Monday, January 27, 2014

Why the Story of the Dutchman's Lost Mine?

January 20, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Many times the question has been asked, "Why the story of the Dutchman’s lost mine?" How did such a story get started? Some sources will tell you this is the "grand daddy" of all lost gold mine stories, dating back to the 1890s when the first article about the lost mine appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1895. P.C. Bicknell, a free-lance writer and prospector with an imaginative mind wrote the article. The Arizona Republican printed its first story about the Dutchman’s lost mine on December 7, 1895. The German prospector known as the Dutchman died on October 25, 1891, and both articles appeared about four years after his death. These events set the stage for the evolution of the "grand daddy" of all lost gold mine stories in America.

The Lost Dutchman Monument
Yes, there were many storytellers of the period that helped carry the story along its course to stardom. These names included men like Herman Petrasch, Rhinehart Petrasch, Richard Holmes, James Bark, Sims Ely, and others of this era. Julia Thomas Shaffer enlightened the story and became the first searcher of the Dutchman’s lost mine. During her search of August 1892, she unknowingly walked over the rich gold mine known as the Mammoth on the way to a pointed peak behind Superstition Mountain. Her search for the mine produced nothing. By the turn of the 20th Century the lost mine story had been well infused in the historical fiber of Arizona. By 1925 many authors were picking up of the tale. Will Robinson mentioned the lost mine in his book Alluring Arizona and of course Frank J. Dobie’s book, In The Footsteps of Coronado, published in 1931.

Actually, by 1931, the story of the Dutchman’s lost mine had been well established in the American fiber of lost mine stories. However, nothing opened the story to national publicity like the disappearance of a Washington, D.C. resident in the early summer of 1931. Adolph Ruth was reported missing from his camp in West Boulder Canyon at Willow Springs by William A. Barkley in May of 1931.

A two-month search was initiated and produced an enormous amount of publicity for the lost Spanish or Mexican gold mine Ruth was looking for in the Superstition Mountain. Many of these stories printed in the papers added credibility to the story of lost gold in the rugged mountains east of Apache Junction. The Ruth story helped create the tale of the Dutchman lost mine on a national level.

The tragic story was followed by a surge of authors writing about the area. First there was Oren Arnold, then Barry Storm, followed by Barney Barnard and many more writers of the period 1934-1952. These writers set the world stage for the story of the Dutchman’s lost mine. No, you cannot give the local Chamber of Commerce credit for creating this story to attract tourists to the area. This story was here long before any tourists visited Arizona, even before the first "lungers" came to the desert around 1900 with hopes of finding a cure for "consumption" or Tuberculosis.

Barry Storm wrote a book in 1945 titled Thunder God’s Gold. This book became the basis of a Hollywood movie titled Lust For Gold starring Glenn Ford and Ida Lupino in 1949. This movie converted many a person into a lost gold mine adventurer. I could list the names of many who followed in the footsteps of that story. Actually believing there was twenty million dollars in gold just to be picked up in the mountains. They would have to wait at the right spot for the moonlight to point out the location of the mine or cache of gold according to the movie.

Barry Storm’s book Thunder God’s Gold became the basis of the 1949 movie Lust For Gold (above) starring Glenn Ford and Ida Lupino.
 It is interesting how many devoted follower of this story exist today. It’s a story I have followed all my life and even my father before me. But, I’m a skeptic as far as the story goes. I have met some of the most honest and sincere people who believe with all their heart and soul that there is buried gold in the Superstition Mountain range. I can’t deny the fact that these mountains could hide something buried there a hundred years ago, but yet I find it difficult to believe.

There are many stories of hidden or buried gold in these mountains. Take you pick because men and women will be searching for their dreams forever. Human nature has a tendency to accept segments of our dreams and proceed toward reality.

