Monday, March 2, 2015

Murder Conspiracy at the U Ranch

February 23, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Adolph Ruth was a gold hunter from Washington D.C.
He ventured in to the Superstition Wilderness in June,
1931, and never came out alive.
Recently I read on the Internet about a local cattle family’s ranch being used to hatch a murder conspiracy. The conspiracy supposedly included Abe Reid, George “Brownie” Holmes, Milton Rose, Jack Keenan and Leroy Purnell. The ranch was the Quarter Circle U in Pinal County and the man to be murdered was Adolph Ruth, a Washington D.C. gold hunter. The year was 1931. 

The story goes something like this. Adolph Ruth arrived in Arizona in mid May of 1931. He was searching for a pointed peak in the Superstition Mountains. Ruth had a map his son acquired in Mexico in 1914, which he believed would lead him to buried gold in the Superstitions. The old man was convinced he would be successful in these mountains because he had failed in California.

 In December, 1919, Ruth searched in California near Warner Hot Springs with another map he had acquired from his son. His limited success in the Anza-Borrego Desert of California convinced Ruth he would have better success in Arizona. 

On June 11, 1931, Ruth tried to persuade William A. Barkley to take him into the region around Weaver’s Needle. Barkley refused because of Ruth’s physical condition and the summer heat. Barkley made every effort to point out the hazards of going into the mountains that time of the year. Ruth was a man not easily discouraged. Finally, Barkley agreed to pack Ruth into the mountains. But first, Barkley needed to make a trip to Phoenix.

Barkley left the ranch on June 12, 1931, and returned three days later to find Ruth had already departed for the mountains. Ruth became impatient during Barkley’s absence and asked two local cowboy-prospectors to pack him into the mountains. These two men were Jack Keenan and Leroy Purnell.

Ruth was packed into the mountains through First Water to a site near Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon. Ruth’s camp was just west of Weaver’s Needle. It was comfortable and the temperatures were only up around 94 degrees at midday.

Early in the morning on June 18, 1931, Ruth met a man near the old brush corral south of West Boulder Canyon. This man claimed Ruth was in good shape but walked with a limp and appeared a little exhausted. They talked about the weather and the black gnats.

Ruth asked the man for directions to Needle Canyon. The man told him how to find the trail over Black Top Mesa Pass. He also noted Ruth was carrying a small side pack, like a military gas bag, and a thermos jug. The man also noted Ruth was not carrying a side arm of any kind.

This individual never stepped forward during the investigation because by the time he heard about Ruth missing, the search had turned into a murder investigation. He did not want to become involved in a homicide investigation, but this fateful meeting was recorded in the man’s prospecting journal.

It is my contention this was the last human to ever see Adolph Ruth alive. He reported Ruth in good condition, although he thought Ruth was unprepared for such rugged country at that time of the year. When Ruth told him he had a base camp the man wasn’t as concerned.

After Barkley discovered Ruth had already been packed into the mountains, he rode into Ruth’s camp at Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon on June 20, 1931. After examining the camp he determined Ruth had not used the site for at least twenty-four hours.

When Barkley realized the elderly man was missing he immediately notified the authorities. A search was mounted and continued for forty-five days without a trace of Adolph Ruth being found. The desert heat was terrible with temperatures reaching the 115-degree mark and the search was finally abandoned around the first of August 1931.

Ruth’s skull was discovered on December 10, 1931, by the Phoenix Archaeological Commission’s expedition. This group was led by Richie Lewis and “Brownie” Holmes serving as packers and guides for the expedition leader Odds Halseth.

About a month later, on January 8, 1932, the skeletal remains of Ruth were found on the eastern slope of Black Top Mesa by William A. Barkley and Jeff Adams. The skeleton was found about a quarter of a mile from where the skull had been found earlier.

There was no final agreement as to exactly how Ruth died, but there was a consensus among three physicians that he died of natural causes and did not die from some foul deed.

The periodicals of the period conjured up all kinds of murder and conspiracy theories. These stories were the source of the many tales that survive today. Ruth’s son, Erwin, was convinced his father was murdered for an old Spanish treasure map he possessed. Erwin Ruth was a very melodramatic individual.

It is pure fantasy to believe a person or parties known or unknown conspired at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in 1931 to murder Adolph Ruth for a treasure map he carried. If Ruth was not murdered then there could never have been a conspiracy at the U Ranch. Again, all evidence suggests Ruth died of natural causes. Doubt was only raised when Ruth’s son, Erwin, made claims his father was murdered for a map he carried. 

The Arizona Republic later printed this map in the newspaper. This conspiracy story was dreamed up to malign a lot of honest Arizona pioneers because of conflicting beliefs and interest involving lost gold and treasure in the Superstition Wilderness.

One of these individuals was Quentin T. Cox. He had a very fiery pen and often attacked people and their ideas in writing. Hundreds of his letters exist today and these letters continue to keep this murder conspiracy going. Milton Rose, according to Cox, was one of the conspirators in the Ruth case. Rose also had a fiery pen also and he countered any story that implied Ruth was murdered.

