Monday, December 20, 2004

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Tortilla Flat Museum

December 13, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The weekend of November 26, 27, and 28, 2004 the citizens at Tortilla Flat, a small settlement 18 miles northeast of Apache Junction (State Route 88), celebrated their one hundredth anniversary. A large white banner across the restaurant’s façade announced the special occasion.

The parking lot on both sides of the Apache Trail was filled to capacity. Visitors filled the boardwalk along the south side of the road. Good ol’ Country & Western music filled the air from the outdoor pavilion. Near the eastern end of the boardwalk was a small building with a brightly yellow-lettered sign that read “Museum.”

Another sign announced that the museum’s small building represented the schoolhouse that once stood in Tortilla Flat across the creek. Students attended this school under the guidance and supervision of Ms. Spencer Dingle in 1934.

The Tortilla Flat Museum represented a very interesting part of the Superstition Mountain-Apache Trail history. 

Reclamation engineer Louis C. Hill first recognized the need for a service road between Mesa and the Roosevelt Dam site in 1903. The businessmen of Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix also recognized the importance of such a road for economic development in the Salt River Valley. Funding was obtained and construction began in November of 1903. Tortilla Flat construction camp was established in 1904.

The road was completed in September of 1905 at a cost of $551,000. More than one million pounds of freight was hauled over the government road during the first month of operation. Every ten to twelve miles along the government haul road a change station was established. Tortilla Flat was soon to become a change station after construction on the haul road was completed.

A change station was used to swap teams of mules pulling heavy loads to the Roosevelt Dam site. Change stations remained in operation until the gasoline engine (horseless carriage) replaced the mule and horse teams.

Concord stages were used on the Apache Trail up until 1910. The Apache Trail served during the transition between horse and mule teams and the horseless carriage. 

Tortilla Flat remained a change station throughout the period when mule teams were used to pull loads along the Mesa-Roosevelt Haul Road. Sometime after 1915 Tortilla Flat reverted to private ownership. The earliest private operators of Tortilla Flat provided services for the early travelers of the Apache Trail. The Southern Pacific Railroad publicized and promoted the Apache Trail nationally. Actually it was a ticket agent named E.E. Watson who worked for the Southern Pacific that named the Apache Trail in 1915. The Southern Pacific had a franchise on the Apache Trail for several years and therefore spent thousands of dollars in advertisement and promotion of the Apache Trail.

The Tortilla Flat Museum reminds us of the many owners of Tortilla Flat who shared their lives with the travelers of the Apache Trail. During this span of one hundred years many interesting historical things occurred along the Apache Trail. 

Theodore Roosevelt traveled the Apache Trail in 1911 to dedicate Roosevelt Dam. Tom Mix made movies along the Apache Trail in the 1920s. Wilbur Wright flew an airplane along the Apache Trail from Roosevelt Lake to Phoenix in 1916*. Glenn Ford starred in a major motion picture titled “Lust for Gold.” Barry Storm published “Thunder God’s Gold” from Tortilla Flat, Arizona. These are just a few things that happened along the Apache Trail during the past one hundred years.

Lois Potter-Sanders has researched much of the history of Tortilla Flat. She traced down all of te owners and was able to obtain photographs and information about their tenure at Tortilla Flat. Lois assembled many tidbits of history about Tortilla Flat and the people who lived there. She had the schoolhouse of 1934 reassembled and it now stands as the museum. The museum is small, but complete.

In the middle of the room is a school desk that serves as a platform for guest registration. The museum has been open only a short while, but hundreds of people have visited and enjoyed it. Lois opened a fantastic window into the local history of Tortilla Flat. She readily admits that without Tortilla Flat owner Alvin Ross’ support and backing, this museum would still be on the drawing boards. The Tortilla Flat Museum serves as a wonderful time capsule for the history of Tortilla Flat and the past one hundred years.

The drive from Apache Junction toward Tortilla Flat on the Apache Trail is both beautiful and spectacular. The scenery is awe-inspiring in the words of President Theodore Roosevelt who wrote of the Apache Trail in March of 1911.

The trip to Tortilla Flat will take you by many viewpoints, including Canyon Lake and many other points of interest. 

Enjoy a drive to Tortilla Flat and enjoy one of the world’s smallest, but most complete museums.

* Library Note: Wilbur Wright died in 1912, so this Wilbur Wright is a different individual, as noted by Tom Kollenborn in his article here.

Monday, November 29, 2004

A Winter Trail

November 29, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Thirty years ago I was asked to join a group of men on a pack trip to the Reavis Ranch and Circlestone. The group included Allan Blackman, Gary Hunington, Nyle Leatham, William F. Wright, Jay Drazinski, and Bud Lane, a local outfitter, who served as the guide and packer. 

The purpose of the expedition was a leisurely ride through the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area. I’m sure the trip was motivated by the 1974 Copper Cavalcade special titled Trails of the Superstitions. This Copper Cavalcade special was one of the first color documentaries filmed in the Superstition Wilderness Area. 

The film focused on all aspects of recreational use within the Superstition Wilderness Area. The men I was riding with wanted to see the region firsthand for themselves. Nyle Leatham was assigned by the Arizona Republic to document and photograph the trip.

We departed the I.V. Ranch at 7 a.m. on the morning of December 5, 1975. Floyd Stone, the operator and owner of the ranch, bid us a friendly farewell and advised that we would have a couple of really cold nights ahead.

The morning air was cold and crisp as we passed by the Castle Dome corrals. We rode through mud and snow as we followed the trail along the eastern slope of Castle Dome Mountain. We finally reached Windy Gap after struggling with the mud and snow for an hour or so.

The “Gap,” according to old timers, was a place where the wind continuously blows. As we rode from Windy Gap to Plow Saddle we could see the extreme ruggedness of the Superstition Wilderness to the west of us. Nyle Leatham composed his photos with professional expertise as we traveled along the trail. After about three hours we arrived in the Reavis Valley. 

