Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Tuesday, October 10, 2000

The Old Cow Tank at Bluff Springs

October 10, 2000 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several months ago I was riding in the mountains with a friend of mine when we decided to ride over to Bluff Springs, which is located northwest of Miner’s Needle Summit. As we rode along the trail I told him about the old concrete water tank at Bluff Springs and explained how I had worked on the old concrete tank many times during the 1950s during my employment with the Barkley Cattle Company. I told him the concrete tank’s source of water was a small seep at the base of the cliff on Bluff Springs Mountain.

Many times I recall climbing through the brush to reach the seep and then cleaning it out so water could flow down the pipe to the concrete tank. This was a weekly ritual almost during the dry hot summer months, and it was a long hot ride from the old U Ranch to Bluff Springs Mountain.

The Bluff Springs concrete tank was about seven miles from the Quarter Circle U Ranch near Back’s Draw. Can you imagine the determination and energy necessary to build such a concrete tank so far from an improved road? Pioneer cattlemen would do just about anything to get water to their stock.

The concrete tank at Bluff Springs was about six feet by three feet by three feet high. The walls were about four inches thick. I recall the first time I saw the tank in 1948. My dad and I had hiked into Bluff Springs from the Linesbra cabin at the mouth of Peralta or Willow Canyon. The name varied depending on who you ask. As we walked by the old corral and headed up the draw toward the old metal line shack you could see the green sumac tree near the concrete tank. As we neared the tank the cool water shimmering in the hot afternoon sun was a refreshing sight. What a welcomed relief this old concrete tank was after hiking in the heat of the desert.

As my friend and I approached, I was amazed to find the old tank had completely vanished. All that was left of [the] tank was the concrete slab it once sat on. I was devastated as to why the concrete tank was gone. I couldn’t believe somebody had destroyed it.

At first I thought it was the work of vandals, then I recalled the Wilderness Management Plan. The management plan for the Superstition Wilderness Area and other wilderness areas calls for the removal of all man-made structures from within a wilderness area constructed during the last one hundred years. I had photographed this old concrete tank over the years on many different occasions surrounded by cattle or hikers getting water.

[Part II – October 17, 2000]

There was that part of my mind that said the old concrete tank had to go to comply with wilderness policy. Then I thought about the historical struggle, hardships and energy these old time cattlemen put into the construction of these concrete tanks. I even thought of my own trials and tribulations at this site, so far removed from accessible roads. I imagined the time and labor required in packing the cement and forms to build this particular tank. Can you imagine an old cowboy screening sand from the small wash to make concrete? I recalled how much work was required to build these tanks, let alone maintain them so there was a sufficient supply of water.

Originally the wilderness management plan called for the removal of all manmade objects or structures from the wilderness area. This plan protected early Native American sites and some old mining sites. There are many people who want to see the historical sites of the mining and cattle industry completely eradicated from these public lands that have become wilderness. We all understand the reason[s] old mine shafts are filled in, why barbed wire fences are removed and why roads are closed. I find it difficult to understand why good sources of water are removed. I am convinced the forest district has a sufficient cause and reason for removing such memorabilia from public lands.

The miners, prospectors, cattlemen and cowboys are now gone from the Superstition Wilderness Area. It is now being prepared to serve as a recreation area for [the] Phoenix metropolitan region. The hikers and contemporary visitors will be able to name their own trails and their own landmarks. I am told some of the old landmarks will remain to help guide rescue units into [the] region in case of emergencies. Eventually the wilderness will become a managed park (wilderness) with the expected ten million people that will be living in the Valley of the Sun by 2050. The Superstition Wilderness Area will certainly be a crowded wilderness in the future.

I was visiting with a land manager in Montana this past summer who expressed some very interesting observations about present land management throughout the western United States. The forests have suffered some of the worst fires in historical times when cattle have been removed. Cattle browse much of the underbrush and reduce the tinder that fuels these devastating fires. The tinder throughout the Superstition Wilderness Area is extremely dry and abundant. It wouldn’t take much to devastate this area with the worst fire in the history of the region.

The first time I visited the Bluff Springs area there was a corral, line shack and a concrete watering tank for stock, wildlife and humans. A tired and thirsty hiker or cowboy could turn the tap at the old tank and draw a canteen of water.

Today, the old Bluff Springs tank is merely crumbled pieces of concrete spread on the slopes of Bluff Springs Mountain about a hundred feet from the old concrete pad where the tank once sat. This was the final grave for some of Arizona’s early cattle history. Right or wrong, a little more of Arizona history has been lost forever.

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Lost Gold Found?

