Tuesday, December 30, 1997

Bluff Springs Mountain

December 30, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Bluff Springs Mountain or Bluff Mountain, as it was called around the turn of the century, has played an interesting role in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The mountain, like Black Top Mesa and Weaver’s Needle, has long been synonymous with the legends of the region. This walled monolith lies directly east of Weaver’s Needle and immediately south of the Three Red Hills. The rugged façade of this elongated mountain still attracts the curiosity of adventurers and prospectors alike.

Individuals have been prospecting around and on Bluff Springs Mountain since the famous Goldfield strikes of the late 1880s and early 1890s. The mountain has been sacred to several groups of Native Americans. Early ranchers William A. Barkley and James A. Bark talked about ancient burial grounds on top of this rugged mountain.

Near the top of Bluff Springs Mountain ancient stone defense circles are found. These structures were Native Americans’. On the northeast corner of the mountain there is a series of three caves that were inhabited by early Native Americans who lived here prior to the turn of the century. Also on the northeast corner of Bluff Springs Mountain an excellent spring or seep can be found. This spring was the source of water for early inhabitants of the area and the cattle that were brought in later by the ranchers.

The origin of the mountain’s name must have come from the early cattle ranchers who worked cattle in the area. James A. Bark once said the mountain was called Buff Springs Mountain instead of Bluff Springs Mountain because of its color rather than the bluffs that totally encircle this elongated mountain. William A. Barkley always called it Bluff Springs Mountain. He ran cattle in the area from 1907-1955. Bark began running his cattle in the area about 1891. It is reasonable to believe the people who first reported the mountain being called Bluff Mountain may have corrupted the name themselves.

History does not record the name of the first prospector who searched this mountain for gold. It would not be unreasonable to believe the first prospectors in this area were Hispanic prospectors from along the Rio Gila in the early 1800s. These Hispanic prospectors were probably followed by mountain men led by Paulino Weaver in 1827. The reason for this suggestion is the name of Weaver’s Needle. This landmark was named after Paulino Weaver in 1853, about twelve years prior to Weaver’s death near Camp Verde.

Weaver was a notable Arizona guide, prospector, mountain man and scout. It is further reasonable to believe prospectors covered this area during the great search for mineral wealth in Arizona Territory (1863-1895). Many newspaper articles place prospectors in the vicinity of Weaver’s Needle and Bluff Springs Mountain as early as 1884.

Bluff Springs Mountain became a prominent part of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine story in the early 1930s. The mountain played a role in Harvey Mott’s articles for the Arizona Republican in 1931. A story that began about an archaeological expedition ended up being one of the lead stories concerning the tragic death of Adolph Ruth in December of 1931. It was chroniclers like Oren Arnold, Charles Higham and Barry Storm who placed this rugged mountain in their literary works. Prospectors like Charles Aylor, Albert Morrow, John Pearce and Glen Magill made Bluff Springs a part of Superstition Mountain history. It was not until 1967 that the mountain acquired national prominence. In April of that year Glenn Magill announced to the world he had found the Dutchman’s Lost Mine on Bluff Springs Mountain.

He said, “We don’t just think we have found it, we have found it.” Magill, like many other men over the years, made a claim and then couldn’t produce sufficient [evidence] to back it. This has been the story of the elusive Dutchman’s Lost Mine since the death of Jacob Waltz on October 25, 1891, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bluff Springs Mountain is a three by one-and-a-half mile rock composed of alternating layers of basalt and ash formed some 24-29 million years ago during the Tertiary Period of geologic time. Geologically the mountain is a poor place to search for gold-bearing minerals. There are a couple of insignificant sites that have been intruded by small mineral-bearing veins that contain a little quartz and iron pyrite. The iron pyrite of Bluff Springs Mountain does not contain gold or any [valuable] metal.

Many prospectors and treasure hunters believe Bluff Springs Mountain contains a cache of rich gold ore or bullion. There are no historic Spanish, Mexican or American records to support treasure caches on Bluff Springs Mountain. It is a search in total futility to look for a gold cache on Bluff Springs Mountain. When I was a young man in the 1950s I spent many weeks roaming the top of Bluff Springs Mountain. Much of what I found had to do with contemporary prospectors and the early cattle ranchers in the area.

There are numerous stories about hidden Spanish caches on Bluff Springs Mountain. The Jesuit cache theories still remain an interesting theory and that is all there is to it. It is a theory.

