Monday, December 17, 2001

Monday, November 19, 2001

Superstition Mountain

November 19, 2001 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona’s Superstition Mountain has long been the source of stories and tales about lost gold. Stories of mystery, greed and sometimes death. The Dutchman’s Lost Mine, the Jesuit Treasure, Peralta Mines, and many other tales continue to attract men and women from far and near to this rugged mountain range east of Apache Junction. But, the real stories are not about gold, but about the people who search for the lost gold.

This giant monolith, Superstition Mountain, rises some 3,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor and dominates the eastern fringe of the Salt River Valley. The mountain is part of the Superstition Wilderness Area which contains some 159,780 acres or 242 sq. miles of the Tonto National Forest.

The region includes a wide range of fauna and flora indigenous to the Sonoran Desert. Fauna range from the giant Saguaro cactus to the stately Ponderosa pine. Mule deer, javelinas, pumas, bobcats, coyotes, a variety of rodents, birds, reptiles and amphibians live in this fragile desert ecosystem. The diversity of living things in this region often astonishes the visitor.

Old timers will tell you everything that survives in this hostile desert either sticks, stings, bites, or eats meat. This is an age-old description of a land where life is totally dependent on the availability of water. Water is more precious than gold when temperatures exceed 119 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months and can drop well below freezing during the winter months. Snow is not uncommon in the high desert mountains during the winter.

This mountain of towering spires and deep canyons was formed by volcanic upheaval some 17-29 million years ago during the Tertiary Period of geologic time. Superstition Mountain formed during a tectonic maelstrom that resulted in a massive caldera almost seven miles in diameter.

After the lava cooled, magma pushed the center of the caldera upward forming a mass of igneous rock. This mass was slowly eroded for millions of years by running water and wind forming the mountain we see today. Superstition Mountain in the past was one thousand feet higher than it is today. Uplift, subsidence, resurgence and erosion have all played a role in shaping this mountain. Yes, Superstition Mountain was born of fire. 

Many times I have been ask[ed] about the origin of the name Superstition Mountain. The best answer centers on the early farmers of the Salt River Valley who grew and cut hay for the U.S. Army at Fort McDowell in the late 1860s. These farmers were constantly hearing stories from the Pimas about how they feared the mountain. The farmers translated the Pima’s fear to mean superstitious, hence the name Superstition Mountain. Superstition Mountain appeared on U.S. War Department maps for the first time in 1870, but was referred to as Sierra Supersticiones on military sketched field maps in the late 1860s.

Some authors and writers would lead you to believe the Spanish named Superstition Mountain. Sim Ely, author of “The Lost Dutchman Mine,” stated in the opening chapter of his classic book the Spanish named Superstition Mountain Sierra de Espuma, meaning the mountain of foam. The origin of this name appears to be a forest service map drawn by L.P. Landon in 1918. Landon named a small butte southwest of Superstition Mountain Monte de Espuma.

It is true that the first European visitors to this area were the Spanish arriving here almost five hundred years ago. Fray Marcos de Niza, in 1959, observed Superstition Mountain from the Gila River, but did not record it in his journal. Superstition Mountain would have no history if it were not for those men and women who came here as adventurers, cattlemen, cowboys, prospectors, and miners.

Some claim Superstition Mountain is Arizona’s second most painted and photographed landmark, second only to the Grand Canyon. Artists from around the world have come to the desert floor beneath Superstition Mountain to paint its spectacular western façade since 1870. The mountain, with all its beauty, history, and mystic[ism], continues to attract adventurers, tourist[s], dreamers and artist[s] into the 21st century. Superstition Mountain is truly a treasure for the community of Apache Junction.

Monday, November 5, 2001

Cattle History of the Superstitions

November 5, 2001 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Prior to the building of roads for horse drawn carriages, the only means of travel between Superstition Mountain and the surrounding towns was by horseback or afoot. Since those long forgotten days, little has changed within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Today, one still must travel by foot or on horseback.

In 1939, the Department of Agriculture set aside approximately 124,040 acres of public land within the Tonto National Forest to insure a particular way of life and preserve the natural wonders of the Sonoran Desert. Today a flow of hikers and horseback riders continue to travel these ancient Indian and early cattle trails.

