Monday, August 6, 2018

Hanging Starr Daley

July 30, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The first time I ever heard the story about the lynching of Starr Daley, it was from George “Brownie” Holmes. Holmes was a pioneer Arizonian. His father was born at Fort Whipple and his grandfather traveled along the Gila Trail in the late 1840’s. “Brownie” Holmes was a good friend of Nancy McCollough and Clay Worst. I am sure both of them heard the “Brownie’s” version of the hanging of Starr Daley along the old Roosevelt Road.

I was talking to “Brownie” one day. He mentioned that he was an eyewitness to the hanging of Starr Daley at 4 a.m. on Sunday, May 6, 1917. The hanging occurred along the old Roosevelt Road, just off the old Florence-Goldfield Road and four miles north of Dan Kleeman’s ranch in Pinal County.

“Brownie” went on to explain that Starr Daley, alias Van Ashmore, was 26 years old at the time he was lynched by a large group of citizen vigilantes. The story was interesting, so I continued to research it for several years.
Starr Daley hanging from a telephone pole along
the Roosevelt Road north of the Kleinman Ranch.
The court ruled the hanging as a “justifiable homicide.”

I pieced together the following information from “Brownie’s” account, the New York Times article of May 6, 1917, and other information I was able to acquire:

James Roy and Florence Gibson were returning to Tucson on May 3, 1917, after visiting family in Globe. They were driving along the Apache Trail about 23 miles east of Mesa when they decided to camp for the night. They pulled onto the old Superior highway and drove for a few more miles before stopping.

Florence Gibson set about preparing supper, while James set up camp. Just at dark, a stranger rode in on a lathered-up horse. He was tired, and James Gibson offered him water. In return for this hospitality, Starr Daley shot James Roy Gibson in the back three or four times with a rifle. He then ordered Florence Gibson to disrobe, and if she didn’t obey, he would kill her also.

Starr Daley assaulted Florence repeatedly throughout the night. On Friday morning, May 4, Daley ordered Florence to feed him and load the car. Florence refused to load the car unless Daley would take her husband’s body to the funeral home for burial. Daley grudgingly agreed.

While driving toward Mesa, the car ran out of gas. Daley decided to walk to the nearest gas station, leaving Florence in the car with her dead husband. Florence flagged down the first person she saw and told them what had happened. The man she told was named Phelps. He reported the incident to Mesa’s Town Marshal Peyton. Peyton arrested Daley before he returned to the stalled car. Daley offered no resistance and was booked into jail on an open charge of murder and rape.

Friday evening, Daley wanted to talk. He told how he had acquired a rifle and murdered Roy James Gibson and raped his wife repeatedly. Six jurors had earlier found Daley responsible for Roy Gibson’s death. Florence Gibson was spared testifying about Daley’s assault on her. After the hearing, Maricopa County Sheriff Wilkey returned Daley to his cell.

Saturday, May 5, an angry crowd had formed in front of the Maricopa County Jail. By 10 p.m., the mob had grown to several hundred citizens. Sheriff Wilkey decided to transfer his prisoner to another jail. The sheriff loaded Daley into a car and started for Florence. The mob chased the Sheriff until they were able to overtake him. They were able to trap the sheriff near a bridge and take his prisoner at about 2 a.m. Sunday. They hauled Daley back to the scene of his crime, and there he would pay for his evil deed.

Starr Daley swung into oblivion from the back of a car at 6 a.m., May 6, 1917. At daybreak, his body still hung from the telephone pole of justice in the desert, just west of Superstition Mountain, along the old Roosevelt Road. A coroner’s jury from Florence held an inquest and ruled Daley’s death as “justifiable homicide, by hanging, at the hands of unknown parties.”

“Brownie” George Holmes later told me he drove one of Wes Hill’s stage line vehicles out to the lynching of Starr Daley. Was “Brownie” one of the actual participants of this hanging? I don’t know; he never said. But knowing “Brownie,” I doubt he would have physically participated in such a violent affair. This was officially the last lynching recorded in annals of Arizona history.

Caption: Starr Daley hanging from a telephone pole along the Roosevelt Road north of the Kleinman Ranch. The court ruled the hanging as a “justifiable homicide.”

Monday, July 30, 2018

Are We All Americans?

July 23, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A special flag that had been draped over the coffin of a World War II veteran buried at Arlington National Cemetery was flown atop Superstition Mountain each Memorial Day from 1982 to 1992.

The recent headlines that illustrated the danger of being a correspondent, columnist or employee of a newspaper were really a reminder and struck home for me.

I have never really considered myself a correspondent, but maybe a storyteller of history and legend. When I read the news about the massacre at The Capital in Annapolis, Maryland, I couldn’t help but have part of my heart and soul torn from my body.

During the past fifty years, I have worked with many news correspondents from all over these United States and the World talking about Superstition Mountain, its history and legend. Now I wonder what has happened to America after this tragedy. We, as a nation, must wake up. We are not conservatives, independents or liberals—we are Americans first. We all bled the same color on many battlefields, no matter our race, religion or politics.

We are all Americans who believe in the Bill of Rights and the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution, which protects those rights.

Each and every one of us should know them by heart. Today, the First Amendment protects our religion from government persecution, gives us the freedom of speech, freedom to peacefully assemble, freedom of the press and separates the government from any control or form of religion.

First of all, and most important, we are all Americans. Americans have the right to disagree; but to take our disagreements to a violent level—we do not have that right. Too often these disagreements lead to violent altercations that end in death.

What has changed in America during the past fifty years? Have we become so dangerous in our interactions with others today that we are all at risk?

Freedom of Press is one of the most important parts of a free and open society. Reporters try to report the news by interviews and research. Most newspeople do their very best to report the news accurately with interviews and photographs.

Anytime a government tries to censor the freedom of the press, they are moving toward a dictatorship or an authoritarian type of government where the Bill of Rights is no longer part of that government.

If you don’t remember the Bill of Rights, you should take the time to review it on your phone or computer, or go to the library and read it.

Today, many people talk about the Second Amendment as the only amendment of the Bill of Rights. I am also a strong adv
ocate of the 2nd Amendment, but some people should not have firearms in our society today.

They claim that without arms, we would have no rights. Of course that depends on who has the arms. There are many dictatorships in Central and South American controlled by those who have the guns. There are many people in our country today that would suspend the Bill of Rights if they could.

One of the most important rights is the Freedom of the Press. This is the right to know what is going on, from the White House to down the street. Transparency is important in government, so Americans know what is going on in their country. This information is supplied by those who work for the various news agencies, and these are the eyes and ears of America, not social media as many people think. More phony news comes from social media than anywhere else. Yes, some news sources are biased, but we as Americans have a choice and selection of our source of news. This country is being torn apart by extremist and phony politicians. Somebody needs to stand up and say, “We are all Americans.” It is most important that we are Americans and believe in the “Constitution” of the United States of America. “United we stand, divided we fall.”