Father Charles Polzer, Jesuit historian at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, says, “The insistent legends about Jesuit treasure in the Superstitions are pure bunk. All it proves is the catastrophic ignorance of contemporary inhabitants of the desert of all the important history of the Southwest.”

Tuesday, December 23, 1997

Stone Writing on Black Top Mesa

December 23, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The rugged land east of Superstition Mountain holds many interesting secrets.

On the south end of Black Top Mesa, or if you prefer Black Top Mountain, are several petroglyphs or stone markings. The markings have been the subject of much controversy over the years. Their significance was brought to light more than fifty years ago when John T. Clymenson, alias Barry Storm, wrote his book On the Trail of the Lost Dutchman in 1939.

These markings have been known since the turn of the century. William A. Barkley visited the site prior to 1915 and said the sunburst and snake were on the rock then. He did not recall seeing the word “oro.” My father visited the site in 1933, and he remember[ed] the markings as we see them today. Many old timers have prospected and dug holes in the area around Black Top Mesa believing in the significance of the markings on the south end of the mesa. The Harnish brothers spent more than three decades in the area searching for treasure and a mine. An old timer by the name of Lee Kessler spent a considerable amount of time on Black Top in the early 1950s. Even men like Al Morrow, Dale Howard, John Pearce and Ed Piper were convinced the markings on Black Top were a significant part of a much larger puzzle for locating the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Also, it must be taken into consideration that most of these old time prospectors believed the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and the Peralta Mines were all one in the same.

During the past fifty years I have made many trips to the south end of Black Top Mesa to look at these markings. Like so many things in the Superstition Wilderness Area, the Black Top Mesa petroglyphs sort of mesmerize those who gaze upon them. The markings invoke one to wonder if the markings were scratched into the rocks by the early Native American inhabitants of the area, early prospectors of the area or early treasure hunters.

If part of the markings are authentic, then they may have been scratched onto the black basalt rocks by the early Native American inhabitants of the area. There are many samples of Native American petroglyphs within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Petroglyphs can be found in La Barge Canyon, East Boulder Canyon, near Garden Valley and Second Water Canyon just to name a few places. Treasure signs, probably made in the past fifty years, can be found throughout the wilderness area also. The most common treasure sign found is the Spanish word “oro,” which means “gold.” There are two oro signs on Black Top Mesa, one located in Middle Boulder Canyon, one in West Boulder Canyon, two in La Barge Canyon, one near Miner’s Needle, three in and around Weaver’s Needle, two on Peter’s Mesa and one in Bark’s Draw just to name a few. Most of these oro signs are at least forty years old. There have been many more scratched in rocks since 1970. It is a major research project today to [locate] oro signs that date prior to 1950.

The oro markings on Black Top Mesa are the best known because of Barry Storm’s Thunder God’s Gold and the Columbia motion picture Lust for Gold starring Glen Ford and Ida Lupino. It is amazing how many people believe these markings to be totally authentic. The United States Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Map Service completed their topographic and geological survey sometime in the 1950s. The results of their work produced new 7.5 minute topographic maps for the wilderness area. On the Goldfield Quadrangle, Arizona you can find the Spanish hieroglyphics on the southeast end of Black Top Mesa. The most recent trip I made to the site was in April of 1997.

These markings, authentic or not, are a distinct part of the human history of the Superstition Wilderness. Nothing can alter or change this. Humankind has made their impact on the land; this cannot be erased by the stroke of a pen.

Tuesday, December 16, 1997

A.F. Banta: Lost Mine Chronicler

December 16, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

One of the earliest chroniclers of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine story and Superstition Mountain was a Prescott newspaper man named Alfred F. Banta. President Lincoln had just signed the document forming the Territory of Arizona when Banta first arrived here as a young man.

Alfred Franklin Banta was born in Warwick, Indiana in 1843. He arrived in Arizona Territory at the age of twenty-one. 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 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 in 1871. He accompanied Lt. Wheeler on this expedition when he discovered Meteor Crater. Lt. Wheeler named the crater “Franklin’s Hole” after its discoverer.

After the Wheeler Expedition Banta became involved with newspapers and then entered politics. He served as Justice of the Peace in St. Johns, Arizona Territory in 1876-1877 and in Springerville 1877-1878 and was 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 served as district attorney of Apache County from 1879-1880 and 1889-1890. He was probate judge of the county from 1881-1882. Banta was appointed the first postmaster of Springerville by President Hayes. He also served as U.S. Marshall in Arizona Territory.

