Monday, January 18, 2010

Fool's Gold

January 11, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I recall an event that occurred in La Barge Canyon many years ago near a site called Horse Camp. This particular site was a common destination for old John DeGraffenreid when he packed dudes in for an overnight campout. Many of his customers liked to camp for a couple of nights deep within the wilderness, and this site provided such an environment. It was about eight and a half miles from First Water Trail Head. Old John was the earliest licensed outfitter in Apache Junction for the Superstition Primitive Area in the 1950's. He was packing people into the Superstition Mountains as early as 1955.

In early April of 1959 a couple of Hawaiians requested John's services. He packed them into Horse Camp for a week-long stay. At the time I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company and often ran into DeGraffenreid's pack strings in the mountains. Mike Finley and I were working on the old corral in La Barge Canyon for Barkley when we ran into the two Hawaiians. We had no idea who they were or what they were doing in the area. They were very secretive and we thought they were Mexicans from Mexico looking for Spanish gold in the area. We said hello to them as we rode by their camp at Horse Camp heading out to the First Water Ranch.

Mike and I were in La Barge Canyon several times in May and June for various ranch chores. We were often checking on cattle to see if there were any Screw Worm infestations. William T. Barkley, our boss, was working with the Screw Worm eradication program. We often carried sterilize flies in small boxes to very remote areas of the Barkley cattle range. I believed 1958-59 was the last two years of the Screw Worm eradication program in the Superstition Mountain area.

The next thing we heard was one of the Hawaiians had been shot and buried in a shallow grave beside the trail going past Horse Camp in La Barge Canyon. Later we found out we had tied our horses on the spot where he was actually buried. We tied up there in early May of 1959, and could smell this peculiar rotten smell of something dead. We never dreamed it was a human being. Wc figured the smell was the decaying Mule deer from a lion kill. We were probably no more then fifteen feet from the shallow grave where the Hawaiian was buried.

This photograph of the area gives some idea of how beautiful this particular part of La Barge Canyon is. The two Hawaiians were packed to Horse Camp because of a nearby source of water.
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office began a search for Stanley Fernandez, 22, of Honolulu, Hawaii on June 7, 1959. The body of Fernandez was found in a shallow grave along the trail near Horse Camp in La Barge Canyon.

The prospecting partner of Fernandez immediately became a suspect in the case. Benjamin Ferrierra was arrested and returned to Arizona from Hawaii by Pinal County Sheriff Lawrence White. Ferrierra told Sheriff White he feared for his life and was afraid of Stanley Fernandez. He said one evening around the campfire they were tal
king about the gold they thought they had found. Actually it was nothing but Iron Pyrite or Fool's Gold. It was shortly after that discussion Ferrierra shot Fernandez to death with a .22 caliber rifle they had in camp.

After shooting Fernandez, Ferrierra buried him in a shal¬low grave and hiked out of the mountains and returned to Hawaii like nothing had happened.

I have always felt an innocent soul had died from a bad case of Fool's Gold fever. There is a small outcrop of Iron Pyrite in the area, however I tend to believe they found some small concentrations of Biotite in the streambed and thought it was gold. It is amazing what happens to people who think they have found gold. Both men had little or no knowledge of prospecting or mining.

During his trial Benjamin Ferrierra pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to a short term in the Arizona State Prison. Benjamin Ferrierra served his time and was released.

Did Benjamin Ferrierra get away with First-Degree murder? We will never know. The Pinal County prosecutor could never have proven a case of murder because there were no witnesses. Ferrierra stuck to his story and was finally convicted of manslaughter. After his release from the Arizona State Prison he returned to Hawaii and another tragic chapter in the history of the mountain was closed.