There is a Dutchman’s lost mine because there are those in society who have chosen to honor the dreams of prosperity. Therefore, why not a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Canyon Lake's Nautical History

January 13, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The nautical history of Canyon Lake has been an interesting one. When Canyon Lake was first filled in 1925 several valley entrepreneurs were convinced they could operate a profitable business enterprise by transporting visitors up the Apache Trail by bus to the lake and then place them on tour boat for a cruise up Canyon Lake.

 The S.S. Geronimo was the first cruise boat used on Canyon Lake. The thirty-five foot boat was launched on October 3, 1925 and Canyon Lake soon became a popular boating destination for the Valley of the Sun. Speed boat racing soon followed and became popular on Canyon Lake in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Seth Smith was one of the big names in speed boat racing of the era. Hydroplane racing became popular in the 1960s with powerful inboard engines. Eventually hydroplane boats gave way to fishing boats, tugboats, barges and a tour boat.

There are so many wonderful stories about the Apache Junction and Canyon Lake area. I would like to share a story with you about a tugboat named Mary Lee that once operated on the waters of Canyon Lake.

The tugboat Mary Lee (circa 1974).
Early in 1970 the Salt River Project was looking for a large power craft to move a barge for work at Horse Mesa Dam. Mr. G.C. Wheeler, President of the Contractors Cargo Company at South Gate, California, found the ideal craft for the company. Mr. Wheeler had found the tugboat Mary Lee, 34 feet long with two 671 GMC diesel engines, one with right hand rotation and the other with left hand rotation. The tug could be delivered to the job site from Los Angeles for the cost of $19,500 and would be in good operating condition.

Now here is a little history of the Mary Lee. She was built in Jacksonville, Florida in 1960, with a twin screw and steel hull. Her length was 34.7 feet, her breath was 13.3 feet, her depth was 4.5 feet and a 14 foot overall height. The tug boat weighted 14 tons and had a net capacity of 9 tons. Her fuel capacity was 800 gallons and she had air steering.

The Mary Lee was purchased for the Salt River Project Hydro Expansion Job 6329. This project required a tug and a barge. The tug boat was primarily used for work at Horse Mesa Dam and the Mary Lee served her purpose for two years. However, the Mary Lee set in storage for almost ten years before she was sold for scrap in 1982.

A special ramp was constructed at Canyon Lake to remove the Mary Lee and a large work barge. The ramp still can be seen as you approach Canyon Lake on the Apache Trail about 1/2 mile before the First Water Bridge.

The tug boat Mary Lee was not the largest boat to ever ply the waters of Canyon Lake. The Geronimo, constructed in 1925, was capable of carrying fifty passengers. Also the Dolly Steamboat is much larger than the Mary Lee. However, the Mary Lee was the largest working boat on Canyon Lake. She operated on the lake from 1971 until 1982.

The Dolly Steamboat is the largest boat ever to sail Canyon Lake.
 The Dolly Steamboat is the largest boat to ever ply the waters of Canyon Lake. When Roger Grimh undertook the project of putting a large tour boat on Canyon Lake his efforts were challenged by many bureaucratic groups. But through shear determination and desire to see his dream come true he succeeded.

The Dolly was inaugurated by Roger Grimh in October of 1987. His dream had come true. Today his daughter, Cindi DeLosuere, continues his legacy. The Dolly Steamboat can carry one hundred and fifty passengers on her decks and the boat is one hundred and ten feet long. The Dolly was introduced with a four-cylinder Chevrolet engine and is now powered by two large John Deere diesel engines making it much safer for maneuvering on Canyon Lake.

Enjoy a cruise on the Dolly Steamboat sometime. Have dinner and enjoy the nautical history, scenery and wildlife of Canyon Lake. For more information or reservations call Jami or Jan at (480) 827-9144.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Apache Junction - A History

January 6, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Apache Junction as we know it today didn’t exist when the first prospectors searched for gold near the base of Superstition Mountain in the late 1860s. The U.S. Army called the Superstition Mountains the ‘Sierra de Supersticiones’ and was still pursuing hostile Apaches in the mountain’s interior.

