Monday, June 17, 2002

The Final Chapter in the Adolph Ruth Tragedy, Parts 1 and 2

June 17, 2002 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The rocky eastern slope of Black Top Mesa, a rugged black topped mountain within the Superstition Wilderness Area, holds the secret as to what happen[ed] to Adolph Ruth in the late spring of 1931. His skeletal remains were found on its slope on January 8, 1932, ending the mystery of Ruth’s disappearance.

The search party consisted of five men led by Jeff Adams and included William A. Barkley, Hosea Cline, Ace Gardner and Gabe Roblas. Ruth’s skull had been found on December 10, 1931, near the Three Red Hills. Ruth disappeared in the famous Superstition Mountains six months earlier while on a prospecting archaeological expedition sponsored by the Arizona Republic.

Ruth’s skeletal remains were found about three-quarters of a mile from the site where his skull was discovered almost a month earlier. The search party came up on the skeleton while making a systematic search of the canyons and ridges. The searchers had passed within 200 yards of the site a dozen times in previous searches but failed to see the remains.

The bones of the missing prospector had been scattered over an area of 50 to 100 square yards. Ruth’s clothing had been shredded and spread over the area by wild animals, but his personal belongings were intact.

The search posse found his penknife, a jackknife, a top of a thermos bottle, a tin matchbox containing six matches and Ruth’s gold case watch. All these items were found within a double fold of his pants pocket. A compass and hand-held lens for inspection of ore samples were found in his buttoned shirt pocket.

Ruth’s suspenders, gun, flashlight, pick axe, checkbook, thermos bottle and canvas leggings lay nearby. The leggings were wrapped as if he had been wearing them prior to taking them off. His revolver, a .44 caliber Smith & Wesson Russian, had not been fired and was fully loaded. His empty thermos bottle provided grim testimony as to what might have happened at the site in June 1931.

The skeleton was five miles as the crow flies from Ruth’s camp at Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon. Adams proclaimed that, because of the rugged terrain, Ruth would have had to walk at least eight miles to reach his camp from the spot his remains were found. He wasn’t prepared for the distance, the heat or the exertion.

Law enforcement officials abandoned all murder theories in connection with Ruth’s disappearance after they were able to examine his remains. It was apparent to these veteran officers that Ruth had succumbed to the elements. They declared Ruth died from thirst, exhaustion and starvation. It was his struggle through the hot desert and his quest for a distant peak that had cost him his life. Ruth believed locating Weaver’s Needle would lead him to the fabulously rich Lost Dutchman Mine.

The law enforcement officers found several papers scattered around the site of Ruth’s remains, but they did not find an old Spanish map which Ruth was believed to be carrying. It was this alleged map that so many believe he was murdered for.

[Part II – June 24]

Reviewing some of the facts about the disappearance of Adolph Ruth might help clarify the story. Ruth, a Washington, D.C. treasure hunter, arrived at the Barkley’s Quarter Circle U Ranch on May 13, 1931. William A. Barkley discouraged Ruth from making a trip into the mountains because of the extreme heat and his physical condition. Almost a month later, Jack Keenan and Leroy Purnell packed Ruth into West Boulder Canyon and set up camp for him at Willow Springs. This was on June 13, 1931.

Ruth wrote a letter to his wife Clara and dated it June 14, 1931. When Barkley found out Keenan and Purnell had packed Ruth into West Boulder Canyon, he immediately rode in to check on Ruth. He didn’t find Ruth in camp or any sign of him. He then immediately reported Ruth missing on June 20, 1931.

The search for Ruth began the next day. Deputy Jeff Adams and Barkley found traces of Ruth at East Boulder and West Boulder Canyon on June 17, 1931. Both men were convinced that Ruth had walked down West Boulder Canyon to its confluence with East Boulder Canyon and then on to Needle Canyon. He then turned up Needle Canyon hiking toward Weaver’s Needle to the south. Considering the conditions, it is amazing that he made it as far as he did before being overcome by heat and exertion. Ruth sat down on the ground in what little shade he could find along a small tributary of Needle Canyon on the slope of Black Top Mesa. Here he died of exhaustion, heat stroke or maybe a heart attack.

There was one unofficial reported sighting of Ruth by a prospector on June 16, 1931. The man who saw Ruth reported him in fair condition. This was about 9:30 a.m. in the morning near West Boulder Canyon west of Brush Corral. It appears that Ruth died sometime between June 15 and June 17th.

Ruth’s skull was found on December 10, 1931, and Dr. Ales Hrdlicka examined it on December 19, 1931. Dr. Hrdlicka said on that day that he could not be positive the skull had bullet holes in it.

Irwin Ruth, Adolph Ruth’s son, was convinced his father had been murdered in the mountains. Hrdlicka listened to Irwin Ruth talk about possible foul play. Hrdlicka then changed his original statement and said murder was possible, but he never signed the original statement drawn up by Olive S. Taylor stating the possibility of foul play.