The ground was still covered with about eight inches of snow from a previous winter storm. We rode up the Reavis Valley through thick stands of dark shivering Ponderosa pine and groves of giant Sycamores that looked like skeletal ghosts in their winter dress. There was a stark contrast between the stands of pine and the snow that covered the ground. The old Reavis Ranch apple orchard with its feral trees stood out with its neat rows as we rode by. Once past the orchard we could see the old stone Clemans’ ranch house in the distance. A field of white snow covered the ground. The snow had drifted up some four or five feet against the ranch house on the north side.

The stone construction of the house reminisced of an ancient pueblo except for its corrugated metal roof. The sticky, gooey mud hindered our every move and the reddish clay stuck to everything in layers. We struggled, but finally got the packhorses unloaded and our supplies stashed away in the old breezeway of the ranch. 

Bud Lane had us put away our horses in a corral below, east of the ranch house near the creek. The creek was frozen over with a light crust of ice, but the horses could still get water. The old corrugated metal barn and tack room used by Floyd Stone prior to 1967 was still intact. Amazingly enough, the old anvil was still in place.

North of the barn old farm machinery lay in ruin. A disc, a plow, a tiller, hay rake and land leveler all laid in ruin as reminders of the agricultural past of this valley. It was bitter cold at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Clouds were moving in and it looked like more snow was in store for the night.

Several of us began gathering firewood for the large fireplace inside of the old Reavis Ranch house. The mantel of the fireplace was covered with many designs of different ranch brands. Metal cots filled the room. The old wood stove was still in the kitchen. Ornate copper panels decorated the ceiling of the kitchen.

We knew we wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor tonight. Of course we didn’t have the convenience of a mattress, but it was much better than a cold concrete floor. Eventually, Blackman and Hunnington had to ride up to the south pasture to gather firewood. Deadfall was scarce around the old ranch house.

Horses cared for, wood gathered, and bunks laid out signaled it was time to prepare for supper. Jay Drazinski was the designated cook for the outfit. He made a roast fit for a king over the fireplace. As we sat around the fireplace and ate our evening meal we could hear the wind howl through the trees. Knowing another storm was blowing in, Blackman, Hunington and I plugged and patched up all the windows and fixed the doors so the cold wind and snow wouldn’t blow into the house. The outside temperature after sundown was well below freezing and snow continued to fall. Soon the logs in the fireplace turned to brilliant red-hot coals. We finally got into our bedrolls and called it a night. As we laid in our bedrolls we could see mice running from roof beam to roof beam above our heads. Also there was a family of Mexican raccoons living in the attic of the old ranch house. Once we were quiet, they were a very noisy family.

[Part II – December 6]

The next morning Bud Land was up early, but couldn’t easily get off the porch because of the deep snow. Snow had drifted up to the eaves of the ranch house on the north side. What a struggle it was to feed the horses! 

The Reavis Ranch house’s elevation was close to 5,000 feet above sea level. Even though the snow was belly deep on the horses, we were packed and ready to go by noon. If everything went well it was only a three and a half-hour ride to Angel Basin from the Reavis Ranch house. We knew everything wasn’t going to go well for us as we rode southward from [the] ranch through a meadow filled with snow. Bud was convinced if we got down to Angel Springs there would be very little snow to contend with.

We basically bypassed Circlestone because it was another thousand feet higher and would be impossible to reach under these conditions. As we continued our ride south of the ranch the snow kept getting deeper and deeper. The horses were jumping up and down to break through the deep snow. Our progress through the downed timber area was slow.

We were riding through an area called the “Burn.” A forest fire had destroyed much of the Ponderosa pine south of the Reavis Ranch. This was an area covered with deadfall caused by the 1966 Iron Mountain burn.

We finally made our way up to Reavis Gap. It was miserably wet and cold. Slowly the snow began to melt, but not fast enough to please the riders of this expedition. As we rode down from Reavis Gap the wind was howling furiously. The chill factor must have been below zero. We stopped briefly at Reavis’ Grave in Grave Canyon and took photographs. We were now out of the snow for the most part, but it was still cold.

Reavis’ Grave had a stone marker that revealed his birth date as 1827 and his death date as 1896. Once we were in Roger’s Canyon the cold was less severe. As we rode down Roger’s Canyon the sun made its debut and it began to warm up a little. We were planning on a cold night at Angel Basin. We rode by the Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwellings without stopping. We planned to visit them the next day from camp.

There would be no warm ranch house tonight! We would be sleeping on the wet ground. I had a good bedroll and plenty of plastic. Everyone else was also well prepared for a cold night. The horses were tethered, fed; we had dinner, and again we prepared for a good night’s sleep. The next morning Jay Drazinski was making pancakes, eggs and bacon. I could smell the aroma of coffee and bacon on the early morning air currents around Angel Basin. Actually it had warmed up a little and things were improving. We had survived the cold night very well.

After breakfast we hiked up to the cliff dwellings and Nyle Leatham spent a couple of hours photographing the ruins. We packed up and saddled for the journey out.

As we began our climb out of Angel Basin the muddy trail took its toll on the horses and men. Horses lost shoes and we stopped to replace them. Thus we used up valuable time for our journey out. Jay Drazinski was also a professional farrier. He was certainly a valuable contributor to the pack trip being both a cook and farrier.

Bud Lane announced that he knew of a shortcut that would save us at least an hour between Angel Basin and Tortilla Ranch. We all followed Bud blindly into rugged rocky mountain hell for man and beast. The terrain became so rugged we had to get off and lead our horses into a deep canyon. We soon realized we could not rendezvous with our pickup crew at Apache Trail. It was apparent we would be spending another cold night in the mountains. We crossed the rugged upper reach of Goat Canyon and made our way over to the Tortilla-J.F. Ranch trail. Riding in the dark we finally made our way into the old Tortilla Ranch.