Since the time the first settlers arrived in this region it has been known as the most hostile and rugged cattle range in the American Southwest. The first cattlemen fought Indians, drought, heat, famine, disease, and winter storms to graze their cattle in the deep canyons and towering ridges of the Superstition Wilderness. A very rugged breed of cowman evolved from this hostile environment.

These cattle drovers first arrived here from New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Texas shortly after the discovery of rich mining properties in the central mountains of the Arizona Territory. Copper and silver were first discovered around Globe just prior to the American Civil War. The first cattle herds arrived around 1870-1871. The small valley flats between the towering ridges and cliffs of the Superstition Wilderness served as grazing range for the cattle brought in by drovers. The discovery of the Silver King Mine in 1875 opened the region to cattle raising because of the tremendous demand for beef on the hoof.

The sharp spines of desert flora, the summer heat, the long droughts, predators and the winter cold were nothing new to these early cowmen. Many of the cattlemen came here to reap the profits associated with providing beef to the early mining camps that dotted the landscape of central Arizona. The miners purchased tons of beef, making cattle raising a very lucrative industry in the area. The somewhat mild climate, good grazing and the market convinced many of the cattlemen to stay on permanently, and as the mining industry grew so did the cattle business. The cowboy was soon a common sight in the isolated canyons of the Superstition Mountain region.

Hardships were very common on the early cattle spreads. There were no permanent shelters or medical facilities. If a cowboy broke an arm or leg his only doctor was his partner or himself. If he picked up a stray bullet he prayed that he could make it back to headquarters before infection set in. Infection was the greatest enemy of man and beast in those days. Survival was for the strongest because the weak often perished.

The early cowboy’s diet consisted of dried beef, pinto beans, chili and hardtack, and his revolver or rifle was his constant companion. Either weapon was used against his many enemies. Survival could be dependent on a lariat, bandana, hat, slicker, or chaps.

A cowboy’s horse was his main means for working cattle. A solid and sound horse often meant the difference between life and death in the wilds of the Superstition Mountains, and the care of the cowboy’s horses was the most important chore of his daily routine.

Most of these cowboys had a string of eight or ten horses and rotated between them when working cattle. Providing care for these animals required a considerable amount of time and energy. There was always an animal to doctor, shoe, or train. A cowboy’s work was truly from ‘sun till sun and was never done.’ There were always fences to mend, water holes to repair, windmills to work on, stock to check, tact to care for and every other job associated with cattle raising. The advent of barbwire changed the early cowboy’s way of life and forever ended the open range.

[Part II – November 12, 2001]

A herd of mother-cows, calves and a couple of bulls would be cared for by one cowboy. Most of these herds numbered between a hundred and three hundred head.

Each spring and fall a rodeo (roundup) was conducted to gather the cattle from the range. The purpose of the roundup was to brand, castrate and doctor calves. Yearling steers were generally separated from the herd and driven to the nearest market. A typical roundup area consisted of temporary catch pens, but most often it was open ground work without the benefit of a corral. Open ground work consisted of roping a wild range calf, taking it away from its wild mother, and throwing it to the ground without the benefit of a corral or catch pen to keep the irate mother cow at bay.

The cattle drovers and cattle barons of the Superstition Mountain area have long since disappeared. The great herds that once grazed the region under the brand of the Clemens Cattle Company and others have vanished. At the peak of the Clemens operation, more than 12,000 head of cattle grazed the eastern fringe of the wilderness. These huge herds overgrazed and destroyed much of the range. Through the use of careful range management techniques much of the old range is returning to its original state. There are many controversies associated with grazing and non-grazing within the wilderness. Some range managers believe grazing helps to reduce wildfires while other[s] believe that without wildfires the soil becomes infertile.

Life was not easy on the open range, but it did have its rewards. Those old range riders may not have frequented churches very often, but they were close to their God and the work of his mighty hand. A cowboy’s sense of freedom and free spirit, while on the open range, was unequaled by any other job in the country.

Cowboys rode through life uninterrupted by the complexities of life. They didn’t lay awake at night listening to sirens, bells and the noise of traffic. Their nights were filled with silence, occasionally disturbed by the lonesome call of a coyote. The cowboy recognized the value of sitting astride his horse and traveling with the wind in his face.