Peace came to the Apacheria in 1886, when the infamous Apache war Chief and Medicine man Geronimo surrendered to the United States Army at Skeleton Canyon near the Mexican border. Shortly afterward, prospectors and cattlemen poured into the mountains and deserts of the Territory in great numbers. The cattlemen were looking for grazing lands and the prospectors were searching for gold and silver. The small mining towns that dotted the landscape provided a market for the cattlemen.

Gold from the area was first mentioned in 1864, however no samples were produced until 1879 when two Mexican prospectors were attacked by Apaches. One of the prospectors survived and returned to Phoenix and reported finding gold west of Superstition Mountain. The attack on these two prospectors may have been the source of the legendary Peralta Massacre in the Superstition Mountains. The brothers were named Peralta.

Prospectors worked small gold outcrops as early as the 1880s in and around Goldfield Wash. The Lucky Boy claim was staked in 1881 and William A. Kimball staked out the Boulder-Buckhorn in 1886. A rich deposit of gold ore was discovered at the Black Queen claim in November of 1892, but the richest discovery of all wasn’t made until April 14, 1893.

The Mammoth Mine discovery was located after a sudden downpour and flash flood along Goldfield Wash. The Mammoth produced more than three million dollars worth of gold bullion from 1893-1897. This was equal to about 12,000 pounds of gold bullion.

Goldfield boomed and died within a five-year period like many other mining boom towns of the era. This mining camp, located beneath the towering facade of Superstition Mountain, introduced the first church, school, hotel, saloon, livery stable, stage line, mercantile store, butcher shop, restaurant and barber shop to the area. The pounding of a twenty stamp gold mill created a towering cloud of dust visible for miles. The dust and sounds of the stamp mill soon ebbed when the gold vein disappeared and the desert once again became silent.

The area near the base of Superstition Mountain had returned to desert again by 1900. However, that wouldn’t last for long. It was the Newland Arid Lands Act of 1903 that brought life back to the area. The construction of the Tonto Wagon Road and a telephone line from Mesa to the Tonto Dam site changed the region forever. The Tonto Wagon road opened a very remote area to development. These construction projects produced hundreds of jobs shortly after the turn of the century. Workers from all over the nation came to work on the Tonto Wagon Road and the great Tonto Dam, later known as the Apache Trail and Theodore Roosevelt Dam. This was a fabulous economic boom that is still felt today.

The Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Tonto Wagon Road) provided the shortest means of travel for a wagon or an automobile loaded with goods from the copper capitol of the world (Globe-Miami) to Phoenix, the capitol of Arizona. The road was renamed the Apache Trail by E. E. Watson. He was a public relations man for the Southern Pacific Railroad’s concession on the Apache Trail.

Governor George P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor after statehood, envisioned a shorter highway route between the Globe-Miami areas to Phoenix via Superior. Hunt had arrived in Globe in 1879, and was the community’s most adamant spokesperson. Hunt wanted to develop a shorter transportation link between these two important economic centers rather than over the rugged and undependable Apache Trail. Hunt’s vision came true on May 13, 1921, when the first cars made a run over the Globe-Superior-Phoenix Highway, known today as U.S. Highway 60. The highway didn’t open to two-way traffic until April 29, 1922.

Above, the junction of U.S. Hwy. 60 and the Apache Trail (photo circa 1932)

Soon after Hunt’s vision came true, another visionary arrived at the foot of Superstition Mountain where the new highway and the Apache Trail intersected. This man was George Cleveland Curtis. Curtis was a traveling salesman from Logan, Utah who had a dream and little money. It wasn’t easy for Curtis, his wife Aurora and their three young daughters to make a living on undeveloped desert land west of Superstition Mountain. Curtis and his family settled down to living in a tent at first, selling water and making sandwiches for travelers who came through the junction area.

The junction of the Apache Trail and the Globe-Phoenix Highway was still being called Youngsberg Junction after Phoenix’s ex-mayor George U. Young. Young owned and operated the Mammoth Mine at Youngsberg, four miles northeast of the Youngsberg Junction. George Young had a vision of the great Goldfield mines opening once again to full production.

