Monday, January 25, 2016

Superstition's Real Gold

January 18, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago I was riding in the Horse Camp Ridge area when I came upon an interesting trail. The trail had been carved out of solid stone by animals carrying heavy loads. There were places were the hooves of the beast of burden had worn deep into the volcanic tufa.

This certainly excited my imagination. This trail may have been made by a pack train of mules carrying gold back to Mexico. The thought was provoking even though it probably wasn’t true. Then reality set in. If mules had made this trail there should be a large camp back in one of these canyons around Music or Hermann Mountain.

I followed the trail westward toward Music Mountain.  I recalled a man named Michael Bilfrey in the 1980s who claimed he had discovered gold in the area, but was never able to produce enough evidence to convince the forest rangers to allow him to develop a mine.  I soon found out it wasn’t Bilfrey’s trail.

This trail predated any activity in these mountains during the past century. It was easy to convince myself of this, when I looked at what appeared to be an ancient Spanish drag stone in the bottom of a deep draw. At first I thought I had found one of the Peralta Mines that Barry Storm wrote about in the late 30s and early 40s.

When I examined the drag stone carefully I concluded it was used for something else.  It appeared to have served as a weight to keep a fence from washing away. Cattlemen often tied large rocks the bottom of a fence to keep it from washing away during a flash flood. It soon dawned on me that a cowboy had found the stone somewhere else and dragged it to the site of the fence. The drag stone was quite heavy and probably wasn’t dragged very far by any cowboy on horseback.

Drag stones (or Arastra) is a primitive milling process for grinding and pulverizing (typically) gold or silver ore. 
 It was also possible a cowboy used some hand steel to drill a hole in the rock so he could anchor it to the fence with an eyebolt. Also some of these trails were probably used by woodcutters who cut firewood for the steam engines at the Silver King mine between 1877-1884. Thousands upon thousands of cords of wood were gathered in these mountains to feed those boilers at the mine some fifteen to twenty miles away.

Now the mystery really deepened for me. It was either Sims Ely or Jim Bark who had talked about such a drag stone on Peter’s Mesa.  Walt Gassler had mentioned one also.  I wanted to believe this was a drag stone used as part of an old Spanish arrastra to crush gold ore.

I searched the entire area hoping to discover the origin of the drag stone. I did not find the mill trace where the stone may have come from. This further eliminated the idea that there was a mine in the immediate area. The entire area appeared non-conducive to gold-bearing rock or ore.

I rode on eastward until I reached Tortilla Creek. The area around the old Miller Mine produced no better clues. As I searched the area closer, I wondered if an old cowboy had hauled the stone up from the Salt River. I thought that was highly unlikely. The actual stone appeared to be some type of very hard gray basalt common to the immediate area.

The Barkley’s had an old drag stone around their ranch for many years. Nancy and Kenneth McCullough gave a drag stone to the Superstition Mountain Historical Society several years ago. I don’t believe this stone and the one used on the fence line were one in the same.

The mystery of this old drag stone will continue to fascinate people and cause them to speculate about things that occurred in these mountains more than a century ago.

I have found many clues that are indicative of mining in the wilderness, but very few clues pointing to smelting and refining operations. This would lead one to believe if there were any rich mines in the area the ore was concentrated, then transported to another location to be processed. This mountain mystery will be passed on to others and they can try and resolve it. This is the nature of things when it comes to the Superstition Mountains and stories of lost mines in the area.

I must say, during the past fifty years I have never found anything within the Superstition Wilderness Area that would convince me a mine of substantial worth ever existed here. I will admit there are many examples of prospects and some very extensive prospects within the wilderness. The truth is none of these prospects turned a profit or produced profitable ore. My father spent three decades wandering the region and was never convinced anything worthwhile existed in the region.

Dad enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the area. His friend Bill Cage told him many wonderful stories about the old days involving those who believed the Superstitions were filled with mineral wealth.