With all my heart and soul, I want to believe those staff members of The Capital did not die in vain for doing their jobs of reporting the news.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Point of Reference

July 9, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I have spent nearly seventy years in the Superstition Mountain area. I first arrived hear with my dad in 1946-47. My dad was always fascinated about the area, because of his best friend Bill Cage. Cage worked at the Christmas Copper Company as a blacksmith. He’d been a blacksmith all his life, and he loved to tell stories about his experiences looking for gold in the Superstition Mountains, as they were called in those days. Today we call the area the Superstition Wilderness Area. When I first worked in the area, they called it the Superstition Primitive Area. This designation was first established in 1939. The Tonto National Forest knew this region as a multi-use for many years.

I was born in 1938, on the eve of this area being designated as such. Also, in April of 1938, the Phoenix Don’s Club dedicated the “Dutchman’s Monument” in Apache Junction at the “Y” intersection for the Apache Trail and then U.S. Highway 60. Highway 60 today is known as the “Old West Highway” and “Superstition Freeway.” How things have changed in the last fifty years or so.

Not too many years ago, I remember George “Brownie” Holmes, talking about the past seventy years of his life and legendary search of the Washington D.C. Dr. Adolph Ruth in the early 1930’s. Well, I can talk like that now. I can remember so many different interesting historical events that occurred in these mountains. The word “history” is defined as a “chronological record of significant events, often with an explanation of their causes.” The word historia is French, but of Greek origin. Most of my writings are very chronological and pay attention to dates.

Yes, George “Brownie” Holmes’ life was a chronological history of the Superstition Primitive Area, the land of “Multi-use”.  As I recalled, “Brownie” drove a stage over the Apache Trail, he worked for William Augustus Barkley on the Quarter Circle U for many years, and he searched the Superstition Primitive Area for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine believing until he died in 1980, the mine existed.

The discovery of Ruth’s skull in December 1931 placed “Brownie” Holmes’ photo in almost every major newspaper in America.
You might say “Brownie’s” life was an epoch on the history of the region. I was most fortunate to interview “Brownie” and talked to him on the phone on many occasions about the mountain, the people associated with it and the infamous Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Holmes’s chronological history of the infamous Ruth case and events associated with it are of historical significance today. “Brownie” Holmes led the Phoenix Archaeological Expedition that discovered the body of Dr. Adolph Ruth on December 10, 1931, and ended one of the longest searches in Superstition Mountain history.

I continued my father’s interest, but enjoyed recording the history of the people who lived in this rugged land.  Today, July 9, 2018, I will celebrate my 80th birthday.
Yes, George “Brownie” Holmes was very friendly with me, and we often talked in his later years. He always displayed equivocal comments when it came to clues about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine in the Superstition Mountains.  This was certainly the type of behavior you would expect from individuals who believed they might know where this rich mine was located.

Like “Brownie” Holmes, Clayton Worst and others, the secrets of this legendary mine have been kept for more than a century. Bob Corbin gave up his search and now believes the mine was in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott. Clay continues to believe it is still out there in the “Wilderness.” Ironically, because of my father and Bill Cage, I have never believed this rich gold mine existed deep in the Superstition Mountains. Yes, lots of gold was mined in the Goldfield area and along the eastern fringe of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Even old Bob Garman found placer gold along Hewitt Canyon, but not enough to make a living on. Bob took me out to Hewitt Canyon and showed me there was placer gold in the area.

I will never find a lost gold mine, because I just don’t believe in them. My real gold is gathering and recording history, and I hope some day it will be valuable to others. I have made my contribution in books I have written, journals I have kept and letters I have collected from all over the world. All of this proves to be a worthwhile “point of reference” to the history of this region.

Yes, I make mistakes, and I hope you research it and find the correct answers. That is what history is all about. I have certainly found my gold of Superstition Mountain.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Bull Riding Comes to AJ

July 2, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Wow, I would have never believed it, but bull riding has come to Apache Junction. Not a bull riding machine, but professional rodeo bulls and bull riding cowboys on a weekly basis. This Apache Junction event occurs every Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. at the Hitching Post on the Apache Trail and Lost Dutchman Blvd.

8 seconds on one of these bad boys is what it takes to qualify for a score. Photo taken at 2018 Lost Dutchman Days by Krista Paffrath.
You might ask: “What does bull riding have to do with the history of the Superstition Mountains?” Well my friends, this is a gathering of people who are interested in cowboys, cowgirls, bull riding, trail riding, horses in our area, and even some storytellers who like to talk about the old Lost Dutchman Mine.

The professional bull riding idea emerged almost three years ago when the owner of the Hitching Post, Mehmood Mohiuddin decided he needed something to help preserve the cowboy tradition and attract business. He thought, why not professional bull riding?  Eventually, he made contact with a young man who had a professional bull riding circuit in the Salt River Valley. He had small bull riding arenas around the valley, with one located in Cave Creek, and now the prospect of one  in Apache Junction. He brought in real certified PRCA bucking bulls and riders for Saturday night programs. Also, they sponsored calf and sheep riding on Thursday nights for the younger ones and some amateur riders that are new bull riders. Many members of the Apache Junction cowboy community loved the idea and bought into it.  Mo, being an entrepreneur, liked the idea and invested. However, local homeowners disagreed with this activity along the Apache Trail, because it included all kinds of cowboys, including singing cowboys and concerts. Now here is the other side of the story.

The Apache Trail—from Apache Junction to the old site of the Fish Creek Lodge—has been a commercial avenue since 1909.

Today, we have Tortilla Flat, Canyon Lake, Dolly Steamboat, O.K. Corral Stables, Lost Dutchman State Park, Bluebird Mine, Goldfield Ghost Town Tours, Superstition Mountain Museum, Hitching Post, Filly’s, Cowboys Up and others who cater to the flavor of the old “Cowboy West.” 

Residents that move here should recognize the fact the “Apache Trail” is now a very commercial avenue with between six and nine thousand cars using the Apache Trail (SR88) on a daily basis during the winter months. Alt
hough there is always room for compromise, commercial ventures should not be over-regulated because of residential demands.

In 1986, I was involved with a committee to designate the Apache Trail as a historic highway and to preserve it as it was for the future. Few people stood up in support of this designation back then. Residential homes should not be constructed near a commercial avenue such as the Apache Trail and most land planners know this. Traffic, noise, dust and pollution are associated with the increased volume of traffic and visitors to the area by means of the Apache Trail.

Some years ago, the city of Apache Junction decided not to use the symbol of the iconic burro and prospector for their focal point. It was decided that the cowboy would be far more fitting. The funding was found and the “Cowboy” became the center of the Focal Point and Apache Junction.

The old prospector and burro retired and the cowboy image replaced them symbolically.

The cowboy image at the focal point was adopted by the city in favor of the traditional prospector.

My friends, the Hitching Post has become as cowboy as you can get in Apache Junction. You can slow progress down, but you can’t stop it.

Monday, June 25, 2018

AJ High School Year Books: A History

June 18, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

These are the AJHS yearbooks at the Apache Junction High School Library.
I am writing this article because of my belief in preserving history. All the students of Apache Junction Unified School District are a part of our community’s history, and the annual yearbooks for the high school are a significant part of this history.

