Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Tuesday, November 9, 1999

Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Tuesday, October 12, 1999

Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Tuesday, September 7, 1999

Redwood Trough

September 7, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

As a youngster I heard a lot of stories about the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some of these tales included segments about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. My father allowed me to make my first solo trip into the mountains when I was fourteen years old. After that I was in the mountains as often as possible from September until June while I was in high school. I was a very inquisitive kid and I liked searching for lost treasure. I wanted to learn as much as possible about the mountains and their stories.

Most adults in those days ignored me unless they had known my dad. He was highly respected for his knowledge about geology and mining. My father spent a lot of time around Goldfield, but always thought of the area as a gold teaser. He didn’t have a lot of faith in the region east of Goldfield either, but enjoyed the mystery and tales that prevailed there.

Some old cowboy told dad about a water trough in the Superstition Mountains that supposedly was used by Jacob Waltz near a place called White Mountain. Many people confused White Mountain in the Superstition Wilderness with the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona. The Army called White Mountain “Sierra Blanco” on its military maps. Dad visited the old Arizona State Teacher’s College library looking for information about the Superstitions and the military campaign around Sierra Blanco. Believe me, there wasn’t much in the library in those early days. Dad did most of his research at the University of Arizona Library and at the Arizona Bureau of Mines library in Tucson.

Once I established the location of White Mountain in my mind, I was ready for an expedition into the area. It was October of 1955 when I drove up the Apache Trail to Fish Creek Canyon Bridge. A friend and I planned to hike up Fish Creek Canyon to Rough’s Canyon, convinced we could easily access Redwood Trough. Let me tell you, this was certainly a mistake.

We hiked up Fish Creek, then up Roger’s Canyon to Angel Basin. I had never climbed over so many rocks in my life in Fish Creek and Roger’s Canyon. We were soaked to the bone from our [waists] down. We spent the night in Angel Basin, and if it hadn’t been for a good fire we would have really suffered that night.

The sun didn’t hit our flimsy bedrolls until about 9:30 a.m. the next morning because of the steep slope to the east of Angel Basin. We were exhausted, but had slept well by a warm fire the night before.

I hollered at Gary to get up so we could find Redwood Trough. The reason for this exhausting hike was to locate a site where we could find some alternating layers of basalt and ash intruded by a highly mineralized dike similar to the one across East Boulder Canyon above its confluence with West Boulder Canyon. I had been told the deposit of ash and basalt lay immediately north of Redwood Trough.

I wasn’t sure exactly where White Mountain was located and I didn’t realize White Mountain was directly east of Angel Basin. After looking at a regional topographic map of the area I located White Mountain. Gary and I sat down, heated a can of Spam for breakfast, and studied the map. It wasn’t long before we realized Redwood Trough was directly east of us.

“Wow,” Gary exclaimed, looking at the steep cliffs lying to the east. “Are we going to have to climb that?”

We were young and stupid. Certainly, we would try to climb the west face of White Mountain and look for Redwood Trough.

[Part II – September 14, 1999]

If you have ever been to Angel Basin you can imagine the challenge which lay before us. Gary and I planned to climb to the top of White Mountain and look down on the surrounding terrain. We were convinced we could spot the old wooden water trough in one of the canyons that drained off the eastern side of White Mountain.

We packed our gear after finishing breakfast and hiked up Roger’s Canyon for about a mile. We then turned east and started our [ascent] of the west face of White Mountain. This was a challenge, but not impossible for two sixteen-year-olds.

We topped out on a high ridge just below the summit of White Mountain. The vista from this location was overwhelming, even to a couple of teenagers. We finally spotted our objective deep in a tributary canyon and hiked down to the small canyon the trough was located in and inspected the area.

The old trough was made of redwood, pinned together with square nails and dowels, indicating the trough was very old. I could only imagine the energy required to pack this redwood lumber into this site to build this old trough. We didn’t find our geologic objective, but we had a great time exploring the area. We spent the night at Redwood, then hiked down through Rough Canyon and around several cliff faces to reach Fish Creek Canyon and our path back to the Apache Trail and our car.

Today, as I reminisce about this trip, I think of how foolish we were in our youth. But no challenge is too great when you’re sixteen. It was with this same zest for life that caused Gary and I to join the military two years later, and I think of the Superstition Wilderness Area as our stepping stone to adulthood. Each weekend in the Superstition Mountains was another challenge. As I look back I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

We found our objective; we experienced success. We returned home as champions in our minds. Life is filled with many disappointments, but if one searches for challenges then most disappointments will be minimized and easily forgotten. The discovery of Redwood Trough answered our challenge for that particular weekend some forty-four years ago.