The colorful and romantic life of the cowboy so often portrayed by western writers was more fantasy than reality. The silver screen heroes of the 1950s portrayed by Hollywood were the cowboys most Americans recognized. They were the so-called ‘images’ of the West. Hollywood has immortalized the free spirit of the American cowboy, therefore helping preserve the ideals of our freedom. These old-time cowboys and their horses were true icons of freedom and they definitely have a place in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

The large cattle ranches of the Superstition Wilderness have long since vanished from the Arizona scene, but it wasn’t conservation methods that destroyed them. The high cost of operation, limited grazing and strict controls on public grazing lands have reduced the productivity of these once large cattle empires. Feeder pens are slowly replacing the range beef of the past. Today only a few isolated ranches survive, symbolic of a time forgotten by many and unknown to most. These cattlemen and cowboys are certainly a part of the history of the Superstition Wilderness and our American heritage.

Monday, October 22, 2001

Monday, October 8, 2001

Monday, September 17, 2001

September 11, 2001

September 17, 2001 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Not since the American Civil War have so many Americans died in an act of war in our country. Tuesday our great nation came under attack by a faceless enemy that had no remorse or value for innocent human life. This horrific tragedy has struck at the hearts of all Americans. Our open and free society has been challenged to the roots by this heinous act of terrorism. American will remain strong and united. This act has fused the American people into a powerful nation ready to counter all enemies of our democracy.

We now need to stand behind our nation, its leaders, and support them. We need to stand up and be counted. America will survive this tragic loss of human life and go forth. We may have to sacrifice some of our liberties to protect us from terrorism, but be assured we will not sacrifice our way of life.

The building blocks of this great nation are its people, their blood and sweat, not mortar, concrete or steel. Yes, our nation will mourn this tragic loss. As you think about the past few days, pray, fly the American flag and stand up for America.


Monday, April 23, 2001

Senner's Gold

April 23, 2001 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The story of Senner’s Gold has excited the imagination of many people during the past few decades. Helen Corbin wrote an excellent book titled Senner’s Gold that has added a lot of information to this story. I first heard about Al Senner and his Superstition Mountain gold cache in the summer of 1955 while my father was [a] patient at Fort Whipple near Prescott, Arizona. As I recall, my mother and I lived on Washington Street in Prescott while my father was in the Fort Whipple Hospital undergoing treatment for silicosis. 

Our next door neighbor was an old lady named Katie. She may have been in her eighties that summer. She hired me to cut her grass and clean up her yard. One day we were talking and I mentioned my father. I told her we use[d] to go into the Superstition Mountains looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Her eyes brightened up and she told me there was no Dutchman mine, but she knew about a miner’s gold cache high on Superstition Mountain. This is when she told me the story of her life’s greatest love, Alfred Senner.

She had met Al in the spring of 1893, fell in love and almost immediately he had gone to work at the old Mammoth Mine at Goldfield. Basically she told me the story of how Al had “high graded” rich gold ore from the mine and hauled it to the top of Superstition Mountain to cache it. “High grading” means a miner is stealing gold from the mine that employs him.

Al had taken the gold in order to win Katie’s hand in marriage. She told how a deputy broke Al’s arm when he was eventually caught high grading gold from the Mammoth.

Somehow Al mounted his horse, she said, and rode south to Florence. Once in Florence Al found a physician who cared for his severely broken arm. He eventually found a grubstake to prospect for gold, but was actually returning to the site of his cache on Superstition Mountain. 

Once Al was able to travel again, he mounted up and, with a pack mule, headed for the old Three R Ranch. He talked to several old timers about how to get a horse on top of Superstition Mountain. An old cowboy who worked on the Triangle F Ranch told Al how to find his way to the top of Superstition Mountain. 

Senner eventually made it to the top of Superstition Mountain just under Summit 5024. He spent a cold March night on a ledge high above the Sonoran Desert. A large winter storm struck the mountain and may have led to Senner’s demise on Superstition Mountain. The question has always remained did Senner find his golden cache or is it still on the mountain. Katie said Al didn’t return and she heard nothing more about the gold. I am sure she didn’t tell me everything, but I wouldn’t have expected her [to].

