Monday, June 1, 2015

Caves of Gold Bars

May 25, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

One of the earliest stories about a cave full of gold was the story that emerged in 1934 when Charley Williams came out of the Superstition Mountains with a pocket full of nuggets. He claimed he had found a pile of gold nuggets just inside a cave’s entrance. He further claimed he bumped his head so hard he was disoriented for a couple of days before he could find his way out of the mountains. Charlie said he wandered around lost in the Superstition Mountains for several days. A search for Williams, a World War I veteran, was organized by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, but Charley eventually wandered out of the mountains unharmed. His gold was confiscated by the United States Government and was later proven to be dental gold.

This story was followed by a tale of gold bars buried near the Massacre Grounds. A prospector named James Baxter spent a lot of time prospecting the area between Superstition Mountain and Garden Valley area. Generally speaking this was an area within a two miles radius of the old First Water Trailhead. Baxter claimed he was guided to the cave by a blue light that emanated from it. Bob L. Ward confirmed Baxter’s story on several occasions, but said he never saw the cave or the gold bars. Baxter, after several years in the desert around Superstition Mountains moved back to his home state of Washington empty-handed and with no gold bars.

Since the middle of the 1930s there have been stories circulating around Apache Junction about a cave in the Superstition Mountains filled with gold bars. This story may have originated with a man named John Hallenberg. John always talked about a cave located on Bluff Springs Mountain filled with gold bars. He was convinced the story was true and had a map pointing to the direction to this “Cave of Gold.”

John told a story about the time he was hiking along a narrow ledge and spotted a small cave. He bent over and could feel cool air coming from deep within the Earth. He inspected the cave closer and found it to be large enough to crawl into. Several days later he returned to the cave site with a rope and two flashlights. He was determined to explore the cave. As he climbed down into the cave he found all kinds of old writing which he said was not petroglyphs. He thought the writing was Hebrew or something similar. Like many of the stories about the Superstition Mountains this was what I call a one-man story. A one-man story is a tale without any witnesses or any method of verification.

There is another tale about a cave full of gold bullion that emerged in the circles of treasure hunters in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The story centered on a man named Harry France or LaFrance. Dale Howard, Tracy Hawkins and Ernie Provence often talked about France discovering a cave filled with gold bars near Black Top Mesa or Weaver’s Needle. Bob Ward, a well known treasure hunter in the area, talked about a cave filled with gold bars and a man named Harry France. They claimed the source of this gold was from the Jesuits. Of course, Dr. Charles Polzer, a Jesuit historian at the University of Arizona, debunked any stories associating Jesuit missionaries with gold or silver mining in the Southwest. Still traditional treasure hunters continue to talk about buried or lost Jesuit gold in their narratives. It has never been decided whether Harry’s name was France or La France.

The most elaborate tale about a cave filled with gold bars must be credited to Robert Simpson Jacob or “Crazy Jake.” This cave allegedly was located in or near Squaw Box Canyon just east of La Barge Canyon and north of Charlebois Mountain (Black Mountain). Jacob talked about a cave filled with twenty metric tons of gold bullion. He talked so much about it he believed the story himself.

I first met Robert Simpson Jacob in November of 1964, just a month after he arrived in Arizona. He was driving down First Water Road in a 1960 Red Toyota Land Cruiser. We met at the old trailhead and had quite a talk. As soon as he found out I had worked for the Barkley Cattle Company I couldn’t get rid of him or his stories. He told me he came to Arizona to find the Peralta Mines. He was convinced he had located them in the mountain near a place called Squaw Box.

This is one of “Crazy Jake’s” alleged caves of gold bullion. This cave is located in Squaw Box Canyon near Crazy Jake’s claim called the Glory Hole #1.
Finally Jake and I parted company that day, but it wasn’t long until I ran into him again. The next place I found him was at Pop Hamaker’s Bluebird Mine & Curio Shop before Ray Ruiz bought the business in 1967. I believe Jake lived at the curio shop for a short time in 1965. “Crazy Jake” was making regular trips into the Superstition Wilderness Area by the middle of 1965 and was always looking for investors for a variety of schemes he was always promoting. He was always willing to sell you gold bullion half of spot price. If gold was going for $300 an ounce, Jake would sell you gold bullion for $150 per ounce with delivery within ninety to one hundred and twenty days. You would be surprised how many people fell for this deal and bought lots of mythical gold bullion.

Robert Simpson Jacob had quite an operation going in Squaw Box Canyon by the middle of the 1970s. I started writing columns for the Apache Sentinel in September 1976. Jake invited a reporter from the Mesa Tribune and me to visit his treasure site at Squaw Box. He guaranteed us we would see gold bullion. As you can imagine the trip never became reality. Jake was going to fly us in by helicopter in violation of forest service regulation. He claimed he had authorization from the U.S. Attorney General to land in the wilderness area with a helicopter. Those of you out there who remember Jake knew he was good at postponing those events that would reveal his scams or make him out a liar.

Jake was one of those individual who had a magnetic attraction to those who wanted to get rich. These people believed Jake was their instrument to wealth and fame. It was for this reason Jake was so successful at conning people out of money. Over a seven-year period it was estimated Jake raised more than thirty million dollars, however only seven million dollars of this money was ever documented. Robert Simpson Jacob was eventually convicted of fraud and sentenced to ten years in prison in 1986. He was eventually released and died shortly thereafter. Jake was still trying to find his Cave of Gold in the final month of his life.

Jake constantly talked about his cave of gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area. His story about a cave of gold in the Superstition Wilderness will probably survive and continue to be retold as long as there are dreamers out there who want to believe. Yes, I am sure there are people still searching for “Crazy” Jake’s Cave of Gold.

Ron Feldman began a search near Iron Mountain for a cache of gold bars. He was the first prospector to convince the forest service he had a valid claim. The government for the first time gave Feldman a Trove Treasure Permit to search for treasure in the Superstition Wilderness Area, On September 11, 2004, Feldman set up camp at Roger’s Trough Trail Head and proceeded to excavate an area nearby. His search did not produce any gold bars, but it did document the fact early miners had worked in the area prior to 1850’s. Feldman’s search continues to be a hallmark in accession rights of prospectors and miners with the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Forestry.

Now the “Cave of Gold” story can be found on various sites on the world-wide web. In addition to Williams, Baxter, Jacob, Feldman there are others who have made the claim of a cave filled with gold bullion, nuggets, or high grade in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

The stories of lost caves full of gold bars in the Superstition Wilderness Area are never ending. If such a cave were ever found I am to first to suggest it will be filled with copper instead of gold ingots.  As far fetched as that may seem; many years ago a cache of copper bullion poorly smelted was found in cave near the Globe-Miami area. Little information exist today about this discovery, however it could explain all the stories about caves full of gold bullion in the region.