Tuesday, August 31, 1999

Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Youngsberg Junction or Apache Junction?

August 17, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

In the early 1920s the junction of Apache Trail and the Globe-Phoenix Highway was called Youngsberg Junction, named after Phoenix ex-mayor George U. Young. Young owned and operated the Mammoth Mine at Youngsberg, four miles northeast of the Youngsberg Junction.

The realignment of the Mesa-Goldfield section of the Apache Trail was completed on May 17, 1922. This finally and officially formed the junction we know today. Three months later, on August 21, 1922, a man named George Curtis started a business on the Apache Trail in Youngsberg Junction.

Offended by the fact that Young had his mine and the old junction named after himself, Curtis set about to change the name of Youngsberg Junction. 

The junction didn’t exist when the first prospectors searched for gold near the base of Superstition Mountain in the late 1860s. At that time, the United States Army called the mountains “Sierra de Supersticiones” and was still pursuing hostile Apaches in the mountain’s interior.

Prospectors worked small gold outcrops in and around Goldfield Wash (Weeks Wash) as early as 1880. The Lucky Boy claim was staked in 1881, and a rich deposit of gold ore was discovered at the Black Queen claim in November of 1892. But the richest discovery of all was made on April 14, 1893. This rich deposit was found after a massive flood occurred along Goldfield Wash in a sudden downpour. This discovery became known as the Mammoth Mine, and produced more than three million dollars worth of gold bullion between 1893-1897. This was equal to about 12,000 pounds of gold bullion.

Goldfield boomed and died within a five-year period like many other mining boom towns of the era. This mining camp, located beneath the towering façade of Superstition Mountain, brought the first church, school, hotel, saloon, [livery] stable, stage line, mercantile store, butcher shop, restaurant and barber shop to the area. The pounding of a twenty stamp gold mill created a towering cloud of dust visible for miles. The dust and sounds of the stamp mill soon ebbed when the gold vein disappeared and the desert once again became silent.

The area near the base of Superstition Mountain had turned to desert again by 1900. However, that wouldn’t last for long. It was the Newland Arid Lands Act of 1903 that brought life back to the area. The construction of the Tonto Wagon Road and a telephone line from Mesa to the Tonto Dam site changed the region forever. The Tonto Wagon road opened a very remote area to development. These construction projects produced hundreds of jobs shortly after the turn of the century. Workers from all over the nation came to work on the Tonto Wagon Road and the great Tonto Dam, later named Roosevelt Dam. This was a fabulous economic boom that is still felt today.

The Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Tonto Wagon Road) provided the shortest means of travel for a load of goods from the copper capital of the world (Globe-Miami) to Phoenix, the capital of Arizona. The road was renamed the Apache Trail by W.W. Watson, a public relations man for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Governor Geroge P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor after statehood, envisioned a shorter highway route between the Globe-Miami area to Phoenix via Superior and the Queen Creek Canyon. Hunt had arrived in Globe in 1879, and was the community’s most adamant spokesperson. Hunt wanted to develop a shorter transportation link between these two important economic centers other than over the rugged and undependable Apache Trail. Hunt’s vision came true on May 13, 1921, when the first cars made a run over the Globe-Superior-Phoenix Highway, known today as U.S. Highway 60. This highway didn’t open to two-way traffic until almost a year later on April 19, 1922.

Soon after Hunt’s vision came true, another visionary arrived at the foot of Superstition Mountain where the new highway and the Apache Trail intersected. This man was George Cleveland Curtis.

[Part II – August 24, 1999]

Curtis was a traveling salesman from Logan, Utah, who had a dream and no money. It wasn’t easy for Curtis, his wife Aurora and their three daughters to make a living on undeveloped desert land west of Superstition Mountain. The family settled down to living in a tent at first, selling water and making sandwiches for travelers who came through the junction area.

Curtis was offended by the fact that Young had his mine and the old junction named after himself, and began an immediate campaign to change the name of Youngsberg Junction to Apache Junction. Curtis was adamant about the change because he did not think Youngsberg Junction had any character, color or charm.

George and Aurora Curtis believed so strongly in their convinctions about their business in the desert twenty miles east of Mesa. They filed a homestead on the following parcel of land, NE ¼, Sec. 20, T1N, R8E, on February 23, 1923.

