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.”