After camp was set up and the horses fed, Jay Drazinski tried to round up a decent meal with what was left of our supplies. Jay managed coffee and hot chocolate with a dinner of canned hash and stew. The next morning we were out of food supplies. We rode to the Apache Trail, some two and a half miles away, without breakfast.

As we rode and looked at Four Peaks covered with a heavy layer of snow it reminded us of how cold it had been in the mountains during our trek. Nyle Leatham had his photo essay of the Superstition Wilderness Area and we had our over-extended wilderness pack trip vacation.

Oh, so this is what they call a pack trip vacation! Our derriere was sore from the saddle, your nose and ears were numb from the cold, your stomach was empty from lack of food and your bones were sore from sleeping on the cold ground. You call this a vacation? Why, of course, we were roughing it in the wilderness.

Well, at least we were home in time for Christmas.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Monday, October 25, 2004

Samaritan of Needle Canyon

October 25, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I have written about a lot of men who have lived and camped in the Superstition Wilderness during the past half century. I have been somewhat fascinated with these interesting characters. Albert Erland Morrow was such a man also.

Late in November of 1970 I couldn’t imagine why Al Morrow was not in his camp to welcome his many friends. Surprisingly, he was gone. Later, we learned that Al Morrow had been crushed by a giant rock near his mine during a heavy downpour in Needle Canyon. This incident happened over Labor Day weekend during a storm that struck the area on September 9, 1970.

I often stopped in and visited with Morrow between 1955 and 1969. He was friendly and always willing to help someone in need. Many a tired and desperate hiker gave thanks when they came across his camp in Needle Canyon. He would always heat up the coffee and offer a friendly hand and some advice. When I stopped in Morrow’s camp we would soon be talking about the Dutchman, the Peraltas and/or many people who searched the Superstition Mountains for lost gold. 

I am not sure where Al was born. I believe it was in northern California. His mother Greta always [kept] close tabs on Al and was always willing to help him. Around 1957 Al Morrow published a small manuscript in pamphlet book form with the help of his mother. The name of the manuscript was “Famous Lost Spanish Gold Mines of Arizona’s Superstition Mountains.” The booklet was nothing more than a stapled mimeograph copy of his typed manuscript. To this day it is not known with absolute certainty whether Al or his mother wrote the manuscript.

Morrow Camp was located in Needle Canyon just as you enter the canyon riding down from Terripan Pass northeast of Weaver’s Needle.

You had to walk up Needle Canyon about a quarter of a mile before you were in Al’s camp. Morrow’s camp was on the right side of Needle Canyon going upstream and his mine was located directly east of his camp across Needle Canyon. Al had worked this site for almost twenty years until he tragically lost his life in September of 1970.

Al kept a day by day journal of life in his camp. Today this journal remains as a window into the mind of [a] man who met life’s challenges in a very isolated environment. Loneliness must have been his constant companion and maybe his most important amenity. These old Dutch hunters provided psychologists with some interesting case studies. I am certain each one had his or her reason for accepting isolation as a lifestyle.

I have often wondered if these people had found the stress associated with human behavior and interaction at a social and work level too great to manage. All of these old timers appeared to be quite intelligent and well-versed in national and world events.

Survival in their isolated world required intelligence and cunning. The task of maintaining an adequate water supply for their camps was paramount for their survival. They also needed to maintain adequate shelter against the elements and at the same time provide a self-sufficient food supply. Morrow needed a good tent and a source of food to survive in this isolated canyon in the Superstition Wilderness. He also had many friends who constantly made small unsolicited donations to his dreams.

Al Morrow’s journal reflects his dedication to his dream of finding gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The following are direct quotes from his personal journal.

Thursday, September 12, 1963: “Did a little more cleaning up around camp. Rested mostly, went up canyon for water at sunset. Noted pinnacle shadow lay at mine site just at sunset. Will start digging ahead of the marker tomorrow and work up toward blowout.”

Friday, September 13, 1963: “Stayed around camp today to keep off devils and bad luck. Killed eight scorpions and one rattler, which I almost stepped on. Had eleven rattles and more broken off. A big one! It clouded up this P.M. and began to thunder and lightning and then rain. It came down long enough to freshen the water holes. About five P.M. today I heard three rifle shots, .22 cal. Followed by three heavy caliber shots from Black Top Cave. A short time later three men came running down from the cave spread out a little. Then came about halfway down the slope to some rocks, looked from some rocks for awhile and then returned slowly to the cave.”

Saturday, September 14, 1963: “Woke up at 5 A.M., but still very tired so slept till 6 A.M. then got up and ate some sausage, bread, coffee and prunes for breakfast. Dug until near noon. Things are looking better. I am following a stringer on surface which may lead to a mineshaft. I can’t be far from it now according to Wiser’s map. Lots of pieces with water crystals along trench I am digging in now. Around noon today there were about nine heavy caliber shots from Black Top Mountain in the vicinity of the cave. Could have been one gun or could have been more. Shots somewhere – some spaced – some rapid fire. I was planning a visit to cave this Sunday, but it might be too dangerous. Aired the sleeping bag today. Now cooking a pot of beans. Big desert turtle has spent two days traveling past my tent. He sure is old. His ancestors must have been sea turtles when this country was covered with oceans. Here and there on cliffs there are tide marks worn in the solid rock by water.”

The foregoing three days is just a sample from the journal [of] Alfred Erland Morrow. The journal is like an open window into the past. It gives us an idea what it was like living alone in these mountains for such a long period of time. Al had lived in Needle Canyon for some thirteen years by 1963. He continued the search and pursued his dreams for another seven years before his untimely death. He made daily entries in his journal leaving a written record as to what life was like in Needle Canyon.