All of us who love Apache Junction, its beauty, its charm, its uniqueness, its special place in our hearts and its heritage owe a debt of gratitude to George and Aurora Curtis, the founders of this community’s namesake. After all, we could have been Youngsberg Junction or Youngsberg Highway or Trail.

Tuesday, July 20, 1999

Tuesday, July 13, 1999

The Great Bicycle Race

July 13, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

A bicycle race from Mesa to Goldfield over desert trails would be quite a challenge for any man or woman, even on a modern, state-of-the-art bicycle. But, prior to the turn of the century, such a race would have been even more challenging. The primitive velocipedes (bicycles) of the period were a challenge just to ride.

Several years ago I discovered an interesting story about a “great bicycle race” from Mesa to Goldfield, Arizona Territory, in 1894. The race occurred sometime before the widespread acceptance of the internal combustion engine when bicycles were the fastest mode of transportation.

Goldfield was a thriving gold mining and milling town between 1893-1897, located some twenty-three miles east of Mesa. The town had a restaurant, school, church, mercantile store, drugstore, livery stable, hotel, post office, a stage line and three hundred residents. The Mammoth and Bulldog mines were producing a tremendous amount of gold and employed most of the male population of the area.

The Kimball, Riley and Company Stage Line kept Goldfield in touch with the outside world by carrying mail and passengers. The twenty-three mile trip between Mesa and Goldfield by horse-drawn carriage required four hours and thirty minutes over a road that was nothing more than two ruts across a somewhat endless desert stretching toward the Superstition Mountains to the east.

While the horse still reigned supreme as the premier source of power when it came to distant travel, the velocipede had become an accepted means of transportation around American cities by the early 1890s.

A group of local wheelmen, the term sometimes applied to bicycle riders of the period, suggested a race from Mesa to Goldfield. A cross-country race on bicycles over desert terrain was unheard of at the time. The use of a velocipede was hazardous under the best of conditions for those who dared to straddle these human-propelled two-wheeled contraptions.

History is filled with stories of adventurers and those seeking a challenge, and the residents of Goldfield and Mesa were no exception. There were two young men, one in Goldfield and one in Mesa, who wanted to meet the challenge of racing bicycles across the Arizona desert in 1894. A young Mesa attorney, William Van Horn, and his friend James Salter decided to organize the “great bicycle race” from Mesa to Goldfield.

There were two established record times for the twenty-three mile trip between Mesa and Goldfield. First, there was the stage line record of three hours and twenty minutes. Then there was also the emergency ride “record” made by a miner who rode from Goldfield to Mesa in two hours and ten minutes.

Van Horn and Salter had found a challenge for their primitive bicycles. They decided on a race against time. Van Horn was convinced the velocipede would soon replace the horse as the roads were improved. He wanted to demonstrate to the public that a bicycle could outperform a horse over long distances.

The date for the “great bicycle race” was set for April 14, 1894. The finish line would be at the Mammoth Saloon in Goldfield. The bets were down, and the race began at 7:00 a.m. at the Mesa starting line. Van Horn completed the journey at 9:06 a.m., breaking the record of the miner’s emergency ride by four minutes. Both Van Horn and Salter fell into cactus, mesquite and a variety of other thorn-bearing plants before they finally arrived in Goldfield, but Van Horn had broken the land speed record for the Salt River Valley in 1894.

The race is now history. And, while Van Horn and Salter believed the bicycle would revolutionize transportation, ironically, Henry Ford changed our way of transportation forever by mass-producing the “Tin Lizzy” fifteen years after the race. Neither Van Horn nor Salter was aware of the impact the internal combustion engine would soon play in Arizona transportation.

There is an interesting footnote to this story. William Van Horn and James Salter answered a challenge more than a century ago here on the Arizona desert with a bicycle race. Seventy-five years later, on July 20, 1969, the world gathered before their television sets to watch the first men land on the moon. What would this world be like today if not for those adventurers and dreamers who dared to challenge the impossible?

Tuesday, July 6, 1999

The Log Trough Canyon Bear

July 6, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

High in the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness there is a place called Reavis Valley. One of the tributaries of Reavis Creek is Log Trough Canyon. The timber in the bottom of this canyon is so dense that, in some places, it is difficult to ride a horse between the trees. For years I have been told there were wolves, lions, bears and wild cattle in this country. I have seen my share of mule deer, whitetails, coyotes and other animals, but never a bear or a wolf. So, I was somewhat convinced there [were] no bears or wolves in this country.