May 9, 2000 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

One of the most perplexing lost gold stories associated with Superstition Mountain has to be that of Charles Williams, a 41-year-old disabled veteran who walked out of the Superstition Mountains on January 8, 1935 with twelve large [shiny] gold nuggets. The weight of the nuggets was eighteen ounces.

Williams claimed he had been lost for three and a half days in the deep canyons and towering spires of the Superstition range. When authorities questioned Williams about his adventure he told the following story.

Williams said he found a cave deep in the Superstition range that had a pile of gold nuggets on the floor. During the frenzy of an anxious moment, Williams said he dropped to his knees to examine the gold nuggets he had found. He then suddenly jumped to his feet in excitement and struck his head on the roof of the cave. The blow was quite severe he said, hard enough to totally disorient him.

After his experience in the cave, Williams wandered for more than three days trying to find his way out of the Superstition range. He finally staggered into a prospecting camp nine miles from Apache Junction at 2:00 a.m. that January morning.

Williams was weak from apparent hunger and almost incoherent when brought to the Sheriff’s Office by Ed Layton, J.A. Wosham and Jim Potter. Because of the large quantity of gold Williams had, he immediately turned it over to the authorities. 

Old timers listened as Williams told his story about a cave with at least twenty pounds of gold nuggets piled on the floor. Williams was positive he could return to the cave and gather more gold, however he wanted to be sure he had a legal claim.

The authorities were very skeptical of his story and Sheriff Walter Laveen started an immediate investigation of Williams’ claim. Williams returned to the mountain on January 9, 1935, with several of his war veteran friends and tried to relocate the cave he had found. Williams was not successful in his search.

During this period of time, it was illegal for American citizens to possess more than five ounces of gold, and on April 30, 1935, the United States government claimed Williams’ gold under the federal gold laws and on November 11, 1935, the Assistant Federal District Attorney seized all the gold Williams had in his possession. The attorney said Williams’ gold nuggets contained primarily dental gold and was illegal to possess at the time without a government permit.

Charles Williams claimed to the end that he had found the gold nuggets in a cave. When the facts of the case were explored, it certainly appeared Williams knew nothing about the dental amalgam and that he never tried to do anything illegal. He reported finding the gold to the proper authorities as soon as he came out of the mountain range. During the entire eleven months of hearings and testimony he never changed his story.

If Charles Williams’ story is true, it would be reasonable to believe there are still nineteen pounds of dental gold in a cave somewhere in the Superstition range.

However, there are those who theorize that Charles Williams accidentally stumbled onto an illegal cache of dental gold belonging to someone else who was perpetrating a fraud or hoax. If this is true, one would have to believe the original perpetrators returned to the cave and recovered the remains of the original cache minus what Williams found.

After being cleared of any wrongdoing, Charles Williams returned and searched for his cave. But, he was unsuccessful and, eventually, like so many others, he faded into oblivion.

Tuesday, April 11, 2000

From Gold to Conservation

April 11, 2000 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several years ago I was riding in the Horse Camp Ridge area when I came upon an interesting trail. The trail had been carved out of solid stone by animals carrying heavy loads and there were places [where] the hooves of the beast[s] of burden had worn deep into the volcanic tufa. The prospect that this trail may have been made by a pack train of mules carrying Mexican gold back to Mexico certainly excited my imagination. The thought was mind provoking even though it probably wasn’t true.

Then reality set in and the situation appeared a little different. If mules had made this trail then there should be a large camp back in one of these canyons around Music or Hermann Mountain.

I followed the trail westward toward Music Mountain. I recalled a man named Michael Bilfry in the 1980s who claimed he had discovered gold in the area, but was never able to produce enough evidence to convince the forest rangers to allow him to develop a mine. I soon found out it wasn’t Bilfry who made this trail.

The trail predated any activity in these mountains during the past century. It was easy to convince myself of this when I looked at what appeared to be an ancient Spanish drag stone (a stone used to crush gold ore) in the bottom of a deep draw.

At first I thought I had found a drag stone from the Peralta Mines that Barry Storm wrote about in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. When I examined the drag stone carefully I concluded it was used for something else. It appeared to have served as a weight to keep the fence from washing away. Cattlemen often used large rocks tied to the bottom of a fence to keep it from washing away during a flash flood. It soon dawned on me that a cowboy had found the stone somewhere else and dragged it to the site of the fence. The drag stone was quite heavy and probably wasn’t dragged very far by any cowboy on horseback. It was also possible a cowboy used some hand steel to drill a hole in the rock so he could anchor it to the fence with an eyebolt.