There are many stories about a valuable coin collection Al Morrow left hidden in Needle Canyon somewhere near his camp. There are few clues that suggest this coin collection ever existed. Yes, I witnessed a quart jar full of pennies, dimes and nickels Al had. He called it his “bank.” Al made several entries in his journal referring to a collection of foreign coins containing primarily Mexican centavos. If Morrow had a collection of twenty dollar double eagles like some claim I am sure there would have been some kind of entry or clues left behind.

Albert Erland Morrow’s legacy will be his offering of hospitality to strangers lost in the Superstition Mountains during his stay in Needle Canyon.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Legend of Gold

October 18, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Mountains of Central Arizona have fascinated men and women for more than a century. Is it the beauty of these mountains or is it the tales of lost gold?

Many people enjoy the scenic and rugged mountains of the wilderness for a variety of reasons. Artist[s] and photographers have come from all over the world to paint and photograph the Superstitions, and there are those who believe gold can be found within the environs of these mountains.

It is the stories of gold that continue to build on the legacy of Superstition Mountain. The legend of lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area began to emerge long before the first Europeans ever heard of them.

The stories began when the first Conquistadors landed on the Mexican gulf coast near Vera Cruz in 1519. Cortez and his expedition moved inland and soon found the Aztec capital of Tenoctitlan, a city of gold. The Conquistadors took Montezuma II and held him for ransom. Cortez demanded the Aztecs fill a huge room with gold to ransom their king.

The year 1535 found the Spanish hunting further north of Mexico City for the golden caches the Aztecs supposedly buried. Then there were rumors of another city of gold to the far north. The Spanish also believed the Aztecs had hidden enormous caches of gold north of Tenoctitlan in the land they called “Tierra Incognito.” Legend tells of the Aztecs trekking all the way from Tenoctitlan to the Superstition Mountains to hide gold from the Spanish after the invasion. There are many stories about Aztec gold hidden in the Superstition Wilderness, but they are total fantasy according to contemporary historians.

The Conquistadors explored the Southwest in 1540 under the leadership of Coronado, and were followed by Jesuit priests who primarily converted souls to Catholicism rather than hiding gold and silver in the Superstition Mountains. The Jesuits appeared to have done a little silver mining along the Santa Cruz River prior to being expelled from the New World by the Spanish King in 1767. Again, these stories are divided between legend and myth, and there is little documentation to support any of these stories about the Aztecs or the Jesuits hiding gold in the Superstition Mountains.

The expulsion of the Jesuits was followed by a variety of Mexican prospecting and mining ventures of the Peralta family in Sonora. The Peraltas allegedly had eight rich gold mines in the Superstition Wilderness Area somewhere. The Peraltas or Apaches, depending on the storyteller, covered these mines.

The Peraltas returned to work these mines in 1847, and were massacred by the Apaches who probably buried the mines again. At least, most storytellers will agree with this basic scenario although there is no documentation to support it.

The Mexicans, Spanish and Indians allegedly hid all their gold and silver mines when the Americans arrived on the scene after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. According to legend, the Apaches protected their “Thunder God” mountain from the American prospector[s] by killing them when they entered the mountains.

Then Jacob Waltz arrived on the scene. He was a stubborn old prospector, set on finding a rich Arizona gold vein. Waltz penetrated this rugged mountain wilderness and ignored the danger from the Apaches. He evaded the Apaches and supposedly found a very rich gold mine or cache. When Waltz died on October 25, 1891, in Phoenix, Arizona Territory, a small quantity of rich, high-grade gold ore was found under his deathbed in a candle box. This information fueled the imaginations of those who saw the rich ore. They told stories of a rich mine the “Dutchman” must have had somewhere in the Superstition Mountains.

Without this event the stories told by Julia Thomas, the Petrasch brothers, Guidon Roberts, Richard J. Holmes, P.C. Bicknell and Alfred Franklin Banta would have had little or no credence. These individuals are the ones directly responsible for the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Yes, Superstition Mountain and its history are a legend of gold kept alive by more and more tales, sometimes the fabrication of those intrigued by the story. The mountain and its history stands as tribute to those who spent much of their lives in search of this legendary mine. But, there is more to this story of the Superstitions than just the lost gold. There is the history of the cattlemen, prospectors, aviators, miners, photographers, newspapermen, outfitters and others that became part of this legacy. Superstition Mountain is blessed with some of the most colorful history in all of Arizona.

The future of the Superstition Wilderness Area undoubtedly is destined to be part of a recreational facility for the rapidly growing population of the Salt River Valley. The unprecedented growth of the Salt River Valley has led to trailhead parking fees, controlled parking and other restrictive control measures brought on by uncontrolled urban sprawl. The wilderness is not an unlimited resource in our backyard. It is a precious resource we must protect and care for.

The wilderness has gone from a wild cattle range, filled with strange and unusual prospectors, to thousands of hikers, horsemen and weekenders looking for a thrill. I would rather meet a cow than ten hikers or ten horsemen. It won’t be long before the wilderness will be like Squaw Peak trail in Phoenix.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is a great asset for Apache Junction, even though Apache Junction has no control of the region. The dream of finding a lost mine still attracts people to the area. The closure of the area to mineral entry at the close of 1983 has not discouraged many die hard Dutch hunters. Just recently, long time treasure hunter and Apache Junction resident Ron Feldman received a Trove Treasure Permit from the Tonto National Forest to search for treasure in the Superstition Wilderness.

The legend of gold is far more powerful than the reality itself. Dutch hunter and former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin once said, “You can’t legislate dreams.” The dreams of young men become the imagination of old men, still dreaming.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Princeton Graduate

October 11, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Richard Fuller Peck was always a type of man that knew what he wanted in life. When it came to hunting the Lost Dutchman Mine he would say “Show me the bottom line, that pice of paper that tells me where to put the pick in the ground.” Off and on for thirty-five years Richard Peck searched the Superstition Wilderness Area for the legendary mine. He placed his pick in the ground at several locations, believing he solved the mystery of the mine’s location. Peck collected maps from a variety of sources hoping they would provide that one clue that would lead him to the entrance of the Dutchman’s mine.

