June 17, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
There are many tall tales about the Superstition Mountains and it environs. The story about a colony of little people (Dwarfs) living in the mountains at the turn of the 20th Century continues to be told occasionally around campfires. A young cowboy in his teens who worked on the Bark-Criswell Ranch told the following story.
Jose Varela was a young Mexican vaquero who would go up to the Bark Ranch and work for his board and a few dollars when school was out each year.
Elmer Booty, who was the Bark and Criswell foreman, let young Varela work several summers for them. Jose learned to handle cattle in a rough mountain environment, and one hot summer day he was riding alone on a high mountain ridge and looking down into the canyon below. He was looking for signs of wormy cattle. Jose was told the cliffs and peaks of the main range to the west of him possessed the finger-like rock formations that Native American superstition said represented the spirits of long-dead warriors. I have also heard this story on several occasions over the years from members of the Pima and Apache tribes.
Jose decided to shade up in some laurels to rest and maybe take a nap. He unsaddled his horse and used his saddle for a pillow, a common practice among cowboys and vaqueros. Jose laid down to rest. A cool breeze blew through the laurels providing a cooling effect for the tired vaquero.
All of a sudden five or six little men appeared, not more than three feet tall, dressed in brown with white beards and shiny bright bands around their heads. They just popped out of a crevice in a cliff above where Jose was laying. They walked along a ledge near the crevice. The leader appeared to harangue the others. Jose could not hear the words, but the leaders voice was clean. After the discussion, the group vanished into a crevice on the cliff ending the encounter. They then appeared at the base of the cliff and walked over to where Jose was laying. The leader of the group placed a piece of quartz in Jose’s hand.
Jose was totally dumbfounded and could not believe what had happened. He thought about climbing up on the cliff and finding the crevice. However with cowboy boots on that would have been difficult if not impossible. Jose saddled up his horse and rode back to the Bark Ranch arriving at suppertime.
When Jose sat down to the supper table he showed Elmer Booty the quartz that had been placed in his hand by the leader of the little people. Jose asked Booty what was the yellow stuff in the quartz. Booty responded with, "That is gold, my friend."
Jose Varela guided Elmer Booty back to the site in West Boulder Canyon. Once they arrived at the site Jose placed his foot near one of the little people’s footprints. The footprint was much smaller than Jose’s.
"Well, I’ll be damned, looks like either some little men or some kids have been here," remarked Booty.
Jose’s father looked at Jose and told him to tell the truth. He insisted he was telling the truth. Jose’s only other explanation was maybe I fell asleep and had a dream. Then where did the rich specimen of gold ore come from?
All summer long Jose, his father and Elmer Booth searched for the little people when they had a chance. They never found another trace of the little people or high-grade gold ore.
Frank Criswell, part owner of the Bark Ranch at the time, tells another story. He believed the kid found a high-grade piece of float and went to sleep. He woke up after a dream of seeing little people and their leader placing a gold nugget in his hand. He sincerely believed a prospector made the hole in the cliff and the footprints were from some kid in a nearby camp.
Criswell was always known as the practical person, however Jim Bark was a great storyteller.