Dr. Hrdlicka was a physical anthropologist and not a forensic pathologist. He very much lacked the professional training to determine if the holes in Ruth’s skull were bullet holes.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Department had the skeletal remains examined by two doctors in Phoenix. Both doctors reported there were no signs of foul play. They did not examine the skull, but the doctors were convinced Ruth died from the extreme conditions he tried to endure in the desert.

There is one common denominator in this story that is lacking when told by others. This was an old man, in poor condition, and convinced he could find a lost gold mine under extreme summer conditions in the Sonoran Desert. He perished because of his lack of common sense and his ignorance of the prevailing conditions.

For more information about this case read Dr. James R. Kearney’s “A Death in the Superstitions,” The Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 33, No. 2, Summer 1992, p.117, Arizona Historical Society, 949 East Second Street, Tucson, Arizona, 85719.

Monday, June 3, 2002

Lost Gold: A Lesson, Parts 1 and 2

June 3, 2002 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The search for lost gold has intrigued and fascinated many people. We often think of lost gold mines and treasures in terms of maps and clues that were left behind. A serious lost mine hunter will begin his or her search with a thorough investigation of available records associated with the story. These documents will include records from vital statistics, census, probate, taxes and real estate ownership.

If all of these records are exhausted and there is still no mention of the person involved with the lost mine or treasure, it is often presumed that the story is nothing but an unsubstantiated tale. It is apparent, when no proof exists of the main character’s existence, the story is nothing but a legend based on hearsay and lacking in documentation.

It amazes historians and [academics] how treasure hunters and lost gold mine searchers base so much of what they believe on weak subjective stories based on faith or belief that another person’s story is totally true. Often intelligent wealthy men or women fall prey to such rhetoric.

Robert Simpson Jacob was a man who could sell any idea if given the proper opportunity. Jacob was known as the man with the golden tongue (not silver). Long before Robert Jacob arrived on the scene of the infamous Dutchman’s Lost Mine there were men like Dr. Robert Aiton, Dr. Rolf Alexander, and others. Jacob was unique because of his success in accumulating a fortune in just eight years of fundraising (as he called it). 

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office estimated Jacob accumulated more than thirty million dollars during a five-year period, however they could only account for nine million dollars. 

Robert Simpson Jacob died in the summer of 1993, leaving no information or confession as to what happened to the remaining funds. The reason for this paragraph was to explain the ability of some to raise money honestly or dishonestly. The old clich√© “a mine promoter is a liar with a hole in the ground” is probably the truth about many of these people.

There are men who come to these mountains to hunt for gold, lost mines and treasure who are reputable and honest individuals. Richard Peck, Alva Reser, Robert Corbin, Walter Gassler, Ron Feldman, and many more searched based on integrity and honesty. Even the old timers like Al Morrow, Edwin Buckwitz, Jay Clapp and others had dreams of helping others if they ever struck it rich. This is the nature of searching for lost gold and treasure. The Superstition Wilderness Area has bee a fertile ground for this wonderful fantasy of lost gold.

[Part II – June 10]

Several years ago a man named Joe came to me with a story about a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. He was careful not to mention the Lost Dutchman Mine. He claimed he needed my assistance in the search for a mine his grandfather had told him about. We sat down and talked on my front porch. He told me a story about a narrow deep canyon on the eastern side of the Superstition Wilderness near Haunted Canyon. He kept mentioning a place called Tonto Canyon. This was a landmark I had never heard of within the boundaries of the wilderness.

I told him I had heard of Tonto Basin and Tonto Creek, but not Tonto Canyon. He then told me this was the Apache name for the canyon. Tonto means “fool” in Apache. Instantly the word “fool” brought back a very important memory from the past. I recalled a rich placer deposit story in a place called Fool’s Canyon somewhere in the Haunted Canyon area. It certainly surprised me this gentleman was talking about Fool’s Canyon.

Bill Cage, my father’s partner and friend, had told him about Fool’s Canyon more than seventy years ago. Could this man be the grandson of Bill Cage’s partner? I ask[ed] him if he had ever heard of Bill Cage. He didn’t recall the name. I then ask[ed] him about his grandfather. He told me his grandfather worked at the Miami Inspiration Mine around 1910.

Bill Cage had worked at the Miami Inspiration. I recalled Bill Cage telling my dad we called the area Fool’s Canyon. Cage and his partner said the region was so rough they figured they were fools for being in there looking for gold. It appeared I had found my father’s partner’s partner by mere accident. When Joe left I was convinced of this relationship. We have continued to work together all these years, hoping someday, we would find Fool’s Canyon. Joe passed away in 1997, ending our partnership.

Yes, I believed in Joe’s story and I still do. The gold was certainly not at the end of the rainbow, but we had a life of dreams and a great friendship. Joe never robbed me of anything but a little time; time I was willing to share. My father always said, “it is not so much the finding as it was in the searching.” It is that adventure that keeps me going, like my father and Bill Cage. Now, as I walk into the twilight years of my life I know now what my father was talking about.