Peck began his study of the Superstition Mountain region during the early 1960s. His first major prospecting expedition occurred in the winter of 1964-65. At this time Peck was the head of his own advertising company in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had previously worked for Proctor and Gamble as their radio, television and print media manager. It was at Proctor and Gamble that Richard met his lifelong friend and companion Dutch hunter financier Ralph Glendinning. Rick and Ralph continued this search throughout their lives.

Peck’s operation headquarters was located at the Superstition Inn Hotel and [he] used a helicopter to travel to and from his claims. He also hired several Indians from Sacaton to work in the mountains. Peck worked hard while trying to find the mine. He worked three main areas in the Superstition Wilderness. One place was located on the north end [of] Bluff Springs Mountain just under the cliffs. Peck and his crews excavated an enormous hole at this site. He then moved into Needle Canyon around Weaver’s Needle. He eventually moved his operation to the Three Red Hills area after concluding his work near the base of Weaver’s Needle. It is speculated that Richard Peck and his partner spent close to $200,000 during this period of exploration. Peck also spent an enormous amount of money on documentation and research. Who was this very wealthy man who searched for the Lost Dutchman Mine so adamantly during the 1960s?

He was born Richard Fuller Peckstein on June 26, 1921 in Rochester, New York. Rick’s father became Dean of the Teacher’s College at the University of Cincinnati. Rick attended Santa Monica Junior College and entered Princeton University in 1939. He majored in Modern Languages and Military Science, graduating in 1943 with a B.A. degree. He immediately entered the United States Army as a second lieutenant and served as an Army field artillery instructor at Camp Roberts, California. While at Camp Roberts he developed a panoramic artillery gun sighting system to improve the performance of the gunners. After promotion to 1st Lieutenant he served as an Army observation pilot. He legally changed his name to Peck shortly after World War Two. He then became involved in advertising management after a short stay on his family’s citrus farm near Brownsville, Texas.

The first book Rick Peck read about the Lost Dutchman Mine was authored by Sims Ely. At his first operational site in the Superstition Wilderness near the north end of Bluff Springs Mountain, Peck had fresh steaks, cold drinks and ice flown in daily by helicopter until the forest rangers put a stop to using a helicopter in a national wilderness area. He also worked all around Weaver’s Needle following a variety of clues he had found and had been handed down to him by friends. However, none of these clues ever produced any large quantities of gold.

Rick Peck sold his advertising agency to his partner, Mr. Heekin, in 1960, and moved to Phoenix. He lived there from 1971-1979. While in Phoenix he became general sales manager of the Rural Metro Fire Department. Rick met his wife, Joan Burgess, while working for Rural Metro. They were married in 1976.

Rick left Rural Metro Fire Department in 1980 to form a mining company with his old friend Ralph Glendinning. Rick and Ralph conducted a very successful mine management operation in Colorado. Rick eventually moved to Mesa, then finally moved out to Gold Canyon. Richard Peck (Peckstein) passed away on May 31, 2000.

Richard Peck and I visited many times over the years and we always remained friends. He attended many of my birthday parties in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was always anxious to assist my in any way to help with the Superstition Mountain Museum or the classes I taught for Central Arizona College in Apache Junction. Peck was a very successful businessman. I recognized his keen knowledge of business and investment. He was the type of man who controlled his own destiny.

Rick Peck left a legacy behind in fifteen boxes of records, documents, maps, letters, notes, and photographs from his enormous library. These records are now a part of the Superstition Mountain Historical Society. In gathering this personal library, Rick Peck has provided a window for future historians to look back at the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

I would like to express my appreciation to Greg Davis for information used in this story.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Cabins of the Superstitions

October 4, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

My father encouraged me as a young lad to be interested in history. He always claimed the Superstition Wilderness Area had a fascinating history, and he based this on the many prospectors and cowboys he had met in the area between 1932-1952.

We visited many of the old cabins and cabin sites within the Superstition Wilderness Area between 1947-1952. These old cabin sites contain memories and stories about the various characters that once occupied them. The mountain range’s history comes from the characters that once lived in these small cabins. My father always said this history was a study into the heart and soul of these characters and their relationship with the mountain. I could never find fault with his conclusion. These men were neither hero nor villain in the eyes of others. Many just “marched to a different drummer.”

One weekend my father and I hiked up Red Tank Canyon toward the divide. As we topped out at the summit we [chose] to rest for awhile. Father pointed out two old cabin sites in the area. He talked about Bradford’s Cabin and the old stone cabin under the cliffs of Coffee Flat Mountain. We hiked over to the old stone cabin under a huge boulder and looked around. 

This old cabin supposedly belonged to a man named Polka. Twenty years later Bob Ward told me a similar story about the cabin. We took a couple of photographs and then hiked down to Brad’s Cabin. Dad visited awhile with an old timer there, then we moved on down the trail toward the Upper Box of La Barge Canyon. The golden green color of the cottonwood trees were spectacular as we hiked along the edge of the deep canyon. This particular trip was in early April and the trees had just leafed out.

Other cabins and cabin sites are sprinkled throughout the Superstition Wilderness Area. There were cabins located at the south end of Bluff Springs Mountain in a draw off of Bluff Springs Canyon south of Bluff Springs. This cabin was located close to the old campsite for the Lost Dutchman Mine No. 1. This mine was active in 1941. 

At different times there were cabins located at various spots in Needle Canyon. Old John Pierce maintained a cabin in Needle Canyon. All that remains of that site today is a small concrete slab. Chuck and Peggy Aylor had a cabin-tent in East Boulder Canyon after they left the Pioneer Mining District near Superior, Arizona in 1939.

