Monday, March 23, 2015

A Trip to 'Spam' Mesa

March 16, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin relaxes in camp during the trip to “Spam” Mesa in the Superstition Mountains.
Over the years former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin and I made many trips into the Superstition Wilderness Area checking on various sites associated with the story of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. We traveled to some of the most remote areas of the wilderness.

Often these trips required us to pack light and not take much in the way of food. We usually had one packhorse, therefore limiting the number days we could camp. Our packhorse carried our bedding, food, tents and feed for the horses.

I remember one trip in particular, during the mid 1980s. We both had four days available for an extended pack trip. It was on this trip Bob volunteered to bring our food for the three days. We picked up the horses at the O.K. Corral and hauled them out to First Water.

Our objective was to spend a few days on top of Peter’s Mesa. From First Water Trail Head to the Salt Flats on Peter’s Mesa is about twelve miles. Bob was very interested in visiting an area known as Pistol Canyon.

Our day of departure was uneventful. We saddled up, packed the packhorse and was on our way. Once we arrived on Peter’s Mesa we set our camp between the old Rock Dam in Peter’s Canyon and the beehive up the canyon. This campsite always had sufficient water for the horses.

The first day required most of our time riding into the area and setting up camp on our arrival. The next day we began our exploration of Peter’s Mesa. First we made our way over to Pistol Canyon and looked around. We walked over to the stone arch and then looked for marked stone. We didn’t find much of interest the first morning. We then decided to break for lunch.

Jokingly I ask Bob what were we having for lunch and he said. “Spam sandwiches and green chili.” I like Spam and the green chili was great.

After wandering around Peter’s Mesa all afternoon we finally built a fire and settled in for the night. We were tired and our supper was Spam and Chili again. I liked Spam, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I liked it this well. The next day was a repeat of the first day. After two days of Spam sandwiches I was beginning to tire of our cuisine.

After our third day on the mesa, with Spam and Ortega green chili still our main diet, I was ready for the ride out.

We did a good job of exploring the central portion of Peter’s Mesa. We found several old landmarks, but we didn’t find exactly what we were looking for. Of course I was never certain exactly what Bob was looking for up on Peter’s Mesa.  

Bob did say Peter’s Mesa played a significant role in many of the stories about the Dutchman’s lost mine in the Superstition Mountain. It was here some claimed Joe Deering had found a Mexican mill and smelter. 

Monte Edwards was convinced the old Agave pits were actually sites where the Mexicans smelted gold and silver. Peter’s Mesa is covered with Agaves and the Yavapai harvest them and roasted the hearts in big pits. The Agave hearts were staples in the diet. We found several of the old pits, but no silver or gold.

We were finally convinced a lot of dreamers walked the trails of Peter’s Mesa looking for a lost mine. If there was gold on Peter’s Mesa it would have to wait for another day.

Also, Robert Jacobs maintained a camp on the west edge of Peter’s Mesa at the head of Squaw Box Trail between 1978-1984. Jacobs made ridiculous claims of thousands of pounds of gold bullion at his place of operations, however few people believed Jacob’s claims.

Yes, Peter’s Mesa has played its role in the legacy of the Dutchman’s lost mine. Bob Corbin and I returned to camp for another night after a long day on the mesa.

The next morning Bob wanted to find a point on the imaginary line running between Weaver’s Needle and Four Peaks that allegedly intersected Peter’s Mesa. This line was on the Gonzales Map. I am not going to go into detail as to who Gonzales was, but some claim he was a survivor of the Peralta Massacre on the northwest end of Superstition Mountain. 

We spent most of the third day looking for this point. I am not certain we ever found it. This line runs NNE from Weaver’s Needle toward Four Peaks. According to some stories, a rich mine is located on this imaginary line.

And yes, we had Spam and Ortega Green Chili again for dinner. As we packed up the next morning for the journey out to First Water I told Bob that Peter’s Mesa would be known as “Spam Mesa” from this day on. He laughed and said he really liked Spam.

