Monday, May 22, 2017

Alva B. “Al” Reser

May 15, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Anyone well versed in the history and prospector lore of the Superstition Wilderness Area has heard of Alva Reser. He prefered to be called Al by his friends. Al Reser devoted almost fifty years to his search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. What would possess a man of Al’s background to pursue such a mythical mine? Al’s faith in the mine’s existence never wavered. Al Reser searched for the Dutchman mine in many different locations in the Superstition Wilderness Area over the years. Reser was a partner with several men at different times including Clay Worst, Monte Edwards, Joe Roider, and others. Reser had met many of the old time Dutch hunters such as Abe Reid, Chuck Aylor, and Roy Bradford. Al and I visited many times at my home in the early 1970s and talked about the different Dutch hunters, clues and stories associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine and Superstition Mountain.
Alva B. “Al” Reser

Al often parked his truck above the Quarter Circle U Ranch and hiked into the mountain through Bark’s Draw or the Miner Needle Trail. I first met Al when I worked at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the late 1950s. Al was a good friend of Henry Jones who took care of the Quarter Circle U Ranch for Chuck Backus. Al would contract Billy Crader to pack his camp and mining equipment into a pre-designated location in the wilderness area. Al often spent three weeks in the mountain at a time. One time I recall visiting with him on top of Bluff Springs Mountain in 1984. He was convinced he had found a new location for the mine. One day Al returned to his campsite on Bluff Springs Mountain and found the entire camp stolen. Whoever removed his camp must have had at least two packhorses. Billy Crader told me later that it would have required at least two packhorses to move Reser camp on Bluff Springs Mountain. Al Reser returned to California very disappointed that year.

Al’s first trip away from Kansas was in 1931. This was the same year Adolph Ruth disappeared in the Superstition Mountains. He read stories about Ruth in the newspapers and soon believed a doctor would not spend time searching for a gold mine unless there was some possibility of its existence. The Ruth story led to Reser’s interest in the Superstition Wilderness Area and the Lost Dutchman mine.

Reser had been considering going into the Superstitions about the time of Adolph Ruth’s death in 1931, but choose not to make the venture at that time.

Alva Reser was born on March 25, 1908 in the little town of Grenada, Kansas to James Milton and Alma Reser. Al was the oldest of six boys. Al’s father was a carpenter and small building contractor. His father’s poor health caused Al to drop out of college to help provide for the family.

Al moved to California in 1934 and went to work for the Ford Motor Company in plant security. He retired in 1957, and devoted much of the winter months searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains.

Al spent a lot of time around the Tortilla Ranch. He became a friend of Floyd Stone, the owner of the ranch. Floyd Stone liked Al and never complained about him parking at the Tortilla Ranch. John A. “Hoolie” Bacon also knew Al and talked very favorably of him. Hoolie Bacon was Floyd Stone’s partner and father-in-law. Bacon and Stone owned and operated the Reavis and Tortilla Ranches.

Al hiked out of the Tortilla Ranch for almost a decade. He explored Tortilla Mountain and many of its canyons. There was an old cowboy who worked for Floyd Stone who helped Al once in awhile. He would pack Al’s camp into the mountains for him. Even old Elmer Pope remembered Al visiting at the Tortilla Ranch. Pope was an Apache cowboy who worked for Floyd Stone off and on when he was sober.

When Sims Ely’s book, The Lost Dutchman Mine was published in 1953, Reser’s appetite for adventure was whetted once again. He traveled to the Quarter Circle U Ranch at the base of the Superstition Mountains and was referred to Chuck Aylor as a guide and packed by the Barkleys. Aylor and his wife Peg had come to the Superstition Mountains in 1939 to search for treasure. They staked a claim near the confluence of East and West Boulder Canyons, just beyond Boulder Basin. They named their new camp “Caballo” (horse in Spanish) and a nearby mountain “Palomino.”

