Monday, May 19, 2014

Obie Stoker: Fool's Gold

May 12, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Obie and Olive Stoker (circa 1959) searched for
gold in the Superstition Wilderness.
Every time I ran into Obie Stoker,
he and Olive were “close to the real thing.”
The search for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine has attracted a variety of characters over the decades. None would be considered more atypical than Obie and Olive Stoker.

Obie was born in Hillsboro, Texas around 1898. He was drafted into the Army at the age of 45 in 1943. His war experience made him somewhat delusional and paranoid once in awhile. No doubt Obie was shell shocked, or at least that is what he said.

Obie and Olive made a striking pair of promoters who were always looking for potential investors in a variety of ventures. Basically, Obie and Olive Stoker were good people, but they loved to promote their dreams.

Obie became interested in the Lost Dutchman mine in the 1930’s after hearing so much about the infamous case involving the death of amateur explorer and treasure hunter Dr. Adolph Ruth in 1931. Obie believed that Ruth would have never ventured into these mountains during the summer months if he hadn’t been convinced there was a lost mine.

Obie reasoned this because “Ruth was a doctor he knew what he was doing.” Obie continued his search off and on for the Dutchman mine for almost five decades. When his beloved Olive died, Obie lost contact with the real world. He was so deeply hurt when he lost his beloved Olive he found it almost impossible to function. This is understandable when someone loses a mate.

Early one spring morning in 1959 before Olive’s death, I was riding out of the First Water Ranch. Barkley had asked me to check out the water at Second Water and to look for an old yellow bull he had in Boulder Canyon.

As I cut across the cactus garden toward Boulder Canyon from Second Water I ran in Obie Stoker and a friend. We chatted for quite awhile. Stoker knew I worked for Barkley and was quite friendly.  I ask him how he was doing at the mine. He said he was getting down to the real thing. He showed me excellent samples of iron pyrite. He then said, “You know this is ‘fool’s gold,’ but I am close to the real stuff.” Every time I ran into Obie Stoker, he and Olive were close to the real thing.

Obie worked with many different partners over the years. Most people avoided Obie like the plague because he was often very irrational. Sometime during the early 1970s, after Olive’s death, Obie returned to Florida. He was searching for a young woman to marry. He finally found a willing partner in Florida.

Bob Corbin and I ran into Obie Stoker’s partners Warren Koneman and Bruce Gillette several times during the early 1980s on the Second Water Trail.

Obie’s partners were working the Question Mark claim in Second Water Canyon. Koneman and Gillette were always heavily armed. They had a camp a little south of the tunnel and shaft they were working. According to Obie his partners tried to beat him out of his mining claim.

I don’t know how long this partnership lasted, but eventually Koneman and Gillette reduced the number of their expeditions into the Superstitions to work the old Hidden Mark.

Obie Stoker, like many Dutchman hunters, decided he would write a book. He had gathered a lot of correspondence from a variety of people interested in the Lost Dutchman mine. He wrote this material plus his experiences into a manuscript he planned to publish. Obie based most of his theories around the theory that an earthquake had covered the Lost Dutchman mine in the 1930s. Many people laughed at his claim. Actually, according to USGS geological reports, there was an earthquake in the Superstition Mountain in the 1930s.

Obie Stoker was a believer and he searched for the mine. He was also a promoter and constantly tried to raise money with his ideas about the location of the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Stoker won a new automobile during a contest in the 1950s and for a moment his name appeared in several newspaper and magazine articles. Obie was proud of this accidental achievement.

Obie and Olive Stoker, like many prospectors before them, believed in the tale of the infamous Lost Dutchman mine. Many times I sat on the porch of the Bluebird Mine and visited with Obie Stoker.  I listened to his stories. I couldn’t imagine why this man was so strongly convinced the Lost Dutchman Mine was located in Second Water Canyon. He often talked about the markers west of Second Water Mountain.  He claimed these ancient pictoglyphs on black basalt rock would lead him to the gold of Superstition Mountain. But the closest thing to gold that Stoker ever found was iron pyrite, “fool’s gold.”

Bob Corbin and I inspected Obie Stoker’s diggings in the 1980s. We found a few pieces of iron pyrite in the area. I am sure Obie knew the difference between iron pyrite and gold, and I’m sure the iron pyrite may have encouraged him to stake his Hidden Mark claim near Second Water Canyon.

The first time I visited the site was in 1955, when I worked for Barkley that summer.  It was a warm June day as I rode down the trail into Second Water checking on cattle. There was always a permanent supply of water at Second Water Spring. Obie Stoker always retrieved his water from this source, however a little further up stream from the main pool.  I was off my horse checking on a small calf when I ran into Stoker and a friend filling canteens with water.  We chatted briefly and talked about the area. Stoker eventually introduced himself and I told him I worked for William T. Barkley.  He told me he was prospecting in the area, but had no luck.  Stoker was certainly a man who walked in the footsteps of “Coronado’s children.” 

Each man chooses what he wants to pursue in life. Many a man has followed in the footsteps of “Coronado’s Children” so well described by Frank J. Dobie’s book of the same title written in 1930. Each man or woman must believe in his own destiny and dream.