Now the mystery really deepened for me. It was either Sims Ely or Jim Bark who had talked about such a drag stone on Peter’s Mesa. Walt Gassler had mentioned one also. I wanted to believe this was a drag stone used as part of an old Spanish arrastra to crush gold ore and I searched the entire area hoping to discover the drag stone’s origin. 

I did not find the mill trace where the stone may have come from. This further eliminated the idea there was a mine in the immediate area. The entire area appeared non-conducive to gold bearing rock or ore.

I rode on eastward until I reached Tortilla Creek, but the area around the old Miller Mine produced no better clues. As I searched the area closer I wondered if an old cowboy had hauled the stone up from the Salt River. I thought that was highly unlikely. The actual stone appeared to be some type of very hard gray basalt common to the immediate area. The Barkleys had an old drag stone around their ranch for many years.

Nancy and Kenneth McCullough gave a drag stone to the Superstition Mountain Historical Society several years ago. I don’t believe this stone and the one used on the fence line were one in the same.

[Part II – April 18, 2000]

The mystery of this old drag stone will continue to fascinate people and cause them to speculate about things that occurred in these mountains more than a century ago. 

I have found many clues that are indicative of mining in the wilderness, but very few clues pointing to smelting and refining operations. This would lead one to believe if there were any rich mines in the area the ore was concentrated then transported to another location to be processed. This mountain mystery will be passed on to others and they can try to resolve it. This is the nature of things when it comes to the Superstition Mountains and stories of lost mines.

During the past fifty years, I have never found anything within the Superstition Wilderness Area that would convince me a mine of substantial worth ever existed here. I will admit there are many examples of prospects and some very extensive prospects within the wilderness. But, the truth is none of these prospects turned a profit or produced profitable ore.

My father spent three decades wandering the Superstition Wilderness and, while Dad enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the region, he was never convinced anything of monetary value existed in the region. His friend Bill Cage told him many wonderful stories about the old days involving those who believed the Superstition[s] were filled with mineral wealth.

There have been plenty of scams perpetrated by unscrupulous promoters over the years that have separated many unfortunate people from their money. You might say this is “The Land of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.”

I have found the real treasure of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The treasure falls into three categories: 1) the beauty of the area, 2) the history of the area, and 3) the enormous archaeological resources that lie hidden within the wilderness.

We all might remember the wilderness was set aside to preserve the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert for future generations of Americans to enjoy. This goal has led to the preservation of many other valuable resources associated with this 159,780 acre wilderness.

We all owe a tremendous debt to men like Pinchot, Muier, and Leopold for being activists about the conservation of public lands in the 1920s and 1930s. Everyone may not be in agreement, but someday our nation’s greatest resources will be the public lands we have preserved in their natural state. The Superstition Wilderness may not have survived if it had not been for the legacy of the “old Dutchman” and his lost gold mine. All this legend-focused efforts toward preserving the Superstition Mountain area by both private and governmental groups.

Today, when I ride through Garden Valley and down into Second Water Canyon and on to La Barge Canyon, I’m thankful we call it the Superstition Wilderness Area and it remains today much like it did two or three hundred years ago, undisturbed by rooftops and commercial development.

There is no price tag on solitude, beauty, wildlife and nature.

Tuesday, February 29, 2000

A Miner With a Claim

February 29, 2000 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Some years ago my friends Ron and Jayne Feldman of the O.K. Corral Stables in Apache Junction packed an old prospector into the Superstition Wilderness to visit his claims. I had introduced the man to Ron and Jayne. They were sympathetic towards his need to inspect his claims for the final time, and Ron decided to assist him with this endeavor.

The old prospector, Carroll Walsh, wanted to visit his claims and take some samples required by the government to maintain validation. Walsh was not an ordinary man and not a man it was easy to say “no” to. His determination to get to his claims for the last time was remarkable. You might say, when it came to prospecting, old Carroll Walsh was made of the “right stuff.”

He was in his eighties and used a walker to get around. But, he was in better physical condition [than] his eighty years indicated, and it’s important to note he used his walker more for balance than anything else.

Bob Corbin and I met Carroll Walsh in Tortilla Canyon a couple years before his trip with the Feldmans. Corbin and I were riding up the canyon on horseback when we spotted this old man with a walker and a heavy pack (fifty pounds or so) working his way over the boulders of Tortilla Creek near the mouth of Peter’s Canyon. As we rode up on Walsh he couldn’t hear our horse’s shoes striking the rocks behind him. We had to ride around in front of him before he realized we were near him.

