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.