One summer I spent about a month at the Reavis Ranch. During that time, I rode out of the ranch in just about every direction looking at everything I could find. I found several archaeological sites, unusual plants and even towering cliffs. South of the ranch I found large dense stands of Ponderosa pine. It was in this area that I located Log Trough Canyon one day and decided to explore it.

Getting into Log Trough Canyon from Reavis Creek is no easy task. As I threaded my horses through the dense timber I finally broke into a clearing and found something that looked like a trail. Once Duke, my dog, found the trail, we were on our way to an adventure I will never forget.

Some of the Ponderosa pines in that canyon were at least two feet thick and some were easily four feet in diameter. There was an area where large pines had been blown down making it almost impossible to get through. You could also see where heavy snowfall had broken young saplings. The furthest thing from my mind as I rode up this canyon was any immediate danger. Ahead of me lay a small valley flat that was somewhat cleared of dense undergrowth, and Ponderosa pines towered around the area. I reined Crow in and decided to step down for a few minutes.

As I prepared to get back on Crow, I could tell he was all of a sudden very jumpy and nervous. And Duke wasn’t barking… just whining. Somewhere in the brush ahead of me I heard the noise of small limbs cracking and breaking. The first thing that came to mind was a deer. Soon I realized the animal, or whatever it was, did not seem to be fleeing. As I strained to get a good look of what was up ahead, I heard a roar behind me.

Crow took a jump straight up, and turned in the air. I grabbed the saddle horn and hung on for dear life. Hanging on to the saddle horn with my feet still on the ground, Crow spun to face a black bear sow. She was mad and on the prod. I couldn’t figure out what had infuriated her. Duke took after her like a real hero, distracting her momentarily. She snarled at him and took a swing with her paw and Duke was making an exit in another direction.

I was certain the bear was going to attack. Somebody had told me years ago don’t try to climb a tree with a black bear on your trail because they can climb a tree faster than you can run. The bear was rapidly closing the distance between us.

I let go of Crow and grabbed the first limb I could reach and started climbing, knowing I was making a mistake. Once I was in the tree the sow bear ignored me and headed back to the brush where the original racket came from. As I looked over the brush I saw the problem. She had two young cubs, and had charged us to protect her babies. As she wandered off in another direction I slowly climbed down out of the tree with my adrenaline flowing high. I found Crow and [led] him back down [the] canyon a short distance and remounted. I found Duke down the canyon another hundred yards. He wanted no part of an angry sow bear with two cubs.

Yes, there are occasional bears in the Superstition Wilderness south of the Reavis Ranch, and I can bear witness to this.

Now that the incident is over I can look back and say Duke was brave in the beginning and it certainly gave me enough time to let go of Crow and climb a tree. As I rode back down Log Trough Canyon toward the Reavis Creek and the Reavis Ranch I thought of the story [of] when Elisha Reavis, the Hermit of Superstition Mountain, who ran into a bear with cubs and decided to not shoot her because the cubs needed their mother. Reavis lived in this valley from 1874-1896. He was one of the finest rifle shots in the territory in those days. It was another one of those wonderful life adventures.

Yes indeed, “Yesterday’s bravado is tomorrow’s memories.”

Tuesday, June 22, 1999

The Black Nuggets of the Pinals

June 22, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

In the [annals] of the American Southwest, few lost mines or treasures have been rediscovered. Actually, very few of the stories of lost mines and treasures are based on fact. Most are based on fiction or are just outright lies.

This is not the case with the fabulous Silver King Mine north of Superior, Arizona. The “Black Nuggets of the Pinal Mountains” is a true story from beginning to end about a lost mine actually being found in the wilds of Arizona Territory in 1875.

This story may have fired the imagination of early pioneers, who continued to tell stories about lost mines. The story of the Silver King is a true story of a lost mine rediscovered.

Silver was first discovered in the Globe area prior to the great American Civil War. The approaching war, the hostile Apache and the extreme cost of transportation discouraged the development of the ore bodies in the area until 1873. The close of the Civil War and the suppression of the Apache led to the development of the mining industry in Arizona Territory. At first the development was slow, but then it boomed. At the onset, only the extremely rich mines offered any opportunity for profit because of the cost of transportation.

As men and equipment made their way into the Globe area, other prospecting ventures were started in other parts of the region. Eventually, the development of a transportation link between Globe and Florence led to the discovery of the Silver King.