Chuck Aylor was a guide and packer for Reser on his first trip into the Superstition Mountains in 1954. They remained for a few weeks. About Aylor, Reser says, “He was a good packer and did a good job of cooking.” During this first attempt at “Dutch Hunting,” Aylor took Reser to the camp of old timer Abe Reid, a long-time searcher of the Lost Dutchman Mine. Reser said, “There was nothing else to do but sit and listen to those two guys talk.” One of the most important things about Dutch Hunting is being a good listener said Al. Since those early days, Al Reser had been a good listener and has collected a substantial amount of “material” from many significant individuals who have roamed the Superstition Mountains looking for gold. “I’ve been at the right place at the right time,” he said.

Reser has been in the mountains every year since 1954 at every opportunity and had known and used probably every packer known to the Superstition Mountains. Well known packers such as John DeGraffenreid, Dallas Adair, Jim Walters, Buck Norad, Tom Daley, Slim Fogle, Bud Land, Billy Crader and Chuck Aylor all have packed Al Reser’s camp into the Superstition Mountains over the years. Al recalls Slim Fogle packing him into lower La Barge in 1966 and Fogle died shortly after this trip. Al believed he was the last person Fogle packed into the mountains. Reser’s longest sojourn into the Superstition Mountains was for five-week period of time during the early fall of 1970. Al’s enthusiasm for his endeavor has even motivated him to travel in the mountains during the blazing hot months of summer. Al states that “Dutch Hunter” is a solo avocation for an honest man.

Many years ago I rode into La Barge Canyon with Bud Lane to retrieve Al Reser’s drop camp. I believe it was end of March 1984. Bud and I met Al in camp at about 9:00 a.m. We packed up Al’s camp while he began his walk out to First Water. I figured we would pass Al on the trail. As we continued to ride there was no sign of Al Reser. I couldn’t imagine what had happen to Al. When we approached the trailhead there Al was sitting in the shade of his truck. He finally told us he had been waiting for almost an hour for us. Bud Lane had warned me Al would walk almost twice as fast as the horses. Al was eighty-six years old that day. Bud Lane packed Al’s drop-camps into the mountains for more than a decade. Bud looked at me then said, if any man deserved to find the Lost Dutchman Mine it would Al Reser. Bud Lane respected few men and those he respected didn’t know it.

Al Reser’s health failed in September of 1999. A couple months prior to this Al had been by the house and had asked me about a middle ear infection I had in 1991. He recalled how severely ill I was with the problem. Al had been having problems with his equilibrium and wanted to know how I was cured. I explained to him what caused my condition and the resulting diagnosis. I suggested he visit a specialist. Actually that was the last time I visited with Al. Clay Worst reported Al Reser spent the remaining months of his life in the Apache Junction Health Center passing away on May 10, 2000. He was ninety-two years old.

Clay Worst reported Al’s remains were cremated. Half were sent to California where they were buried beside his wife, Martha. The rest of his remains were carried horseback into the rugged mountains he loved so dearly accompanied by several friends. The mountains he had searched in for much of his life had become his final resting- place. Al spirit is free now wandering the trails of the rugged Superstition Wilderness in search of the Dutchman’s gold.         

Monday, May 8, 2017

Andy Syndbad's Revolver

May 1, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There has been a lot of speculation about the rifle Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman of Superstition Mountain fame, carried as he roamed and prospected the deep canyons and towering spires of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Many claimed Waltz carried a Sharp’s 45-70 repeating rifle while others said he carried a shotgun. As a reader of this tale, you can have your
Andy Synbad examines
his French LeFaueheaux
 revolver, model 1854,
11.75 mm pin fire.
choice when it comes to whether or not Waltz carried a rifle or a shotgun. Many of the early Arizona pioneers carried shotguns loaded with double 00 buckshot. These weapons were very effective at short distances and easily discouraged would-be attackers.

Several years ago I was visiting with Andy Synbad in front of the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop. We talked about Jacob Waltz and his weapon of choice.

Old Andy reached into an old weathered leather valise he was carrying and removed an ancient looking pistol. I was amazed to find it was an old pin fire revolver. It was silver-plated and quite unusual in several respects. The pin fire revolvers of the mid-1850s used a highly specialized type of ammunition that was very difficult or impossible to obtain in Arizona Territory at any time. Pin fire ammunition also had a specialized method of powder ignition using a small pin-shaped device that was perpendicular to the cartridge case.