It is important to to our community to preserve these books as a record of our students who spent time in our school district. It is especially important to students who attended high school here and now live all over the United States of America and the world.

The Apache Junction High School had a collection of these yearbooks available for review, but they cannot be removed from the library.

The late Carol Sheppard, under the direction of District Superintendent Barry Sutter, gathered up these yearbooks for a repository at the Apache Junction High School Library.

The AJHS student body is known as the Prospectors.
I took this photo of the Prospector’s (Dutchman’s)
 Monument in 1948.
As I recall, the ALS/PES committee provided a grant for this repository at the Apache Junction High School Library.

Today, security is a top priority in American schools, and that has made it very difficult to access the yearbooks in the center of the high school campus. Special permission is required to access the campus for any reason.

The history of our school district is well preserved in the many annual yearbooks. There are approximately forty-five year books in the Apache Junction High School Library.

I have several Jr. High School yearbooks in my personal collection, but there are no Jr. High School yearbooks in the High School’s repository. These records are significant and very important to preserve for future generations.
 A view of the high school’s mall.

Presently, a 55-year Apache Junction High School reunion is being planned by a group of AJHS students. The chairman of the committee is Luanne Adair Brummond. They are meeting regularly to coordinate this 55-year Reunion for Saturday, October 6, 2018, from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Prospector Park on north Idaho Road in Apache Junction, Arizona.

Tom Olmstead and Chris Beaty are scheduled to be guest speakers. There will also be a mixer at Apache Junction Elk’s Club on the Apache Trail and Lost Dutchman Blvd. in Apache Junction from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Friday, October 5, 2018.

From what I understand, 2,700 to 3,000 Prospectors from the classes of 1963 to 2018 have responded so far to posted information.

The Apache Junction City Library is also trying to build a complete collection of Apache Junction High School yearbooks and Jr. High School yearbooks. Many of us recommend that a duplicate collection of these yearbooks be set up in the Apache Junction Public Library.

Our students have spread their wings and soared. Apache Junction Unified School District can be proud of these students who have gone forth to meet the challenges in this modern world of business, arts and professional fields.

We will see you at the 55-year Reunion of the Apache Junction High School in Apache Junction, Arizona.

For those who want to register for the Reunion, you can email: AJHSReunion@Yahoo.com

Monday, April 16, 2018

Jeff Adams 1861-1934

April 9, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Jeff Adams
The death of Adolph Ruth in 1931 involved Jeff Adams’ name with the history and lore of Superstition Mountain forever. Jeff Adams was born in Lampasas, Texas in 1861. He was seventeen years old when he moved to Phoenix with his father in 1878. Jeff and his father, shortly after moving to the area, established a ranch in the Tonto Basin area when the country was still wild with Apaches. As a teenager, young Jeff carried dispatches between Camp Reno and Fort McDowell for the Army. He worked as a foreman on a ranch in Pleasant Valley during the feud between the Grahams and Tewksburys. He married his wife at Grapevine Springs on the Salt River, which is now covered with Roosevelt Lake.

Jeff Adams served as a deputy sheriff for Senator Carl Hayden when he was Sheriff of Maricopa County. Jeff Adams served as Sheriff of Maricopa County two terms and was appointed Sheriff when Maricopa County Sheriff Sullivan died in office.

Jeff Adams was a Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff when Adolph Ruth was reported missing in the Superstition Mountains on June 15, 1931. Adams was seventy years old when Sheriff McFadden assigned him to the Ruth search in the summer of 1931. This Arizona pioneer was a remarkable senior citizen. Maricopa County Sheriff J.R. McFadden knew what he was doing when he directed Jeff Adams to lead the search for Ruth. Adams had known W.A. Barkley for a score of years. He and Barkley knew the Superstitions as well as any two men alive.

The temperatures in mid June were well above 108 degrees every day as the search began. Adams and Barkley rode into Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon to check out the campsite where Purnell and Kennan had left Ruth. It was from this location Adams and Barkley tried to track Ruth as he searched for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Barkley had mountain-wise horses, and Adams trusted Barkley’s knowledge of the area and his animals.

Barkley once told me Jeff Adams was one of the finest men he had ever worked with and probably the best tracker in the country at the time. He told me Adams could have tracked a water-skater across a pond. Barkley told me Adams was in unbelievable condition, considering his age, at the time of the Ruth search. Adams and Barkley searched every possible crook and cranny for a sign of Ruth, but they found nothing. Adams would not give up the search for Ruth. The heat was unbearable, and water was in short supply, creating a major problem for man and beast.

Sheriff McFadden ordered Adams to abandon the search for Ruth in early July. The heat was unbearable, and the sheriff didn’t want to further risk any lives. Veteran searchers and trackers knew there was no hope of finding Ruth alive if he was still in the mountains. This wasn’t enough for Adolph Ruth’s son Erwin. Ruth’s son started another search by offering a substantial reward to all takers. Aviators, cowboys, prospectors and a variety of misfits joined in on this search, hoping to collect the reward. Adams was convinced they would end up searching for the searchers. After a couple of weeks, Erwin Ruth could no longer find any takers for his reward.

It was December when a trace of Ruth was finally found.  George “Brownie” Holmes and Richie Lewis were leading an archaeological expedition into the Superstition Mountain from First Water. It was on the second day of this expedition, while they were riding just north of Bluff Springs Mountain along the old First Water-Charlebois Trail, a hound began to bay. Holmes rode over to investigate and found a skull beneath a Palo Verde tree. The skull turned out to be that of Adolph Ruth.

The search for Adolph Ruth was renewed on December 16, 1931. Jeff Adams and W.A. Barkley once again returned to the mountains leading the search. The search for Ruth had been renewed, once again, by the finding of a skull. Adams and Barkley spent five days scouring the area where the skull had been found, to no avail. The two men were trying to locate the skeletal remains of Ruth. Both the Pinal and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Offices had men searching for more than two weeks during the torrid summer temperatures of June and July to no avail.

Barkley told me the newspaper report of  “not a trace was found of Adolph Ruth” was not exactly true. He said Jeff Adams had picked Ruth’s trail up going down West Boulder Canyon and around the point of the ridge and back toward Black Top Mesa.  He lost the trail near Black Top. Neither he nor Adams believed Ruth was capable of making it over the divide between Weaver’s Needle and East Boulder Canyons. Adams never reported this to the press or the family at the time. Adams knew Ruth was in real trouble when he first picked up his trail. He had stumbled and fell several times walking down East Boulder Canyon. Adams, after finding out Ruth had a silver plate mending his hip together, knew there was little chance of finding him alive. Adams made this determination after the first few days of the search.

Adams and Barkley found nothing on their December search of the mountainous area. Adam proclaimed he was going to bring in some Native American trackers from San Carlos and see what they could do. Adams and Barkley both knew the heavy rain had destroyed any sign that might lead them to Ruth’s remains.