There have been plenty of scams perpetrated by unscrupulous promoters over the years that have separated many unfortunate people from their money.  You might say this is “the land of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.”

I have found the real treasure of the Superstition Wilderness Area, and it falls into three categories; one, the beauty of the area, two, the history of the area, and three, the enormous archaeological resources that lie hidden within the wilderness.

We might all remember the wilderness was set aside to preserve the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert for future generations of Americans to enjoy. This goal has led to the preservation of many other valuable resources associated with the 159,780 acres of wilderness.

We all owe a tremendous debt to men like Pinchot, Muier, and Leopold for being activists about the conservation of public lands in the 1920’s and 30’s. Everyone may not be in agreement, but someday our nation’s greatest resources will be the public lands we have preserved in their natural state. The Superstition Wilderness may not have survived as such if it had not been for the legacy of the “old Dutchman” and his lost gold mine. All this legend focused efforts toward preserving the Superstition Mountain area by both private and governmental groups.

Today when I ride through Garden Valley and down into Second Water Canyon and on to La Barge Canyon I’m thankful we call it the Superstition Wilderness Area and it remains today much like it did two or three hundred years ago— undisturbed by rooftops and commercial development.

There is no price tag on solitude, beauty, wildlife and nature. The real treasure of Superstition Mountain.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Arizona's First Zoo

January 11, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Apache Junction Zoo was located next to the Apache Junction Cafe and service station. You can see the sign in the Tamarisk trees. George Curtis planted the trees to shade the animals and because they were drought resistant. Photo circa 1954. 
Arizona’s first zoo was located in Apache Junction, some forty miles east of the Phoenix Zoo or the old Maytag Zoo in Phoenix, Arizona.

George Cleveland Curtis, the founder of Apache Junction, immediately recognized the need for an attraction at his newly emerging business at the crossroads of the Apache Trail (SR 88) and the Globe-Phoenix Highway (Old West Highway or U.S. Highway 60) in 1923.

Curtis started his zoo with a chimpanzee named Jimmie, and continued adding animals to the zoo until he had a considerable collection.  His collecting was primarily limited to animals of Arizona, but he did have some exotic animals.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department issued George Curtis a permit to operate a zoo in the early 1930s. This permit was the first such permit issued in Arizona, and made Curtis’ Apache Junction Zoo the first official zoo in Arizona.

The Apache Junction Zoo was located immediately east and north of the Apache Junction Inn. Today this approximate location is along the western side of Basha’s Parking Lot and slightly to the north.

For several years admission to the zoo was free to the traveling public. Curtis started charging a dime admission to help maintain the facility. Some years later Jack and Beverly Anderson took over the junction and they continued this nominal admission fee to help defray the cost of food for the animals and maintenance.

At this time the zoo contained a variety of animals indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, but not exclusively. Anderson had a Mountain lion, Mule deer, Sonoran White-Tail deer, Peccary, Desert Bighorn sheep, Black bear, Bobcat, Gray fox, Kit fox, Coyote, Ring Tail Cat, Coati Mundi, Badger, Skunk, Mexican Raccoon and a variety of small animals native to the Arizona desert.

Curtis had a Mountain lion that gave birth to triplets. It was a very rare event for a Mountain lion. The births were reported by numerous newspapers of the day.

The collection of animals also included rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and some non-poisonous snakes. Anderson added exotic animals such as the African lion, Emu, Ostrich and a variety of snakes including cobras.

In the late 1970s several Arizona historians were not aware of the existence of the Apache Junction Zoo, therefore they all believed the old Phoenix Maytag Zoo was the first zoo in Arizona. This reasoning was based on the fact that they thought the Apache Junction Zoo was nothing but a roadside attraction. The Maytag Zoo later became known as the Phoenix Zoo and, today, is the finest zoo in Arizona.

Tommy Jones, a pioneer resident of Apache Junction, worked as the caretaker of the Apache Junction Zoo for more than a decade. Jones worked for Cliff “Pappy” Russell as an all-around handyman at his automotive garage on Ocotillo Street for more than a decade after being the caretaker at the zoo.

