Friday, September 16, 2016

Secrets of the Missing

The past five or six decades have produced a variety of missing person reports within the contemporary boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Many of these missing persons show up at home or in another state claiming they didn’t think any one would miss them. A majority of these missing person reports are resolved with telephone calls between relatives of the missing person. However, there are those reports that defy explanation and no clues have ever been found. Many involved strange incidents involving prospectors and treasure hunters.

  Some of these missing person cases are actually very bizarre. For example, Adolph Ruth was reported missing in early June of 1931. The mountains were searched for almost eight weeks in the hottest part of the summer. Yet, no sign of Ruth was discovered. On December 10, 1931, Ruth’s skull was found near the First Water-Charlebois Trail just north of Bluff Springs Mountain and south of the Red Hills. The rest of his skeletal remains were found January 6, 1931. Ruth’s death was responsible for much speculation, ranging from suicide, accidental death, to homicide. His death still confuses many and its cause is still speculated.

Charlie Williams was reported missing four or five years after Ruth. Williams was a World War I veteran who went into the Superstition Mountains searching for gold on January 5, 1935. Williams was soon reported missing, but on January 8, 1935, Williams stumbled out of the mountains with a pocket full of gold nuggets telling a weird tale about being injured and not remembering anything. Eventually Williams’ gold was confiscated by the United States Government because it was dental gold, not natural gold. Williams was never charged for illegal possession of gold, but again there was a tremendous amount of speculations about his disappearance.

  How many people are still missing in the Superstition Wilderness? I am not sure if any are officially missing. A young man named Adam Scott was reported missing on June 7, 1982. A sheriff’s posse searched for almost a week before the search was called off. The search was called off when the young man was reported seen near Roosevelt Lake. Scott remained missing until March 25, 1996. This is when a local resident discovered skeletal remains on an exploration flight over the wilderness area in 1996.

  Scott was first reported missing in the Horse Mesa Dam area. Robert Schoose and Barry Wiegle were making an exploration flight in a Bell Ranger when Schoose spotted bones on a talus slope. For some reason Schoose was convinced the bones could be human bones. A few days later Schoose asked me about missing people in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The only person I could think of at the time was Adam Scott. He had been reported overdue on a hiking venture in to the area around Fish Creek Mountain and Bronco Butte in June of 1982. The bleached bones Schoose spotted on the talus slope below a small cave turned out to be the skeletal remains of Adam Scott. Finally there was closure for Scott’s family. Adam had been missing for more than fourteen years.  When does a missing person in the Superstition Wilderness become a cold case? Is it after six months, twelve months or several years?

  I met an old man many years ago that swore his son was missing in the Superstition Wilderness Area. He believed his son was being held prisoner because he knew the location of the Dutchman’s lost mine. I know he harassed the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office about his son off and on for about a year. He was totally convinced his son was somewhere in the Superstition Wilderness and he wanted somebody to help him search for the boy.  After talking to the gentleman I was doubtful he even had a living son. I think he wanted to believe his son was alive and searching for him eased the pain of his son’s actual death.

  The loss of a loved one sometimes confuses reality for a person. He was so convincing about his son I almost went into the mountains to help look for him.
  The following is a case of a missing person that is very difficult to determine.
  Christmas, 1987, I remembered a man reporting his son missing near First Water. He claimed they were deer hunting and his son just vanished. The Sheriff’s Office started a search two days before Christmas and continued the search through Christmas. I volunteered to help because I knew the area quite well. My father and I had camped in the region quite often back in the late 1940s.

  I knew where many of the old abandoned mine holes and tunnels were located in the area. Many of the old tunnels were camouflaged for various reasons. As it turned out the young man was mad at his father and wanted to teach him a lesson.  He hid in an abandoned tunnel for almost five days. He was eventually found hiding in a small mine tunnel. He was wet, cold and tired. He felt he had taught his father a lesson when interviewed. He also cost the Sheriff’s Office a lot of money and aggravated a lot of men who had to be away from home on Christmas searching for this young man.

  A very similar case occurred on July 25, 1998, when Guy Garlinghouse was reported missing in the Superstition Wilderness Area near Peralta Trailhead.
  Temperatures were soaring to 114 degrees F that week. Apache Junction Search & Rescue, Pinal County Sheriff’s Posse and many volunteers combed the rugged hot desert around Peralta Trailhead searching for Mr. Garlinghouse.

