Monday, October 19, 2015

Celeste Maria Arva Jones

October 12, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Maria Jones (center) and two of her employes near her claim near Weasvers Needle c. 1958
My recollection of Maria Jones dates back to 1959. The first time I saw her she had been in the mountains near Weaver’s Needle for approximately twelve years. She first staked a claim on Weaver’s Needle around 1949. 

Some say Maria was originally from Houston, Texas. Some say she was an opera singer. However, when she first entered the Superstition Mountains she was living in Los Angeles, California. She had become involved with a church in Los Angeles and promised to help them by discovering a lost gold mine in Arizona. Several members of the church donated toward her effort.

She arrived in Phoenix in late 1949 and immediately proceeded to Willow Canyon (Peralta Canyon today) with a couple of friends to examine the area around Weaver’s Needle. On December 2, 1949 she staked out the Peralta Mining Claim.

She once told of the difficult climb up Willow Canyon to Fremont Saddle and then the climb down into East Boulder Canyon immediately west of Weaver’s Needle. As she stood on the ridge above the trail she was convinced she had found the site of her golden treasure. This happened five years before her antagonist, Ed Piper, arrived on the scene.

Maria staked the Peralta claim on Weaver’s Needle and decided to return with a crew to search for the gold. Maria soon returned to Los Angeles with a goal of raising enough money to search the area around Weaver’s Needle for one winter season. She didn’t get back to the Needle country until the fall of 1950. Her first goal was to have her men access the top of Weaver’s Needle; not an easy task under any conditions.

Maria was well established on the Needle by the time Edgar Piper moved into the area. Piper established his first permanent camp in East Boulder Canyon directly below Weaver’s Needle on February 9, 1956. Piper’s claim was known as the “Thing.” Maria had been in the area many years by this time. At first the two groups worked in the area with little difficulty, then things began to happen.

Piper claimed somebody was stealing from his camp. One of Piper’s men claimed it was one of Maria’s men stealing from their camp. The situation continued to escalate until shots were fired in the shadow of Weaver’s Needle one early morning in 1958. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Department sent Range Deputy Amos Hawkins into the mountains and removed all long-range weapons from the warring parties. The officers hoped this would ease the confrontation between the two feuding parties. Shortly after this incident Maria filed the Black Mesa claim on November 28, 1958. Maria filed this claim to solidify her claim on the area where she thought the gold of Superstition Mountain was buried.

My first experience with Maria Jones was early in the spring of 1959. Some time around the 10th of April. I was packing salt up Peralta Canyon to Pinon Camp on the other side of Fremont Saddle. Near Fremont Saddle I ran into Maria Jones and two of her workers. They were packing a case of dynamite up to their claims. I stopped and chatted with them for awhile. They knew I worked for Barkley on the Quarter Circle U Ranch.

Maria offered me fifteen dollars to pack her case of dynamite to the top of the saddle. Considering I only made seventy-five dollars a month as a cowboy for Barkley this was a great offer. I accepted and slightly overloaded my pack mule and packed her case of dynamite to Fremont Saddle. She paid me for my effort over the protest of one of her workers. I rode on and dropped my salt off at Pinon Camp and started back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch. I met up with Maria and her workers about half way between Fremont Saddle and Pinon Camp. She spent fifteen minutes telling me about the solid core of gold in Weaver’s Needle. She tried to convince me to quit working for Barkley and go to work for her. “Not in a thousand years,” I thought!

The feuding between Jones and Piper continued through out the spring, summer and early fall of 1959.

An employee of Maria, Robert St Marie, came across Ed Piper on the slopes of Weaver’s Needle. He told Piper he was going to kill him. He had a pistol in his hand. Piper pulled his handgun and fired once killing Robert St. Marie. Evidently St Marie pulled the trigger and his pistol misfired. Piper immediately hiked out of the mountains and reported the incident to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. Ed Piper was exonerated of all charges on November 18, 1959.

The courts could never find sufficient evidence to prove Maria sent Robert St Marie to kill Ed Piper. St Marie had taken the job with Maria Jones to help support his young wife and child. The death of Robert St Marie was a tragedy that never should have happened.

The feud between Jones and Piper continued for a couple of more years. The Weaver’s Needle area was eventually withdrawn from mineral entry by the forest service because of all the incidents that occurred in the area.

Robert Corbin, Assistant Maricopa County Attorney at the time, was enthralled by the Lost Dutchman Mine story. He and a friend spent many weekends packing supplies into Maria’s camp in East Boulder Canyon. In fact Bob’s friend Robles even had a tent set up in Maria’s Camp. All this activity occurred before Robert St Marie was hired by Maria Jones. Bob said he had a great time listening to all the stories that Maria would tell. She had the mine located in the bottom of Canyon Lake and the “Needle” had a core of solid gold.

Bob tried to argue with her, but he never had any success in convincing her differently.

Maria Jones continued working the Superstition Wilderness Area near Weaver’s Needle for another two or three years before finally abandoning the area. Some say she was committed to the mental institution in Phoenix and other claim she returned to California. After December of 1963 nobody recalls seeing Maria in the mountains. She had finally ended her reign on the rock throne near her camp. 

Maria had lived and searched the mountains for gold for more than thirteen years without any success. Even when she testified at Ed Piper’s hearing in Judge Norman Teason’s Justice of the Peace Court in Apache Junction, she was still talking about the elusive gold of Superstition Mountain that she believed Piper was trying to steal from her.