George C. Curtis, founder of Apache Junction
(circa 1920’s)
George Curtis started his business on August 21, 1922. The realignment of the Mesa-Goldfield section of the Apache Trail was completed on May 17, 1922. This finally and officially formed the junction we know today. Curtis was offended by the fact that Young had his mine and the old junction named after himself. Curtis started an immediate campaign to change the name of Youngsberg Junction to Apache Junction. Curtis was adamant about the change because he did not think Youngsberg Junction had any character, color or charm. Curtis was enthralled with the stories about the infamous Apache warriors that supposedly lived in the Superstition Mountains.

George and Aurora Curtis believed so strongly in their convictions about their business in the desert twenty miles east of Mesa they filed a homestead on the parcel of land, NE ¼, Sec. 20, T1N, R8E, on February 23, 1923.

George Curtis made a deal with the Don’s of Arizona, once known as the Phoenix Don’s Club, to build a monument dedicated to Jacob Waltz and the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine. This monument was completed on February 25, 1938 and rededicated in 1988 with more than five hundred dignitaries attending from around Arizona.

This monument served as the icon of this community for more than fifty years. Apache Junction is one of those communities that grew up around a monument. Today the old monument takes a secondary position as the focal point of the community after serving in this setting for more then fifty years. Visitors who remember Apache Junction’s early days always inquire about the old monument.

Another significant historical monument in Apache Junction is the old T-33 jet trainer erected by the American Legion Post 27 dedicated to the men and women of American Armed Forces who have served this country in the time of peace and war. Members of the American Legion Post 27 erected the monument. They were supported by many Apache Junction community organizations. The monument now stands at the new American Legion Post on Meridian Road just north of Southern Avenue.

Moving the T-33 jet trainer from its perch outside the old American Legion Post 27 on Apache Trail in 2000. The airplane now resides at the new Post 27 on S. Meridian Dr.

The community struggled with incorporation for three decades before finally incorporating in November of 1978. Since incorporation many changes have occurred, most for the betterment of the community. This small rural community, setting in the shadows of Superstition Mountain, has become a rapidly growing urban city. Open space continues to be an important asset of this community and sometimes a controversial topic. Several economic endeavors have taken place in Apache Junction since it origin in 1922. Apache Junction once had a sawmill, and at one time even fields of corn, alfalfa, and other crops. Once development started this segment of agriculture vanished. The first sub-division of land along Ocotillo and Ironwood in the mid 1940’s escalated the modern growth of Apache Junction even though it required thirty years or more.

Recently it has been suggested the name of Apache Junction be changed. Some believe Apache Junction has an image problem, but a name change would never solve an image problem. Yes, there are those who associate the less fortunate or poor of our community who live in mobile homes with a negative stereotype. But, a lot of our heroes of the "Greatest Generation" live in our mobile homes parks and in mobile homes. They fought at far away places such as Normandy, Casserine Pass, The Bulge, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other battles. What about those who served in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other far off places? Some of the finest people I have ever known live in mobile homes. We must always remember it is not what some one has, but what is in their heart that counts. The less fortunate today have dreams of something better for tomorrow. Let’s not change their dreams or the name of Apache Junction, lets build a better tomorrow around our community’s name and its citizens.

All of us who love Apache Junction, its beauty, its charm, its uniqueness, its special place in our hearts and its heritage owe a debt of gratitude to George and Aurora Curtis, the founders of this community’s name sake and location. After all, this could have be Youngsberg Junction on the Youngsberg Highway or Trail.

We should all be proud to call Apache Junction our home whether we live in town or in the hinterlands.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Whistler's Gold

December 30, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.


The trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area have yielded many interesting characters during the past century. They came here to search for lost treasure or gold mines. These individuals followed in the footsteps of "Coronado’s Children" according to Frank J. Dobie, a noted western author. If anyone could be called one of Coronado’s Children the Whistler certainly was such a man.

