Monday, October 12, 2015

Superstition Mountain and Apache Gold

October 5, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Kollenborn and “Chico” in the Massacre Ground area looking toward the Apache Trail.
 Have any of you ever wondered about the source of the place named Massacre Ground? There are many stories about this site on the northwestern end of Superstition Mountain. The story begins in the early settlement of Phoenix more than a hundred and thirty-six years ago.

Phoenix wasn’t much of a town in 1879. Maricopa County was formed in 1871. The town site consisted of a few frame houses and several adobe houses above the flood zone of the Salt River.  Today this is Jackson Street through downtown Phoenix.

Anglo-Americans began moving into the area in the early 1860s. Farmers grew hay and sold it to the Army at Fort McDowell on the Verde River. There was also a large population of Hispanics living in the valley in traditional adobe and stone houses. These thick-walled homes insulated the inhabitants from the extreme summer heat and cold winters. A well-constructed adobe home with small windows and doors maintained a year around temperature of about 74 degrees F. The Anglo population often suffered during the summer heat.

Even in the late 1860s there was a lot of talk about gold after the discovery of the Vulture Mine and Rich Hill. There was a lot of talk about gold among the farmers who grew hay for the army and the Mexican laborers who harvested it by hand. Among the laborers there was a family named Peralta. This family of farmers also spent winter months looking for gold in the surrounding mountains. The father was Juan Jose Marin Peralta. Juan had two older sons named Manuel and Ramon. The father and sons often talked about discovering a rich vein of gold in the mountains, however it was difficult to leave the hay cutting long enough to prospect for gold. During late November and early December, 1879, the area had an extremely cold period of freezing weather in the Salt River Valley. This was the opportunity the two young brothers were waiting for.

Their father had heard stories from an old Pima describing yellow flakes in whitish looking rock west of the cliffs on Sierra Supersticiones (or what is known as Superstition Mountain today).

The family of the two Mexican brothers knew it was dangerous to travel east away from the populated areas because of the Apaches. Manuel and Ramon, with a minimal amount of supplies, traveled eastward toward the mountains they could see from upon the side of Salt River Butte near modern day Tempe— a walking distance of about thirty-four miles.

They departed the family adobe on November 21, 1879, walking eastward toward Sierra Superstiticiones. The trip required almost two days of walking and looking for water. They arrived at a site that looked quite mineralized. They discovered an eighteen-inch vein that had considerable amount of gold in it. They felt they had struck in rich, but wanted to explore down a little deeper. They continued to dig and as they dug the outcrop became richer.

At this point, the reader must realize, none of the early Mormon prospectors had yet been working this area because of the notorious Apaches. The Peralta brothers had risked everything going into Apache country to search for gold.

The brothers worked the vein for about five days when supplies were becoming very low. They had only one weapon among themselves for defense in case they were attacked by Apaches. On the day of their departure at sunrise, the Apache struck. The date was December 5, 1879.

Manuel was killed and Ramon escaped, even though he was wounded.

Ramon made it back to a Mormon settlement near what is Mesa today and they cared for him. Also they saw the rich gold ore he had. When the Mormon settlers learned of the gold discovery they headed east toward Superstition Mountain to search for gold.     

Ironically, the attack and the gold was the only reason this story was newsworthy in 1879. Because the Peraltas were involved is the only reason so many people believe there was a massacre along the northwest slopes of the Superstition Mountain. This area today is known as the “Massacre Grounds.” Without a doubt this story would have never been news worthy if Ramon Peralta had not had rich gold samples. It was determined years later Ramon and his brothers had located the rich Bull Dog vein.

The real so-called massacre occurred near the Bull Dog mine. There was only one Peralta brother killed by the Apache. Not two hundred as reported in stories on the slopes of Superstition Mountain. Could you imagine supplying two hundred workers in this desert with food, water and equipment in 1879?

The first Mormon claims were staked as early as October 29, 1881. These first claims were known as the Lucky Boy Claim. Ironically, the Bull Dog Mine was not discovered until June 16, 1893, some fourteen years after Ramon and his brother had discovered the gold. Ramon never returned because so many Anglos moved into the area.

Author’s note: Superstition Mountain was first named in Military sketch notes in 1864. The United States Army called it Sierra Supersticiones. The mountain has been called Salt River Mountain and also Coronado Mountain on early maps.