Banta frequently wrote for numerous newspapers throughout the territory of Arizona and New Mexico. He wrote about the early history of Arizona, his life, pioneer families and lost gold mines. In many of his stories he made reference[s] to the Doc Thorne story and the Lost Dutchman Mine. He [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’s death in 1891, Banta was involved with several expeditions that searched for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine in the Superstition Mountains east of our community.

Banta wrote many columns about gold mines and mining for the Prescott Weekly Miner and Courier which he owned. He also freelanced for other Arizona papers 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 about the Lost Dutchman and Lost Doc Thorne mines, both supposedly located in the Superstition Mountains. Banta had a notable record in Arizona and when he performed his last public service as 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 Arizona Territory.

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. The service was conducted by Dr. E. Lee Howard, a personal friend. Howard paid tribute to Arizona’s “Last Scout,” the earliest printer in Arizona Territory and recognized him as the dean of pioneer Arizona newspaper men.

Tuesday, December 9, 1997

Fool's Canyon Gold

December 9, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Somewhere in the Superstition Wilderness is located a rugged and secluded canyon. Old timers called it Fool’s Canyon. The canyon has been the center of a lost gold mine tale for more than one hundred years.

The story goes something like this. An army patrol camped near Dismal Valley in 1870 found two Mexican prospectors who were dehydrated and near death. It was quite apparent the two men had suffered several days of extreme hardship in rugged country. Their feet were raw from walking on rocks without shoes. They were severely sunburned and near total exhaustion from the lack of water. The officer in charge had no means by which to transport the two Mexicans to safety. He did give them water and food, and then explained how they could find the Rio Salado.

The two Mexican prospectors begged the officer and his men not to abandon them because the Apache would surely find and kill them. One of the Mexicans told of a rich gold deposit they had been working to the east of Picacho. He explained the vein was so rich the gold could be carved out with a knife. The Mexicans said the entire patrol would be rich if they would help them get back to Fort McDowell safely. The members of the Army patrol did not see any real evidence of rich gold ore therefore they left them behind with a limited supply of water and food.

Only one of the Mexicans survived the ordeal at Dismal Valley. The prospector eventually made his way out to the Rio Salado and downriver to Maryville’s Crossing. After being abandoned in the middle of Apache country by the Army, the survivor did not want anything to do with Anglos. An Anglo blacksmith named Bill Cage, married to a Caborca woman, befriended the survivor of Dismal Valley. After several years of friendship the location of Fool’s Canyon was revealed to Bill Cage.

Cage was told to travel east across the desert to Tanque Prieta, then on to Picacho. Picacho is a tall peak east of Sierra Superstition. Once near Picacho, travel eastward around a giant mountain surrounded by a barranca, then through a large box canyon. From the box canyon travel on eastward across red rolling hills until coming to a deep canyon. Once in the canyon walk upstream to the head of the canyon. At this point follow a high narrow ridge until a rugged mountaintop covered with large boulders is in sight. Near the base of the mountain, on the east side is a canyon with [sheer] walls. At this point, enter the canyon. The canyon is so narrow, it is apparent it will soon dead end. At the point where the canyon is arms’ length narrow, there will be another tributary with two deep tinajas. This is the mouth of Fool’s Canyon or, as we call it, Canon del Tonto. Once in the canyon climb out on a ridge. Just above, locate a large crack in the earth’s surface. It is here the gold will be found.

Bill Cage spent many years searching the area around Sawtooth Ridge and Rock Creek for Fool’s Canyon (Canon del Tonto), but never had any success locating a rich gold vein. Bill did find an excellent placer claim in Gold Rush Creek east of Pinto Creek in 1903.

Most skeptics would not believe the story of Fool’s Canyon. The truth lies somewhere between fantasy and reality. Cage believed Fool’s Canyon was Gold Rush Creek because of the gold he found there. Cage admitted in 1959, when he was near death, that he didn’t think the two canyons were one in the same. His reasoning was based on not finding the two stone tinajas. If the Gold Rush Creek wasn’t Fool’s Canyon, maybe someday a lucky prospector will discover those two tinajas and find the gold of Fool’s Canyon.