Former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin and I made several trips to the top of Superstition Mountain in the 1980s. Many years ago a skeleton was found near the base of the cliff in the canyon next to Monument Canyon. It is believed this skeleton might have been Al Senner’s. The only thing Bob Corbin and I proved was we could ride to the top of Superstition Mountain horseback and that Al Senner could have done the same.

The Mammoth Mine was one of the most high-graded gold mines in the territory, even to this day an occasional gold cache is found in the area. Senner’s reason for high grading was very logical. A man’s loved for a woman can lead him down different paths in life. Carrying his cache to the top of the mountain was very clever. When he hid the cache he could observe the entire area that lay below him for people who might have been following him.

If he made two trips a month, carrying thirty pounds of gold high-grade per trip, he could have easily cached 1200 pounds of high-grade gold ore on top of Superstition Mountain in a two-year period. The story of Senner’s Gold continues to fascinate treasure hunters and storytellers around [the] country.

For more information about this interesting story read Senner’s Gold by Helen Corbin. The book is available at the Superstition Mountain Museum and Pomack Mining Supplies in Apache Junction, Arizona. For more information call the museum at (480) 983-4888.

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Raptor Down

February 6, 2001 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several days ago I was driving along the Apache Trail looking form a site from which to photograph Gonzales Needle. As I drove around a slight curve a large bird hobbled across the road in front of me and I recognized it as a hawk. I thought it was strange for such a large bird of prey to be walking across the highway, so I stopped the vehicle to investigate. I walked toward a clump of Chain Cholla and found the hawk hiding behind a good size Bursage bush. The bird had several cholla pods attached to its body.

Birds of prey have extremely sharp beaks and talons so touching the bird would not have been advisable. I returned to my vehicle to leave the bird to survive on its own, but as I started my engine something compelled me to have another look at the bird’s predicament. I turned off my engine and walked back to the bird’s hiding place. Looking at the bird from about ten feet away, I recognized it to be a Harris Hawk. I was convinced this bird could not survive without help.

I didn’t want to see the bird perish, and it appeared to be in serious pain from all the cholla pods hanging from its body. The Harris Hawk is an endangered species protected by law so I called the Arizona Game and Fish Department to seek some advice.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department gave me the number of Liberty Wildlife’s volunteer Carl Price. I called Mr. Price and he arrived within the hour, anxious to help.

Price stepped out of his pickup and looked the situation over. He returned to his pickup for a net, gloves and a transport container. He knew exactly how to handle the Harris Hawk without exciting the bird too much and further injuring it. The capture required about two minutes. I assisted Carl by carefully removing the cholla pods from the hawk while it perched on Carl’s arm. The hawk was then safely placed into a transport container. I filled out some paperwork for Carl about location, etc, and the hawk was transported to a safe place for a good examination, rehabilitation and future release.

Carl said the bird was young and probably chasing a rodent or something on the ground and ran into a Cholla cactus. He said the bird didn’t appear to have any broken bones but would require a thorough examination by a veterinarian. He felt the bird was strong and would return to the wild.

After it was all over I felt very good and pleased about myself for waiting and helping. Even though I had been in a hurry that day, slowing down and spending some time saving the life of a wild animal which so represented the Sonoran Desert had given me a really great feeling. It gave me a few moments to reflect on just how important our desert is to us and how we should appreciate and protect it for future generations to enjoy. Once the great birds of prey, the coyotes, javelinas, jackrabbits, badgers, deer, tortoises and other animals are all gone, we can’t bring them back from extinction.

As a community we are fortunate to have Liberty Wildlife volunteers such as Carl Price working to protect and save our desert animals. It is apparent that many animals would perish without Carl Price and other wildlife volunteers. Most animals are not as lucky as the Harris hawk I saw, and a couple of hours out of my life gave this beautiful and rare young raptor another opportunity to soar above the Sonoran Desert and be a part of our desert’s ecosystem.

If you see an injured animal, do not attempt to capture or help it, please call professionals who know what they are doing. The Liberty Wildlife volunteers are trained to handle wildlife and are approved by the Arizona Game and Fish Department; (602) 942-3000 and Liberty Wildlife Hotline; (480) 998-5550.

Tuesday, January 16, 2001