Monday, April 16, 2012

An Uneasy Encounter

April 9, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

At left, Bill Billman, the main investor, Chuck Crawford and Tom Kollenborn, circa 1984.
Bob Corbin believed the Lost Dutchman mine existed
somewhere in this rugged region and he really enjoyed
getting into the mountains and looking around. Bob was also
a lawyer and a former Arizona Attorney General.
Bob Corbin and I were riding up La Barge Canyon toward the Upper Box in the fall of the year. Bob really enjoyed getting into the mountains and looking around. He believed the Lost Dutchman mine existed somewhere in this rugged mountain region. Our plan was to ride up through the Upper Box of La Barge Canyon and visit Roy Bradford’s old diggings.

Bradford lived in these mountains for many years digging prospect holes above the Upper Box of La Barge Canyon. He constructed a small cabin near a water seep just east of his diggings. This seep is known today as Brad’s Water.

Bradford had several oldtimers who helped him out. One man was Chuck Aylor. Aylor would occasionally bring “the curious” out to see Brad’s prospect in La Barge Canyon. An Easterner named Jim Butler thought he saw promise in Bradford’s prospect and decided to invest some money. Butler’s investment in Bradford’s claim and diggings kept him going for a few more years.

I had told Bob Corbin about the Bradford Claims and he wanted to see them. I knew Charles “Chuck” M. Crawford had claims in the Upper Box of La Barge Canyon. I told Bob the prospectors in the area might be a little hostile about our intrusion into their private domain; or at least they thought it was their private domain.

As Bob Corbin and I rode up the canyon we could see some activity ahead. There was a rifle pit high on a ledge above the trail. We couldn’t see anyone in the rifle pit, but it did make us a little uncomfortable. As we rode into a clump of Laurels we could see there had been a lot of activity in the area. We didn’t hear anyone even though we called out, “Anyone in camp?”

When you ride into a situation like this you have some concerns about what might lie ahead. I knew Chuck Crawford quite well and he had invited me to visit his camp in the mountains hoping I would write a column about his mining operations.

We were riding along a very brushy trail when we had to step off of a bank along a wash. As my horse stepped down he tripped a trip line that set off a buzzer and rodeo. I thought for a moment I was going to be dumped in a pile of rocks when my horse finally quit jumping. For a moment I thought I was riding a wild-eyed bronco. My faithful trail dog “Duke” just hopped over the trip line and never set it off. When my
horse broke the trip line the loud squealing buzzer spooked my ride. Just for an instant, I thought somebody would soon be shooting at us. Instead, I heard Chuck Crawford call out, “Is that you, Kollenborn?”

I let him know it was me and that I didn’t appreciate my horse being spooked out of his wits.

Once in the wash above the “box” we saw Crawford’s Camp on the left-hand side of La Barge Canyon. Crawford had three or four men in camp. Bob Ward was his security chief. His main investor was Bill Billman, a Peoria contractor.

Chuck’s camp was well supplied. They had an excellent water delivery system that kept large containers full of water. There were tents and cots for all of the crew. The crew had tarps stretched out to provide
shade and protection from precipitation.

Bob Ward, Crawford’s security chief, told us his guards had us covered ever since we entered the La Barge Upper Box. “The boys,” he said, are carrying 7.62 caliber sniper rifles with 10X scopes. Then Bob went on to say, “Nobody fires their weapon without direct orders from me.”

Corbin and I looked at each other and thought, how lucky we are. We sat around and visited with the group for about an hour and then told them we had to head back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch before they
sent out a search party.

Bob and I never actually felt threatened, but we also knew better than to confront this group and there was no reason to do so. When you think back, these guys were “the law” in this situation.

As we rode back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch, we thought about this uneasy encounter so far removed from urban America.