Monday, August 7, 2017

Day of the Cowboy

July 31, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Prior to roads and the horse drawn carriage the only means of travel between Superstition Mountain and the surrounding towns was by horseback or afoot. Since those long forgotten days, little has changed within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Today, one must still travel by foot or on horseback. The Department of Agriculture set aside approximately 124,040 acres of land within the Tonto National Forest in 1939 to insure the preservation of natural wonders in the Sonoran Desert. This wilderness was increased in size in 1984 to 159, 780 acres. Today, a continuous flow of hikers and horseback riders travel these ancient Indian and early cattle trails to experience the isolation and tranquility of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Tom Kollenborn and “Chico” in the Massacre Ground area looking toward the Apache Trail.

The cowboy was a significant part of this geographical region between 1870 and 1990. Only in the last decade or so were cattle permits removed from the Superstition Wilderness Area. Since the first settlers arrived in this area, it has been known as the most hostile and rugged cattle range in the American Southwest. The first cattlemen fought Indians, drought, heat, famine, disease, and winter storms to graze their cattle in the deep canyons and on the towering ridges of the Superstition Wilderness. A very rugged breed of cowman evolved while taming this hostile environment.

These cattle drovers first arrived here from New Mexico and Texas shortly after the discovery of rich mining properties in the central mountains of Arizona Territory. Copper and silver were first discovered around Globe just after the American Civil War came to a close. The first cattle herds arrived around 1870-1871 in the area. The small valley flats between the towering ridges and cliffs of this region we know today as the Superstition Wilderness Area served as grazing range for these Texas cattle brought in by drovers. The discovery of the Silver King Mine in 1875 opened the region to cattle ranching because of the tremendous demand for beef on the hoof. This was the era before refrigeration. Robert A. Irion brought a herd into the Superstition Mountain area from Montana in 1878. He eventually developed the Pinal Ranch (Craig Ranch) at Sutton’s Summit on U.S. Highway 60. Some people know Sutton’s Summit these days as “The Top of the World.” Actually, “The Top of the World” was located down the road toward Miami about six more miles.

The sharp spines of desert flora, the summer heat, the long droughts and the cold winters were nothing new for these early cowmen. Many of the cattlemen came to reap the profits associated with providing beef for these early mining camps that dotted the landscape of central Arizona. The miners purchased tons of beef, making cattle raising a very lucrative industry in the Superstition Mountain area. The somewhat mild climate, good grazing and the nearby market convinced many of the cattlemen to stay on permanently. As the mining industry grew, so did the cattle business. The cowboy was soon a common figure in the isolated canyons of the Superstition Mountain region.

Hardships were very common on these early cattle spreads. There were no permanent shelters or medical facilities. If a cowboy broke an arm or leg his only doctor was his partner or himself. If he picked up a stray bullet, he prayed that he could make it back to headquarters before infection set in. Infection was the greatest killer of man and beast in those days. Survival was for the strongest, because the weak often perished. The early cowboy’s diet consisted of jerked beef, pinto beans, chili and hardtack. His revolver or rifle was his constant companion. Either weapon was used against his many enemies. These enemies could include an occasional Apache, cattle rustler, rattlesnake, lion or bear.

A cowboy’s horse was his most important means of survival and tool. A solid and sound horse meant the difference between life and death in the wilds of the Superstition Mountains. The care of his horse was the most important chore of the cowboy’s daily routine. Most of these cowboys had a string of five to seven horses and rotated between them when working cattle. Providing care for these animals required a considerable amount of time. There was always an animal to doctor, shod, or train. A cowboy’s work was from sun till sun, and his work was never done. There were always fences to mend, water holes to repair, windmills to work on, stock to check, tack to care for and every other job associated with cattle ranching. The advent of barbed wire changed the early cowboy’s way of life in the rugged Superstition Mountain region. Barbed wire forever ended an open and free range. The entire range was eventually divided into grazing allotments. Names like Reavis, Mill Site, Tortilla, First Water, and JF are just a few of these old allotments. When Taylor Grazing was finally established, the option of open range was gone forever. The colorful and romantic life of the cowboy, so often portrayed by western artists and writers, was more fantasy than reality. Dane Coolidge probably portrayed the American cowboy better than any other writer of his time. Russell, Leigh and Remington also portrayed the cowboy on their canvases with extreme accuracy. The modern cowboy artists of Cowboy Artists of America continue to portray the cowboy we know today.

One cowboy would care for a herd, including cows, calves and a couple of bulls.  Most of these herds numbered between a hundred and three hundred head.

Each spring and fall a rodeo (roundup) was conducted to gather the cattle from the open range. The purpose of the roundup was to brand, castrate and doctor calves. Yearling steers were generally separated from the herd and driven to the nearest point of need. A typical roundup area consisted of temporary catch-pens, but most often it was open-ground work without the benefit of a corral. Open-ground work consisted of roping a wild range calf and taking it away from its wild mother. Then you threw the calf to the ground without the benefit of a corral or catch pen, while keeping the irate mother cow at bay. You then branded, castrated, dehorned and completed other necessary chores.

