Monday, October 19, 2015

Celeste Maria Arva Jones

October 12, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Maria Jones (center) and two of her employes near her claim near Weasvers Needle c. 1958
My recollection of Maria Jones dates back to 1959. The first time I saw her she had been in the mountains near Weaver’s Needle for approximately twelve years. She first staked a claim on Weaver’s Needle around 1949. 

Some say Maria was originally from Houston, Texas. Some say she was an opera singer. However, when she first entered the Superstition Mountains she was living in Los Angeles, California. She had become involved with a church in Los Angeles and promised to help them by discovering a lost gold mine in Arizona. Several members of the church donated toward her effort.

She arrived in Phoenix in late 1949 and immediately proceeded to Willow Canyon (Peralta Canyon today) with a couple of friends to examine the area around Weaver’s Needle. On December 2, 1949 she staked out the Peralta Mining Claim.

She once told of the difficult climb up Willow Canyon to Fremont Saddle and then the climb down into East Boulder Canyon immediately west of Weaver’s Needle. As she stood on the ridge above the trail she was convinced she had found the site of her golden treasure. This happened five years before her antagonist, Ed Piper, arrived on the scene.

Maria staked the Peralta claim on Weaver’s Needle and decided to return with a crew to search for the gold. Maria soon returned to Los Angeles with a goal of raising enough money to search the area around Weaver’s Needle for one winter season. She didn’t get back to the Needle country until the fall of 1950. Her first goal was to have her men access the top of Weaver’s Needle; not an easy task under any conditions.

Maria was well established on the Needle by the time Edgar Piper moved into the area. Piper established his first permanent camp in East Boulder Canyon directly below Weaver’s Needle on February 9, 1956. Piper’s claim was known as the “Thing.” Maria had been in the area many years by this time. At first the two groups worked in the area with little difficulty, then things began to happen.

Piper claimed somebody was stealing from his camp. One of Piper’s men claimed it was one of Maria’s men stealing from their camp. The situation continued to escalate until shots were fired in the shadow of Weaver’s Needle one early morning in 1958. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Department sent Range Deputy Amos Hawkins into the mountains and removed all long-range weapons from the warring parties. The officers hoped this would ease the confrontation between the two feuding parties. Shortly after this incident Maria filed the Black Mesa claim on November 28, 1958. Maria filed this claim to solidify her claim on the area where she thought the gold of Superstition Mountain was buried.

My first experience with Maria Jones was early in the spring of 1959. Some time around the 10th of April. I was packing salt up Peralta Canyon to Pinon Camp on the other side of Fremont Saddle. Near Fremont Saddle I ran into Maria Jones and two of her workers. They were packing a case of dynamite up to their claims. I stopped and chatted with them for awhile. They knew I worked for Barkley on the Quarter Circle U Ranch.

Maria offered me fifteen dollars to pack her case of dynamite to the top of the saddle. Considering I only made seventy-five dollars a month as a cowboy for Barkley this was a great offer. I accepted and slightly overloaded my pack mule and packed her case of dynamite to Fremont Saddle. She paid me for my effort over the protest of one of her workers. I rode on and dropped my salt off at Pinon Camp and started back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch. I met up with Maria and her workers about half way between Fremont Saddle and Pinon Camp. She spent fifteen minutes telling me about the solid core of gold in Weaver’s Needle. She tried to convince me to quit working for Barkley and go to work for her. “Not in a thousand years,” I thought!

The feuding between Jones and Piper continued through out the spring, summer and early fall of 1959.

An employee of Maria, Robert St Marie, came across Ed Piper on the slopes of Weaver’s Needle. He told Piper he was going to kill him. He had a pistol in his hand. Piper pulled his handgun and fired once killing Robert St. Marie. Evidently St Marie pulled the trigger and his pistol misfired. Piper immediately hiked out of the mountains and reported the incident to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. Ed Piper was exonerated of all charges on November 18, 1959.

The courts could never find sufficient evidence to prove Maria sent Robert St Marie to kill Ed Piper. St Marie had taken the job with Maria Jones to help support his young wife and child. The death of Robert St Marie was a tragedy that never should have happened.

The feud between Jones and Piper continued for a couple of more years. The Weaver’s Needle area was eventually withdrawn from mineral entry by the forest service because of all the incidents that occurred in the area.

Robert Corbin, Assistant Maricopa County Attorney at the time, was enthralled by the Lost Dutchman Mine story. He and a friend spent many weekends packing supplies into Maria’s camp in East Boulder Canyon. In fact Bob’s friend Robles even had a tent set up in Maria’s Camp. All this activity occurred before Robert St Marie was hired by Maria Jones. Bob said he had a great time listening to all the stories that Maria would tell. She had the mine located in the bottom of Canyon Lake and the “Needle” had a core of solid gold.

Bob tried to argue with her, but he never had any success in convincing her differently.

Maria Jones continued working the Superstition Wilderness Area near Weaver’s Needle for another two or three years before finally abandoning the area. Some say she was committed to the mental institution in Phoenix and other claim she returned to California. After December of 1963 nobody recalls seeing Maria in the mountains. She had finally ended her reign on the rock throne near her camp. 