Tuesday, December 2, 1997

John Churning

December 2, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Old-timers today who are familiar with the search for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine will recognize the names of Richard “Dick” Holmes, Julia Thomas, the Petrasch brothers, James A. Bark and Sims Ely as important figures associated with the never ending tale about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona. Additional names such as Joe Deering, John Churning and Aaron Mason would 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 Churning played a major role in the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. The stories about Churning vary according to the source. Churning was linked close[ly] to Joe Deering and the Two Lost Soldier’s Mine supposedly located in the Superstition Wilderness. Churning and Deering both believed the Two Lost Soldier’s Mine and the Dutchman’s Lost Mine were one in the same.

John Churning was born in Missouri about 1845. He traveled to the California gold fields about 1865. Upon Churning’s arrival in California most of the rich lode and placer claims had been located and filed on. Churning found pickings quite slim in California. Churning then packed up and headed east to Arizona in 1875. One of John Churning’s first jobs in Arizona Territory was working at the Silver King Mine.

John Churning worked at the Silver King long enough for a grubstake, then struck out on his own to discover a glory hole. During his tenure at the Silver King he had met Joe Deering and Aaron Mason. Mason grubstaked Churning on several occasions in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Churning spent much of his time prospecting the area south of the Salt River, north of Queen Creek, east of Superstition Mountain and west of Tortilla Creek. Churning was an advocate of the Two Soldiers Lost Mine.

In the Fall of 1898, John Churning settled in a cave in La Barge Canyon below the Lower Box. He lived in this cave off and on for six years. He worked occasionally for Carl A. Silverlocke at the Indian Paint Mine at Red Pass between Boulder and La Barge Canyons. As the years progressed Churning’s health began to fail, and he eventually moved in closer to Tortilla Flat around 1906. For several years Churning helped out around Tortilla Flat. Those odd jobs provided Churning sufficient funds for minimal survival. Churning entertained travelers who stopped at Tortilla Flat between 1908-1910 with stories about the Superstition Mountains and lost gold.

It was in the early Fall of 1910 when Churning fell ill. His prospecting days were over. He died at the age of 65 on November 13, 1910 at Tortilla Flat. Dr. Ralph F. Palmer, the post physician at Roosevelt Dam, attended him in his final hours. John Churning was laid to rest in the Mesa Cemetery. 

John Churning 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 east side of Geronimo Head was named after John Churning. Even the name of these modest memorials to an old prospector have been lost in the pages of Arizona history. Maps of today no longer carry the name of Churning Trail or Cave.

Tuesday, November 25, 1997


November 25, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The Superstition Wilderness Area has many interesting prehistoric Native American ruins within its boundaries. These primitive structures are a mute testimony to those who occupied these rugged mountains several centuries ago.

None of these sites are more interesting than Circlestone.

Circlestone lies some fourteen miles east of Superstition Mountain and just northeast of Mound Mountain, the highest point in the Superstition Wilderness Area. Circlestone was undoubtedly first discovered by Elisha M. Reavis in the 1870s or by some military campaigner. Cowboy pot hunters of the early 1920s explored Circlestone and found few artifacts worth any attention much less removal from the site. The ruin has remained obscure for more than a hundred years. Rumors circulated in the early 1960s about a large circular ruin high on the slopes of Mound Mountain somewhere southeast of Reavis Ranch.

The stories fired the imaginations of a couple East Valley residents, Allan Blackman and Gary Hunnington. It was Blackman who really initiated serious exploration of the area. He was intent on locating a horse trail to Circlestone. Hunnington came into the picture because he owned an airplane. It was with this airplane Blackman found his trail to Circlestone.

During the 1970s it was near impossible to get a horse to Circlestone because of the thick brush. Blackman finally blazed a trail through brush up the east side of the ridge and found access to Circlestone. By 1980, an excellent trail had been located by the Reavis Mountain Survival School east of Mound Mountain.

Early historical work on Circlestone was totally missing from records and newspaper files. The only mention of Circlestone in early records was an archaeological paper submitted by Neil Smith II, an archaeology student at the University of Arizona in 1941. Smith’s report was titled “Cliff Dwellings of the Roger’s Canyon Area.” In this report Smith mentioned a circular stock corral near Mound Mountain which evidently had no apparent archaeological value. Smith came to this unscientific conclusion without even examining the site. His statement was based on hearsay from a local cowboy who worked for the Clemans Cattle Company. The cowboy told Smith the corral was used by the Mexicans to hold goats. From this statement Smith concluded the site had no archaeological value.

