Monday, June 20, 2011

George 'Brownie' Holmes

June 20, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The stories about Superstition Mountain and the Dutchman’s Lost Mine will forever live in the minds of those who were closely associated with George “Brownie” Holmes. His search for Jacob Waltz’s mine spanned more than 60 years and came to an end on his 88th birthday, April 11, 1980.

Holmes’ passing has brought to a close another era of history associated with the Superstition Wilderness Area. You might say Holmes was a significant oral reference source for those he wanted to visit with. His stories involved direct contact with those who vividly knew the significant players that played a role in the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine. These players included Holmes’ father, Richard J. “Dick” Holmes, Guidon Roberts, Julia Thomas, Hermann Petrasch, Rhinehart Petrasch, Joe Potertrie and other Arizona territorial pioneers.

Holmes was born in Phoenix, Arizona Territory on April 11, 1892, one year after the death of Jacob Waltz. Holmes was one of the early seekers of the infamous Lost Dutchman Mine. He had outlived all of his contemporaries and still remained an adamant believer to the last day of his life. Holmes wrote no books, drew no maps, and continually avoided conversation concerning the controversial gold mine allegedly possessed by Jacob Waltz of Arizona Lost Dutchman Mine fame. His belief in the mine was based on his father’s search and information left behind when Richard J. Holmes died on Oct. 31,1930.

Brownie claimed, by his own statement, to be almost an Arizona pioneer. His grandfather, Richard J. “Dick” Holmes Sr. arrived in Arizona Territory while it was still a possession of Mexico. He made his living rounding up maverick cattle along the Gila River and shipping them to Yuma. These cattle were animals that had escaped from herds being driven across Arizona by the southern route to California.

His father, Richard J. “Dick” Holmes was born at old Fort Whipple, near modern-day Prescott, in 1865. Richard J. Holmes ranched in the Bloody Basin where today Holmes Creek and Holmes Canyon bear his name. Brownie’s father was a packer for Al Sieber, an early Arizona scout who later was killed during the construction of Roosevelt Dam.

It was on Oct. 25, 1891, by chance, a course of events changed Richard J. Holmes’ life forever, as well as his unborn son, “Brownie”. Richard Holmes was walking down a Phoenix street when he was summons by Julia Thomas for assistance. She told Holmes the old prospector Waltz was dying and would he please help her. Thomas asked Holmes to stay with Waltz until she could find a doctor. There are other versions of this story.

Holmes rushed to the adobe behind Julia’s bakery shop (sic) to see what he could do. Holmes quickly realized there was little he could do for the old man but comfort him in his final minutes of life. It was during these few minutes many people believe Holmes found out the exact location of Waltz’s mine in the Superstition Mountains. Precisely what the dying Waltz told Homes, if anything, will never be known. If anyone knew what Waltz told Richard J. Holmes on that fateful day it would have to be his son “Brownie.” There are many who question whether Waltz told Holmes anything at all. They also doubt Waltz gave the ore in the candle box under his bed to Holmes. The question that has been ask, why would Waltz share with Holmes, the man he had warned not to follow him into the mountains or he would kill him. It is still possible Holmes removed the gold ore from beneath Waltz’s bed after his death. Nobody knows for sure.

The foregoing event altered the life of Richard J. Holmes and his son forever. Richard J. Holmes began his search for Waltz’s mine shortly after being at Waltz’s deathbed. Holmes believed the mine was located in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. When Richard J. Holmes died in 1930 “Brownie” continued the search. This quest lasted more than 60 years.

Yes, George “Brownie” Holmes was one of the last direct links between yesteryear and today as far as the Lost Dutchman Mine is concerned. How should George “Brownie” Holmes epitaph read?

I spent many hours talking and recording Mr. Holmes telling stories about the Superstition Mountains, Adolph Ruth, and Jacob Waltz. He talked about searching for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine as he called it, while working as a cowboy for the Barkleys and his adventures while a driving a stage over the Apache Trail for Wes Hill. Brownie always talked affectionately about the Barkleys and old Wes Hill, owner and operator of the old Apache Trail Stage Lines. His voice revealed his love for the mountains, the life of a cowboy, and probably most of all his love for freedom and independence.

Historians, Dutch hunters, and others have tried for many years to discredit his family as well as him on the facts associated with the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Holmes never claimed he found the Dutchman’s lost mine, he had only sought its location. Over the years several manuscripts have been mistakenly accredited to “Brownie” Holmes. He denied writing any manuscripts up to the time of his death. Those who knew him respected him and those who tried to discredit him knew nothing about this man. All Dutch hunters must ask themselves this question, “If I knew the actual clues to the location of Jacob Waltz’s bonanza ore would I tell any one, even on my death bed?” When “Brownie” Holmes passed away most of the surviving samples of Waltz’s gold went to his stepson Billy Harwood. He passed away in 1998.

Some years ago a lone rider left First Water trailhead returning “Brownie” Holmes ashes back to his beloved Superstition Mountains. This man who carried “Brownie” home was his beloved friend who lived near the base of Superstition Mountain.

Those who knew “Brownie” were indeed fortunate.

He was a special living page of Arizona history whether you believed his story or not.