Monday, April 27, 2015

The Soldiers' Lost Mine

April 20, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Cathedral Rock, also know as Castle Rock,
is in the general vicinity of the Soldier’s Grave.
A US Army mounted cavalry soldier, circa 1880.
The tale of the Soldiers’ Lost Mine continues to circulate around campfires in the Superstition Wilderness Area of central Arizona. The story is often associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine and the Silver King Mine. Sims Ely mentioned the story in depth in his book The Lost Dutchman Mine published in 1953 by William Morrow & Company of New York. Ely’s version of the story varies from other stories.

Sims Ely stated that others left out important information about the men involved in the story. His version goes something like this. Two young soldiers were mustered out at Fort McDowell in 1879. These young men decided to hike across the Salt River and through the mountains to the south of the Silver King Mine where they planned on seeking employment. Their reason for hiking across the mountains was to save money. Somewhere south of a tall pointed peak, they found an old Mexican mine and dump. They believed the mine to be Mexican in origin because of the small horizontal tunnels that were only large enough for a man to crawl in on his hands and knees.

The young soldiers, fearing Apaches in the area, spent only enough time to fill their pockets with what they thought were rich specimens of gold ore and hurried on to their original destination. Arriving in Pinal they began in inquire about a job at the Silver King Mine. It was in Pinal they met up with Aaron Mason who advised them they could probably find jobs at the Silver King Mine eight miles up the road to the north. The young soldiers mentioned they had some interesting specimens they found between Fort McDowell and Pinal in the mountains south of the Salinas (Salt) River. They showed the specimens to him. Mason couldn’t believe how rich the gold specimens were that belonged to the young soldiers. He immediately asked the boys where they had found the specimens. The boys said they had found an old Mexican mine somewhere between Pinal and the Salinas (Salt) River.  The soldiers said the mine was located in a deep canyon, but high up on a ledge where a pointed peak dominated the area to the south. The soldier boys, according to Ely, said the “diggings” was a mine, not a cache.

Mason convinced the young men to return to the mine and recover as much of the gold ore as they could. Aaron Mason grubstaked the two young soldiers and sent them on their way. The soldiers had a pack mule and enough supplies for a week. The soldiers were never heard from again.

Again, according to Sims Ely and others, the young soldiers were murdered and never made it back to the mine. Ely believed Jacob Waltz, of Lost Dutchman mine fame, found the soldiers working the mine and killed them. Other sources say Apaches killed the two young soldiers. Another source claims the soldiers were killed for their grubstake, pack mule and supplies.

Sims Ely’s book claims James E. Bark showed him one of the soldiers’ graves near two boulders on the trail between the Bark Ranch and Reid’s Water. William T. Barkley showed me a spot on the trail during the winter of 1959, and said there was a man buried there. Since that time several individuals have tried to convince me this was one of the soldiers’ graves.

Another story about one of the graves found between the Bark Ranch and Reid’s Water is that it was excavated several years ago. The grave yielded the remains of an unknown person. Among the artifacts a military type brass button was found. The skeletal remains were definitely human. However, there was no compelling evidence that the person buried in the grave was a soldier. Many people wore shirts with military buttons on them during this period of time.

Many questions remained unanswered about this story. One, where did the soldiers get their rich high-grade gold ore? Was the ore as rich as Aaron Mason thought it to be? Did the ore come from the Dutchman’s mine or an old Mexican mine? Were the soldiers murdered for the gold they were packing back to the Silver King? Were they murdered for what they knew?

I am quite convinced we will never know the answers to these questions. We can’t be positive there was ever a Soldiers’ Lost mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The story continues to be told around campfires. This story will forever tantalize the minds of those who search for lost gold in the Superstition Mountains. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Real Gold of the Superstitions

April 13, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Weavers Needle, a familiar landmark in the Superstition Wilderness.
Many years ago I was riding in the Horse Camp Ridge area when I came upon an interesting trail. The trail had been carved out of solid stone by animals carrying heavy loads. There were places were the hooves of the beast of burden had worn deep into the volcanic tufa.  This certainly excited my imagination. 

This trail may have been made by a pack train of mules carrying Mexican gold back to Mexico. The thought was mind provoking even though it probably wasn’t true. Then reality set in and the situation appeared a little different. If mules had made this trail then there should be a large camp back in one of these canyons around Music or Hermann Mountain. 

