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.