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.