I followed the trail westward toward Music Mountain. I recalled a man named Michael Bilfrey in the 1980s who claimed he had discovered gold in the area, but was never able to produce enough evidence to convince the forest rangers to allow him to develop a mine. I soon found out it wasn’t Bilfrey who  made this trail. This trail predated any activity in these mountains during the past century.

It was easy to convince myself of this when I looked at what appeared to be an ancient Spanish drag stone in the bottom of a deep draw.  At first I thought I had found one of the Peralta Mines that Barry Storm wrote about in the late 30s and early 40s.  When I examined the drag stone carefully I concluded it was used for something else.  It appeared to have served as a weight to keep a fence from washing away. Cattlemen often used large rocks that way. It soon dawned on me a cowboy had found the stone elsewhere and dragged it to the site of the fence. The stone was quite heavy and probably wasn’t dragged very far by anyone on horseback.

It was also possible a cowboy used some hand steel to drill a hole in the rock so he could anchor it to the fence with an eyebolt. Also some of these trails were probably used by woodcutters who cut fire wood for the steam engines at the Silver King mine between 1877-1884. Thousands upon thousands of cords of wood were gathered in these mountains to feed those boilers at the mine some fifteen to twenty miles away.

Now the mystery really deepened for me. It was either Sims Ely or Jim Bark who had talked about such a drag stone on Peter’s Mesa.  Walt Gassler had mentioned one also.  I wanted to believe this was a drag stone used as part of an old Spanish arrastra to crush gold ore. I searched the entire area hoping to discover the origin of the drag stone. I did not find the mill trace where the stone may have come from. This further eliminated the idea there was a mine in the immediate area.  The entire area appeared non-conducive to gold bearing rock or ore.

I rode on eastward until I reached Tortilla Creek. The area around the old Miller Mine produced no better clues. As I searched the area closer I wondered if an old cowboy had hauled the stone up from the Salt River. I thought that was highly unlikely. The actual stone appeared to be some type of very hard gray basalt common to the immediate area.

The Barkley’s had an old drag stone around their ranch for many years. Nancy and Kenneth McCullough gave a drag stone to the Superstition Mountain Historical Society some years ago. I don’t believe this stone and the one used on the fence line were one in the same.

The mystery of this old drag stone will continue to fascinate people and cause them to speculate about things that occurred in these mountains more than a century ago. 

I have found many clues that are indicative of mining in the wilderness, but very few clues pointing to smelting and refining operations. This would lead one to believe if there were any rich mines in the area the ore was concentrated then transported to another location to be processed. 

This mountain mystery will be passed on to others and they can try and resolve it. This is the nature of things when it comes to the Superstition Mountains and stories of lost mines in the area.

I must admit, during the past fifty years, I've never found anything within the Superstition Wilderness Area that would convince me a mine of substantial worth ever existed here. I will admit there are many examples of prospects and some very extensive prospects within the wilderness.  The truth is none of these prospects turned a profit or produced profitable ore. 

My father spent three decades wandering the region and was never convinced anything worthwhile existed in the region. Dad enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the region. His friend Bill Cage told him many wonderful stories about the old days involving those who believed the Superstition were filled with mineral wealth.

There have been plenty of scams perpetrated by unscrupulous promoters over the years that have separated many people from their money. You might say this is “the land of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.”

I have found the real treasure of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This treasure falls into three categories; one, the beauty of the area, two, the history of the area, and three, the enormous archaeological resources that lie hidden within the wilderness. 

We all might remember the wilderness was set aside to preserve the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert for future generations of Americans to enjoy. This goal has lead to the preservation of many other valuable resources associated with the 159,780 acres of wilderness.  We all owe a tremendous debt to men like Pinchot, Muier, and Leopold for being activists about the conservation of public lands in the 1920’s and 30’s. 

Everyone may not be in agreement, but someday our nation’s greatest resources will be the public lands we have preserved in their natural state. The Superstition Wilderness may not have survived as such if it had not been for the legacy of the “old Dutchman” and his lost gold mine.  All this legend focused efforts toward preserving the Superstition Mountain area by both private and governmental groups. 

Today when I ride through Garden Valley and down into Second Water Canyon and on to La Barge Canyon I’m thankful we call it the Superstition Wilderness Area and it remains today much like it did two or three hundred years ago— undisturbed by rooftops and commercial development. There is no price tag on solitude, beauty, wildlife and nature.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tribute to a Legend

April 6, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The History Channel’s 6-part series on the Dutchman’s Lost Gold focused attention on the area.
This past February the History Channel introduced us all to the “Legends of the Superstition Mountains” in a very dramatic way with a six-part reality show starring some local individuals. These individuals included Wayne Tuttle, Frank Augustine, Woody Wampler, Eric Dleel, and Eric Magnuson.

Each of these individuals had a special talent they contributed to the History Channel’s expedition in to the Superstition region. No, they didn’t find any gold or treasure, but they certainly contributed to the myth, legend and lore of the rugged Superstition Mountain region.

Remember, this reality show is about the legends of the Superstition Mountains. If you followed this show you may have even wondered just a bit about this mysterious and unusual land. However if you are a hiker or horseman you may visualize the area completely different.

Those who search these mountains for gold and treasure may find this reality show interesting. Many viewers hope the series continues on television and some wish it would just go away. Arizona author Oren Arnold once said, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  The following will guide you through the “Legends of the Superstition Mountains.”

The legend and lore of Superstition Mountain has prompted a continuous search for hidden gold or lost treasure within the towering spires and deep canyons of this nationally known landmark for the past century. Men and women from all walks of life come to bid their luck against the elements and dangers of a mountain some men call “evil.”

A German immigrant named Jacob Waltz supposedly started the contemporary search for a rich gold mine that he allegedly found within this mountain’s realm. The clues he left behind after his demise on October 25, 1891 fired the imagination of the citizens of Phoenix and the surrounding countryside about lost gold in these mountains.

These stories are more than a century old now and they still tantalize the imagination of contemporary adventurers although no gold has yet been produced.

Only one other man has created such an interest in the mountains since Waltz’s death. This was Adolph Ruth.  He did it by dying in the summer of 1931, alone in the heart of the Superstitions.  Ruth’s sudden and possibly violent death in the mountains quickly replaced the headlines of 1930s “depression” news in major newspapers across the nation.

Across this nation, newspaper headlines echoed the story of Ruth’s mysterious death in the Superstition Mountains while searching for gold. Authors and journalists capitalized on the story of Superstition Mountain and the infamous Lost Dutchman’s mine. The story caused temptation on the part of readers to pack their bags and head for the Superstition Mountains in Arizona and begin the search for gold.

The list is endless of those men and women who have searched and died in this barren and rugged wasteland known as the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some threw their fortunes away just for an opportunity to search for this hidden wealth.  All of them believed they would find that single solitary clue that would lead them to the golden cache, riches beyond the dreams of kings.

The Lost Dutchman’s mine is one of the most often found mines in the world, yet it is still lost. Since 1895, the mine has been found at least 150 times by a variety of individuals from all walks of life. The annual winter migrations of prospectors that descend upon the Superstition Wilderness Area only proves the interest that still exists in the mine today. This story is still America’s most popular lost mine story and continues to captivate the imagination of dreamers.  This fanatic search for lost gold has driven some men to the brink of insanity and some even to suicide.

Some of these individuals have even organized complex corporations and implemented sophisticated electronic equipment to aid in their quest for the gold they believe is contained within the rocks of Superstition Mountain or its wilderness.  Even with the advent of modern technology and the advancement of electronic metal detection equipment to aid in the quest for gold has not aided in the discovery of the legendary rich mine.  The legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine continues to elude the prospector’s pick and shovel.

The hunting of lost mines, in particular the legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine, is like chasing a rainbow, “so close yet so far away.”  The search itself is a solo avocation among the most ethical and honest lost mine hunters. These men and women share no information and ask nobody for assistance. Maybe it is not the finding that is so important for them, but the searching. It is a documented fact many an old timer found pay dirt, only to sell it or lose it so he could return to his wanderlust way of life.  The source for gold and legends are where you find them, “out in the hills.”

The true Dutchman aficionados are definitely blessed with a certain amount of happiness and the rewards of adventure in the great outdoors. They spend years around campfires speculating about the location of Superstition Mountain’s hidden wealth.         

Al Morrow spent nineteen years of his life living in Needle Canyon in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness searching for the Peralta Mines. He believed these mines and the Dutchman were one in the same. This man knew what happiness was and he most definitely knew the pain of loneliness among the towering escarpments of Needle Canyon. He found success in something that we are not able to measure. His life was the simple everyday task of survival in this remote wilderness. Morrow chose this way of life. He could deal with nature first hand and continue his life at this slow pace far removed from the complexities of urbanization. He did this with great success and integrity. Morrow did it in an age where everything was based on material wealth. It is difficult to imagine the likes of Al Morrow and other prospectors like him, who choose such a solo way of life despite the demands of modern society. Al Morrow marched to the ”beat of a different drummer.”

Superstition Mountain is a tribute to those people and their stories of hidden gold and the never-ending search for it. This mountain has become a fitting monument to these men and women who suffered the hardships of isolation, hard work and being different just to survive. Maintaining a camp deep in the mountains required an enormous amount of work and the constant search for good water. However, the beauty and adventure associated with searching the lofty ridges and deep canyons for hidden wealth was well worth any exerted energy.

Just maybe someday a lucky man or woman will come forth with the gold of Superstition Mountain and forever end the tantalizing tales of lost gold within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The discovery will also vindicate all those who have believed in the legend. Jacob Waltz undoubtedly left behind the most lingering story ever told about lost gold in the American Southwest.

This is strictly a romantic view of the Superstition Wilderness Area and the life of early prospectors in the area, but as we face the future the significance and importance of the region will grow enormously. Today we find hikers and joggers wandering the trails of the Superstition Wilderness looking for adventure, recreation, and relief from the stress of our modern urban society. The Superstition Wilderness Area has become an important habitat for these urbanites with their daypacks, water bottles, and Nikes on weekends. Today the region serves more as park than a true wilderness with more than 70,000 (as per estimated figures for 2001) people using the system trails this past year.  The future and survival of the wilderness is totally dependent on the forest service’s management plan as the Phoenix metropolitan area grows. We will probably soon see the day access will be limited to the wilderness as more and more state trust lands are closed or developed.      

Until this gold is found, the legend of Superstition Mountain is the stuff that dreams are made of. Dreams of hidden gold or personal enrichment— it matters not because the opportunity to search has been worthwhile to the old timers. While this legendary land of the old “Dutchman’s” lost mine has become a prime recreational resource for the Phoenix metropolitan area and old Superstition Mountain continues to remain as a tribute to a legend.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Superstition Fire Season

March 30, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A slurry bomber battles a blaze at the base of the Superstition Mountain in the summer of 1979.
The beauty of the Sonoran Desert in the spring time is fabulous. This past winter has been a very wet season, averaging more than 1.60 inches per month. This precipitation will substantially produce plenty of tinder and much of the older dead growth will provide fuel for the slightest spark whether accidental, careless or natural.

Once the temperatures rise into the triple digits the desert becomes a tinderbox ready to explode into a fire. A dry desert is often marred with dangerous flash fires and wildfires in the late spring and the early summer months prior to the monsoons. The fire danger increases as late spring and early summer temperatures increase.

The wildfire season also increases dramatically as more and more people move to the arid deserts of the American Southwest. Many of these new residents don’t realize the extreme danger of a dry desert under the extreme high temperatures of summer. This desert tinder can be as volatile as gasoline.

Most wildfires result from two things— One is lightning and the other is human carelessness.

Lightning strikes usually occur during the July monsoons and most fires prior to the monsoons are usually human caused. A tossed cigarette, a careless target shooter or an abandoned campfire cause these fires. We can’t over emphasize how a carelessly tossed cigarette could cost you your home and your life.

As we move into spring and summer, families are beginning vacations and outdoor activities, including backyard cookouts, camping, and other outdoor activities. Any of these enjoyable activities can lead to disaster if we are careless with fire.

I have witnessed many major wildfires in our area during the past sixty-five years. The first real wildfire I recall occurred in July of 1949. This fire raged out of control east of Reavis Ranch for several days before it was brought under control. Another wildfire broke out west of Roosevelt Lake in the Pinyon Mountain area in 1959, and burned several thousand acres of the Tonto National Forest before it was contained. Lightning caused these fires.

A fire broke out south of the Reavis Ranch in 1966, destroying much of the Ponderosa pine forest in the area. This fire was known as the Iron Mountain Burn and was attributed to a campfire. The forest service planted drought resistant grasses in the area to prevent soil erosion. This grass has become the climax vegetation in the area today.

A large wildfire raged through Needle Canyon in 1969 destroying several thousand acres of desert landscape. An abandoned campfire was the likely cause of this wildfire, which eventually burned itself out because of the inaccessibility to the area to fight it.

I witnessed and photographed one of the most dramatic wild fires on the slopes of Superstition Mountain in the summer of 1979.  This fire raged across the slopes of Superstition Mountain with a fifty-foot wall of flame engulfing everything in its path. This fire was caused when a high wind blew over a charcoal grill in somebody’s yard near the base of the mountain. One careless neighbor endangered hundreds of lives and millions of dollars worth of property as the fire spread over the mountain within an hour. The smoke was so thick Superstition Mountain could not be seen from State Route 88 (Apache Trail). If it had not been for slurry bombers many homes would have been lost in this fire and lives could have hung in the balance.

On July 4, 1983 another major fire raged on the eastern side of Superstition Mountain destroying several thousand acres. This fire eventually burned itself out.

Needle Canyon was struck with another wildfire in March of 1984. This fire burned up the northeastern side of Bluff Springs Mountain and eventually burned itself out. Abandoned campfires most likely caused these fires.

There was a large wildfire in the area of the Massacre Grounds and along the northwestern slopes of Superstition Mountain in April of 1984. This fire was contained and in some areas burned itself out. Several other man-made fires occurred in the wilderness or around Superstition Mountain between 1984 and1994.

The next big fire to strike the region was the Geronimo blaze near the Gold Canyon development area. This fire started around June 11, 1995 and was fought for three days.  A hundred and twenty firefighters eventually brought this blaze under control preventing lives or property loss. The fire destroyed twenty-three hundred acres and it threatened several homes near Gold Canyon worth more than a hundred thousand dollars each. This particular fire produced huge columns of smoke that could be seen from Phoenix skyscrapers.

This past twenty years has been quiet in our area except for the Lone fire on Four Peaks near the end of April 1996. The Lone fire destroyed almost sixty-two thousand acres of the Tonto National Forest. To put this figure in perspective, this would be almost one third of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This was one of the most devastating fires on public land adjacent to the Superstition Wilderness Area during the past twenty-five years.

On June 18, 2002, one of the largest wildfires in Arizona history began. This was the Rodeo-Chediski Fire. This wildfire burned 470,000 acres of Arizona timber and grasslands by time it was under control July 7, 2002. This fire was caused by humans. Recovery from this fire will require more than a century. The Wallow Fire in June of 2011 near Alpine burned more than 520,000 acres becoming the largest wildfire in Arizona history. The Wallow fire was human-caused.

The Superstition Wilderness Area experiences some kind of a wild fire almost each summer. On several occasions the wilderness has been closed to camping and hiking during extreme fire conditions.

This historical accounting of wild fire in our area gives you some idea of what a potential fire hazard the desert can be between late April and mid July. Precipitation is often a double-edged sword. Rain always brings relief to a dry desert region reducing fire danger, but it always produced an abundant growth of brush that can create more fuel and cause more fires. 

Precipitation also causes severe erosion in areas that have been burned and denuded of vegetation. This, in turn, destroys the watershed that is so crucial to water conservation in an arid state like Arizona.

As the dry season approaches, the fire danger will continue to escalate, bringing dangerous conditions to our desert.  There is plenty of tinder and deadfall to burn on the desert. Once the high temperatures arrive and the tinder dries out it becomes extremely volatile.

Your care with fire, smoking, using firearms and open flames at all times is extremely important and will protect us all.  Smoking should be confined to automobiles or buildings during extreme fire conditions. Your caution with fire protects everyone from immediate danger.

We can help by having a reasonable firebreak around our homes, especially if we live on a large lot containing a lot of dry tinder. I would like to encourage everyone to be extremely careful with matches, cigarettes, outdoor cooking, power tools, and any other use of open flames or sparks.

Fire safety in the desert starts at home and should be practiced at all times. For more information about fire safety around your home call for “Fire Prevention Information” at the Superstition Fire District, 480-982-1299.