I must admit it was a quick way to prepare all meals and it was filling. Now Spam Mesa is a part of the Superstition Mountain legacy in our minds.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Treasure Tree

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

Walter Gassler, prepared for another trip into the
Superstition Mountains in search of the
Dutchman’s Lost mine.
Walt Gassler made trips into the rugged Superstition Mountains each year in May to search for the legendary Dutchman Lost Mine. Walt was convinced a rich deposit or cache of gold was located along a legendary line between the second peak on Four Peaks and the tip of Weaver’s Needle. Some claim Walt’s story fits the old Gonzales Map if it were authentic. He continued his search for more than fifty years.

 Walter Gassler was born in Switzerland and immigrated to America as a child. Walt became a chef early in life and worked as a chef all his life. He was the pastry chef at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel for many years, however in his spare time he liked to hunt for lost gold mines in the Southwest.

He met William A. Barkley shortly after the discovery of Adolph Ruth’s remains in 1931 and became friends with the old rancher. Barkley was always concerned about Walt going into the mountain alone, but he continued to do so.

Walt was always giving Gertie Barkley (wife of William “Gus” A. Barkley) gifts of special pastries he made and shared various recipes with her. The Barkleys were always concerned for Walt, but also knew he would hunt for the gold of Superstition Mountain regardless. Walt was a solo prospector and Dutch hunter and never really shared anything with anyone until he was almost eighty years old.

Walt spent most of his time on Peter’s Mesa, east of Charlebois Spring. He was convinced the Dutchman, Jacob Waltz, traveled into the Superstition Mountains from the Salt River by the old Peter’s Canyon trail up and over Geronimo Head. The trail was extremely difficult to follow on the black solid rock out of Peters Canyon above the confluence of Peter’s and Tortilla Creeks.

This portion of the trail is marked by rock cairns. The trail eventually led upon Geronimo Head and eventually southward toward Peter’s Mesa. Some old time Dutch hunters call this the “Monument Trail” and were convinced Jacob Waltz would follow this route to his rich mine. Gassler was also convinced this was the point Jacob Waltz entered the mountains from Salt River (Rio Salado or Salinas). Also near the confluence of Peter’s Canyon and Tortilla Creek there is a unique “trick in the trail” a horse, mule or burro could easily negotiate to enter Peter Canyon to gain access to the Monument Trail.

Walt Gassler spent fifty years searching this region for hidden gold. Early in April of 1984, Walt was convinced he had figured out the riddle of the infamous Dutchman’s mine and wanted Bob Corbin and I go with him on his last trip into the mountains. Neither Bob nor I could prepare for a trip on such short notice therefore we both declined his invitation.

I believe Walt was eighty-two years old when he had his wife drive him out to First Water Trail. He hiked into Charlebois Spring some eight miles away on May 1, 1984. I rode into Charlebois and talked to Walt on May 2, before he started his final hike to his camp. Walt died on the trail just above Charlebois Spring. 

Gene Baker and Don Shade found his remains along the trail on May 3, 1984. There was a story told that a rich bonanza of gold was found in his backpack or was removed by an unknown party.

A story was told that Walt Gassler had found a rich deposit or cache of bonanza grade gold ore on Peter’s Mesa or somewhere nearby. It is said that near this cache or vein there is an unusual tree that has grown out of its natural ecosystem. Walt was said to have described the tree as an Ironwood. These desert legumes general, live well below 2,500 feet. They cannot survive freezing weather.

The Ironwood tree is easy to identify because of its heavy, dense wood and its flowers are lavender or purple in color. I have never seen an Ironwood on Peter’s Mesa, but I have not covered the entire mesa during the past fifty years or so. I suppose now we can call this the “Lost Ironwood Mine.”