The Barkley Cattle Company maintained an old cabin at Charlebois Springs for many years before moving it to Bluff Springs Corral. “Brownie” Holmes and some of Barkley’s cowboys moved the cabin to Bluff Springs from Charlebois Springs in 1948. The old metal shack remained at Bluff Springs until it was removed in the late 1960s.

There was always some kind of tent or shack at the Indian Paint Mine until the early 1970s. A dead man was found in a camp tent at the Indian Paint Mine in 1906. Carl A. Silverlocke worked the Indian Paint Mine for several years before giving it up in 1912, and moving to a claim near the base of Superstition Mountain. Silverlocke and Goldleaf, as the partners were known, constructed a small cabin near this prospect. A concrete foundation survived for many years until it was broken up and destroyed in the early 1980s.

Abe Reid had an old cabin at his mine site in upper Whitlow Canyon near the confluence of Fraser and Whitlow Canyons. Reid kept a campsite down at what is [known] today as Reid’s Water. Reid’s tunnelling operation at the mine site was quite extensive considering it was primarily the work of two men. My father and I visited old Abe many times. My dad and Abe went back a long time together. Abe [used] to promote copper investment stocks around the mining camps of Central Arizona in the early 1920s. As Abe grew old, more and more people paid less attention to his dreams of getting rich on copper. He finally settled for what he called the Silver Belle. Abe passed on in October 1957.

There was an old cabin in Lost Dutch Canyon in the mid-1920s. Some claimed this cabin belonged to old George Drakulvich (Miller), but I am not convinced it did. Miller lived in a cabin near the upper windmill. Today you can find the ruins of a stone foundation near this windmill. Miller claimed this old stone cabin belonged to Jacob Waltz, the German prospector who allegedly possessed the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.

Over the past century several small isolated cabins have been constructed within the wilderness. Another interesting old cabin is the one along the Silver Spur Ridge off the Campaign Creek Trail. This one burned down several years ago. The best known structures within the wilderness, but on private land at one time, were the Reavis Ranch and the Tortilla Ranch.

Several old cabin sites were built under ledges along deep canyons. One such mysterious cabin was in Fish Creek, high above the creek’s bottom. This cabin had horizontal shutters over its windows. The cabin was constructed of stone and mortared together with cement and sand. It has been more than twenty years since I visited this old cabin, but at the time it was in excellent shape.

Many years ago there was a small stone cabin on Peter’s Mesa in a clump of laurels near the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon. Many such cabins probably served as line shacks for different ranchers over the years.

Another interesting cabin stood near the head of Rough’s Canyon. The cabin was constructed of small Ponderosa pine logs. The last time I saw the cabin, the roof was gone and most of the walls were down. There was a board cabin located near the Roger’s Canyon mill site at the base of Iron Mountain. This small cabin had two rooms and even running water. Years ago the old steam boiler was still at the site. 

There are several cabins I have forgotten or never had observed. Also it is important to classify what is a cabin and what is not. Many of the cabins in the Superstition Wilderness Area were nothing more than a wooden floor with a wood frame covered with canvas. Eight-ounce canvas was usually only good for two or three seasons in this hot and dry climate.

The policy managers for the Superstition Wilderness management plan want to remove any evidence from the region that is indicative of contemporary man’s occupancy of the area. There has been a great effort on behalf of several people to try and preserve the history of all these cabins within the wilderness. Hopefully we will not [lose] this legacy to some notion that contemporary man is not part of the history of this region.

These old cabin sites are silent witnesses to men who dreamed about the gold of Superstition Mountain. The adventures, prospectors, miners and cowboys are all a part of the Superstition Mountain legacy.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Trove Treasure Permit

September 27, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Since December 31, 1983, the Superstition Wilderness Area has been closed to mineral entry. This closure would not be significant if it were not for the fact that the infamous Lost Dutchman Gold Mine is allegedly located in this wilderness area, and stories of lost gold continue to fascinate men and women.

There are many other tales about buried caches of gold and silver bullion in the Superstition Wilderness Area left there by Spaniards some 150 to 300 years ago.

“Closed to mineral entry” means no mining claims can be staked in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The district ranger at the time said one could still prospect, but could not disturb the surface.

The United States government does allow legal treasure hunting and prospecting in the wilderness area by permit only. The permit process is known as the “Trove Treasure Permit.” Several Trove Treasure Permit applications were allowed in 1984, but none were actually approved. Approval by the district ranger permits an applicant to actually excavate. The application fee for a Trove Treasure Permit is $250.00. Anyone making an application must pay this fee.

A Trove Treasure Permit requires several steps before an individual can legally excavate a site in the wilderness area. First, there is the submission of an application for a Trove Treasure Permit and the payment of the $250.00 fee. Then the applicant must research and document the treasure. This phase can begin before or after the Trove Treasure Permit application has been submitted to the district ranger.

The next step requires an archaeological study of the permit site. A bond is required for the Trove Treasure site by [the] district ranger to assure the site will be returned to its original condition after excavation.

The Arizona State Mine Safety inspector also must sign off on the selected site in the wilderness area. 

The final step is the approval of the operation plan and the granting of the permit by the district ranger. Finally, at this point the physical work of excavation can start at the site.

As the work progresses the district ranger will be constantly inspecting the progress of the excavation.

Ron Feldman, owner and operator of the O.K. Corral in Apache Junction, is the first prospector/treasure hunter to receive an approved Trove Treasure Permit for the Superstition Wilderness Area since all mining operations were suspended within the region on December 31, 1983. The approval of this permit and the site’s excavation should prove to be historical in nature. Feldman stresses his work at the site is not a search for gold, but a search for history.