The cattle drovers and cattle barons of the Superstition Mountain area have long since disappeared. The great herds that once grazed the region under the brand of the Clemens Cattle Company and others have also since vanished. At the peak of the Clemans operation more than 12,000 head of cattle grazed the eastern fringe of the wilderness. These huge herds overgrazed and destroyed much of the range. Through the use of careful range management techniques much of the old range is returning to its original state. There are many controversies associated with grazing and non-grazing within the wilderness. Some range managers believe grazing helps to reduce wildfires while other believed, without wildfires the soil becomes infertile. This controversy continues among range managers today.

What distinguished a cowboy from other men of the period? Cowboy’s generally dressed a bit different then other workers because they worked outdoors most of the time. Large brimmed hats were common tools of the trade, Levi trousers, and heavy denim or cotton shirts, and of course pointed toed high top boots with extended heels were popular with cowboys. Cowboys often carried a rope, folding knife, bandana, chaps, and sometimes a Winchester or Colt revolver. These items would probably best identify a range rider of that era.      

Life was not easy on the open range, but it did have its rewards. Those old range riders may not have frequented churches very often, but they were close to their God and the work of his mighty hand. A cowboy’s sense of freedom and free spirit, while on the open range was unequaled anywhere else in the country. Cowboys rode through life uninterrupted by the complexities of urban society. Cowboys generally didn’t lay awake at night listening to sirens, bells and the noise of modern traffic. Their nights were filled with silence occasionally interrupted by the lonesome call of a coyote or other sounds of night. The cowboy recognized the value of sitting astride his horse and traveling with the wind in his face. Hollywood has immortalized the free spirit of the American cowboy, therefore helping preserve some of the ideals of our freedom. These old time cowboys and their horses were true icons of freedom and they definitely have a place in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area and Americana. Hollywood certainly captured the persona of the American cowboy and his spirit and spread it across America.

The large cattle ranches of the Superstition Wilderness have long since vanished from the Arizona scene. Conservation methods did not destroy them. The high cost of operation, limited grazing and strict controls on public grazing lands have reduced the productivity of these once large cattle empires to almost nothing. Feeder pens are slowly replacing the range beef of the past. Today only a few isolated ranches survive, symbolic of a time forgotten by many. Today men like George Martin, Frank Herron, Shelly Donnelly and Chuck Backus try to hang on to the tradition of cattle ranching in the Superstition Mountain region. These cattlemen and cowboys are certainly a part of the history of the Superstition Wilderness and our American heritage.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dust Storms or Haboobs

July 17, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Summer storms in the desert are often called “the monsoons.” These storms bring massive thunderstorms with dust, heavy showers, lightning, dust storms and sometimes devastating winds called “microbursts.” During the summer months most of the storms over central Arizona and the Superstition Wilderness Area result from warm moist air flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). This warm moist air moves across Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mountains force this warm moist air upward forming clouds filled with moisture, sometimes saturated to the maximum. These clouds release their moisture as they rise and cool. This is known as orographic lift. The massive anvil-shaped thunderheads that form over Superstition Mountain from July to September are normally formed by two methods: orographic lift and convectional activity. The convectional storm clouds result from rapidly rising and expanding warm moist air and falling cold moist air. This uneven heating of the Earth’s surface is caused by the open cloud pattern in the atmosphere.

Lightning can be caused by the attraction of unlike electrical charges within a thunderhead cell. The rapid movement of ice and water molecules going up and down in a thunderhead cell creates friction that results in an enormous amount of energy in the form of static electricity being produced. A single lightning discharge can produce about 30 million volts at 125,000 amperes. This discharge can occur in less than 1/10 of a second. The results of a lightning strike can be horrific. Never make yourself a target for a lightning strike by standing in an open high area or by a natural lightning rod such as a lone tree on a ridge.

The rapid rising and falling of warm and cold moist air also can create violent bursts of energy. This type of activity results in microbursts, both small and large. Small microbursts can develop winds momentarily up to 200 mph. They also can create winds across wide areas up 80 mph. These are the winds prior to precipitation that can create huge dust storms. These dust storms can momentarily be 100 miles wide, over a mile high and capable of moving tons of desert fines (dust). These storms in Egypt and the Middle East are known as “haboobs” as they roar out of the desert. Since the late 1960s this Middle East name has been attached to Arizona dust storms. Some of these dust storms are enormous and extremely dangerous for transportation.

What is the cause of these dangerous dust storms? One of the most recent and spectacular dust storms occurred on Tuesday, July 7, 2011, and was certainly one of the largest ever experienced by this state. These dust storms appear to be far more severe in recent years. A lot of the Sonoran Desert in Central Arizona had been disturbed for housing pad development on thousands of acres, and then the housing boom died. Now this land sets barren and undeveloped. What little vegetation that covered the desert before preparation for development has been removed. Also unpaved roads and the irresponsible use of ATV and other vehicles off road contribute to the problem. All of this certainly plays a part in this problem of dust storms blowing toward the Salt River Valley from Central Arizona. Yes, there are many other factors to include into this equation, including agriculture, arid condition and uncontrolled growth.