It was on December 21, 1931, the search for Ruth’s remains came to a sudden halt with the illness of Deputy Sheriff Jeff Adams. He was stricken with ptomaine poisoning. Jeff Adams was rushed to a Phoenix hospital from First Water by Deputies W.V. Tullous and Cal Boies. After a couple of days Adams was much improved.

On January 4, 1932, Jeff Adams was back on the job. After Sheriff Walter Laveen, Pinal County, and Sheriff J.R. McFadden met in Florence, they decided Deputy Jeff Adams and W.A. Barkley were the two best men to conduct the last search for Adolph Ruth’s remains.

Adams and Barkley returned to the mountain, making daily searches from the First Water Ranch. Both men were convinced Ruth’s skeletal remains were located near the area were the skull was found. The searchers were finally rewarded for all their hard work on the morning of January 7, 1932. Adams and Ruth had rode out of the First Water Ranch to search the tributaries of Needle Canyon along the eastern side of Black Top Mesa.  It was about 10:30 a.m. when Barkley spotted something in a clearing along a tributary flowing from the eastern side of Black Top.  Adams rode over and checked it out. It was the skeletal remains of Adolph Ruth and what remained of his camp.  The search for Adolph Ruth finally came to an end.

Jeff Adams was an active and a vigorous deputy sheriff until the last two months of his life. Senator Carl Hayden had appointed him deputy sheriff when he was sheriff of Maricopa County in1910.  Adams died from blood poisoning on November 14, 1934 in Phoenix, Arizona.  This seventy-three year old lawman had become a legend in his life- time.  His honesty and integrity was of highest order and he was respected by all of his peers. Sadly  there people out here today who try to build of the lost gold fantasy of a area and try to convince people to questioned in honesty and integrity of these early Arizona pioneers.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Breakenridge’s Dam Site

April 2, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

William M. Breakenridge was born on Christmas Day, 1846, in Watertown, Wisconsin. He traveled west in 1861 to the Pike’s Peak mining region. This was his immediate goal. He worked in that mining district until 1864. He then joined Company B, Third Colorado Cavalry for service in the Civil War.  He served at the Battle of Sand Creek and other skirmishes. It was around 1876 he headed for Arizona Territory.

William M. Breakenridge joined the Cochise Sheriff’s Office in 1880 under Sheriff John Behan. Breakenridge gained fame enforcing the law in Tombstone. He was appointed Deputy United States Marshal and held that position from 1880-1889. The commission allowed him the authority that he lacked as a deputy for Cochise County to enforce county and United States laws. According to several accounts many an outlaw’s dust lies in Boot Hill Cemetery because of the leadership of “Billy” Breakenridge.

According to James H. McClintock, Arizona historian, William “Billy” M. Breakenridge was an efficient peace officer, but not a killer. He never used a gun except as a last resort, and his courage was so well known that few outlaws challenged him to shoot. There is much controversy associated with Cochise County Sheriff Behan and the Tombstone Town Marshal’s office.  This was primarily the story about the Earps, Clantons and others at the O.K. Corral.

Several other early Arizona historians declared that Breakenridge was one of the most courteous and modest peace officers associated with the bloody days on Allen Street in Tombstone. Historians also said that, Billy Breakenridge was not a murderer, and he only enforced the laws of Cochise County and the United States.

After Tombstone, Billy Breakenridge accepted the position as surveyor for Maricopa County around 1888. He then made an exhaustive survey of potential dam sites along the Salt River. James McClintock, William J. Murphy and John R. Norton, a party from Phoenix, planned to examine the sites Breakenridge recommended.

The trip up the Salt River in July 1889 was made on horseback, and it required a week to reach Box Canyon, the present site of Roosevelt Dam. While the party traveled up the Salt River, James McClintock said that Billy Breakenridge pointed out that Mormon Flat and Horse Mesa dam sites did not offer much promise for a major storage and flood control dam. They would easily serve as secondary sites for later projects. Breakenridge insisted the only site that held real promise, was near the confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River in Box Canyon. He held to his recommendations with such tenacity, the federal government finally accepted his site selection. Actual construction on the dam was started on September 6, 1906.

Arizona pioneer William “Billy” M. Breakenridge was the first advocate for the Tonto Creek (Roosevelt Dam) site. His tenacity was the influence that located Roosevelt Dam where it stands today. He was one of the most famous peace officers of Tombstone’s rip-roaring days. According to McClintock, when the “smoke” of the original Helldorado Days cleared, the name of Billy Breakenridge stood out as the hero of Arizona’s most turbulent mining camp.

Colonel William “Billy” M. Breakenridge died in Tucson, AZ on January 31, 1931, at the age of eighty-four. He had made an enormous impact on Arizona history. It is also very interesting to learn, Billy Breakenridge, a town tamer from Tombstone’s rip-roaring days would be so involved with the future of the Salt River Valley.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Treasure of Fortress Hill

February 26, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

You might say I enjoy recording historical events and also investigating them if they involve the Superstition Wilderness Area. Now, let me tell you about a trip I made into the Superstition Wilderness in March of 1985, to check out a story about a military skirmish.

An old friend of mine told me about a small hill deep in the wilderness that served as a refuge for a small band of Yavapai-Apache in May of 1866. This hill was a short distance from another landmark known in military parlance as Dismal Valley. Two Army infantry companies, the 14th and 32nd, stationed at Fort McDowell, had cornered a small band of Native Americans on a conical-shaped hill. None of the Native Americans planned to surrender a way of life they had known generation after generation. All of them would have fought to the death rather than become slaves of a culture foreign to their way of life.

A Native American Camp of the period would have looked something like this when the Army destroyed the Rancherias in the Superstition Mountain region. Photo: Walter J. Lubkin, USRS.

For many years, I had heard stories about the campaigns waged against the Apaches in the Superstition Mountains (Sierra Superstition). I researched the topic, but failed to find much material. It wasn’t until I met a man named Joseph Crary that I was successful. Joe did a lot of research in and around Washington D.C. while in the U.S. Army. He found a considerable amount of documentation on military activities and campaigns in the Superstition Mountain and Salt River region. He found several reports dating back to the mid-1860s.

Some of these reports recorded vivid descriptions of military action by the U.S. Army against Native Americans in the Superstition Mountain area. Such places as Quail Camp, Dismal Valley, Picacho Butte, Coyote Tank and Fortress Hill were all disasters for the Native Americans. The United States Army had one soldier killed and three wounded in all of the Superstition Mountain skirmishes. The Yavapai-Apache fought these battles with bows, arrows, clubs, lances and a few outdated and primitive Mexican cap lock muskets.

Some historians call this period between 1864-68 as the Rancheria Campaign. The mission of the Army during this period was to search and destroy the Yavapai-Apache Rancherias, kill those who didn’t surrender and return all others to the reservation. The reports indicated the body counts ranged from 11 to 53 dead at each of the Superstition rancherias (villages) that were raided.

By 1870, most of the rancherias had been destroyed. Only raiding parties from San Carlos entered the Superstition area after 1868. The surrender of Geronimo at Skeleton Canyon down near the Mexican border in 1886 ended the Indian Wars of Arizona Territory.