Feldman and his associates have devoted much time and considerable finances toward historical research and documentation to secure approval of this Trove Treasure Permit. Feldman believes the most important aspect of this project is not the alleged gold bullion or treasure, but the historical value of the artifacts recovered at the site.

Feldman and his crew hope that the archaeological interpretation of artifacts found during the excavation of this site will prove the Spanish mined north of the Gila River.

Feldman set up his base camp near the Superstition Wilderness Area on Saturday, September 11, 2004. He and his crew will be transporting a disassembled head frame to the excavation site by hand and on pack animals. The site is located in a remote portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area. A geologist employed by Feldman stated the region was geologically conducive to gold and silver bearing ores.

Treasure hunting enthusiasts from around the world await any announcements from Feldman about the prospects of this adventure into the Superstition Wilderness Area. Feldman is cooperating [completely] with the Tonto National Forest District Ranger by keeping him constantly informed of all daily operations at the site.

If and when artifacts are discovered Feldman will immediately contact the Tonto National Forest archaeologist for his inspection and interpretation of the artifacts. The artifacts will be turned over to the authority of the United States government for final adjudication.

This excavation may prove to be one of the most interesting searches in more than a century in the Superstition Wilderness Area. 

Time will prove the significance of this enormous effort to locate treasure in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Apache Trail Circle Route

September 13, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Read this article here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Monday, September 6, 2004

Monday, August 30, 2004

Ranch Life – Snake and Eggs

August 30, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Ranch life for a tenderfoot like myself was a constant learning experience… and some of those experiences were life-saving.

Like the time I tried to gather eggs in the barn after dark. I had reasoned that the chickens would be on their roost and all I had to do was gather their eggs for my breakfast. This was not necessarily always true.

I headed down to the barn with my flashlight. The batteries were always near failure; but did I let that bother me? Of course not! I carefully opened the door of the barn so as not to disturb the hens on their roost. I began my search for eggs among the many bales of hay near the back of the barn. At first the search was not too difficult, but after finding four or five eggs it became far more futile. I figured there would be at least eight eggs because we had eleven chickens in the barn. I believe there was only one rooster in the bunch.

I was probing between the bales of hay when I heard a distinct and recognizable rattle. My brain immediately registered “rattlesnake.”

Just at that moment the batteries in my flashlight began to falter; then completely failed, leaving me in the absolute ink-black darkness of the barn. Suddenly I realized I had made a big mistake. I should have had some new batteries on hand for the flashlight.

The four eggs in my lard bucket mattered not. My concern now was getting out of the barn without being snake bitten. I heard many notorious tales about the deadliness of these so called “wiggle-tails” from various old-time cowboys. Here I was with my “wiggle-tail” in close proximity to the middle of a dark barn looking for a safe way out. The “wiggle-tail” wasn’t one of Barkley’s friendly cow dogs either.

The rattler continued his annoying and fearsome display of alarm and warning. I wasn’t sure which one.

I wasn’t sure what the safe direction of retreat would be from the barn either. All I know was I wanted to [?? – word damaged on page], then run like hell. My intuition had told me to freeze. All the stories I had heard said the best thing to do when you can’t see a rattling rattlesnake is to freeze in your tracks and don’t move until you locate the snake. That was easier said than done.

I looked over my shoulder, without moving, at the starlight around the barn door. My eyes were slowly becoming accustomed to the dark. Thank goodness the door wasn’t a close fit. I couldn’t decide exactly how to get away from this aggravated rattlesnake. Should I jump? Should I run? Should I stay where I was until he crawled away?

Finally I made my decision. Stand fast, and don’t move! I continued to mess with my flashlight… and it finally came on with a very dim beam. I carefully shined the light around until I found the rattlesnake.

It was about eighteen inches from my leg and coiled to strike. I stood frozen in horror fearing the worst.

After several minutes the snake finally uncoiled and slowly began to crawl away. This four-foot Western Diamondback could have spoiled my otherwise wonderful day, and this tenderfoot cowboy had survived another day and learned another valuable lesson. Have new batteries on hand for the flashlight if [you’re] going to hunt chicken eggs in the barn after dark. Still, the next time I encountered a rattlesnake I wasn’t so lucky.

To this day I don’t know how I survived all my encounters with mishap while working at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Actually I didn’t!

One early May morning Mike Finley and I were riding west of the ranch along a road looking for strays. We hadn’t found any, but the day was warming up very rapidly. The stifling heat convinced us we needed a break from the burning rays of the sun. We found shade under a large mesquite tree and decided to rest for a while. I tethered my horse to a small palo verde. We needed a cool drink of water, which we sipped from our canteens.

I was riding a somewhat greenbroke sorrel gelding. He didn’t appreciate me horsing him around, and he was difficult to mount and dismount. He always wanted to spin and jump to the side a little as you tried to step into the stirrup. Those who rode him didn’t appreciate his antics. Finally I was out of the saddle and had him tied beneath a palo verde tree a short distance from the mesquite we were resting under.

As we rested Mike noted my horse continued to act up beneath the palo verde. He pulled back on the lead rope that was holding him fast and was snorting. Finally I got up and walked over to the horse.

At the base of the palo verde there was a large brittlebrush. I carelessly reached down to loosen the lead rope. That was a mistake I would live to regret. Just as I grabbed the lead rope I heard a rattlesnake rattle and I then felt a burning sensation on my left hand between my index finger and thumb. I had been rattlesnake bitten.

At first I could feel a swell of fear rise in my body while edema settled in my hand. But, I untied the horse, got him away from the palo verde and the rattlesnake. The horse then settled down and was quite calm.

I mounted him and told Mike a rattlesnake had bitten me. His reaction was disbelief. He walked over to the palo verde and saw the three and a half-foot Western Diamondback slowly crawling away.

Once Mike realized I was bit we rode quickly back to the ranch house. He took our horses down to the barn and unsaddled them while I cleaned up for my trip to the hospital.