Maybe, or maybe not, this is another tall tale about the legendary Superstition Mountains.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Meeting a Living Legend

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

To the world, Ted DeGrazia was a gifted celebrity,
to the Indians of the Southwest, he was a friend.
However, to himself, he was simply a "working artist."
Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia died on September 17, 1982 in Tucson, Arizona. He was true aficionado of the mighty Superstition Mountains. At the time of DeGrazia’s death it was very difficult for me to write about him. I have always wanted to believe he was a true Western maverick; however his educational and business background emitted a somewhat different image.

Before I can honestly write about this it is important that I clarify my relationship with him. Ted had many people who just hung around him and I didn’t want to be classified as one of them. Therefore I kept my distance from him a majority of the time. DeGrazia and I had only one thing in common. We both were aficionados Superstition Mountain.

The first time I met Ted was in 1963. He was in Apache Junction to embark upon an expedition into the Superstition Wilderness Area. I don’t recall the exact circumstances of our first meeting. Either Slim Fogle or “Woody” Woodcock introduced me to him at First Water Trail Head. I was introduced as one of the cowboys that use to work for the Barkley Cattle Company.

DeGrazia at the time was interested in certain landmarks in the Superstitions. He chatted briefly with me about a couple of landmarks and various names they had. Old Slim Fogle usually packed DeGrazia into the region. On this particular day “Woody” Woodcock was doing the packing and guiding. DeGrazia was beginning to reach the apex of his art career in 1963, but was still relatively unknown. In our brief conversation I sensed his love for the area, however I felt he was promoting a stigma. You might say a self-guided stigma to associate with the wild and violent history of the region.  DeGrazia wanted to be stereotyped with the area and its violence. The “Old West” and its wild and wooly way was what DeGrazia was looking for.

Men and equipment had been assembled for this expedition and yet it did not appear the expedition was even going to get off the trailhead. Many of the participants were enjoying alcoholic beverages at the trailhead. After my brief conversation with DeGrazia I returned to my vehicle and watched the three-ring circus that was unfolding before my eyes. The DeGrazia entourage looked like a page out of Old West history with their pre-1900 costumes and ancient weapons.

Photographs were being taken, horses were jumping around, men were swearing and patience was running very thin among the participants. Adventure, excitement, guns and alcohol do not mix well. What appeared before me was a disaster waiting to happen. That was the first time I met Ted DeGrazia. It certainly made an impression on me.

Our trails crossed occasionally during the years 1963 through 1981. Ted had his associates and friends. I had mine. The rugged Superstition Mountains were the only common ground between DeGrazia and I. Ted did everything to promote the image of DeGrazia. He painted, sculptured, made films, wrote books and recorded records to keep the DeGrazia image alive and before the public. I was just another acquaintance, a distant face in a crowd of thousands. He would sometimes recognize me depending on who was around.

DeGrazia used his environment to promote his image before his adoring public. Early in the fall of 1980, I contacted DeGrazia at his Tucson Gallery because he had left a message for me to do so. I finally called him by telephone to find out what he wanted. He informed me he wanted to make a film about Celeste Marie Jones. He needed detailed information about Jones and wanted to know if I could meet him next time he was in Apache Junction. I agreed I would assist him the next time he was in the junction.

Ted arrived at the house on a Saturday afternoon and we spent the afternoon talking about Marie Jones. I provided him with several newspaper articles and other information. He was appreciative and also impressed with all the material I had collected on the Superstition Mountain region.

This meeting generated a close friendship that would last until the time of Ted’s death in 1982. I soon became an important link between DeGrazia and his beloved Superstition Mountain. We both had a strong feeling for the history and lore of Superstition Mountain and its legends. It is tragic our friendship did not develop fifteen years earlier.

Ted stopped by my house on several occasions to gather information for his docudrama about Marie Jones. He drove an old International Carry-All. On several occasions I worked on the truck’s carburetor so he could get it started and be on his way.