The construction on a wagon road between Camp Pinal and Globe began in 1873. It was during this period that work began on a particularly difficult section known as the Stoneman Grade. The grade was located near the foothills of the Pinal Mountains directly east of the present site of the Silver King. The work crew, a group of soldiers, took a lunch break. A soldier named Sullivan was wandering around and noticed an outcrop of black rock. He broke off a piece of what appeared to be rock but it turned out to be somewhat metallic. Finding this unusual sample of rock to be metallic and heavy he put it in his pocket to keep.

Sullivan showed these heavy metallic rocks to a rancher named Charles Mason, who lived along the Salt River west of Superstition Mountain. Mason told Sullivan his black rocks were rich specimens of native silver and silver sulfide.

Mason tried hard to convince Sullivan to let him grubstake him for a percentage of the mine. Sullivan kept the secret of the “black nuggets” to himself, planning to return someday and [stake] a claim on his discovery. He returned to the area a year later after being mustered out of the army. Sullivan searched the area of his discovery, but couldn’t locate the source of his silver.

Shortly thereafter Sullivan gave up his search and moved on to California in hopes of finding a gold mine. But, the rich silver ore intrigued Charles Mason, and he soon planned his own expedition to rediscover the “black nuggets” of the Pinal Mountains.

[Part II – June 29, 1999]

Mason reasoned that Pvt. Sullivan must have found his silver nuggets somewhere along the route of the wagon road constructed by General Stoneman. This was the area where he concentrated his search. 

On March 20, 1875, while searching a canyon near the foot of the Pinal Mountains, Mason and his party were attacked by hostile Apaches. After the battle, Mason’s men searched the surrounding area for their horses and pack mules. One of Mason’s pack mules was standing on a knoll. The animal was still nervous because of the gunfire. Mason’s men spread out and approached the animal from four different directions. As they approached, they discovered the source of Sullivan’s “black nuggets” at their feet.

There on the ground, a short distance from the abandoned wagon road, was the richest outcrop of silver ore any of the party had ever seen. Sullivan’s “black nuggets” had been found.

Sullivan immediately returned to Florence and filed the Silver King claims on March 21, 1875. The Silver King proved to be a rich vertical chimney. The mine operated continuously day and night from 1876 to 1887. There was a large town at the mine site and another town, Pinal, grew up at the mill site on Queen Creek. The greatest obstacle for the Silver King planners was transportation of supplies and ore. As the price of silver fluctuated on the market, the Silver King had its ups and downs.

By 1895, and at the depth of 1,100 feet, the mine finally played out. But this was not the end of mining in the Pioneer District. A short distance from the Silver King, the Silver Queen was developed, first for silver then for copper in 1895.

The development of the Silver Queen Mine led to the founding of Hastings at the base of Apache Leap in 1882. Shortly thereafter it was suggested that the town be named Sieboth, after the mining superintendent. But, the United States Post Office [chose] to name the town after the superintendent’s company, the Lake Superior Mining Company.

Today, little remains of old Silver King. There are the foundations of some old stone buildings, underground workings, a cemetery, and old dumps to remind us of the glorious past of the Silver King. Occasionally men have tried to reopen the old mine.

A woman named Grace Middleton lived at the old mine site for many years guarding over the relics of the past. Her husband had worked at the old Silver King Mine. I visited with her on several occasions in the early 1960s. The superintendent’s office was still standing as late as 1980, but was destroyed by fire several years ago. I photographed the old building in 1975.

Even though Private Sullivan was insignificant in the history of the Silver King Mine he did plant the seed in the minds of some men that, sometimes, stories of lost mines turn out to be real.

Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Wayne Ellsworth Barnard: Storyteller

June 8, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Please note: The archive copies of the Apache Junction News received by the library did not include Issue 24, which contains Part II of this article.

As a child I recall my father talking about “Barney” Barnard and his many tales about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and Superstition Mountain. Barney was as much a part of the folklore of Superstition Mountain as was the mine itself.

I remember my father stopping in Apache Junction on our many trips to the mountains and spending a few minutes talking to the old timers about the happenings in the area. He listened to Barney’s stories and to the information about people coming and going in the Superstition Wilderness Area. Father always had a keen interest in the news and rumors involving the mountains because he prospected the area since the 1920s.

My trail crossed with Barney’s one miserable summer morning in late July. It was one of those days on the desert when the temperature was about one hundred and five degrees by 10 a.m. The air was hot and motionless, the desert dwellers had already shaded up for the day, the gnats were humming in your ears and and irritating your eyes. The sun really bore down and the distant heat waves obscured your vision. You perspired even in the shade and your throat was dry. The heat radiated off the mountain like a blast furnace and mirages danced on the desert horizon.