Maria had lived and searched the mountains for gold for more than thirteen years without any success. Even when she testified at Ed Piper’s hearing in Judge Norman Teason’s Justice of the Peace Court in Apache Junction, she was still talking about the elusive gold of Superstition Mountain that she believed Piper was trying to steal from her.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Superstition Mountain and Apache Gold

October 5, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Kollenborn and “Chico” in the Massacre Ground area looking toward the Apache Trail.
 Have any of you ever wondered about the source of the place named Massacre Ground? There are many stories about this site on the northwestern end of Superstition Mountain. The story begins in the early settlement of Phoenix more than a hundred and thirty-six years ago.

Phoenix wasn’t much of a town in 1879. Maricopa County was formed in 1871. The town site consisted of a few frame houses and several adobe houses above the flood zone of the Salt River.  Today this is Jackson Street through downtown Phoenix.

Anglo-Americans began moving into the area in the early 1860s. Farmers grew hay and sold it to the Army at Fort McDowell on the Verde River. There was also a large population of Hispanics living in the valley in traditional adobe and stone houses. These thick-walled homes insulated the inhabitants from the extreme summer heat and cold winters. A well-constructed adobe home with small windows and doors maintained a year around temperature of about 74 degrees F. The Anglo population often suffered during the summer heat.

Even in the late 1860s there was a lot of talk about gold after the discovery of the Vulture Mine and Rich Hill. There was a lot of talk about gold among the farmers who grew hay for the army and the Mexican laborers who harvested it by hand. Among the laborers there was a family named Peralta. This family of farmers also spent winter months looking for gold in the surrounding mountains. The father was Juan Jose Marin Peralta. Juan had two older sons named Manuel and Ramon. The father and sons often talked about discovering a rich vein of gold in the mountains, however it was difficult to leave the hay cutting long enough to prospect for gold. During late November and early December, 1879, the area had an extremely cold period of freezing weather in the Salt River Valley. This was the opportunity the two young brothers were waiting for.

Their father had heard stories from an old Pima describing yellow flakes in whitish looking rock west of the cliffs on Sierra Supersticiones (or what is known as Superstition Mountain today).

The family of the two Mexican brothers knew it was dangerous to travel east away from the populated areas because of the Apaches. Manuel and Ramon, with a minimal amount of supplies, traveled eastward toward the mountains they could see from upon the side of Salt River Butte near modern day Tempe— a walking distance of about thirty-four miles.

They departed the family adobe on November 21, 1879, walking eastward toward Sierra Superstiticiones. The trip required almost two days of walking and looking for water. They arrived at a site that looked quite mineralized. They discovered an eighteen-inch vein that had considerable amount of gold in it. They felt they had struck in rich, but wanted to explore down a little deeper. They continued to dig and as they dug the outcrop became richer.

At this point, the reader must realize, none of the early Mormon prospectors had yet been working this area because of the notorious Apaches. The Peralta brothers had risked everything going into Apache country to search for gold.

The brothers worked the vein for about five days when supplies were becoming very low. They had only one weapon among themselves for defense in case they were attacked by Apaches. On the day of their departure at sunrise, the Apache struck. The date was December 5, 1879.

Manuel was killed and Ramon escaped, even though he was wounded.

Ramon made it back to a Mormon settlement near what is Mesa today and they cared for him. Also they saw the rich gold ore he had. When the Mormon settlers learned of the gold discovery they headed east toward Superstition Mountain to search for gold.     

Ironically, the attack and the gold was the only reason this story was newsworthy in 1879. Because the Peraltas were involved is the only reason so many people believe there was a massacre along the northwest slopes of the Superstition Mountain. This area today is known as the “Massacre Grounds.” Without a doubt this story would have never been news worthy if Ramon Peralta had not had rich gold samples. It was determined years later Ramon and his brothers had located the rich Bull Dog vein.

The real so-called massacre occurred near the Bull Dog mine. There was only one Peralta brother killed by the Apache. Not two hundred as reported in stories on the slopes of Superstition Mountain. Could you imagine supplying two hundred workers in this desert with food, water and equipment in 1879?

The first Mormon claims were staked as early as October 29, 1881. These first claims were known as the Lucky Boy Claim. Ironically, the Bull Dog Mine was not discovered until June 16, 1893, some fourteen years after Ramon and his brother had discovered the gold. Ramon never returned because so many Anglos moved into the area.

Author’s note: Superstition Mountain was first named in Military sketch notes in 1864. The United States Army called it Sierra Supersticiones. The mountain has been called Salt River Mountain and also Coronado Mountain on early maps.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Aztec Crystal Skull

September 24, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Probably one the most bizarre searches I have ever been involved with occurred in the summer of 1980. Like my friend Bob Corbin, I had sworn to stay out of the Superstition Mountains in the summer time. The extreme heat was dangerous, rattlesnakes were quite common—not to mention water was at a premium.

