Monday, February 20, 2017

Another Search for the Gold

February 13, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Some forty-three years ago I met a man named Walt Harvane who lived in Litchfield. He happened to be a friend of an old acquaintance of mine named “Rocky” Lout. Rocky introduced me to Walt at Fletcher Jones Chevrolet on Grand Avenue in Phoenix in early 1961. Walt tried to convince me he knew exactly where the Dutchman’s Lost Mine was located.  Rocky had told Walt about my experiences in the Superstition Mountains with my father. He wanted me to hike into the area he believed the mine was located in. After I got acquainted with Walt I decided to hike into the mountains with him. I was convinced he was a good man and only interested in looking for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.

We drove my 1956 Willys Jeep Station Wagon up to the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Clark McKay gave me permission to leave my vehicle at the ranch. Clark was the head cowboy for Barkley at the time. Walt and I bid farewell to Clark and told him we would see him in three or four days. As we walked across the cactus studded desert below Miner’s Needle I was quite apprehensive about this trip. Harvane was about twenty years older than I and he had a few extra pounds on him he didn’t need. We started the steep climb up to Miner’s Needle Summit. Our trip was two years prior to the forest service rebuilding the trail up and over Miner’s Summit. We reached the summit quite exhausted, but continued on toward the head waters of Whiskey Springs Canyon. We dropped down into Whiskey Springs Canyon and the going was a little easier, but very brushy. We arrived at the site of the old World War II trainer that crashed there in February of 1943. We took time to inspect the old biplane, photograph it and then we moved on.

Above is an example of what the Upper La Barge Box country looks like.
At the confluence of Whiskey Springs and La Barge Canyons Walt ask me if I had ever been in the Red Tank Divide country east of our present position.

I told him I had worked stray cattle from Horse Camp Spring to Red Tank Canyon when they got through the fence and onto Floyd Stone’s range. He then asked me if I knew the area around Red Tank Divide. Yes, I said again, I know the area, but not well. He then asked me if I had ever visited the old stone cabin near the base of the cliff. I told him honestly I didn’t know about any stone cabin in that immediate area. However, I did mention Brad’s Cabin where old Roy Bradford stayed when he worked his diggings in the upper portion of the La Barge Box.  These same diggings were worked by Charles M. Crawford and a partner in the 1980s.

Walt and I continued up through the Upper Box. This was a very strenuous climb up a steep and unforgiving mountain trail. This was certainly a trail to be remembered. We finally found ourselves in the upper headwaters of La Barge Canyon. Walt led me through some brush, around a few boulders and there it was. A stone cabin constructed under a large boulder.  The cabin still had a framed wooden door on it and one window had a wood shutter. I must admit I was amazed how easily Walt Harvane found this old cabin in the middle of this wilderness. His immediate discovery of the cabin indicated he had been here before. Walt later told me he had hiked into the area about fifteen years earlier and discovered the old stone cabin. The old cabin’s site was in a really rugged location and completely obscured from anyone’s view. Digging in the floor of the cabin I found an old hunting knife and a metal plate.  These were souvenirs from the past.

Above is the old stone cabin under a boulder allegedly used by J.J. Polka when he worked his ledge of gold.

Then Walt began to tell his story. Many years ago I bought a sample of gold ore from a man in Kansas City, Kansas, who told me the specimen came from the J.J. Polka Mine. Actually he said the Lost J.J. Polka Mine. Walt said he had the gold ore assayed and it ran one hundred and fifty-two ounces of gold to the ton.  Of course Walt had not shown me a sample of the ore, but he was convinced it came from this area. I recalled a story about an Indian who had some rich gold ore that came out of the Superstition Mountains, but I couldn’t remember any of the details of the story.

Walt explained the appearance of the ore. He said it was layered like sedimentary rock in alternating layers of red and black bands. I told Walt my father really didn’t believe the Superstition Wilderness Area had any rock that was conducive to gold bearing ores. Nothing would change Walt’s mind. He was convinced the ore could be found in the area. We spent three days searching the area, but found nothing. Other than the old stone cabin tucked under a house-size boulder up near the base of Squaw Teat Mountain we found nothing else worthwhile. Today this mountain is known as Coffee Flat Mountain. The one other thing I remember most about this trip was the acacia or Catclaw. This miserable plant just about ripped our clothing and skin off.

When Walt and I left the old stone cabin we hiked over Red Tank Divide and down Red Tank Canyon to Randolph Canyon then on to Fraser Canyon and Reid’s Water. From Reid’s Water we hiked back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch along the old road from Reid’s Water to the U Ranch.  I was pleased to see my Jeep Station Wagon sitting in front of the ranch.  This had been a tough four days in the mountains. We had plenty of scratches to prove what we had done. I am not sure Walt Harvane ever found what he was looking for, but I know he really believe in J.J. Polka Gold. Three months later I went to work for the Arizona Highway Department and moved temporarily to Springerville for three months.

Many years later I ran across another man who was convinced the J.J. Polka Mine really existed somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. Twenty-five years later Bob Corbin and I sat in a camp near old Ray Bradford Diggings in Upper La Barge Canyon and listened to Bob Ward talk about the J.J. Polka Mine and how rich the gold was. At the time Bob Ward was in charge of security for Charles A. Crawford while he was developing mining claims in the area. Ward was a believer in the Polka Mine. Today there have been numerous stories written and maps produced about the Lost J.J. Polka Mine.

This trip with Walt can be written up as another adventure in the Superstition Wilderness Area in search of lost gold. After all, dreams are what keep us young. Bob Corbin, Attorney General of Arizona retired, once said, “You just cannot legislate dreams.”