I first visited Circlestone as a boy scout in 1944, with my old scoutmaster, Red Cowen. However, it was Blackman’s interest in the site that eventually fired my imagination. Both Blackman and I became convinced Circlestone had archaeological value and its preservation was important. After several trips to the site between 1961-1981 we were able to convince KPNX Action News to do a documentary on the isolated circular structure. The station producer believed the site had unique and interesting archaeological merit. The documentary aired in March of 1981. 

The stonework at Circlestone was very crude and without benefit of mortar. The quality of the stonework did not compare nor was it similar to that of the Anasazi. Some archaeologist[s] believe Circlestone to be less than a thousand years old. Other professionals suggest the structure could be much older. Mr. Sam Henderson, Superintendent of Casa Grande National Monument in 1981, suggest[ed] the site was used as a marketplace or ceremonial site. Henderson had no doubt the site was of prehistoric origin.

Circlestone is 136 feet in diameter. The circumference of Circlestone’s wall is 427.6 feet. The average width of the wall Is two feet where it is still standing intact. The height of the wall averages about 5.5 feet. The three foot entrance is oriented S 37 º W. The center of the circle has a square pit house or ceremonial area seventeen feet square. About 80% of the original wall is down which can probably be attributed to the many earthquakes this region has suffered. The first recorded earthquake in this area was the Bavaspi earthquake recorded on May 7, 1883.

Neil Smith’s report on the archaeological sites in the Roger’s Canyon area of the Superstition Wilderness only added to the mystery surrounding Circlestone. His reference to Circlestone as a cattle corral and his lack of interest reflected on his incomplete training as an archaeologist. Mr. Smith’s report and a couple other vague mentions of this site [have] only created more questions about Circlestone. Who [built] it? What was it used for? These questions will continue to be asked until the enigma of Circlestone is someday explained. Circlestone will be thoroughly explored someday, but until that day arrives we will have to live with speculation and supposition.

Tuesday, November 4, 1997

Canyon Lake: A Jewel in the Desert

November 4, 1997 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

One of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona is Canyon Lake located 12 miles northeast of Apache Junction. This man-made lake is located in spectacular canyon country and attracts thousands of people annually to the area. The history of Canyon Lake is a fascinating one.

The impoundment of Canyon Lake occurred when Mormon Flat Dam was constructed. Construction on the dam began July 1, 1923. It required about nine months to build the diversion flume to redirect the flow of the river and to excavate down to bedrock. The first concrete pour at the dam was on March 4, 1924. Mormon Flat Dam was completed on January 12, 1925. When the dam was completed it stood 225 feet above the bedrock and was 25 feet thick at the base and 12 feet thick at the crest. The dam was 320 feet long and 160 feet about the stream bed. There were 44,000 cubic yards of concrete used in the construction of Mormon Flat Dam. The dam was capable of impounding 98,000 acre feet of water.

In the Fall of 1924, there was a considerable effort to name Mormon Flat Dam after William J. Murphy, a Salt River Valley pioneer. The various farm bureaus in the valley failed in their attempt to name the dam after Murphy. Actually the dam and lake were named after a large valley flat that Mormon pioneers used to graze their cattle on near the Salt River. The water of the lake covers the valley flat today.

George Moody, with the help of Ben and Jess Cramer built a thirty-seven foot launch. This launch was christened the S.S. Geronimo. The Geronimo was equipped for fifty passengers and had a crew of five. The S.S. Geronimo was launched on October 3, 1925. This was the introduction of tour boats to Mormon Flat Lake, later to be known as Canyon Lake.

The Geronimo was 35 feet long, [and] had a 10 foot beam. It was powered with a 35 HP engine and could cruise at about 15 mph. The Geronimo was very popular with valley residents throughout the 1930s.

Charles Donofrio introduced hydro-boat racing to Canyon Lake in September of 1927. On July 9, 1928, a world-class speed race was held at Canyon Lake. Seth Smith of Mesa tried to break the world’s speed record in an outboard motorboat using an Evinrude motor. The world’s record at the time was 38.62 mph. Seth Smith was able to obtain a clocked speed of 37.77 mph on the mirror finish of Canyon Lake.

George Moody, the owner and operator of the S.S. Geronimo, was the man most responsible for the change of Mormon Flat Lake to Canyon Lake. The tradition of tour boats on Canyon Lake continue[s] today with the Dolly Steamboat.

Drive up the Apache Trail and enjoy the beauty of Canyon Lake, have lunch or dinner at the cantina, ride the Dolly or rent your own boat. Whatever you do, enjoy the beauty of this desert lake created by man.

Tuesday, October 28, 1997