Bill Barkley and I were returning from the First Water Ranch with a load of feed when we spotted an old car stalled along the Apache Trail. Standing beside the car was Barney Barnard. His towering frame, sun-baked skin and big Stetson hat personified him as a real American cowboy in my mind.

Barkley said, “Old Barney’s broke down. He’s the man who owns and operates the largest cattle ranch in these here parts, yet he doesn’t own a solitary cow as far as I know. We had better give the old son-of-a-gun a hand before he dies from a sun stroke.”

Barney’s problem was a broken fan belt. We provided him a lift back to the Junction. This gave me my first opportunity to really meet and talk to the famed storyteller. Barney owned and operated the famous Superstition B-Bar-B Guest Ranch near the base of Superstition Mountain.

Barney quickly reminded us he first arrived here when Goldfield was still a booming mining town in 1895. Barkley chuckled as old Barney spread it on thick for me and continued his history lesson for my benefit. As we pulled to a stop in front of the old Yucca Station, Barkley asked Barney how many bodies he had packed out of the mountains this year. Barney didn’t respond to the question, but graciously thanked us for the ride.

My father had known Barney since the late 1930s when Barnard first arrived in these parts. Barney was a great storyteller, and like many storytellers, he took the liberty to stretch the truth a bit. After all, someone once said, “don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” And Barney was never guilty of that.

Barney came here with a vision to build a guest ranch for dudes. Through hard work and sweat he constructed the legendary B-Bar-B Guest Ranch on the slopes of Superstition Mountain, and was one of Apache Junction’s earliest pioneers.

Barnard certainly belongs on a special roll that recognizes those people who suffered unbelievable hardships before the advent of any type of cooling for homes or vehicles. Try sitting in your house without a fan in 117 degree temperatures day after day.

Who was Barney Barnard? Some will tell you he was the biggest windbag in all of Arizona. Others will tell you he was one of the great pioneer storytellers and noted author on Arizona and the Lost Dutchman Mine.

We would call Barnard a “Cowboy Poet” today. He told tall stories, some true and some untrue, and he told his stories to entertain. He indeed published a book on the subject of Jacob Waltz and his mine. The book was reprinted twenty-one times between 1952-1977.

Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Tuesday, March 23, 1999

A Prospector's Life

March 23, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several times during the past few years, I have been asked what life was really like for those old time prospectors in the Superstition Mountains. Many believe they had very colorful lives as characters that challenged our changing times.

I’m not sure this is the only reason for their self-imposed exile from society. These old men and women allowed time to literally run over them. Many of them remained isolated and, in the end, lost touch with reality. They often became paranoid about everyone they came in contact with. I have had the fortune (or misfortune) of knowing many of these individuals and collecting some of their journals and diaries. Some of these men wrote a day by day account of their isolated lives. Some cases were actually sad examples of extreme loneliness while others appeared very content with their situation in life. I suppose each individual had his or her reasons for exiling themselves from society.

One argument for this exile was deep faith in the existence of lost gold in the Superstition Mountains, and most of them used this as their reason for living in such isolation.

Over the years the journals and diaries written by such men as Abe Reid, Edgar Piper, Chuck Aylor, Al Morrow, Joe Roider, Edwin Buckwitz, Robert Ward, Ludwig Rosencrans and Walt Gassler have become very important windows into the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Nothing compares to a day by day account recorded by an eyewitness, and I believe quotes from the journals and diaries will be interesting reading to our readers. These verbatim quotes may provide some insight into why these men choose this isolated way of life.

I sincerely believe these men and women were first, and most importantly, true individualists. Many of them walked to the beat of a different drummer and were very clever and intelligent human beings. Their way of life in the wilderness definitely conflicted with forest service policy, however, in several cases, the U.S. Government ignored their existence for the most part and allowed them to continue living in the wilderness on government land. This practice ended with the “last prospector” Edwin Buckwitz, but another such individual was Al Morrow.

The following is a verbatim quote from Al Morrow’s journal c.1950-1970:

Fri. Oct. 4, There are three narrow ravines nearby where the Dutchman’s mine might be. I got up early and eliminated one this a.m. It is now 9 a.m. and boy am I tired after climbing about half way up the cliffs on Bluff Springs Mountain. Heard what I thought was a .22 cal. Shot from Black Top about 7 p.m. last night. It is a full moon and I guess the boys are seeing things. Worked some across from the cabin late yesterday. Still level on the bottom of stream bed but expect to hit bed rock within 10 feet. This is a different flow than the one on the opposite bank I feel sure.