As I rode a lonely trail toward Horse Camp Ridge, I thought about the battles that once raged in the area and on distant hilltops more than a hundred years ago. I wondered what kind of artifacts I would discover if I located the hill my friend had told me about. The directions I had to the hill were quite vague, but I knew the area well and felt I would recognize the hill from the description I had been given. The conical-shaped hill actually stood out among the many other hills in the area. As I rode toward the hill, it fit the exact description I had been given.

The old man who told me about the hill described finding brass casings, lead ball, stone projectile points and even a brass button. He said erosion had carried the artifacts down from the slopes of the hill. I was quite excited about what lay ahead as I quickly assembled my White Gold Master metal detector.

I began a systematic grid search of the lower slope of the hill. Within a few minutes I got my first beep. It was a brass casing and appeared to be a 45-90 or 45-70 cartridge. The find was followed by the discovery of more casings, lead mini-balls and one solitary brass button. I found some twenty mini-balls and almost as many brass cases. These artifacts indicated something had to have occurred on the top of this hill many years before my arrival. The metal detector made my job easy. I was convinced I had found Fortress Hill.

I had been told this story about a long forgotten hill in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness. I researched the military history of the area with the help of Joseph Crary and the United States Army Archives. I then traveled to the site to prove the old man’s story. I was very fortunate and pleased to find relics from a battlefield dating back almost to the time of the American Civil War. It was so refreshing to hear a story about the Superstition area that panned out, because most don’t. The discovery of these relics convinced me this battle occurred at this site. The discovery was also supported with military sketch maps of the area dating to the 1860s. This was an untold story of American history hidden deep in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

In closing, I hope the site remains protected and unknown. I will never give directions to the site. In my mind, it is a memorial to people that once lived here and lived a completely different life than what we know today. They depended on resources of the area and their raiding parties that attacked their enemies along the Gila and Salt Rivers. The Superstition Wilderness Area preserves many historical sites that are totally unknown today. I remember the enormous controversy over the designation of the Superstition Wilderness Area in the early and mid 1960s. It is only a miracle we have the wilderness to help protect such sites east of Apache Junction when so many people were against it in the beginning.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Lost Dutchman Days

February 19, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The old prospector of lost mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left the state of Arizona quite a legacy when he died in Phoenix on Sunday, October 25, 1891.


His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, myth and cryptic clues about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. Today, some believe Waltz had a rich gold mine and others claim the story is nothing but a fable.

As we celebrate this Lost Dutchman Days, we should think about all the stories these old timers left behind. Most are fiction, but some are true. Our state is unique with its many stories of lost mines, cowboys, gunfighters, miners, prospectors, lawman, ministers, farmers, ranchers, jurists and politicians. These were the men and women who helped Arizona make the transition from territorial status to the modern state it is today.

The stories like the Dutchman Mine compel some to search the deep canyons and towering spires of the Superstition Wilderness for the Waltz’s lost mine. Prospectors, treasure hunters and the curious come from far and near for a look at the Superstition Mountains and try their luck at searching for gold. Also, many hike and ride the old trails of the “Wilderness.” However, most come to enjoy the climate, scenery, tranquility and solitude of the mountains.

The first major group to take advantage of this international interest was the Phoenix Dons Club, now known as The Dons of Arizona. Their first annual Superstition Mountain Trek was held in 1934. The Dons Club, in an attempt to further commemorate the history and lore of the Lost Dutchman Mine and Superstition Mountain, constructed the Lost Dutchman Monument in Apache Junction in 1938. The monument was rededicated in 1988 after standing for fifty years, undisturbed by progress. Almost 400 dignitaries and citizens from around Arizona rededicated the monument on February 28,1988. The governor of Arizona was the keynote speaker for the occasion.

Thousands of families have stopped to admire the monument over the years. Many had their photograph taken with the monument in the background. Sam Lowe, columnist for the Arizona Republic recently wrote about the historical significance of the monument in the lives of many prominent Arizonians, including Arizona governors, legislators and historians. Recently, the city of Apache Junction dedicated a bronze statue of the prospector and burro at City Hall on October 4, 2011. The prospector and burro have become the motif of Apache Junction, unique to any other community in Arizona.

The Apache Junction Lions Club so valued the legacy of the Lost Dutchman Mine story and the monument, they implemented the Apache Junction Burro Derby in 1958. The Burro Derby drew thousands to Apache Junction each winter. Hollywood movie stars often became involved with the Burro Derby, between 1960-1963, when they were in town filming at Apache Land.

As I recall, St. George’s Church started a Mardi Gras parade. Lost Dutchman Days evolved in 1965, under the guidance and support of Colonel Rodgers. Lulu Luebben named Lost Dutchman Days. Lulu’s husband Roy became the first officially elected Lost Dutchman.  If I recall correctly, the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce organized the event each year after 1965. This year’s event will be the 53rd Annual Lost Dutchman Days.

Lost Dutchman Days is known around the nation and world because of the notoriety of Jacob Waltz and his lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. Each year, this celebration draws thousands of people to Apache Junction for fun and to share in our history. This event requires a tremendous amount of volunteer energy and ingenuity to pull off each year.

This event is marked by volunteer dedication everywhere you look. If it were not for community volunteers, there would be no Lost Dutchman Days. It is through their efforts our community puts its best foot forward. We also need to recognize the businesses and sponsors who so strongly support this event. It is also important we recognize the resources and support committed by the City of Apache Junction since 1978, when the city was incorporated.

Recently, I had to explain to an old timer how to find the burro and prospector monument in downtown Apache Junction, because of our recent growth. He recalled to me having his picture taken with the burro and prospector in the background in 1939. He said, “When I had that picture taken, there was nothing between the monument and Superstition Mountain.”

I then mentioned Lost Dutchman Days to him. His reply was simple, “You mean the old prospector and burro has an event named after them? It sure pays to hunt gold in these hills, friend.”

Please come out and celebrate Lost Dutchman Days with the fine people of Apache Junction on February 23, 24 and 25, 2018. This year’s celebration includes a parade, a rousing Rodeo Dance, a carnival, Polka contest, gold panning, a Senior Pro Rodeo and lots of good food and entertainment.

If you need information about Lost Dutchman Days, call 480-982-3141.

Community events have sustained Arizona through good times and bad times. Most communities in Arizona have an annual event that attracts thousands of people to Arizona. These community events have been important to Arizona’s sustained growth and prosperity. These events bring people together to enjoy the best of Arizona, its climate, culture, scenery and people.

Monday, February 12, 2018

In the Beginning

February 5, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area and Superstition Mountain in particular have been an attraction to human kind for more than a millennium. First came the Native Americans who found the region conducive to their way of living and lifestyle. They were primarily hunters and gatherers. Primitive agriculture had not been developed in the beginning. The introduction of growing wild plants and corn didn’t occur for another thousand years or so. Still, hunting and gathering prevailed for another millennium or more. Once their nomadic way of life began to diminish, primitive forms of agriculture were developed with various wild plants. The introduction of beans, squash and corn from Meso-America helped to stabilize the Native American population in the region. The region offered numerous caves for shelter. Their ruins, such as pit houses, cliff dwellings and temporary shelters were a mute testimony to their early occupancy of this rugged mountain region in Central Arizona.

