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.