Sat. Oct. 5, Ten feet & no bedrock. Sure warm today. Tried making a batch of biscuits today but they resembled heavy rocks. Went for water in a.m. Water is still seeping cool & clear.

Sun. Oct. 6, I recalled a very interesting bit of information about the Dutchman which I had heard many years ago. He was about 65 when he worked his mine. When I woke up this morning and started working I realized that what was high for Waltz at 65 was much, much lower than it is for me at 47. Also the Peraltas and Ballesteros weren’t so young either. It makes sense.

Mon. Oct. 7, Did quite a bit on the upper shelf today and cleared as far back as big boulder in stream bed. I have so far encountered only flow material on right side. Tried some more of my first biscuits today and got slight case of indigestion. This p.m. I got to thinking about a cross laid out on the ground in the gulch where I am working. Will look over upper part of gulch in the morning. Wally and Walt stopped in from Black Top Cave to see if I was O.K. I made another pot of coffee and we talked awhile. The thought it was Sunday, but finally got it straightened out. I hope that I am right… will know next trip to town anyway.

You have just read four days in the life of a well-known Superstition Mountain prospector Albert Erland Morrow who lived in the Superstition Wilderness Area from 1950-1970. Al Morrow died in a cave-in at his claim around September 9, 1970. A large boulder disloged during a heavy rainstorm and crushed him.

The journals and diaries of these old timers are fascinating windows into the lives of these old prospectors. I am not sure a lot of questions will be answered but we will have the opportunity to gain a little more knowledge about the history of the region.

“Just maybe the gold I am seeking is nothing more than my peace of mind.” Verbatim quote by unknown author, c.1919.

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Lost Dutchman Days 1999

February 16, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The old prospector of lost mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left quite a legacy for the State of Arizona when he died in Phoenix on Sunday, October 25, 1891.

His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, myth and cryptic clues about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. Today, some still believe Waltz had a rich gold mine while others claim it to be a fable.

The story still compels some to search the deep canyons and towering spires of the Superstition Wilderness for the lost mine. Prospectors, treasure hunters and the curious come from far and near for a look at the Superstition Mountain and [to] try their luck at searching for gold.

The first major group to take advantage of this international interest was the Phoenix Dons Club, now known as the Dons of Arizona. Their first annual Superstition Trek was held in 1934. The Dons Club, in an attempt to further commemorate the history and lore of the Lost Dutchman Mine and Superstition Mountain, constructed the Lost Dutchman Monument in Apache Junction in 1938. The monument still stands at the intersection of the Apache Trail and the Old West Highway, although it’s now somewhat hidden by the new city focal point.

The monument was rededicated on February 28, 1988, after standing for fifty years undisturbed by progress. Almost 400 dignitaries and citizens from around Arizona attended the rededication. The keynote speaker for the occasion was Governor Rose Mofford of Arizona.

Thousands of families have stopped to admire the monument over the years. Many had their photograph taken with the monument in the background. Sam Lowe, columnist for the “Arizona Republic,” recently wrote about the historical significance of the monument in the lives of many prominent Arizonans, including governors, legislators and historians. The prospector and burro became the motif of Apache Junction, unique to any other community in Arizona.

The Apache Junction Lions Club so valued the legacy of the Lost Dutchman Mine story and the monument they implemented the Apache Junction Burro Derby in 1958. The Burro Derby drew thousands to Apache Junction each winter, and Hollywood movie stars often became involved with the Burro Derby between 1958-1963 when they were in town filming at Apache Land.

As I recall, St. George’s Church stated as a Mardi Gras parade and out of this event and the Burro Derby, grew Lost Dutchman Days in 1965. Lost Dutchman Days was named by Lulu Luebben. If I recall correctly, the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce organized the event each year after 1965. This year’s event will be the 35th Annual Lost Dutchman Days.

Lost Dutchman Days is known around the world because of the notoriety of Jacob Waltz and his lost gold mine in the rugged Superstition Mountains. Each year, this celebration draws thousands of people to Apache Junction for fun and to share in our history. The event requires a tremendous amount of volunteer energy and ingenuity to pull it off each year, and is marked by volunteer dedication everywhere you look. If it [were] not for volunteers, there would be no Lost Dutchman Days. It is through their efforts that our community puts its best foot forward.

We need to recognize the businesses and sponsors who so strongly support this event. It is also important that we recognize the resources and support committed by the City of Apache Junction since 1978, when the city was incorporated.