Death was no stranger to these early inhabitants of this mountain wilderness. Many lost their lives to accidents, attacks from animals and other warring groups that mounted raids against their mountain homeland. Of course, these deaths were pre-historical, without documentation. The excavation of a couple of sites adjacent to the wilderness area suggests some of these early Native Americans died from wounds caused by an adversary. An Apache Junction resident was excavating for a pool in his yard when he came across a burial site on his property. The skull that was found in a grave had severe damage from blunt force trauma. The ulna and radius bones of the arm and the clavicle bone of the shoulder had sharp knife marks indicating an attack that was defended with the individual’s arm. These injuries were probably the results of a battle with a raiding party member or members that ended in the demise of this individual several thousand years ago. This Native American was probably one of the earliest people to die in this vast mountain wilderness we call the Superstitions today.

The western facade of Superstition
Mountain discouraged pursuers who
tried to find Apache-Yavapai.
The Superstition Mountain region has a long history of missing people, suicides, homicides, accidental deaths and injuries. The earliest recorded history of these events occurred when the U.S. Army Infantry Companies were sent out to Camp McDowell to quell the raids of the Apache-Yavapai who lived in the Superstition Mountains (Salt River Mountains) and Pinaleno Mountains (Pinal) in the 1860s. The U.S. Army armed and effectively used the Pimas against the Apache-Yavapai during this era. Several hundred Apaches and Yavapai were slain in their Rancherias or villages throughout the Superstition Mountains. These areas included Pinyon Camp (near Weaver’s Needle),  May 11, 1867; Dismal Valley (Tortilla Ranch area) March 14, 1868; and Tortilla Creek near Tortilla Flat later in 1868. Tortilla Creek was later called “Bloody Tanks.” Also several small villages were destroyed, and all the males where clubbed to death by the Pima Scouts. The Pima Scouts captured Apache-Yavapai women and children and then forced them into slavery. The Pima Scouts clubbed all young boys, non-combatant men and old men to death. Armed Pima scouts and soldiers shot those who tried to escape.

Major John Brown led the 5th and 10th United States Cavalry units on a campaign against the Apache-Yavapai in the Superstition Mountain region and the Pinal Mountains between 1872-1874. Many of the skirmishes were fought around the Reavis Valley. One battle was fought from March 8-17, 1874, with men of the 10th U.S. Cavalry and the Apaches. Many Native Americans died during these campaigns of annihilation.

These were the first deaths in the Superstition Mountain area that was accurately documented and recorded by the United States Army.

Sadly, deaths still occur today, but in a very different way. Earlier deaths were part of a campaign of destruction and annihilation by the United States Army and the Pima Scouts.

The other side of the coin was that the Apache Yavapai preyed on the Pimas for hundreds of years. When the Pima finally allied with the United States Army, the Yavapai were totally defeated ending their predations and hiding in what we call the Superstition Wilderness today.

Above is an 1864 sketch map of the Superstition Mountain region that I have marked with today’s place names.
Probably the most important military trail into the Superstition region was the First Water – Charlebois Trail, also know as the First Water Trail. This was the first water for animals after leaving the Salt River near Blue Point and heading southeast toward Salt River Mountain (Superstition Mountain in 1860s). Riders and hikers use many of the military trails today in the Superstition Wilderness. “Trails of the Superstitions” are as historical as many place names and were used by Native Americans, military, cattlemen, miners and prospectors long before the Superstition region became part of the Tonto National Forest and the Superstition Wilderness.

The wilderness has historical meaning to everyone who has ever experienced it in any way.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Cactus Thorns and Tall Tales

January 29, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Wayne Ellsworth “Barney” Barnard was an old salty pioneer of the Arizona desert who lived at the base of Superstition Mountain since the late 1930’s. He came here with a vision to build a guest ranch for dudes. Through hard work and sweat, sometimes not his own, he constructed the once famous B – B Guest Ranch on the slopes of Superstition Mountain. He was one of Apache Junction’s earliest pioneers belonging to an honor roll of those who suffered the hot summers before the advent of cooling or air conditioning. Could you imagine living through summer months in this desert without any kind of cooling?

Barney was a man known for his tall tales. Some people will say he was the biggest windbag in all of Arizona. Others will tell you he was one of the great pioneer storytellers of the Southwest and a noted authority on the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. He or his heirs published a booklet on the subject of Jacob Waltz and his mine for some twenty-one editions from 1954-1977.

Wayne Ellsworth Barnard was born August 8, 1886, in Manchester, Delaware County, Iowa. Stories have it he left the sanctuary of his strict Presbyterian home at the age of 16 to begin his wanderlust way of life. He wanted to wander the West and find his final niche in life. Sometime around 1906, Barnard arrived in Mesa, Arizona Territory looking for a job. He then walked toward Goldfield, searching for a cow outfit where, he had been told, he might find work. According to Barnard’s own story, he became lost in the desert and after wandering for several hours, he found a water seep near the base of Superstition Mountain. Liquid gold, as he called it, saved him from perishing from thirst on the desert.

Barney Wayne Ellsworth Barnard
in uniform during World War I.
Barnard joined the United States Army in September of 1917 at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. He served with the “Fighting 77th Army Division” during World War I. He was thirty-one years old when he shipped overseas. He saw combat action at Verdun and was wounded. Barnard returned to Arizona permanently in 1933. He first squatted on five acres of land just south of Lost Dutchman Blvd. and then homesteaded it in the 1940s.

Barney established the B-B Guest Ranch and Resort in the late 1930’s and entertained service men from Williams Army Air Base in the 1940’s. He would strum his guitar, sing and tell stories. A veteran of World War I himself, he enjoyed entertaining service men during World War II. When Barney had a couple of coins to rub together, he was off on a journey chasing his family genealogy. You might say Barney Barnard was a pioneer in the travel trailer vacations. He had his trailer, painted with a logo and signs advertising the B-B Guest Ranch and Superstition Mountain. He also promoted Apache Junction with its clean air and mild winter climate. He was Apache Junction’s national ambassador of goodwill for many years during the 1950’s. He traveled from Maine to Washington promoting the region.

Barney Wayne Ellsworth Barnard at his
B-B Ranch in the desert near
Superstition Mountain.
Barney Barnard was a charismatic individualist who liked people to gravitate toward him, but he always wanted to be able to distance himself when it was desirable. When his visitors and friends listened to his stories and tales they soon realized here was a man who had found his niche in life. He cherished these opportunities to tell stories and tales about the mountains. He personified the American West and the cowboy. Barney, his life and love for the West, placed him in an immortal hall of fame, not one you can visit, but one you can visualize each time you look at Superstition Mountain. His memory and pioneering spirit will never be forgotten. Remembering Barney Barnard is recalling the nostalgic western past of Apache Junction’s lifestyle when cowboys and miners visited the old Apache Junction Inn and bar.

