Monday, June 7, 2010

'Sunset' Gardner

June 7, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Each Saturday morning back in the mid-'70s, I listened to the "Sunset" Gardner Show on KSTM Radio in Apache Junction. How many of you remember the "Sunset" Gardner Show on KSTM Radio?

Sunset Gardner is standing on the left in this photo of Ed Piper's
Camp c. 1959. Piper is the third from the right. Piper had
quite a camp near the base of Weaver's Needle
 as you can see by the large military tent in the background.
I had been teaching at the Apache Junction Jr. High School for about three years at the time. I listened to the show because Gardner often featured students from the Apache Junction Jr. High School on his show that had some speaking or singing talent. Our students would do weather forecast, sing songs, recite poetry and announce school events and news. Gardner worked hard to make his Saturday morning show a success. The show was very popular among parents and grand parents in Apache Junction. In fact, parents, teachers, community leaders often tuned to KSTM to hear the "Sunset" Gardner Show to express encouragement to students who participated.

I was involved with "Sunset" Gardner in a variety of community projects over the years. He was always willing to volunteer his time for community projects. There was the radio show on KSTM Radio with Ron Harkins, a variety show at Superstition Mountain Elementary School's auditorium, the talent show each year at SMES, the Apache Junction Public Events Series, and Senior Citizens Day. "Sunset" helped me on many occasions with my Prospecting the Superstitions Class I taught through Central Arizona College at night. He often rode along as a chaperone for my Jr. High School horseback field trip into the Superstition Mountains, adding a special dimension of knowledge to these trips. He was a very strong community minded individual and constantly worked to improve the community. I fondly remember "Sunset" Gardner and his ancient Gibson guitar as he played many our favorite old western tunes.

There was another, adventurous side to "Sunset" Gardner that I wasn't aware of at the time. He was an adamant searcher of the Lost Dutchman Mine. He had roamed the Superstition Wilderness Area since the early 1950s looking for the old "Dutchman" gold. To my amazement neither my father nor I had met him before. When Gardner lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident on September 17, 1983, in Mesa, I learned a lot about his background. A close family friend gave me some photographs of "Sunset" when he was looking for the Dutchman's Mine around Weaver's Needle. These photographs included images of Edgar Piper, and his entire crew. The images linked "Sunset" with an interesting era of Superstition Mountain history. "Sunset" tried to convince both sides that bloodshed wasn't the answer to their problems. However both sides talked about killing the other side. That was the feud between Maria Jones and Edgar Piper 1956 through 1963.

I will never forget the time I was on the south end of Black Top Mesa with a couple of friends. We were inspecting and photographing the old tunnel dug by Hank and Henry Harnish and others in the early 1960s. I found a rock with a freshly carved map on it. The map was called the "Lost Donkey Mine Map," and shortly after I found the map we heard some rocks and debris tumbling down the slope of from the top of Black Top Mesa. We soon saw "Sunset" and one his friends approaching the entrance of the overhang we were standing under. This was an unusual meeting in the mountains between individuals so interested in the history and legend of the region. "Sunset" admitted he carved the "Donkey Map" and I admitted I found it. I still have the old stone "Donkey Map" "Sunset" carved that day while eating lunch on the side of Black Top Mesa.

"Sunset" Garner's life has a special niche in the history of Apache Junction and Superstition Mountain. His stories, laughter, and music will always be a part of this community's history. Many of us will never forget his desire to help children and his community. When he died, I was asked to deliver his ashes to their final resting-place, which I am not at liberty to reveal.

I only hope my final resting-place will equal the beauty, solitude and tranquility of "Sunset." Vaya con dios mi amiga.