case after a night at the gambling table, he would give them credit for a bottle or two of Brandy knowing they would eventually pay. They always did.
Henry Dubacher died in 1890 leaving the property to his 23 year old nephew who became the richest man in town.
In 1905, the old adobe brewery was crumbling, its floors sagging. The brewery and saloon must have been doing all right because Joe put things on hold for several months, tore down the structure and built a distinctive 3-story brick building on the site. Now an historic building, it stands on Brewery Gulch today.
His business interests were wide ranging: he was a founder of the Miners and Merchants Bank, financed and built many houses up the Gulch and on the hill for miners and their families as well as the prominent Pythian Castle and Philadelphia Hotel on OK Street. He also constructed the Orpheum Theatre just in front of the brewery where Goar Park is today.
Joe Muheim had an adventurous spirit and talent for business. He became a mining speculator staking claims in southern Arizona and Cananea, Sonora. His partner there was an Irish prospector with the wonderful name, Con Roy. They later forced Col. W.C. Greene to pay them $30,000 for their interest. Greene eventually did all right though as the primary developer of copper mining in Cananea.
In 1898 Joe married Carmelita LaForge and began building what would become a fine, elegant home on Youngblood Hill overlooking Brewery Gulch. The house was enlarged three times as their family grew. Construction was slow; the fellow hired to do the building had an active relationship with the bottle that often diverted his attention from the job. Joe and Carmelita lived there the rest of their lives. She died in 1947; he in 1951. The house was given to the Bisbee Council on Arts and Humanities in 1975 and is a Registered National Historic Site.
The Muheims had four children: Joseph Jr., Anton, Henry and Helen. Anton, called Tony, died in a mining accident in Mexico. Neither he nor Henry who lived in the family home until his death in 1973 ever married. Their sister, Helen Muheim Hughes lived in California. Joe Jr. had wide-ranging interests and became the entrepreneurial heir to his successful father. He was a director of the Miners and Merchants Bank, owner of the Muheim Motor Co., a gold miner in Mexico, chief clerk in the general manager’s office of the New Cornelia Mercantile Co. in Ajo, a miner and prospector in the Santa Rita Mountains, and worked with Phelps Dodge Mercantile Co. in both Bisbee and Douglas. Later he returned to the bank retiring in 1965. Like his father, he was active in community and church affairs and a respected Bisbee citizen. After living in Tucson for several years, he returned to Bisbee shortly before his death in 1976.
Like so many others, the Muheims and their relatives the Dubachers landed in the United States seeking a decent life for themselves and their families. They worked hard and prospered. A news editor after interviewing Joe Sr. wrote, “he has retained his hardy traits, his unflinching western spirit, his old time habits and associations. But Brewery Avenue is still his home and workshop…neither time nor worldly goods have changed Joe Muheim, one of the most picturesque, most sturdy and genuine of Bisbee’ true old timers.
It must have pleased Joe, Carmelita and later their children to look down on Brewery Gulch from the porch of their picturesque house and view the thriving community they helped forge from a rough mining camp. Bisbee came into being because of copper. But it became what it is because of people, and the Muheims were truly among its founders and first citizens.