Jones had also worked as a cowboy on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch for the Barkley Cattle Company during roundup each spring and fall. The story was that Tommy Jones learned his riding skills and how to care for animals as a Buffalo soldier with the 10th U.S. Army Cavalry on the Mexican –US border.

George Cleveland Curtis did indeed establish Arizona’s first public zoo, even if some zoo professionals do not wish to recognize the Curtis-Anderson zoo as a zoo, but only a side road attraction.

My mother and father first visited the zoo in 1937 shortly after being married in Phoenix. I have many fond memories of the zoo as a small child. My first visit was in 1944 when my father paid my admission and took me through the zoo. I was living Globe at the time of my first visit and attending Hill Street Elementary School.

The Apache Junction Zoo operated for thirty-two years from 1923-1955. The zoo closed in the summer of 1955 because of a devastating flash flood. The Zoo was destroyed and many of the animals escaped into the desert. The zoo was never re-established.

Today, all that remains of the Apache Junction Zoo are a few old ancient photographs. These images preserve the history of an interesting aspect of Apache Junction’s history, hopefully one that will never be forgotten.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dr. Ralph Fleetwood Palmer

January 4, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

High on the west slope of Superstition Mountain, up above the Mining Camp Restaurant, is located the waste dump of the old Palmer Mine. This silent dump denotes a bygone era of copper and gold mining history long since forgotten. The site is still quite conspicuous from many points around the Apache Junction area. Questions have been asked about the history of this old mine and what happened there on the slopes of Superstition Mountain many decades ago.

Dr. Palmer circa 1935.
You might say the story began on November 4, 1875, when Dr. Ralph Fleetwood Palmer was born in Marquette, Michigan. Palmer attended the University of Michigan from 1894-1898 graduating in 1898. He then attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the University of Illinois in 1900.  On December 1, 1900 he was made a member of the house staff at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. On June 1, 1902 he received his diploma, and immediately moved to Arizona Territory.

Upon his arrival in Arizona Territory he stayed at the Halfway House located between Morristown and Castle Hot Springs, just west of Phoenix.

He moved to Prescott in September of 1902, and from there he moved to Camp Verde in December of 1902. He spent a year in Camp Verde, then applied for a position with the Bureau of Reclamation at Roosevelt.  The position was post physician and surgeon.

Palmer moved to Roosevelt in 1903. Almost immediately after arriving at Roosevelt he became involved in his first encounter with the Superstition Mountains. A group of Pima Indians refused to work on the road gang because an old chief was afraid one of his wives was going to die. The two wives had been in a vicious fight and one had a severe hatchet wound to her skull. Some thirty-seven miles away, Palmer was sent to Government Well to see what he could do.  None of the road gang would return to work until the wives were better or had died. Palmer was able to save the lives of the two women and in doing so, he became a friend of the old Pima chief.

Chief Ash Nash Ni told Palmer he was guarding the secrets of Ain-We-Gophon (Superstition Mountain) and further explained that his wives would soon give birth to a son for him to pass on the secrets of the mountain.

The chief also told Palmer that his sons would guard the secrets of Ain-We-Gophon and would forever make peace with the Pima Earth Gods. This was Dr. Palmer’s first contact with the mysterious Superstition Mountain.

Palmer wasn’t sure there was any truth in what he heard, but he became intrigued with the mountain for the rest of his life.

Dr. Palmer had read a lot about the Goldfield area and knew it had produced a lot of gold just a few years before his arrival to this area. He dreamed of opening his own gold mine in the Superstition Mountain area, as he would do some years later.

Palmer’s first mining property in the Goldfield area was originally located by William A. Kimball, who had staked his claims many years before in 1886. Kimball had shipped a considerable amount of high-grade ore from this mine prior to 1900. The Buckhorn-Boulder Claims were the oldest mining claims in the immediate area excluding the Lucky Boy.

