September 29, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
The Superstition Mountain Jesuit Mission story has a lot of believers, and storytellers love to expand on the tale. Again, I would like to emphasize the fact the Jesuit Order had no church mission above the Gila River, contrary to all the stories and tales told by local storytellers. The first stories about Jesuits Missions with gold treasures began popping up in the mid-1920s and possibly even earlier.
My previous column was about an alleged mission or visita located near Peralta Road and the old Burns Ranch. There were also stories about eight gold mines in the area that the Jesuits supposedly had the Native Americans working in. Like all gold stories these tales had no credibility. However, people wanted to believe them and searched for the Jesuit gold buried in the area. The expulsion of the Jesuits from Mexico occurred in 1757 and created many of these gold tales.
Now, the story of the ancient bronze church bell allegedly found along the north bank of Queen Creek was not too far from the old concrete bridge on old U.S. Highway 60. I heard the first mention of this bell in 1961. I was out at Apacheland shortly after Sharon had purchased some stock in the Superstition Mountain Enterprises. You might say, as a young couple, we were checking out our investment.
We were impressed at what we saw and figured someday this would be another “Old Tucson.” It was to be a “land of make believe” about the old West. It was here in the Cowboy Steakhouse that we heard our first story about a Jesuit church bell found along the banks of Queen Creek.
Julian King, our Apache-land stockbroker (so to speak) introduced us to a young, good-looking man with sharp facial features, tall, and a somewhat gaunt gunfighter-actor. His name was Robert Lee Ward. We were thrilled to meet one of the actors at Apacheland. When Julian departed our company, Mr. Ward sat down and started treating us like important Apacheland investors. I am sure he thought we had a little money.
He talked about the Superstition Mountains and many different treasure stories. I never mentioned to him at the time that I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch just three years prior to our conversation. Ward was a temporary gunfighter-actor they hired on weekends to entertain the tourists who visited Apacheland. It wasn’t long before this gunfighter-actor began to tell us about the Spanish Mission near the old Burns Ranch and how he had searched for the church treasure in the area. He informed us the church bronze bell was found on the north bank of Queen Creek. The finding of the mission bell convinced Ward the church site near the Burns Ranch was authentic. It was from this point on we continued to meet various people that talked about this old mission bell and a mission near Superstition Mountain.
At the time we didn’t think much of it because we had just gotten married and we were busy trying to establish a household and finding a decent place to live. Several years later, I stopped at a local Apache Junction eatery called the Lost Dutchman Café. I ordered a hamburger and inquired about a place to rent. We wanted to move back to Apache Junction. The man behind the counter didn’t know of any places for rent. As I was eating my hamburger an elderly gentleman came up and ask me if he could sit down. He knew I had worked for Bill Barkley out at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. We started talking and I soon found out he was a prospector. His name was Robert L. Garman. He started talking about prospecting the mountains around the area. I ask if he had ever heard of a Spanish mission in the area. He said “yes” there were several stories about one between Queen Creek and Superstition Mountain. All of a sudden this Spanish Mission thing was not just one man’s story. Garman was a strong believer in the Peralta Stone Maps that were found near Black Point just north of Queen Creek.
Many years later I was told the old church bell still existed and was sort of on display at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior. Several local treasure hunters and prospector swore this was the mission bell that was found on the north bank of Queen Creek.
This bell can be seen in the Smith Building at the Arboretum. This bell is not the old mission bell and has nothing to do with the Spanish mission period in the Southwest. However, a lot of old time treasure hunters believe it is part of the Spanish mission period in this region. Those who really believe in missions, stone maps, bells, and buried gold only see the facts they want to see. Usually, all other facts are discarded.
If you drive out to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, don’t be looking for treasure unless you enjoy the beauty of arid desert plants from around the world. You can spend a day enjoying the Arboretum and say, “Well, I saw that bell and it is not a mission bell.”