Monday, April 19, 2010

Tortilla Ranch to Horse Camp

April 19, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Some years ago a man asked me about Horse Camp east of La Barge Canyon. I told him it was on Stone's Tortilla Allotment. It was one of the water sources for his Mexican steers he put on the range during the early spring each year to fatten them up for market. Floyd Stone made a little money doing this each spring. Nyle Leatham and I rode with him over to Horse Camp Spring one day in the spring of 1973. Nyle was doing a story on cattle ranching in the Superstition Wilderness for the Arizona Republic.

Floyd Stone always had a good story to tell. One in particular I remember was the time he was hauling three horses up to the Reavis Ranch. He said he had one too many drinks in Apache
Floyd Stone, one of the old-time local ranchers.
Junction and while driving down the Apache Trail he lost control of the truck and went over the edge of the road. Anyone else would have been killed. Stone's truck left the readjust beyond the "S" curve east of Tortilla Flat along Mesquite Creek. The drop off into the creek bed is about seventy-five feet straight down. The amazing outcome of the accident is Stone broke his leg, however the horses didn't fare as well. A patrolman was amazed anyone survived the accident. Old "Stone" indeed had nine lives.

Stone could really tell some good stories about the Tortilla and Reavis ranch country. As we rode south from the Tortilla Ranch and corrals he told us a story about old man Miller and his mining operation. He even pointed out the ruins of a rock cabin near the upper windmill on Tortilla Creek and told us he believed old Jacob Waltz stayed in it.

Of course we took that one with a smile and "grain of salt." Stone was proud of the fact there was a lot of history in area he chased cattle in. He told us about a place he called Fortress Hill were you could still find old military lead bullets and an occasional military button. Several years later I returned to this hill with a metal detector and found several .50 caliber bullets at the base of the hill. The bullets were old conical in form. However, I never found any military brass items. This must have been the site of a skirmish fought between the Apaches and the U.S. Army's 14th or 24th Infantries during the campaign of 1864-1868. Lt. John Walker and his Pima Scouts fought several battles or skirmishes in the region.

We continued our trip up and over the ridge south of the upper Windmill along Tortilla Creek. We eventually rode back into Tortilla Creek, then turned off on another trail where Cedar Basin Canyon and Nighthawk Canyon entered the creek. We rode up Nighthawk Canyon to Nighthawk Springs. We watered the horses in a large concrete tank. Stone told us another interesting story about Nighthawk Spring. He told of an old cowboy that pitched his camp here when working cattle in the area. One dark cloudy night the cowboy got the scare of his life.

This cowboy only had kitchen timber (matches) for light. He was sleeping with his head on his saddle and had his horse hobbled nearby. Some time around midnight, Stone said, the cowboy felt something brushing his cheek, then he heard his horse stirring about. He said it felt like a cat's whisker. He quietly picked up a match and struck it. He soon found himself staring a half-grown Mountain lion in the face, nose to nose. The lion was only inches from his face. The striking of the match startled the lion so much it ran off into the dark. The next morning old Elmer found lion tracks all around his bed. Stone surmised the lion must have not been very hungry, Elmer's body odor may have distracted the young cat or it thought Elmer was its mother. Whatever the case the lion went one way and Elmer went the other, never to meet again.

Elmer worked in the mountains for Stone and Hoolie Bacon off and on for more than twenty years. He spent most of his time filling in or covering prospect holes that old George Miller dug around his cattle range in the 1920s and 1930s. After that incident with the lion, old Elmer wouldn't sleep outside under the stars anymore. He always bedded down in the barn at the home ranch. Elmer Pope was an Apache cowboy from San Carlos.

Floyd Stone always had a favorite story about rattlesnakes, or wiggly-tails as we call them. He said the creatures always had a way of getting in the way. It wasn't uncommon to find a rattlesnake in the ranch house. One early spring morning Stone said he fired up the stove and kept hearing this hissing noise behind the stove. He said he look down under the hot stove and a large wiggly-tail was coming directly at him. He had nothing to kill the snake with so he dashed outside in his underwear and gave the house to snake. Just as he got out the door, Elmer Pope asked him if he was going to ride in his underwear today? Stone said he could have killed that Indian that day, but not after twenty years of service for the ranch.

Our ride continued up a steep grade then into a basin. Finally we arrived at Horse Camp Spring. All Nyle observed was a spring and a corral. I supposed Nyle was looking for a little more than just a horseback ride. After we returned to the ranch Nyle said all the stories Stone had told were well worth the trip.

Floyd Stone was Hoolie Bacon's son-in-law and they both operated the Reavis and Tortilla Ranch from about 1956-1974. Actually Floyd Stone traded the Reavis Ranch for twenty acres of patent land at the IV Ranch and an undisclosed amount of cash in 1967. Floyd Stone continue to operate the Tor-tilla Allotment until around 1976. When Floyd Stone passed away on April 29, 1995 in Merced, California his remains were returned to Arizona and buried in Bacon family plot at the Bacon Cemetery on the old Tin Ranch in Tonto Basin. Stone operated the Reavis and Tortilla Allotments after his father-in-law John "Hoolie" A. Bacon became ill until about 1976.

The Bacons and Stones left a legacy for the cattle industry in the central Arizona. Floyd Stone always said, "The only gold in the Superstition Wilderness is on four legs." Anyone who ever worked for them can give testimony to their legacy involving wild cattle and a rough cattle range in the Superstition Wilderness. I prefer to leave their legacy to them as bigger than life. After all, "Our Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys."