Monday, June 27, 2016

John Chuning

June 20, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A view of La Barge Canyon, where John Chuning once lived in a cave just below the Lower Box.
Old-timers who are familiar with the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine will recognize the names of Richard “Dick” Holmes, Julia Thomas, the Petrasch brothers, Guidon Roberts, James A. Bark and Sims Ely as important figures associated with the never ending drama about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona.

Additional names such as Joseph Deering, John Chuning and Aaron Mason will also be recalled. These are the names of individuals who were involved with the search for Jacob Waltz’s mine after his death on October 25, 1891.

John Chuning played an interesting role in the search for the mine. The stories about Chuning vary according to the source.

John Chuning was linked closely to Joe Deering and the Two Lost Soldiers Mine supposedly located in the Superstition Mountains. Chuning believed the Lost Soldiers Mine and the Lost Dutchman Mine were all one in the same.

Chuning was born in Missouri about 1845, and traveled to the California gold fields about 1865. He was almost twenty years too late to profit from any of the rich gold finds in California and found pickings quite slim there.

He then packed up, like many other prospectors, and headed east toward Arizona Territory in 1875. One of Chuning’s first jobs in Arizona Territory was working at the Silver King Mine in the Pinal Mountains.

Chuning worked at the Silver King Mine long enough to established a grubstake, then he struck out alone to discover his own glory hole. During his tenure at the Silver King Mine he met Joe Deering and Aaron Mason. Mason partially grubstaked Chuning with burros and other mining supplies. Mason often grubstaked prospectors he thought reliable throughout the late 1870s and 1880s.

Chuning spent much of his time prospecting the area south of the Salt River, north of Queen Creek, east of Superstition Mountain and west of Fish Creek Canyon. Chuning worked periodically at the U Ranch for Jim Bark prior to moving his search to the north near Malapai Mountain. Chuning believed the Two Soldiers Mine actually existed and he was convinced it was the same mine where Jacob Waltz found his gold.

 John Chuning was fifty-four years old in 1898 and he had finally settled down to one area in the Superstition Mountain region.  He found a cave in La Barge Canyon just below the Lower Box. He lived in this cave off and on for the next six years, prospecting the area.

He worked occasionally for Carl A. Silverlocke at the Indian Paint Mine at Red Pass between La Barge and Boulder Canyons north of Battleship Mountain. As the years progressed Chuning’s health began to fail and he eventually moved in closer to Tortilla Flat around 1906. Dr. Ralph Palmer, the post surgeon at Roosevelt Dam attended him several times while he lived close to Tortilla Flat Change Station.

Chuning often entertained travelers who stopped at Tortilla Flat between 1906-1910 with stories about Superstition Mountain and lost gold, while saying he had never given up hope of locating the a rich mine.

Chuning often entertained travelers who stopped at Tortilla Flat
between 1906-1910 with stories about Superstition
Mountain and lost gold. He died there in 1910.
It was in the early fall of 1910 when Chuning fell ill.  He died at the age of 65, on November 13, 1910, at Tortilla Flat. Dr. Ralph F. Palmer attended to him in his final hours. John Chuning was laid to rest in the Mesa Cemetery.

John Chuning spent the final years of his life searching the region south of Tortilla Flat between Peter’s and Boulder Canyons. His search proved futile, but his name was inscribed forever in the history of the Superstition Mountains. A cave in La Barge Canyon bears his name. Also a faint trail that leads up the eastern side of Geronimo Head was named after John Chuning. Even the names of these modest memorials dedicated to John Chuning have almost been lost in the pages of history. Maps no longer carry the names of Chuning Trail or Chuning Cave.