I met Quentin Cox on several occasions while employed on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the 1950’s. He often came up to the old U Ranch and visited.  His tongue was as fiery as his pen when it came to talking about certain people associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine. I would listen to his rhetoric then go about my chores.  I will admit Quentin Cox had some interesting stories and he adjusted them according to his theories. He also had some very tall tales about places and events within the Superstition Mountains. It is people like Quentin Cox and Milton Rose who keep the tales of the Superstition Wilderness going.

Old Bill Barkley, William Augustus Barkley’s son, was a clever and capable person until his health failed in 1965. His family had placed him in a rest home in Mesa in 1966. Bill wanted to be close to the Superstition Mountains in the twilight days of his life I was told.

A noted con artist and treasure hunter named Robert Simpson Jacob removed Bill Barkley, against the families wishes, from a rest home in Mesa and moved him to a small trailer behind George’s Steak House on the southeast corner of Vineyard Road and the Apache Trail two weeks prior to his death on May 7, 1967.

My wife and I stopped by and talked to Bill after Toby Drummond told us he was living at George’s Steak House. He was having difficulty breathing and we couldn’t believe he was living in such conditions.

Bill passed on before his family could get him moved back to the rest home in Mesa. Jacob certainly shortened Bill’s chances to live a while longer.

The Barkley’s were true Arizona pioneers who worked hard to eke a living out of this desert and the Superstition Mountains. The Barkley’s never felt guilty or haunted about the Ruth incident or anything to do with it. Old Gus had made every effort to find Adolph Ruth and help his family.

No such murder conspiracy ever occurred at the Quarter Circle U Ranch.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Falls Along Fish Creek

February 9, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I would guess the water was falling between 700-900 feet.
The highest fall was absolutely spectacular.
When there is rain in our area the desert changes dramatically, and this week’s column is about some spectacular scenery along the old Apache Trail during the recent rains.

Some residents claim they had 3/4 – 1.5 inches of precipitation between the night of Thursday, January 29, and Saturday morning, January 31, 2015. It rained steady all day Friday and into the night. It was this steady rainfall that convinced us to drive up to Fish Canyon and check out the waterfalls.

We were also aware of a couple of things that might happen with this much moisture. One thing was loose rocks tumbling down on the roadway making it somewhat hazardous for driving. Secondly, I was concerned about Tortilla Creek near Tortilla Flat. Last year Tortilla Creek ran bank to bank and you couldn’t cross it for a couple of days.

When Sharon, my wife, said, “Lets go see the falls along Fish Creek Hill,” I thought she was joking. I thought about it and said the potential for problems was very real on such an adventure. She reminded me, “We would have never done anything if that were the case.”

I prepared our truck for a trip up the Apache Trail. We departed Apache Junction at 3:30 p.m. The rain never ceased during our four- hour trip to Fish Creek. This turned out to be quite an adventure for a seventy-six year-old couple.

My only real concern was Tortilla Creek. If the creek flooded we would be stuck on the other side. If this happened there were a couple alternatives. First, we could drive through to SR 188 and on to Globe if Three Mile Canyon was not flooding. We also could rent a room at Apache Lake if they had any available. We were also prepared to camp. We had plenty of bedding, a gas stove, a light, and food. We have never left home without being prepared for any emergency.

As we crossed Tortilla Creek, some seventeen miles from Apache Junction, I suggested we turn around and go back. It had rained constantly on us since we left the house. Sharon insisted we go on to Fish Creek. I warned her that Tortilla Creek could easily run bank to bank and nobody would be able to cross it. Sharon insisted she wanted to see the falls. 

From Tortilla Creek down to the Fish Creek Bridge was another eight miles or so. My wife has been through a lot in the last four months and I wasn’t going to say no. She said she wanted to see the falls flowing for all the “pink” ribbons out there.

As we started down the grade on SR88 from Inspiration Point some large rocks had fallen down on to the road. I stopped once and removed a very large one that I couldn’t straddle with the truck. As we slowly drove around this sharp bend the falls came into view.

There were three large falls we saw clearly, however there are several smaller ones. I would guess the water was falling between 700-900 feet. The highest fall of the three was absolutely spectacular. At this particular point in time I would compare these falls with some of the high falls in California or Colorado. We have seen these falls flow before but nothing like on Friday evening, January 30, 2015. We have traveled this road for more than fifty years and have never witness such a sight.

We had Fish Creek to ourselves. We saw one vehicle after the end of the pavement some six miles east of Tortilla Flat and that was about 4 p.m.

Sharon was thrilled with the spectacular waterfalls and I was worried about getting back across Tortilla Creek. She wasn’t too anxious to leave such beauty. This spectacular beauty is seldom witnessed in our arid state. I warned Sharon several times we had to return and finally she relented. About 5:15 p.m. we began our return trip back to Apache Junction. After dinner we returned home to view our photos and video.

My advice is don’t do this trip under the conditions we did, but on the other hand almost everything in life comes at a risk. Sharon’s desire to see the falls outweighed my caution and concern for the conditions. We have driven up to Fish Creek many times over the years when it has rained and there were no falls of this magnitude.