Ted could be totally uncouth with his adoring public. He was as likely to appear drunk and stinking like a pig at a public appearance as not. In 1976 I invited him to be a judge at the Superstition Legend Saga Art Show. He didn’t show, therefore embarrassing me. I never invited him again to such a function.
DeGrazia’s protest of the federal inheritance tax by burning some of his paintings and sketches at Angel Springs in the Superstition Wilderness Area created a lot of newspaper copy in 1977. He also allegedly buried several paintings in the area.

Ted was no fool he knew the value of good publicity. He also understood the proper timing of news releases. When Ted burned his paintings at Angel Springs I was convinced it was another one of his publicity stunts to gain further notoriety. I have never been convinced he buried any oil paintings of value in the Superstition Wilderness Area. I have two reasons for this belief. Ted was a very good business man and I doubt very much Billy Clark Crader would violate federal law and help Ted’s group bury paintings within the boundary of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

It was 1977 when Billy Crader invited me to ride into DeGrazia’s camp at what he called Angel Springs. Crader needed to haul supplies into Ted’s Camp and didn’t want to make the trip alone with a packhorse. At the last moment Cal Mensch decided to make the trip. Cal was one Crader’s drinking buddies and occasionally served as a wrangler or packer. Crader didn’t know for sure what to do about the invitation he had extended to me. He decided to go ahead and take me along because I was such a good customer of his. Since 1973, I had been renting horses from Crader’s outfit for my Junior High School science field trips.

As we rode in from the J.F. Ranch, Crader read a book and listened to his radio. I chatted with Cal.

“Hey Kollenborn,” Crader yelled, “We are going to have to blindfold you or old DeGrazia is going to be pissed.

“Why’s that?” I called out.

“He’s going to bury a bunch of paintings today so he can perpetuate the DeGrazia legend in the Superstition Mountains,” said Crader.

“I’m not riding any horse blindfolded through that Catclaw and brush. I will just remain outside of the camp,” I replied.

Crader said no more about the blindfold and I was glad of it.

Crader turned his radio off as we neared DeGrazia’s camp. The meadow was beautiful, in the distance you could see smoke lazily drifting upward and mingling with the tall sycamore trees in the canyon. The camp came to life as we rode in. David Jones and one of DeGrazia’s Native American friends were the first to great us.

“Where’s the booze?” One of them hollered.

The camp was filled with blood shot eyes and hangovers. Ted was sitting on a stool under a scrub oak tree, acknowledging our arrival with a nod. As Crader stepped off his horse, Mensch and Jones began unpacking the pack- horses. Crader was soon huddled and in conversation with DeGrazia and one of the older Native Americans in the group.

Laying on a large tarp I could see six to eight acrylic map tubes used by cartographers and architects to protect drawings or maps. I knew these map tubes were a significant part of this trip, but I had no clue as to what they were going to be used for at the time. Bare in mind I wasn’t aware of the plan to bury paintings or drawings around Angel Springs by DeGrazia and his friends prior to this ride. Crader had just mentioned the idea as we rode into camp.

As soon as I observed the map tubes and the various media people in the group I knew DeGrazia was up to something big in way of a media show. Maggie Wilson, Arizona Republic, Jim Butler, New York Times and some representative for People Magazine were waiting around for some action.

It wasn’t long before Crader was ready to ride out again. Cal Mensch stayed in camp as Crader and I departed. DeGrazia was a sly old fox. He loved to keep people guessing as to what he was going to do. He seldom denied or confirmed any of the tales that had been told about him. DeGrazia was a legend in the making and he continued adding chapters to that legend. 

An interesting fact about this trip was several days later I spotted those acrylic map tubes in Crader’s trailer at the corral unused. As I recall there were six at Angel Springs and there were six in Crader’s trailer. I recalled the tubes being numbered and so were the ones in Crader’s trailer. They had the exact numbers as those that lay in DeGrazia’s camp at Angel Springs.

Ted DeGrazia was a fantastic businessman and public relations individual. He learned how to get the public’s attention. We have to admire him for his tenacity and desire to succeed in the art world circus. 

DeGrazia was a premiere showman in the “world of art.”