  Garlinghouse walked into the sheriff’s rescue center at Peralta Trailhead six days later. He was a little sun burned but otherwise in good shape. How did he survive in the desert for six days without adequate water in such extreme temperatures unless he planned on being “lost”? Again, this young man was aggravated with his parents and decided to worry them a little. I never heard how this case was finally adjudicated.

  Missing people in the Superstition Wilderness create some interesting and sometimes very heart breaking stories. One case in particular occurred in November of 1964 when two brothers, (Richard & Robert Kermis) went hiking up on Superstition Mountain through Siphon Draw. One brother slipped and fell. He injured his leg severely. The other brother decided to remain with his injured brother. An unexpected winter storm hit the area dumping almost a foot of snow on the base of Superstition Mountain. The two brothers froze to death before being found by a search party. The death of these two young men was very tragic. They were missing for almost three days.

  One of my students from a class I taught for the college was reported missing. He often hiked Siphon Draw and the Flat Iron. A search was conducted for Lee Krebs for six days before they found his body in No-Name Canyon in December, 1978.  He had slipped on clear ice and fell over a ledge dropping some five hundred feet to his death. Lee was a retired homebuilder and a well known community worker who really cared about Apache Junction during a period when there was a lot of turnmoil. When he was first reported missing everyone was quite sure he was allright. He was a veteran outdoorsman and hiker. A quick moving winter storm caught him off guard while up on the Flat Iron.

  Over the years I have written several columns about the missing and those who have disappeared. I would say ninety-nine per cent of the missing person reports in the Superstition Wilderness have been solved. Undoubtedly there are still a few unsolved cases involving the wilderness. Some cases date back to the turn of the century.  I have reviewed just a few of the hundreds of missing person cases involving the wilderness area. Rest assured most of these cases have been solved.
The mysterious Superstition Mountains with cloud cover.
  A region as rugged and isolated as the Superstition Wilderness Area can certainly hold secrets of missing people that remain unsolved today. Many of the so-called “missing people” may have just walked in one end of the wilderness and out the other end. Therefore we have the “Secrets of the Missing.”

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Stranger Than Fiction

You can’t imagine the surprising and unbelievable stories I have heard over the past many scores of years. The tales of gold and treasure lost among the deep canyons and towering spires within the wilderness of Superstition Mountain are numerous. These tales stir the souls of men both young and old.

  The search for adventure has filled the hearts of many who have followed in the footsteps of “Coronado’s Children” as told by Frank J. Dobie. When Dobie penned his book in 1941 he could not have imagined the impact his words would have on a generation of young men who pursued the treasure trail.

  I choose not to follow each and every one of these stories, however some are stranger than fiction itself. The following story is buried in the pages of a journal written forty years ago about an event that occurred in the Superstition Mountains.

  Since the first Anglo-Americans laid their eyes upon the rugged façade of Superstition Mountain there were stories about lost gold in those mountains. Those who believe these stories can’t be deterred with facts or even common sense. They will continue their search until they can no longer walk or ride the trails of these rugged mountains.  There are but a few people who understand this devotion and dedication to a belief and a dream.

  Over the years I have had many friends who were devoted believers in this lost gold in the Superstition Mountains. I had one particular friend whom I wanted to believe his story so badly, but I just couldn’t accept the facts he had gathered to support his theory. I would never discourage, but I never really encouraged him either until I realized his life hung in the balance. His dream of riches kept him alive. He would swear me to secrecy and then tell me things he actually saw in the mountains.

  “Tom,” he said. “I was hiking up this narrow canyon when I saw a cave in a side canyon. I climbed over large boulders and made my way to the entrance of the cave. I could see the cave had been use many years before. I had a decent flashlight so I started exploring the cave. Near the rear of the cave was a small shaft that dropped down about five feet. The cave then opened into a large chamber filled massive crystalline rock. In one corner of the chamber there was more gold bullion and artifacts than the mind could imagine. There were hundreds of pounds of gold in bars, statues and even nuggets as big as chicken eggs. I was so excited and disoriented I didn’t realize my flashlight batteries were about to die. All of a sudden I was in total darkness with no light. I was not sure which direction it was to the entrance. Finally I gained enough composure I remembered have some matches. I struck a match and saw the tunnel I had followed down into this chamber.

  “I immediately headed for what I believed was the exit. The only specimen I kept was a nugget about the size of a small chicken egg. Striking one match at a time I finally made my way out of the tunnel. Once I reached the entrance the sun had set and it was dark. I picked up my pack and walking stick and made my way down the canyon and back to the trail.
Searching in extremely rugged territory, Karl Duess leads a pack horse
through the storied terrain of Tortilla Mountain.