Barney was also a community minded individual. He provided the resources for the Apache Junction Volunteer Fire Department to buy their first pump truck from Williams Air Force Base. He was active with the volunteer fire department for several years. He also was active with the Apache Junction Business Club in 1960, which eventually became the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce. Barney also owned, maintained and operated a water company for several years. He married in his later years and had a son he proudly named Barney Barnard Jr.

Barney’s final days were spent thinking about and recording his life story. He died at the Phoenix Veteran’s Hospital on April 17, 1963, at the age of 77. Barney will be remembered as one our first and earliest storytellers. He dared to be different and strike out on his own searching for his own private niche in life. Success in life he found beneath the facade of Superstition Mountain and in the shadows of the old Dutchman’s haunts.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Adolph Ruth: A Tragedy

January 22, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area can be a confusing maze of deep canyons and lofty mountain spires to the novice. A new explorer can easily be disoriented in this rugged terrain. Did Adolph Ruth become disoriented in June of 1931? Researchers continue to disagree and speculate about this bizarre case.

Adolph Ruth
The Journal of Arizona History photo
Adolph Ruth was first reported missing on June 18, 1931, by William A. “Tex” Barkley. A search of the region around Willow Springs was started on June 19, 1931, but to no avail. Ruth remained missing for almost six months before the first real clue to his disappearance surfaced.

Richie Lewis and George “Brownie” Holmes were guiding an archaeological expedition into the Superstition Mountains on December 10, 1931. Near the “Spanish Racetrack,” at the north end of Bluff Springs Mountain, one of Lewis’ dogs began to bark and bay. At first, Holmes and Lewis thought the hound had picked up the scent of a lion. The night before it had rained heavy and usually scent was best at this time. As George “Brownie” Holmes, Lewis’ co-guide, rode over closer to the baying hound, he immediately saw what the hound was barking at. Under a small Palo Verde tree, on the moist ground, laid a human skull. Brownie dismounted so he could closely examine the skull and the site. Immediately Odds Halseth, an archaeologist, called out not to touch or disturb the skull.

Brownie noticed the previous rain had erased all sign, so he reached down and picked up the skull at the ire of two of the expedition members. He immediately noticed two large circular holes in the temporal regions of the skull and commented to the others in the group that it looked like this poor fellow must have been shot in the head.

George “Brownie” Holmes with the
skull of Adolph Ruth.
The Journal of Arizona History photo
Odds Halseth and another member of the expedition, wanted to examine the skull. Halseth studied the skull momentarily. He declared the skull appeared very old and was probably Native American. Brownie could not understand how Halseth could make such a determination when pieces of dried skin tissue still clung to the skull. It was Brownie, who announced to the group, he believed they had found the skull of Adolph Ruth, the missing prospector. Brownie later claimed he made the statement because he recognized a ridge on the top of the skull that was similar to the ridge on the forehead of Adolph Ruth, whom he had met at Barkley’s Ranch almost six months earlier. Halseth denied the fact this skull could be that of the aging treasurer hunter, who had been missing since June 15, 1931. E.D. Newcomer, a free-lance photographer for the Arizona Republic, asked Holmes to cradle the skull in his hands so he could take a photograph of it.

Controversy soon developed between the members of the expedition over what they should do since the discovery of the skull. Some wanted to continue the expedition while others wanted to return to Phoenix. Harvey Mott, staff writer for the Arizona Republic, wanted to return immediately to First Water. Richie Lewis explained to the members of the expedition what two or three more days would do if they continued into the mountains. Lewis believed whomever belonged to the skull would never know the difference. Finally, it was decided to continue on to Charlebois Spring and spend the night.

Holmes and Lewis set up the expedition’s camp at Charlebois Spring. All the while camp was being set up, Halseth fretted about the security of the skull. He was afraid coyotes might steal into camp and carry off the skull. Finally Lewis solved the problem for Halseth. Lewis tied a piece of baling wire through the skull’s gaping holes and hung it in one of the Sycamore trees high above the ground. Ruth’s skull dangled from the tree casting an eerie spell over the camp. The night of December 10th was extremely damp and cold. A ground fog completely hid the skull high in the tree at dawn. As the ground fog slowly lifted, the skull was revealed, suspended in the air, dangling by a piece of baling wire. The expedition members would never forget the ghostly site that morning.

Most of the expedition’s participants wanted to return to Phoenix that morning. Mott and Newcomer had a story, Halseth thought he had found an Indian skull and Richie Lewis, along with Holmes, was sure they had found part of “old man Ruth.” It was soon decided that the expedition would return to Phoenix. They would then confirm their find.

The archaeological expedition was well on its way by 10:00 a.m. They arrived at First Water Ranch about 3:00 p.m. The trip from First Water to Phoenix was about seventy miles. The members of the expedition finally made their way into the city editor’s room of the Arizona Republic around 10:00 p.m., December 11, 1931. It was too late in the evening to have a pathologist examine the skull to determine if, in fact, it did belong to Adolph Ruth.

It was on December 12, 1931, Dr. Orville H. Brown examined the skull and pointed out many characteristics that agreed with the photos they had of Ruth.

Dr. James J. Lasalle corroborated Dr. Brown’s opinion. Dr. Claude M. Moore, a dental surgeon, felt sure the skull was that of an aged white man who had worn dentures.

Odds Halseth continued to disagree with the three doctors, and therefore claimed the skull. He immediately planned to ship it to the National Museum of Anthropology in Washington D.C. and have it examined by an expert. Halseth sent a telegram to the Science Service, Washington D.C. at 6:43 a.m. on the morning of December 13, 1931, claiming the skull could be a Native American or an old Caucasian. Halseth also claimed the skull had tissue, odor, and attracted flies. Halseth further said he was out of funds and offered the story to the Science Service. They replied by turning his story down and refusing to become involved. Halseth at first was very disappointed with the news media.

When Halseth received his answer from the Science Service Bureau, the Arizona Republic Sunday’s front page read, “SKULL BELIEVED THAT OF MISSING PROSPECTOR FOUND IN THE MOUNTAINS.” Halseth received a telegram from Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, anthropologist and pathologist for the National Museum stating, “Skull unquestionably that of aged white man, recently shot possibly.” The Arizona Republic had gambled on the skull and had won. Dr. Ales Hrdlicka said, “recently shot possibly.”

Dr. Thomas Jarvis in 1978, forensic pathologist for Maricopa County, studied close up photos of Ruth skull and said he was not shot. The shatter pattern didn’t fit a bullet impact zone. Dr. Jarvis never actually examined the skull but did discuss it with other professional forensic pathologist and they concurred with him.

They didn’t need Halseth or his story for they had their own. The National Wire Service picked up the story and it began to appear in newspapers all over the United States. Ruth had put the Superstition Mountains on the map, but he had died tragically during the summer of 1931 to do so.

