Tuesday, April 28, 1998

The Secret of Bluff Springs

April 28, 1998 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Deep in the Superstition Wilderness Area is located an important source of water for the early cattlemen of the region. This site is known today as Bluff Springs.

According to old timers, this was one of the best permanent water sources in the region.

When I was first employed by the Barkley Cattle Company, I accompanied Bill Barkley to Bluff Springs. At that time Barkley had a tin line shack located a short distance east of the springs. The line shack was used to store feed and supplies, and the tin from which the cabin was constructed was hauled from Charlebois Spring by Jimmy Ruiz, according to Barkley.

During the late 1950s, I spent a considerable amount of time around the old cabin at Bluff Springs, using the cabin as a base camp when I worked on the corral and other water sources in the area. I rarely stayed in the line shack because it was usually infested with spiders, scorpions or snakes and sometimes a combination of all three.

The line shack had a water bucket and a dipper to drink out of. That bucket and Bluff Springs were a fine combination and amenity during the hot dry summers I often spent in and around that cabin.

Early one spring day, an old timer named Jack Riddle showed up at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. He was a friend of Gus Barkley, Bill’s father. We started talking about Sims Ely and Jim Bark, and he told me about a cave that was located on Bluff Springs Mountain that could have served as a Mexican or Spanish smelter.

The old man was so sincere I decided to look for the cave. He told me it was located on the side of the mountain just south of Hog Cave. I wasn’t even sure where Hog Cave was located. I had heard Barkley talk about Hog Cave, but I was too embarrassed to ask Riddle for the location.

I looked for what Riddle referred to as Hog Cave off and on for several weeks. I found a large cave south of Bluff Springs cabin that had a herd of javelinas living in it. I decided it was Hog Cave and made my search for the old smelter from that location. I knew Bill Barkley had a distinct displeasure for Dutch hunters and didn’t want them on his property. This wasn’t the case for old Gus Barkley, his father.

I might add at this point the cave actually did exist. The question as to whether or not it was a smelter remains unresolved to this day. Let me describe the cave and you make your own decision.

The cave is about twenty-five feet in depth. There was a hearth at the extreme rear of the cave, and the heart was designed so that air could be pumped into a bowl filled with charcoal. Immediately above the hearth was a vertical vent or flume which allowed for the exhaust of smoke. It could also function to allow the escape of vaporized gases from smelting.

Was the cave ever used for smelting? My guess is no. There was no sign of smelting in this cave other than the physical appearance of the hearth itself. Could this hearth be the real thing?

I built a fire in the hearth and all the smoke escaped up the flume or vent. A roaring fire created no smoke in the cave. Another interesting thing was the fire. As it burned, it created a draft through the cave. This would suggest the hearth functioned perfectly.

I was convinced at the time that I had found an old smelter of some kind until I was told that Native Americans who used caves like this could have pounded out the hearth for cooking and heating when they lived in the area. This theory is also a reasonable possibility.

The exact purpose of the cave’s stone hearth and flume remains a secret of the Bluff Springs area on the east side of Bluff Springs Mountain.

Tuesday, April 21, 1998

Wiggins' Gold

April 21, 1998 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The Tucson Citizen reported the discovery of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine on April 16, 1932, near Superior, Arizona. The first paragraph of the article read as follows:

A gold strike of wide proportions and averaging $12,000 to the ton was announced in Tucson today as having been found six miles from Superior in the Superstition Mountains. The reported discovery was made by Thomas Wiggins, 56, who showed handfuls of nuggets as big as marbles in the mining town today.

The Tucson Citizen’s report of the find caused a stampede to the site which was about six and a half miles from Superior near Picket Post Mountain. Wiggins, the discoverer of the mine, believed it to be the famous Lost Dutchman Mine.

Residents of the area rushed to the edge of the little gully to see the ledge of gold for themselves, and were turned back by armed guards. The ore was so rich that, when broken, it was still held together by ribbons of almost pure gold. At least that was the claim.

Armed guards were placed at the camp to keep high-graders away. Several shooting incidents did occur over the claims. All the land around the area in the Superstitions began to be filled upon by prospectors and miners as soon as the news was out about the gold discovery.

At the age of 19, Thomas W. Wiggins rode with Theodore Roosevelt and the Arizona Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Mr. Wiggins married a Miss Quarrels of Tucson in 1903. It was through his wife’s relation that he met an old Mexican man that told him about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine being located near a fortress-shaped mountain on the trail to Globe from Florence. Wiggins, after talking to several people, determined the mountain to be Picket Post.

Wiggins had lived in the Superior area for about five years before making the discovery. An old Phoenix man had told Wiggins that all men that had searched for gold in the Picket Post area in the early days usually found gold if they worked at it.

Wiggins said he followed this tip and eventually discovered this rich vein of gold and silver. Wiggins reported the ore assayed 124.5 ounces of gold per ton and ten ounces of silver to the ton. The principal vein was four to six inches thick. Other veins in the area ran from six dollars to fifty dollars per ton in gold and silver. Wiggins named his claims the Katie Claims, probably after his wife.

Thomas Wiggins eventually faded into obscurity along with his alleged claim of finding the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Wiggins had found gold near Picket Post, but not in the quantity he first believed or reported. Even today gold can still be recovered in the area in minute amounts.

Maybe old Tom Wiggins’ true legacy was his walk up San Juan Hill in June of 1898 with Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. It’s going to be interesting to see how Wiggins will be remembered. Will he be remembered for the gold he found at Picket Post Mountain or the walk up San Juan Hill with Roosevelt in 1898?