  “I found a place along the trail to pitch camp for the rest of the night. The next morning at sunrise I thought I would try to retrace my steps back to the cave and the treasure I had found.  “Tom, I never could find the treasure cave again. As I sat under an old Mesquite in Needle Canyon I thought maybe I had dreamed this story and it wasn’t real. Then, when I reached into my pocket and felt the nugget the size of a chicken egg I was convinced it was not a dream. For past decade I have tried to find that treasure cave in the Superstition Wilderness Area.”

  Twenty years ago old Joe showed me that chicken egg size nugget of quartz and gold. I would say there was about five ounces or more of gold in the nugget. Even as I looked at the nugget Joe was showing me I still really didn't believe his story, but then again "truth can be stranger than fiction."

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

John Chuning

June 20, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A view of La Barge Canyon, where John Chuning once lived in a cave just below the Lower Box.
Old-timers who are familiar with the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine will recognize the names of Richard “Dick” Holmes, Julia Thomas, the Petrasch brothers, Guidon Roberts, James A. Bark and Sims Ely as important figures associated with the never ending drama about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona.

Additional names such as Joseph Deering, John Chuning and Aaron Mason will also be recalled. These are the names of individuals who were involved with the search for Jacob Waltz’s mine after his death on October 25, 1891.

John Chuning played an interesting role in the search for the mine. The stories about Chuning vary according to the source.

John Chuning was linked closely to Joe Deering and the Two Lost Soldiers Mine supposedly located in the Superstition Mountains. Chuning believed the Lost Soldiers Mine and the Lost Dutchman Mine were all one in the same.

Chuning was born in Missouri about 1845, and traveled to the California gold fields about 1865. He was almost twenty years too late to profit from any of the rich gold finds in California and found pickings quite slim there.

He then packed up, like many other prospectors, and headed east toward Arizona Territory in 1875. One of Chuning’s first jobs in Arizona Territory was working at the Silver King Mine in the Pinal Mountains.

Chuning worked at the Silver King Mine long enough to established a grubstake, then he struck out alone to discover his own glory hole. During his tenure at the Silver King Mine he met Joe Deering and Aaron Mason. Mason partially grubstaked Chuning with burros and other mining supplies. Mason often grubstaked prospectors he thought reliable throughout the late 1870s and 1880s.

Chuning spent much of his time prospecting the area south of the Salt River, north of Queen Creek, east of Superstition Mountain and west of Fish Creek Canyon. Chuning worked periodically at the U Ranch for Jim Bark prior to moving his search to the north near Malapai Mountain. Chuning believed the Two Soldiers Mine actually existed and he was convinced it was the same mine where Jacob Waltz found his gold.

 John Chuning was fifty-four years old in 1898 and he had finally settled down to one area in the Superstition Mountain region.  He found a cave in La Barge Canyon just below the Lower Box. He lived in this cave off and on for the next six years, prospecting the area.

He worked occasionally for Carl A. Silverlocke at the Indian Paint Mine at Red Pass between La Barge and Boulder Canyons north of Battleship Mountain. As the years progressed Chuning’s health began to fail and he eventually moved in closer to Tortilla Flat around 1906. Dr. Ralph Palmer, the post surgeon at Roosevelt Dam attended him several times while he lived close to Tortilla Flat Change Station.

Chuning often entertained travelers who stopped at Tortilla Flat between 1906-1910 with stories about Superstition Mountain and lost gold, while saying he had never given up hope of locating the a rich mine.

Chuning often entertained travelers who stopped at Tortilla Flat
between 1906-1910 with stories about Superstition
Mountain and lost gold. He died there in 1910.
It was in the early fall of 1910 when Chuning fell ill.  He died at the age of 65, on November 13, 1910, at Tortilla Flat. Dr. Ralph F. Palmer attended to him in his final hours. John Chuning was laid to rest in the Mesa Cemetery.

John Chuning spent the final years of his life searching the region south of Tortilla Flat between Peter’s and Boulder Canyons. His search proved futile, but his name was inscribed forever in the history of the Superstition Mountains. A cave in La Barge Canyon bears his name. Also a faint trail that leads up the eastern side of Geronimo Head was named after John Chuning. Even the names of these modest memorials dedicated to John Chuning have almost been lost in the pages of history. Maps no longer carry the names of Chuning Trail or Chuning Cave.