Upon the discovery of Ruth’s skull the search for his remains was once again undertaken. Jeff Adams and William A. “Tex’ Barkley found Ruth’s other remains on January 8, 1932, in a small tributary canyon on the eastern slope of Black Top Mesa. The map Ruth had was eventually published in the Arizona Republic. This finally ended the mysterious disappearance of Adolph Ruth in the Superstition Wilderness.

The search for Adolph Ruth concluded, his remains found, still there were those who believed he was murdered for a map to a lost gold mine. Erwin Ruth, Adolph’s son, was a very melodramatic individual. He continued for the rest of his life to believe his father was murdered for a lost gold mine map. Erwin worked hard to convince people of these events and often changed them to fit his story of that hot summer of 1931.


Much of this information came from a personal interview by me with George “Brownie” Holmes in 1979, a year before his death. Some information came from journal notes kept of the incident by Harvey Mott, editor of the Arizona Republican. Also personal information my father pasted on to me about the incident.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Murder in Apache Junction

January 15, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The murder of an Apache Junction widow on December 29, 1947, led to the first execution in Arizona’s new gas chamber at Florence, Arizona. This is a sad story of a pitiful man who was willing to take an innocent life to live a brief moment of success. The events leading up to the murder of Mrs. Katherine M. Gohn at her home on December 29, 1947, relives an early part of Apache Junction’s history.

The man who committed a shooting and homicide in Apache Junction worked for Julian King (above) out at King’s Ranch in 1947. Angel “Rocky” Serna, the perpetrator of the crime, was the first to be executed in Arizona’s new gas chamber.

You might say this story began at the King’s Guest Ranch near Dinosaur Mountain in the area we know today as Gold Canyon. Julian and Lucy King had begun construction on their guest ranch in 1945 and continued to improve the place. During the summer of 1946, they were asked to give Angel “Rocky” Serna a job. The county probation officer, a friend of the Kings, explained to the Kings that Serna was an ex-convict and needed another chance to go straight. The Kings gave Serna the job.

 “Rocky” as he liked to be called, helped the Kings put in their water system at the guest ranch. He worked all summer without any problem. When the weather cooled off, Rocky usually went to town on the weekends. He was very interested in horses and was a good jockey. He also owned his own racehorse for a while. Early in September of 1947, Rocky found the racehorse he wanted to buy. The only problem was the horse cost $400.00. Rocky didn’t have $400.00 or any way of obtaining it. Julian King tried to explain to him that it was a lot of money for a horse. Rocky insisted he would earn or find the money to buy the horse somehow. He quit working at the King’s Ranch near the end of October and took a job in Apache Junction. It was about nine miles out to the King’s Ranch in those days from Apache Junction.

Serna spent most of the morning at the Apache Junction Inn. His first trip down to the Superstition Mountain Chevron Station was to borrow the $400.00 from Mrs. Gohn to buy a racehorse in Chandler. Johnny Baker, the cook at the Apache Junction Inn, drove Rocky down to the service station. Mrs. Gohn wasn’t at the station.

Rocky was intelligent enough to know he could not earn $400.00 no matter what he did. It was on his second trip that he decided to rob the Superstition Mountain Chevron Station, one mile west of Apache Junction. Rocky stole a pistol from Grady Haskins and walked down to the station on Monday morning, December 29, 1947. He then walked into the Superstition Mountain Chevron Station and demanded money with a gun in his hand. Mrs. Fairy Thompson, 32, the daughter of Katherine Gohn, knew Rocky and thought he was joking around. When Mrs. Thompson laughed and said, “You are kidding Rocky,” he shot her in the left breast. Mrs. Thompson’s two young daughters were in a back room of the station. After the shot, Rocky rushed out the door. The two young girls found their mother lying on the floor. The oldest girl, Bonnie told her young sister to stay with their mother while she went to the Apache Junction Inn for help. She ran out the back door and toward Jack Anderson’s Apache Junction Inn to summon help. The police were immediately contacted.

After shooting Fairy Thompson, Rocky proceeded to the home of Katherine Gohn. Serna shot Mrs. Gohn in the hand, dragged her into the bedroom where he raped her and then shot her in the head. He then stole her car and headed east on Highway 60. He turned up King’s Ranch Road and drove up to King’s Ranch. Serna arrived at King’s Guest Ranch and confronted Paul Marchand, asking him for help to get to Safford. He further told Marchand he just killed “two women.” Marchand told Serna to go to Sand Tanks and wait for him. Marchand immediately contacted the Kings and they called the police, reporting what had happened. Sheriff Lynn Early and Sheriff Cal Bois were both involved in the search for Serna.

Earl Parrish, a Chandler constable and Highway Patrolman Coy Beasley captured Angel “Rocky” Serna several hours later. When arrested, Serna had fifty dollars in his possession. Rocky immediately confessed to killing Ms. Gohn and shooting Ms. Thompson. He was booked into Pinal County Jail at Florence.

Angel “Rocky” B. Serna was born in a small town near Douglas, Arizona, called Franklin. He had been in trouble with the law before. He was on parole from the Arizona State Prison for robbery at the time he shot Fairy Thompson and murdered her mother, Mrs. Gohn.

Angel B. Serna was tried and found guilty of murder in the First Degree and the punishment was set at death. The Pinal County Superior Court set the execution date for Serna on May 22, 1948. The Arizona State Supreme Court then gave Serna a temporary stay and then ordered Serna to be executed on January 21, 1950. Governor Dan E. Garvey granted Serna a Reprieve of Execution on December 10, 1949, and another on April 13, 1950.

Katherine Gohn’s luck ran out on December 29, 1947. Angel “Rocky” B. Serna’s luck ran out at 4:05 a.m. on July 29, 1950, when he became the first man to be executed in Arizona’s new gas chamber.

I received a letter several years ago from a retired librarian named Patricia Shively Elmore who inquired about the killer that murdered her grandmother in Apache Junction in 1947. She and I began researching the topic and the foregoing information surfaced. Today is a lot like yesterday. The victim is often forgotten and the criminal is remembered. Katherine Gohn, her daughter Fairy Thompson, the Superstition Mountain Chevron Service Station and their work have not been forgotten, nor was it in vain. Let’s hope that good will triumph over evil. My friend, Lynn Early, who was Sheriff of Pinal County in 1947, told me this story several decades ago and how tragic it was.

Another interesting twist occurred in this story. Just recently, in 2007, when Patty Brewer Simmons gave me some of the original stories and letters written by Angel “Rocky” Serna between 1948 and the time of his execution on July 29, 1950. Serna’s had hand written letters that revealed a lot about his character. Also more research revealed that 10,000 signatures were gathered in hopes of getting Angel Serna’s sentence commuted to life in prison. Even this effort by friends and family did not help Angel “Rocky” Serna escape the gas chamber at the Arizona State Prison.

Ironically, the wheels of justice move much more slowly today and it is much more difficult to bring criminals to justice. Our court systems today are overtaxed with criminal cases therefore incapacitating them from administrating justice like it should be. The court system of our county needs much stronger support from its citizen. We need more Superior Court judges to handle the huge case load the courts now deal with.