On July 2, 1980, a man named Joe Mays contacted me and wanted me to help him hunt for a crystal skull on an alter in a buried ancient city in the Superstition Mountains. I tried to laugh off his request, but I had a curious desire to hear his story out.

Joe Mays, the leader of the 1980 search for the Aztec Crystal Skull in La Barge Canyon.
At first he sounded somewhat reasonable, but when he said he wanted to pack into the Superstition Mountain on July 6th I certainly had second thoughts. The temperatures were hovering around 110 degrees that July and the monsoons were late. So there had been no relief from the heat.

I met with Joe Mays, Everett Johnston and three of Mays’ men at Cobb’s Restaurant in Apache Junction on July 5th. Joe explained to me that he had contracted Johnston, owner and operator of Peralta Stables on South Meridian Road, to pack him into the mountains for three weeks. Joe looked at me and said he wanted to hire me as a consultant in the mountains. He said I would only need to go into the mountain for a couple of days. Again I thought he was joking, but when he offered me six crisp new one hundred dollar bills to help him I soon changed my mind. Summers were always a lean period for me because I only worked nine months a year as a teacher in those days; This was one job I lived to regret.

At 4:30 a.m. on July 6th we loaded up the horses and gear at Peralta Stables on Meridian Road and drove out to First Water Trail Head. The rays of the sun were shining on us before we were saddled and packed up ready for our trip into a burning hell. As we rode along the trail down toward Garden Valley and Second Water it started getting warm. We rode up East Boulder Canyon and then picked up the trail over to La Barge Canyon. Johnston was sure we would find water in La Barge Canyon above the Lower Box. Riding down La Barge about 11 a.m. again I realized I had made a big mistake. It was too late to turn back at this point.

Arkie Johnston (foreground) was the outfitter on this expedition and I talked Howard Logsdon (background) into going. I am sure Logsdon had an interesting time on this trip.
We found good water for the stock and ourselves in La Barge Canyon. We packed in all of our drinking water. Johnston planned on somebody going to town every day and hauling ice and drinks back to camp. Once at the site, the wranglers set up a large fly for a shade to eat and rest under. We had plenty of good food and lots of cold drinks. Once camp was set up I didn’t think it was going to be so bad after all even with temperatures above 109 degrees.

That evening when it cooled down a little we hiked down La Barge Canyon toward the Upper Box looking for the site where the crystal skull was supposedly hidden. Joe wandered up and down several small side canyons until he came to a spot where there was a very deep vertical crack in the rock. He peered into the crack a hundred feet or so and declared this was the spot. He immediately put his crew of three guys to work trying to break the rock. What an effort in futility! These guys must have believed there was a ton of gold buried behind the crack the way they were trying to break the rock.

Within thirty minutes or so Joe Mays determined we would need an explosive expert. I informed Joe it was against the law to blast in the wilderness without a federal permit. This permit soon became a point of contention between Joe Mays and me. After a couple of really hot days of digging and scraping Joe Mays abandoned the site and said he had been wrong. We started looking for another site.

It wasn’t long before Joe came up with another site. This was the day before my birthday, July 9th. I absolutely refused to leave camp on my birthday and ride or walk in the blazing hot sun. I planned to sit under the shade all day and drink Pepsi to celebrate my birthday. On the evening of my birthday it was decided early the next morning I would go out with the packhorse and send Auggie, a wrangler, back in with ice and supplies. My time in the mountain was over I thought.

I learned a lot on this trip. First of all, I couldn’t believe the money Joe was spending on this adventure in the Superstition Mountains. It wasn’t long before I found out Joe was spending investor’s money on this whole operation. Furthermore I couldn’t believe anyone would invest money in such a wild scheme as a crystal skull in a buried ancient city hidden in the Superstition Mountains by the Aztecs five hundred years ago. I later found out Joe was using an ancient book as collateral for his adventure. When Joe’s stories began not to prove out, his investors told him stories about guys who were thrown in the Atlantic Ocean with concrete shoes on. It was at this point he convinced his investors they should make a video documentary of this entire adventure. Believe it or not the investors thought this was a great idea. Joe almost begged me to accompany them and help with technical information for the documentary. He told me if I didn’t he might end up in the Atlantic Ocean. I guess I took pity on his soul and continued with them until they completed the project at the end of July. Like so many things about the Superstition Mountains there was no Crystal Skull. I really think it was a figment of Joe’s imagination that he had transposed from another story or legend.

Johnston and his crew ended up packing Joe and his group over most of the Superstition Wilderness Area while filming a documentary that was never produced. They spent a week at the Reavis Ranch were it was much cooler. I rented a high quality video camera from Troxell Communications for this project. Some twelve hours of tape was shot on the Superstition Wilderness Area. Before this operation was over Joe had spent more than $35,000 of his investor’s money. To this day, I don’t know what happen to the tape, but I did make a VHS copy of it and it is still in my files.

I swore at the end of July I would never work in these mountains during the summer months again. Basically I have adhered to that rule for obvious reasons.  Over the years many people have succumbed to the heat of the desert. This still remains as one of the most interesting and bizarre expedition I have ever joined.