An Arizona newspaper reported on February 28, 1900, the following: “W. A. Kimball of Mesa is shipping some high producing ore from the Buckhorn Mine, two carloads being loaded yesterday.” The rich ore referred to was copper and was taken from a shaft some seventy-five feet deep. The old Buckhorn Mine is the present location of the Old Palmer Mine.

Kimball died around 1904, and the mine remained inactive until 1917. A group of Mesa entrepreneurs acquired the mine and after extensive investigation they decided to extend the old shaft to 120 feet in depth. The Buckhorn and Boulder Mining Company decided to initiate this work. The shaft was further sunk to the depth of 215 feet between 1917-1918. During the summer of 1918, a “drift” was extended 35 feet to the south of the shaft and there in an isolated pocket a single specimen of ore assayed 882 ounces of gold per ton  (Drift is a general mining term, meaning a near-horizontal passageway in a mine, following the bed of copper or vein of ore). Many other assays ran more than 400 ounces to the ton in free gold.

World War I virtually shut down operations at the mine in August of 1918. The property then remained closed for the duration of the war, with an outstanding note against it for $5,000, except for the annual assessment work done in the name of the corporation. The property was sold at auction in payment for outstanding indebtedness in 1926, at which time Dr. Palmer, bought the property.

Palmer made several attempts to finance the property and reach the pot of gold he believed lay just beyond the 215-foot level. It would require another ten years before Palmer was able to raise sufficient capital to sink the shaft.

Dr. Palmer organized a company to open the mine in 1937 and put it on a paying basis. Palmer and nineteen other investors, in need of financial backing, formed the Ain-We-Goph-On Tribe. The name was based on an old Indian legend about the origin and destiny of Superstition Mountain. The company was eventually known as the Superstition Sage Mining Company. Continued efforts by the company failed to uncover Palmer’s pot of gold.
Profile map of the Palmer Mine
(Boulder-Buckhorn Mine) and also
the Kimball Mine.

Palmer was a dedicated and sincere man who believed there was a rich deposit of gold just beyond the 215-foot level. He and his associates invested several thousand dollars in a vain attempt to extract the gold they believed existed there.

The mining operation came to an abrupt end in December of 1947 when Enestro Jacoeo was killed in a premature explosion at the bottom of the 225-foot shaft at the Palmer Mine. Frank Hedworth, the hoist operator at the time, later reported he heard the blast before the signal was given to raise the men in the shaft below. This indicated to him a premature blast.

The mine was abandoned in 1949, but Palmer continued to do the assessment work on the mine for a short time. The old shaft was used as a well to supply water for the Barkley Cattle Company from 1950-1962. On many occasions during the summer of 1959, I started the pump at the old Palmer to water cattle. Recently, on a ride to the old Palmer Mine I found most of the old dump obliterated and planted over. Often when I look up at that spot on the side of Superstition Mountain I reminisce about the history of one great Arizona Pioneer.

Dr. Ralph Fleetwood Palmer was a true Arizona pioneer and in his book Doctor on Horseback he tells how it was in those early days before statehood, serving the medical needs of early Arizona pioneers before the arrival of the automobile.

He was truly an amazing man, having once stood at the side of President Theodore Roosevelt, he was the first mayor of Mesa after statehood in 1912. He was instrumental in the organization of the Mesa Rotary Club and was the club’s first chartered president.

Palmer conceived the idea of the first real hospital in Mesa, raising some $10,000 to finance the construction of the South Side Hospital. Some claim he brought modern medicine to the pioneer community of Mesa in 1907.

His memoirs reflect his love, determination and efforts to help settle a primitive frontier and help others cope with medical problems. Throughout his long life in Arizona his love for mining and the Superstition Mountains intrigued him until the time of his death in Mesa on December 17, 1954.

I would like to acknowledge Dr. Palmer’s daughter, Harriet McCarter, now deceased, and Nancy McCollugh, his grand daughter, for their kind assistance in making this article possible.