Monday, February 23, 2009

Two Soldiers' Lost Mine

September 23, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The tale of the Two Soldiers Lost Mine has been around since the turn of the century and continues to appear in stories about the Lost Dutchman Mine and the Silver King Mine. Sims Ely mentioned the story in depth in his book The Lost Dutchman Mine by William Morrow & Company, New York, N.Y., 1953.

According to Ely and others, the story goes something like this. Two soldiers were mustered out of the Army at Fort McDowell in 1879. The young men decided to hike across the Salt River and through the mountains to the Silver King Mine were they hoped to gain employment. The reason they choose to hike across this country was to save money.

Somewhere south of the Salt River in a rugged canyon that was in view of a tall pointed peak, they found an old Mexican mine and dump. They believed it to be a Mexican mine because of the small tunnels that were only large enough for a man to crawl into on his hands and knees.

The young soldiers, fearing Apaches in the area, spent only enough time to fill their packs with what they thought was high grade gold ore. They then departed the area and hiked up the drainage of Tortilla Creek then down into Randolph Canyon and eventually into what is known as Fraser Canyon today.

They eventually made their way to the southeast, finally arriving at the Silver King Mine. The first person they talked to at the Silver King was Aaron Mason. Mason at the time operated the Silver King Commercial Mercantile Store. They told Mason their story and showed him the samples of gold ore they had. Mason immediately suggested he would grubstake them if they would go back and locate the mine and claim. The two soldiers decided to rest and wait for a while before making any deal with Mason. After a couple of weeks they decided to take Mason up on his deal. They planned on returning to the site of gold ore and staking a claim with all three of their names on it. Mason grubstaked the soldiers and they left town. Mason never heard from them again.

There are many stories as to what happen to the soldiers. Some claim they never found a gold mine and used Mason grubstake to make it to California to prospect for gold along the American and Yuba Rivers. Others believe the soldiers were murdered before they found their way back to the rich old Mexican mine and dump.

Another story that associates itself with the Two Lost Soldier’s Mine occurred just east of the old Bark Ranch (Quarter Circle U Ranch) in Pinal County. Matt Caveness built the old stone house (barn) at the Bark Ranch in 1877. The old stone house had rifle ports because Apaches still raided in those days. Caveness sold the ranch to a man name Marlowe in 1878 or 1879. Marlowe tried to make a living raising a few dairy cows and hauling the milk to the Silver King mine to sell it.

The Marlowe boy was bringing in some milk cows about a half-mile east of the Bark Ranch in 1880 when he found a body along the trail. The man had been shot in the head. The boy said the man was dressed like a soldier. The body was buried where it was found. According to Gus Barkley the grave was dug up in 1907 or 1908. The incident really upset Barkley and he ask Roy Bradford, who was working for him at the time, to rebury the soldier. This was one of the earliest references to the man being a soldier.

Some time in spring of 1954 my father and I were visiting with Gus Barkley at the old Quarter Circle W (Three R’s) just east of Dinosaur Mountain in what is now Gold Canyon. Gus insisted the victim that lay in that grave was a soldier because of military blouse he was wearing and the buttons on it. He further said the Marlowe boy had told him the military buttons were clear indicators of a mustered out military person. Anyone else could be accused of being absent from duty.

Bill Finch, Arizona State Brand Inspector, told several stories about the grave along this trail across Bark’s Basin eastward toward Coffee Flat and Reid’s Water. This was the main trail through the mountains to the Silver King Mine. The entire trail was not suitable for a wagon once you entered Fraser Canyon just beyond Reid’s Water. A team could turn down Whitlow Canyon and make its way out through an area called the Milk Ranch and eventually to the Silver King Road. However, it was a much shorter route up Fraser Canyon and into Hewitt Canyon and eventually over the ridges to the Silver King mine on horseback. Prospectors, miners and horsemen often used this route in the 1880’s.

The story of this grave became a mystery in itself over the years. Eventually the grave returned to nature and was very difficult to recognize. William T. Barkley showed me the grave site in 1959 while we were working cattle in the east pasture of the ranch. I doubt very much I could find site today, but I probably could come within two hundred feet of it.

To this day the missing soldiers are still a story that attracts interest when it comes to tales about the Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman Mine.