Syndbad allowed me to examine the revolver carefully. The revolver was a French LeFaueheaux Revolver model 1854, 11.75 mm pin fire. Some 12,000 of these revolvers were purchased early in the American Civil War and used by the U.S. I now could see why Andy thought this revolver could have belonged to Jacob Waltz. Some aficionados of the Lost Dutchman Mine story believed Waltz served in the Civil War.

Finally I looked at him and said I didn’t believe Waltz ever carried a revolver, much less a primitive pin fire system like this French revolver. Andy was quite indignant when I questioned the authenticity of his weapon. He then quickly produced a “certificate of authenticity” signed by a Globe, Arizona “Justice of the Peace.” The JP had only witnessed somebody stating the revolver had belonged to Jacob Waltz, the “Dutchman.” I must admit old Andy Synbad had me going for a few minutes. Andy offered the revolver to me for $500 and I turned him down. From that day on he never thought I was serious about the Lost Dutchman Mine. If the gun had actually belonged to the “Dutchman,” I doubt very much it could have led me to his mine in the Superstition Mountains.

Just who was Andy Syndbad? Syndbad had been around the Apache Junction area for many decades. He had prospected around Hewitt Canyon and Carney Springs Canyon as early as 1948. He moved to Apache Junction permanently in 1956. Andy was a confirmed bachelor and loner. He was born April 27, 1903 in Needles, California to a German immigrant family who worked for the railroad. His father and mother returned to Germany when Andy was one year old. Andy’s mother always told him after they moved back to Germany he was born an American citizen and could always claim that right. Andy lived in Germany from 1904 until 1946. The Nazi regime placed Syndbad in a concentration camp in 1938. He was finally released from the concentration camp and assigned to a work detail. This work placed him on the docks and ships during most of World War II. After the war and Germany’s destruction, Andy was able to prove his American birth right and eventually obtained permission to return to land of his birth after more than forty years. There was nothing in Germany for him after the war.

He drove through Apache Junction with a couple of prospecting partners in 1948, but found nothing to his liking. He returned in 1952 and met Hermann Petrasch who lived along Queen Creek. It was Petrasch who lead Andy to the prospects around Carney Springs. It around this time Andy met Carl Boderick, a pioneer metal detecting prospector. Andy spent a lot of time prospecting in the Hewitt Canyon area and on over into the headwaters of Randolph Canyon near the old Woodbury Cabin.

Early in 1958 Andy Syndbad staked out the silver claims located just south of the Goldfield Sub-Station just west of Weeks Wash. Andy sunk a shaft to the depth of 150 feet on his claims. He found a low-grade vein of silver; however it never proved to be profitable. Andy’s mining operation produced no income to live on so he had to find a way to generate a little survival income. He offered odds and ends for at his famous “patio sales”. He had a sign out on the Apache Trail to attract tourists and anyone else who would stop by and purchase something. The “patio sales” aggravated a few people around Apache Junction and they tried to stop him from having his patio sales. Their comments eventually lead to his famous highway sign. Syndbad stirred the ire of local citizens when he put up a road side sign making reference to all of the “old crabs” in Apache Junction and one other unusual individual. Andy’s famous “Patio Sales” were still going on in 1983.

Andy Syndbad’s health really began to decline by the early 1980’s. He had miner’s silicosis. He suffered so much from silicosis he committed suicide on December 4, 1986. I suppose Andy’s legacy will be his tenacity to search for gold on a claim he believed contained a bonanza. He chose the life he lived and I personally doubt he was unhappy with his place in life.

I remember him cursing those “dang” people for building houses under the cliffs of Superstition Mountain spoiling his view of the old Thunder God’s mountain. He was afraid someday rocks would roll down from the cliffs of Superstition Mountain and destroy their homes. Again, that was how Andy sometimes viewed progress. I might add the last major earthquake that dramatically altered Superstition Mountain was in 1887, more than a hundred years ago.

I would like to thank Eric Sundt of Apache Junction for his information on the old French LeFaueheasux revolver Model 1854.