The monsoon storms are associated with very dangerous factors we should all be aware of. These factors include dust storms, high winds, lightning, and flash floods. I have mentioned the other factors in previous columns. If you are caught in a dust storm, use common sense to survive. Get as far as you can off the highway right-of-way, park your vehicle and turn off your lights. Don’t keep your foot on the brake pedal. There are still those who drive in dust and fog at very unreasonable rates of speed, endangering themselves and others. If they see your brake lights, they might drive right off the highway and into your vehicle.

Our desert is being disturbed more and more each year, and the dust storms will probably become more prominent, dangerous and severe. If we are not careful we will be looking like Oklahoma during the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930’s. Oklahoma’s “Dust Bowl” was caused by drought, primarily during the 1930’s. There has been an effort by the cities, state, and counties to suppress the problem with some dust control methods such as paving dirt roads and trying to limit the number of acres of land for vegetation removal for development.

These methods only help, however, during periods of drought. Dust storms are part of living in the Southwest deserts.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Charles Edward Barker: All American

July 3, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I would like to take a moment to write about somebody I have known for more than forty years. He was always a man of his word and a genuine intellectual. He was compassionate, caring and helpful to others. His whole life focused on learning and he was an excellent teacher. Also, most important, his word was his bond. Almost twenty years ago we made a verbal agreement for me to write the Kollenborn Chronicles when he and Chuck Baker launched the AJ News in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon. We agreed to the following conditions. My articles would not be censored or edited except for grammar and spelling. Ed verbally agreed to this and for twenty years his word was his bond. I wrote columns based on a handshake and nothing more. He never broke his word to me nor I mine. You might say our political views were quite different, however, I always considered him the “voice of reason” in Apache Junction. His Editorial “Que Pasa” was always well written and based on accurate information. If he made a mistake he always corrected it, but otherwise stood by his research and his convictions. He honored other people’s opinions and worked in every way to help his community. He certainly made a difference in Apache Junction and made his family proud of his actions and sense of community.

Ed Barker and Tom Kollenborn, 2015.
I am writing about the Ed Barker I knew, not the man that was my editor. He was as much a part of these mountains as any of the others I have known or written about over the years. These men often had outstanding military records and had been brave on the battlefield in the defense of their country. These men and women were Democrats, Conservatives, and Independents; however the color of their blood on the battlefield was all the same, and the color of their skin made no difference when death was all around them. They were united with one common cause and that was defending America and survival. These men believed “united we stand, divided we fall.” Such were men like Major Monte Edwards, Staff Sergeant Edwin Buckwitz, Master Sergeant Donald Shade, Master Sergeant Dennis Mack, Sergeant Ronald (Eagle) DeAndrea and Corporal Charles Edward Barker.

All of these men and many more found the Superstition Mountain to be their “rock” later in life. It was a place to escape from the reality of the past. Ed Barker allowed me to write in his paper about these legendary lands, places and its people and without this opportunity you would not have been reading my words for the past twenty years. This mountain and the many stories he heard was home to Ed Barker.

Ed Barker was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1944, the Volunteer State. He graduated from high school in Knoxville in 1960. Ed earned an athletic scholarship to the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts. After Viet Nam Ed returned to his education. He then attended Kearny State University (now the University of Nebraska) where he studied history and psychology. After graduation, Ed worked as a psychologist. He also worked as a sports editor for the Hasting’s Tribune. Ed worked for several newspapers over the years including the Knoxville Sentinel, and Atlanta Constitution.

While attending college, Ed Barker was drafted into the Army in 1964 at the age of twenty. He did his basic training and then was assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry Division, 11th Cavalry Regiment, 227th Assault Helicopter Company, in Viet Nam. He served as a door gunner on a Huey helicopter. The mission of his helicopter crew was getting combat teams in and out of battle zones. As a door gunner he protected these teams and other helicopters. He was in the LZ X-Ray at the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in November of 1965. He received two Purple Hearts, Air Medals, Aircraft Crewmen Wings, Bronze Medal for Valor, Combat Infantry Badge, Campaign Ribbons and Viet Nam’s Cross of Gallantry.

After Viet Nam, Ed was a changed man. He ask himself some deep, penetrating questions about life and the political establishment in America that would send young men off to war to be mangled and die for what reason? Yet, when these young men returned home, the general population ignored the Viet Nam veterans, and even accused them of atrocities. Most of the young men who died in Viet Nam were average Americans and they certainly weren’t from privileged families who could easily get deferments for various reasons. Just maybe, when you listen to Bobby Greensboro’s “Broomstick Cowboy”, you might recognize where Ed Barker was coming from. Ed was an extremely deep thinker; very intelligent and had an excellent understanding of psychology. I do know Viet Nam haunted Ed with many bad memories to the final days of his life.

It is men like Corporal Charles Edward Barker who makes “America Great.” It was our veterans who laid their lives on the line for us who provide a future for America. Without their sacrifice there would be no free America. “United we stand, divided we fall.” Ed would always thank a veteran for his service to his or her country. Be proud of America, next time you see a veteran please thank him for his service to this country. If there is to be a memorial for Ed Barker it would be thanking Americans who served in the military during our times of need. Our country and community is a better place because of people like Corporal Charles Edward Barker.