Looking south up the rugged West Boulder Canyon, home of the Whistler for almost two decades.
 This obscure recluse wandered the deep canyons and towering peaks of the Superstition Wilderness for more than two decades. His search for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine began in 1939, and was immediately interrupted by World War II. The Whistler’s first knowledge about the Lost Dutchman Mine came from Barry Storm’s book, On The Trail of the Lost Dutchman.

The Tortilla Flat area served as the Whistler’s base camp from 1949-1951. In the years following 1951, he prospected an area around Willow Springs. The Whistler walked from First Water to Apache Junction monthly to up pick his VA disability check and his monthly supplies after 1951. He was always whistling a tune.

The keen eyes of hikers and prospectors rarely spotted the whistler. They often heard him, but didn’t see him. Even the Barkley cowboys rarely saw him.

He always wore dark clothing, even during the hot summer months. His dark clothing was his trademark. It was his whistling at night while he walked that gave him his nickname. His nocturnal habit of hiking through the Superstitions at night during the summer months caused other prospectors to be suspicious of him. Some claimed he was a camp robber.

It was quite strange for cowboys to be sitting around a campfire and hear somebody whistling a tune while walking in the distance. Many of us believed the Whistler was afraid of the dark and whistled to vent his anxiety.

The Whistler spent much of his time in the West Boulder Canyon area. His camp was located in the high rocks above the canyon floor. He chose this location for his camp because of flash floods and the occasional hiker wandering through the area. He wanted a camp safe from floodwaters and detection.

While rounding up cattle in West Boulder Canyon in the spring of 1959, we came across the Whistler’s Camp by accident. We heard somebody with a serious cough. When we rode up the hillside to investigate we found the Whistler flat on his back with either the flu or pneumonia. Barkley sent me back to First Water and Apache Junction to contact the Sheriff’s Office. The next day the Whistler was taken out of the mountains and admitted to the Pinal County General Hospital, then transferred to the VA hospital at Fort Whipple near Prescott. The Whistler asked us to look after his meager belongings while he was in the hospital. I rode back to his camp three days later with a packhorse and picked it up. Among his possessions was a small Christian Bible given to American soldiers during World War II with the following inscription:

"To Hal, The service you have given to your country in the time of war will never be forgotten by this grateful nation." 

It was signed, General "Hap" Arnold, U.S. Army, 1943. 

How ironic, I thought. Here was a man who gave everything for his country in the time of war and now was just trying to hold on to a few meager possessions while hospitalized. I couldn’t imagine the Whistler being a war hero, and also being in this desperate position. To this day I don’t know who the Whistler was, except for his first name. Bill Barkley just considered him another one of the "nuts" hunting for the Lost Dutchman Mine. He might not have been a hero, but somehow he had attracted the attention General "Hap" Arnold.

This tale enlightened us about those who we sometimes prematurely judge. Most of the cowboys thought the Whistler was a bum wasting time on a legend of gold. The Whistler eventually returned to the First Water Ranch and picked up his camp from our tack shed. He returned to the mountains to search for his dream.

The only treasure the Whistler found in the Superstition Mountains was probably peace and solitude. He never found the gold of Superstition Mountain, but then again he may not have been searching for it. I met him only once, and to this day I don’t recall exactly what he looked like. Was the Whistler a war hero? Or was he searching for peace to ease his tired and worn soul? He is now a forgotten man swallowed up by time. He is nothing but a ghostly face from the past that once defended our nation, walked the trails of the Superstition Wilderness and followed in the footsteps of Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children. Ironically I have never forgotten General Hap Arnold’s words, "...never to be forgotten by this grateful nation."

Many lost souls have roamed the Superstition Wilderness over the decades searching for gold. The Whistler was just one of many searching for peace and solitude. Many years later Tim O’Grady told me that "Hal," the man I knew as "the Whistler" was a highly decorated hero of World War II.

If you have time today tell a veteran thanks for his sacrifice that has insured us a free nation, you don’t have to wait for a national holiday to do it.