Monday, September 30, 2013

Saguaro Markers

September 23, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

It is difficult to find a story about lost treasure or a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountain area that is not associated with a Saguaro cactus marker of some kind. There are several mutilated old Saguaro cacti in the wilderness area with a variety of markings on them that include crosses, arrows, and slashes. Some actually have stones embedded in them pointing out certain directions.

The Saguaro marker along the trail to
West Boulder Canyon. c. 1988

My first experience with a marked cactus was when my father and I hiked into La Barge Canyon in the spring of 1949. Near a place called Horse Camp, just southwest of Charlebois Spring, there was a Saguaro cactus about ten feet tall with no arms on it. About half way up the cactus was a perfectly carved cross. I ask my dad about the cactus. He told me he didn’t know a lot about it and had heard several stories. Judging from my knowledge about Saguaros today the cactus couldn’t have been older than fifty to seventy-five years. The cactus must have been a seedling sometime between 1875-1900. Oh yes, just in time for Jacob Waltz of Lost Dutchman mine fame to have carved the cross. Basically that is the story my dad told me about the cactus at Horse Camp.

The last time I saw the Saguaro cactus it was down and on it’s side dying. It had been blown over in a severe storm. The carving of the cross on the cactus allowed insects to get inside and eventually kill the plant. This was around 1979. Bud Lane told me another story about the Cactus. He said a couple of Dutch Hunters (people who hunt the Lost Dutchman Mine) carved the cross in the cactus in the early 40’s. I am sure there are many stories out there as to how the cactus received its death sentence by man.

The four aligned Saguaros near First
Water Road and Apache Trail. c. 1976.

Another interesting Saguaro cactus carving is on the trail to West Boulder Canyon. This appears to be a trail marker of some kind depending on whom you are talking to. This Saguaro has two large arms and appears to be about a hundred years old. The marking on this Saguaro cactus is an arrow that is pointing downward just below the intersection of the arms of the plant. I have always suspected this to be just a trail marker used by somebody some fifty or so years ago. I have been riding by it since the late 1950’s when I worked on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch for William T. Barkley. Even then the marker didn’t look freshly cut into the cactus.

It is interesting that the marking didn’t damage the cactus so severely that it eventually died from disease. I suppose this would make a case for the carving to have been made during the winter months when there were no insects that would lead to the cactus becoming diseased and eventually meeting its demise. Now I had an old friend name Monty Edwards who was convinced the cactus served as a marker on the Spanish Trail to the top of Superstition Mountain. He said this trail was used by "El Gato," who carved the Peralta Stone Maps. Monte’s Spanish Trail was the Summit Trail to Summit 5024. This same trail through upper West Boulder was used to bring strays off the top of the mountain. Cattle would often wander to the top of the mountain looking for greener range. Usually they ran out of water up on the mountain and would then come back down. There is always an explanation for a trail in the Superstition Wilderness Area. If the storytellers had been around in the early 1850’s they would have found Native American trails all over the rugged Superstition Mountain range. Did they mark Saguaro cactus? Who knows for sure? It is reasonable to believe they may have marked Saguaros by pounding rocks in them marking a certain direction.

There are many markers in the Superstition Wilderness Area and all of them have different stories depending on whom you talk to. Four perfectly aligned large Saguaro Cacti just outside of the wilderness area near the Apache Trail are either freaks of nature or somebody a hundred fifty years ago planted them like this for a marker of some kind. These cacti could be between a hundred and hundred and fifty years old. The four are no longer standing. I am not sure whether their demise was deliberate or natural. I photographed them in 1976 and they were in very good shape then. I was told at that time the Saguaros were about one hundred and fifty years old. Recent research reveals Saguaros grow much faster than once believed.

The markers found throughout the Superstition Wilderness Area continue to fascinate prospectors, treasure hunters, researchers, and storytellers. The stories are numerous and they are widespread. Contemporary prospectors (1880-1983), cowboys (1876-2013), the military (1860-1898) and others who wandered these mountains used a variety of markers to guide themselves from place to place in this rugged terrain.