Carroll had to read our lips to fully understand what we were saying. We talked for a while about the mountains and of course the gold mine. Once Carroll knew who we were he told us he was trying to find an easier way up to his claims on Geronimo Head. Corbin and I were not sure this was the most desirable route for him, but soon realized we couldn’t discourage him. The last time Corbin and I saw Carroll Walsh that day he was working his way up Peter’s Canyon far beyond the point where a horse could go.

One day Carroll Walsh showed up at Feldman’s O.K. Corral and asked about using horses to get to his mining claim near La Barge Canyon. Feldman, being a sympathetic friend of old time Dutch hunters, decided to help Walsh make a trip to his claims and help him take samples to meet the validity test for mining claims in a wilderness area.

Ron and Jayne, knowing what they know today, would probably not have taken Walsh into La Barge Canyon that day. Along the eastern edge of La Barge, below the lower box, the cliffs are over 1,000 feet in height. At that point you are looking up the western façade of Geronimo Head. It was here that Walsh wanted to start his climb.

The Feldmans took a look at the cliff that Walsh planned to climb and said to themselves, “There is no way this old man was going to make it to the top of this cliff.”

At the base of the cliff Walsh threw down his walker and began his climb on all fours up a narrow crack in the cliff’s face. Ron and Jayne followed behind as Walsh expressed a concern about Jaune making the rough trip to the top. He felt she should remain with the horses.

“Who was this old man trying to fool,” Jayne thought. She knew she was in much better shape than him. They climbed for about thirty-five minutes before arriving at several ropes dangling over an escarpment. Ron grabbed one of the ropes and tugged on it… the rope broke and fell on him. Walsh assured the Feldmans that one of the remaining ropes would be strong enough to hold their weight.

Ron thought to himself, “This is suicide.”

Not wanting the Feldmans to know where his claim was, Carroll Walsh told them to wait at the bottom of the ledge until he climbed the rope and returned with his samples. The old man finally found a rope strong enough to bear his weight and climbed the cliff face and disappeared over a ledge.

It wasn’t long before he hollered down to them to “Look out below for falling rocks.” This was the understatement of the day. All of a sudden a landslide started with hundreds of small and large rocks tumbling down the face of the cliff. The Feldmans literally dove under a ledge to keep from being hit by rocks dislodged accidentally by Walsh.

Two hours passed and evening was rapidly approaching. The Feldmans had planned a one-day excursion, but it was rapidly becoming an overnight trip without the proper gear.

[Part II – February 29, 2000]

Finally, just at sundown, the Feldmans saw small pieces of rock tumbling down the cliff face from above. It wasn’t long before they heard Walsh warn them to “Look out below.”

More rocks and debris came crashing down as Walsh finally made his way down. The Feldmans were amazed that Walsh survived his trip up to his mining claims. 

It was turning dark and Carroll Walsh had no plans to ride his mount back to First Water because there were a couple of bad places on the trail. Ron Feldman insisted on him riding the horse, but Walsh was just as adamant about not riding the horse. Finally, Ron told Walsh to go ahead and walk.

The Feldmans rode off with Walsh’s horse in tow hoping to convince the old man that he couldn’t keep up walking. Jayne kept an eye on their back trail looking for Walsh in the dark. Finally they heard him holler, “Hold up.”

The Feldmans rode back to check on Walsh but couldn’t find him in the dark. They didn’t have flashlights to search with, but, feeling around in the dark, Ron found Walsh turtled up in a Jojoba bush. This time Ron insisted Walsh get on the horse and ride out. Walsh reluctantly crawled into the saddle and rode out to First Water with the Feldmans.

To this day Ron and Jayne talk about their adventure with old Carroll Walsh with a slight twinkle in their eye[s]. They both wanted to help the old man, but the location of his claims were beyond comprehension. And, when Ron and Jayne Feldman remark about how “rough the country is,” you can bet one thing… you should not be there. Walsh had picked one of the most rugged areas in the Superstition Wilderness to stake his claims.

Those claims were located almost 1,000 feet directly above the bottom of La Barge Canyon, immediately west of the north end of Geronimo Head. The climb up the west façade of Geronimo Head certainly could be hazardous to one’s health.

Ron and Jayne still enjoy reminiscing about the time they helped Carroll Walsh. This old prospector was trying to maintain the validity of his claims under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The twenty-year mining moratorium had expired on January 1, 1984, and after that date miners and prospectors could not file any new mining claims in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Incidents like these have inspired me to write about these old timers who live a wanderlust way of life searching for fabled mines in the mountains of Arizona. I must agree, many of them found nothing, but they did find a way of life that was far more suitable to their liking than punching a time-clock each day and being constantly supervised. Maybe the French philosopher Rousseau had them in mind when he penned his metaphor, “They march to the beat of a different drummer.”