We fulfilled an adventure of a lifetime and didn’t have to leave the Apache Trail to do it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

John D. Wilburn: A Legacy

February 2, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

John Wilburn explaining the amalgam retort to a friend at the Bluebird Curio Shop in 2014.
 Many visitors and prospectors found John D. Wilburn to be an authority on gold mining and prospecting in the Goldfield area. The Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar veranda became known far and wide as John D. Wilburn’s home base of operation. Interested parties soon learned Wilburn was usually available ar

 As a young man of eighteen, John left home and joined the Army. He was raised in Kansas, but born in Oklahoma on February 12, 1945. There were several children in the family. John spent three years in the military and most of the time was in Germany.

Germany was cold like Kansas and John did not like it. His plans were simple.  When he was discharged from the Army he planned on going to the Southwest and look for gold. He had no intentions of living where it was cold, especially a place like in Kansas. Wilburn arrived in Apache Junction early in 1967. He loved the mild weather of the winter months, but when summer came, John grew to hate the extreme heat of summer with temperatures sometimes exceeding 112°F. It was then he decided to summer in the cool country where he could search for gold. First it was the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott, then the American River in Northern California near Downyville and finally in Nevada near Carson City and the legendary Comstock Lode.

John became a “snowbird” following mild climate wherever it led him.

Wilburn showed up on the porch of the Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar in 1967. Ray and Lou Alice Ruiz had just purchased the property. Ray and Lou planned on building a business out of this stop along the Apache Trail.

John became a common fixture “so to speak” around the place. He helped to earn his room and board during the winter months doing odd jobs at the Bluebird. Shortly after arriving he met Sharon and Tom Kollenborn who often spent time looking for gold specimens over at the old Black Queen and Mammoth mine sites.

John was curious about the area and asked to be shown were the Kollenborns were finding their little gold specimens.  It wasn’t long before John staked out claims near the old Black Queen and began to promote its supposedly rich nature. Wilburn eventually sold his claims and bought gold with the money and put it in the bank.

It wasn’t long before John was working gold claims in the Bradshaw Mountains. He then turned his attention to Northern California during the summer months. It was in Downyville he made a large gold strike. His discovery was featured in the National Geographic Magazine. Wilburn’s name became a “buzz word” among gold prospectors after his discovery at Downyville along the American River.

Wilburn published his first book on the Lost Dutchman Mine in 1975 titled “The Riddle of the Lost Dutchman Mine.” This book was followed by several other publications on mining and the geology of the Goldfields. 

From 1998-2009 Wilburn migrated north to Reno, Nevada, near the old Comstock Lode area to run a gold panning operation for tourists.

John never married or had a family. He was a loner and bachelor. Prospectors and the curious came from around the country to talk to John about his gold discovery in California that appeared in the National Geographic. Also John made a presentation in my “Prospecting Class” at Central Arizona College and the students loved his presentation.

John was very knowledgeable when it came to Geology. He told me he studied geology in college for a couple of years in Kansas. He understood geology and could explain it quite well. His only problem was trying to make it fit what he believed to be the geological history of a given area. This was the area where he and I would often clash.

John even challenged Dr. Michael Sheridan, a professor of geology at Arizona State University, about the origin of the Superstition Mountains and its basic geology. Sheridan had worked on the geologic history for many years doing mineral surveys in the area. He had carefully studied the geology of the Mammoth Mines and the Superstition eruptive fields through research and land surveys. Dr. Sheridan was an internationally recognized Geologist with impressive credentials.

John Wilburn was basically a self-educated geologist and very knowledgeable about the mining district where Goldfield was located. He had his own opinions about the geological sequences of the Superstition Mountain area and didn’t mind telling you so.

Again, John never talked to people about geology; he talked at them about only his opinion and research. He cared little about their knowledge or opinion. This went on for years and he enjoyed the position he was in. He immensely enjoyed people coming to him to talk about the geology of the area. Over the years he became a somewhat iconic figure at the old Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar.

John began suffering from dementia around 2010 and it become quite severe by 2013. In the end he had a very difficult time with his short-term memory.

He remained at the Bluebird until late December of 2014 when his brothers Dan and Tim Wilburn came to Arizona to take him back to Kansas to be cared for.

John’s legacy will be his knowledge and opinions about the mining district that encompassed the many gold mines in the Goldfield area. He will become legendary in the future because of his knowledge about this historic gold mining district and the several books he wrote.

His pulpit on this Southwestern historical stage was the veranda of the Bluebird Mine, Curio and Snack Shop for more than forty-five years. He was also a guest several times in college classrooms.

John D. Wilburn was a man of his time and fit a very special mold different then most of us. He was somewhat paranoid about somebody taking what was his. However, he was never threatening to anyone in any matter. He just might have marched to a different drummer. 

John’s final days where spent trying to convince his circle of friends that he had invented a special retort for reducing amalgam to mercury and gold.
ound the area throughout the winter months. As soon the weather warmed, John was gone for the mountains.