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.