Recently, I had to explain to an old timer how to find the burro and prospector monument in downtown Apache Junction because of our recent growth. He recalled having his picture taken there in 1939. He said, “When I had that picture taken, there was nothing between the monument and Superstition Mountain.”

I then mentioned Lost Dutchman Days to him. His reply was simple. “You mean the old prospector and burro has an event named after them? It sure pays to hunt gold in these hills, friend.”

Come out and celebrate Lost Dutchman Days with the fine people of Apache Junction this year on February 26, 27 and 28. The 1999 celebration includes a historical parade, a rousing Rodeo Dance, a carnival, Polka contest, gold panning, a Senior Pro Rodeo, and lots of good food and entertainment. 

For more information on Lost Dutchman Days call 480-982-3141.

Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Tuesday, January 19, 1999

The Golden Three

January 19, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Black Top Mesa, Bluff Springs Mountain and Weaver’s Needle have long been synonymous with the tales of the Superstition Mountains. The three landmarks lie in close proximity to each other and each play their roles as part of the legacy of lost gold in the region.

Bluff Springs Mountain lies directly east of Weaver’s Needle and Black Top Mesa. Weaver’s Needle lies immediately south of Black Top Mesa. Black Top and Bluff Springs are separated by a deep narrow chasm known as Needle Canyon. Bluff Springs Mountain lies between Needle and La Barge Canyon. There are few tales about the Lost Dutchman Mine that don’t include one of these prominent landmarks. Storytellers shroud all three with mystery and intrigue, and each has been, at one time or the other, the center of national attention.

Black Top Mesa received considerable national attention in 1931 and 1932 when the skull and body of treasure hunter Adolph Ruth was found in its proximity. Ruth was a Washington, D.C. treasure hunter who disappeared in the Superstitions in the summer of 1931. His skull was discovered just north of Bluff Springs Mountain on December 10, 1931 and his skeletal remains were found on the slopes of Black Top Mesa in January of 1932.

Bluff Springs Mountain received considerable notoriety in Curt Gentry’s book “The Killer Mountains” and the mountain was the center of Glenn Magill’s search for the Lost Dutchman Mine in 1967. Packers used the northeast trail to get up on and off of Bluff Springs Mountain and cattlemen generally used the trail on the southeast end of the mountain to get to the top.

On top of Bluff Springs Mountain there is a natural holding area for animals at the north end of the valley and there is usually water available in Bluff Springs Mountain year-round. The cliffs surrounding the area provide protection from intruders and encircle a natural pasture that can easily be controlled by a few men.

Some storytellers will try to make you believe that this was an ideal setting for the early Mexican and Spanish miners who visited the region from time to time. According to these same storytellers, the Peraltas had their camp in this hidden valley. If you believe the stories, then you certainly would also believe this is Canon de Fresco. Somewhere on the southeast corner of the mountain is a cave located high above Bluff Springs. This cave contains a small bronze cross of some religious significance. Some storytellers claim that if you find the cross you will find one of the Peralta caches.

Directly across from the north end of Bluff Springs Mountain and to the west lies Black Top Mesa. The southeast slopes are dotted with dumps where discovery shafts have been excavated. This same characteristic is common on the west slope of Bluff Springs Mountain due east of Weaver’s Needle, and these barren holes are the result of dedicated men searching for gold or treasure.

Black Top is a fitting name for this pale yellow mountain capped with black basalt. Near the south end of Black Top, on the summit, are some ancient petroglyphs and contemporary etchings. The sun burst petroglyph here could be authentic Native American, but the oro etched into the rock is undoubtedly a contemporary marking.

Barry Storm, an early writer on the lost gold of Superstition Mountain, brought these markings to the world’s attention in his book, “On the Trail of the Lost Dutchman.” These markings have been romantically called “hieroglyphics.” Actually they have been described as Spanish “hieroglyphics,” but their authenticity is highly suspect. We all know hieroglyphics are confined to the Valley of the Nile in Africa and the various Egyptian dynasties. Still, these markings appear on a U.S. Geological Survey map, 71/2 minute typographic sheet titled “Goldfield,” and this map describes the markings as “Spanish Hieroglyphics.” 

The history, legend and romance of these three prominent Superstition Wilderness Area landmarks will continue to attract the curiosity of those who venture into these mountains, anxious to learn more about the region. The existence of the romantic nostalgia of this area cannot be denied, and these three landmarks have played a major role in the many lost gold stories about the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Tuesday, January 12, 1999