Monday, April 4, 2011

The Bear Tanks Incident

April 4, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The following incident is somewhat strange by modern standards, but the Arizona Citizen, on December 7, 1877 reported a case of accidental poisoning at Bear Tanks, a spot north of Picket Post Mountain. The story goes something like this.

Two men, one named Reavis and the other Lewis were camped at the Tanks and had just completed cooking their dinner. The men then made some tea from water they had carried in small oak kegs from Florence. Soon after drinking their tea both men became very ill. Lewis became violently ill and went into convulsions.

Reavis saddled up and rode to Hewitt’s Station for assistance and a team. When he returned with help, Lewis was found across the fire with his stomach burned to a cinder.

Elisha M. Reavis later testified he purchased two onegallon water kegs in Florence. The Florence store clerk testified the kegs had contained a little dirt, water and a dark red liquid resembling port wine. The contents of the kegs were rinsed out at the store.

Reavis further testified he and Lewis began a cattle-driving expedition, camping that evening at the residence of Mr. Stilles on the Gila River. The kegs were filled with water at Stilles for the long journey across the desert to Hewitt’s Station.

The two men had used the kegs crossing the twenty-two miles desert. They filled the kegs once again at Hewitt’s Station and decided to camp at Bear Tanks four miles away. Both men preferred Bear Tanks because it was easier to picket their horses. Once in camp at Bear Tanks Lewis took the kegs to refill with water while Reavis built a fire and prepared supper.

After supper both men drank tea made from water taken from the kegs. Shortly afterward both men became violently ill. Reavis recovered enough to saddle up and go for help. He returned with a party of citizens and found Lewis dead.

Judge Blakely impaneled a corner’s jury and proceeded to the spot. The body was found in the fire. The water kegs were opened, showing a dense white precipitate, which was believed to be a lead compound. After examining the evidence at the site, the jury was taken to Picket Post and reconvened.

A coroner’s inquest into the strange death of James Lewis was held in Picket Post on December 9, 1877. Judge Blakely acted as coroner. Blakely ask Professor DeGroat to make an analysis of the sediment in the kegs. DeGroat announced the sediments were arsenic. Judge Blakely then requested Dr. Bluett to make a post mortem of the victim. It was soon concluded the victim, James Lewis, had died of arsenic poisoning.

The corner’s jury was reconvened several days later when all results were back. It was decided the poisoning and death of James Lewis at Bear Tanks was a tragic accident. Elisha M. Reavis’ survival of the incident was extreme luck. He was also poisoned, but not as severely as Lewis. Reavis was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The records involving the Lewis death did not reveal whether or not Elisha Reavis was living at his mountain retreat at this time. There was a lot of mining and milling activity in the area during the late 1870’s. The Silver King Mine was in full production and the mill town of Pinal was in full operation.

This was another incident in the life of the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain”, Elisha M. Reavis (1829-1896). Reavis lived in his mountain valley about 8 miles north of the Silver King Mine for almost 20 years while becoming an Arizona legend.