Monday, February 6, 2017

Alfred Franklin Banta

January 30, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

President Abraham Lincoln had just signed the document forming the Territory of Arizona when Alfred “Franklin” Banta first arrived here as a young man. Banta was a Prescott newspaperman and one of the earliest chroniclers of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine story and Superstition Mountain.

Banta was born in Warwick, Indiana, in 1843. He arrived in Arizona at the age of twenty. Banta’s first appearance at Fort Whipple was on December 21, 1863, when a military expedition sent by General Carleton entered Chino Valley to take possession of Arizona Territory for the United States.

Fort Whipple was later moved to a site on Granite Creek near Prescott in 1864. Banta served as a guide for the state territorial government for almost six years. During the early part of the American Civil War Banta worked for the Rio Bajo Press, a newspaper published in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Banta served as chief guide on the Wheeler Expedition and 100th Meridian Expedition of 1871. He accompanied Lt. Wheeler on this expedition when he discovered Meteor Crater. Lt. Wheeler named the crater “Franklin’s Hole” after its discoverer. The site was later known as Barinnger Crater before being called Meteor Crater.

Alfred “Franklin” Banta was a judge, a lawman, a newspaperman, a guide and a scout who accompanied the Wheeler Expedition and 100th Meridian Expedition of 1871 when they discovered Meteor Crater in Northern Arizona. Lt. Wheeler named the crater “Franklin’s Hole” for Banta and the site was referred to by that name for many years.
After the Wheeler Expedition Banta become involved with newspapers and then entered politics. He served as Justice of the Peace in St. Johns, Arizona Territory, from 1876-1877 and in Springerville, 1877-1878. He was Apache County assessor in 1880.

During the session of the Eleventh Territorial legislature, Banta was instrumental in securing the passage of a bill forming Apache County. Banta then served as district attorney of Apache County from 1879-1880 and 1889-1890. He was probate judge of Apache County from 1881-1882. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Banta as the first postmaster of the Springerville post office. He also served as U.S. Marshall in the Arizona Territory.

Banta frequently wrote for numerous newspapers throughout the Territory of Arizona and New Mexico. He wrote about early Arizona history, his life, pioneer families and lost gold mines.

Lost gold mines were one of his favorite topics. Many of his stories and editorials made reference to the Doc Thorne story and the Lost Dutchman Mine. Banta led an expedition out of the Zuni villages in 1869 to find the Doc Thorne Mine. Partners in this expedition included C.E. Cooley and Henry W. Dodd. Banta and the party ran into problems with the Apaches in the Pinal Mountains and returned. After Jacob Waltz died in 1891, Banta was involved with several expeditions that searched for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine in the Superstition Mountain east of Apache Junction.

Banta wrote many columns about gold mines and mining for the Prescott Weekly Miner and Courier, the paper he owned. He also free-lanced for other Arizona newspapers after statehood in 1912.

Banta wrote several manuscripts about early Arizona history, however they were lost in a fire at the Prescott Courier and he never attempted to rewrite them. Much of this work had focused on lost mines and pioneer history. The last newspaper he worked with prior to his death was the St. Johns Observer in St. Johns, Arizona.

Alfred Franklin Banta was actually the earliest chronicler to write and publish stories about the Lost Dutchman Mine and Lost Doc Thorne Mine, supposedly located in the Superstition Mountains. Banta had a notable public record in Arizona and when he performed his last public service as the assistant sergeant-at-arms at the Arizona State Senate he was anxious to get out of the limelight and return to the Pioneer’s Home in Prescott. At the time of his death in 1924, he shared with only a couple of other living men the distinction of being a witness to the formation of the Territory of Arizona in 1863.

Funeral services were held for Colonel Alfred Franklin Banta at Ruffner’s Chapel, Prescott, Arizona, on Wednesday morning, June 22, 1924, at 10:30 a.m.

Dr. E. Lee Howard, a personal friend, conducted the Colonel’s funeral service. Howard paid tribute to Arizona’s “Last Scout” the earliest printer in Arizona Territory and recognized him as the dean of Arizona newspapermen.