At first I didn’t think I would make a trip into the hospital, but within an hour my hand and arm were so swollen they were almost unrecognizable. I knew then that I would have to go to the hospital.

Fear really began to settle in as I watched the swelling continue up my arm to my shoulder. Finally I was getting a little short of breath, I had a heavy metallic taste in my mouth and my heart rate was up. Mike drove me into [San/Sand] Tank Restaurant. His hi-speed driving over Peralta Road scared me more than the snakebite.

Bob Calfee had a phone at [San/Sand] Tank and he called the sheriff’s office. However, before a deputy arrived a highway patrolman named Charlie Sharp drove up for a cup of coffee. Once the emergency was explained to him he drove me into the Southside Hospital in Mesa.

The crisis was almost over but I didn’t know it. I was one of the first snakebite victims in Arizona to be treated with anti-venom. I survived the snakebite and returned to work at the U Ranch three days later. I had a painful arm, but I was certainly wiser and more experienced.

An encounter with a rattlesnake can be a painful affair. Today such an experience can be extremely expensive. A friend’s “pet” rattlesnake bit him and before the medical expenses were over he had more than $15,000.00 in out-of-pocket expenses that his health insurance company would not cover. Health insurance doesn’t always cover ignorance.

I have always said there is no such thing as a “pet” rattlesnake. Common sense should prevail, but it doesn’t always.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Monday, August 16, 2004

Tenderfoot Ranch Cook

August 16, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Our lives are filled [with] many challenges, and preparing food for human consumption at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch almost fifty years ago was quite a challenge for a tenderfoot like myself.

This act was a constant learning experience that generally ended in failure or constant repetition of preparation with failure. Wow! Now that’s a mouthful of words. Our survival at the U Ranch was dependent on our ability to prepare food that was adequate for our meals, not necessarily for all humans. There was a considerable difference. My first cup of coffee just about killed the mouse that tried to sip it on the boarding room table.

My mother taught me how to boil water, fry an egg, scramble an egg, peel potatoes, fry potatoes, a hamburger or toast bread. Once I moved to the ranch I had to prepare all food on a wood-burning stove and propane gas hot plate. There wasn’t a cookbook in the ranch and no directions as to how to cook on a wood-burning stove. I knew I was a virgin cook awaiting disaster.

The first morning I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and prepared to feed the livestock before the day’s work begun. I was told to build a fire in the wood-burning stove before I fed the livestock. This act insured me a hot stove to cook on after feeding. Using the wood stove would also conserve on our limited supply of propane gas. I never forgot that first morning working in a rickety, rusty old sink filled with scorpions. The drain in the sink had three slots in it. These scorpions would run up through the slots then back down into the drainpipe. They soon made me painfully aware of their presence. First it was my thumb, then my little finger that got stung.

Tex Barkley had warned me of such inconveniences while preparing a meal in the kitchen. I slowly peeled some potatoes while nursing my burning appendages. I soon found out scorpion stings on the U Ranch were a common occurrence. Scorpions would get into your boots, into your clothing, and under the lid of [the] outside toilet. Do I have to explain what caution I used at the outside privy? Even though the stings were somewhat painful they were part of a cowboy’s life. Oh yes, I poured hot water down the pipe and other things to no real avail. Barkley wouldn’t allow me to call the local pest control company some fifty miles away in Phoenix.

Now, for that fire in the wood burning stove. I wouldn’t have minded this slight change in plans if all things had gone well. The problem was that nothing was going well that morning. Have you ever tried to get a fire going in a wood stove with the damper closed? I didn’t even know what a damper was let alone how it worked. I tried everything with the stove but couldn’t get things working correctly. Finally I resorted to [the] Coleman gasoline we used in our lanterns. This was a big mistake. It’s only a miracle that old U Ranch bunkhouse is still standing and Chuck Backus can enjoy it today.

Prideful about my stroke of genius with the Coleman fuel, I struck the match and touched off an explosion that rocked the kitchen. Suddenly I had fire everywhere, except where I needed it, in the stove. I ran outside and flames [were] shooting out the tin chimney. I was certain for a moment the ranch house was going to be history. I had used only a small cup of white gas on the wood in the stove. With both my eyebrows and the hair on my arms singed I had learned a valuable lesson about using Coleman fuel indoors.

There was another occasion when an “ignorant” cowboy tried to start a branding iron fire with Coleman fuel on a cold morning. He poured a large amount of white gas on some mesquite logs then fiddled around with his damp matches trying to ignite one. In the meantime the vapors of white gas had spread on the ground and gone up both pant legs. You can imagine his surprise when he finally ignited one of the matches and tossed it on the legs. He didn’t need to worry about hair on his legs for [a] couple of months.

Have you ever tried to advise a hardheaded cowpuncher? This was called “learning by experience.” By the time the branding iron fire was ready I knew the basic characteristics of Coleman fuel on a cold morning.

Nursing scorpion stings and singed eyebrows, I turned to the simplest form of cooking I understood. I turned on the two propane hot plate burners and placed two skillets on them. I peeled and sliced potatoes into one and fried bacon in the other. After the bacon was done I scrambled my eggs. Actually, in the end, I had an excellent breakfast considering the previous disasters.

Once my food was prepared I carried it into the front room of the ranch house and placed it on the big red boarding house table. I lit the Coleman lantern over the table. As I sat at the table and looked at the stars out the window I ate my first breakfast at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. I was satisfied with my accomplishment, but there were many learning experiences ahead.

[Part 2, August 16, 2004]

As I stared out the window I could understand how an old cowboy could fall in love with such a place. The silence was deafening and darkness outside was as black as ink except for the twinkling of distant stars. Not a sound could be heard, but the occasional noise from the corral where one of the horse’s shoes came into contact with a stone while walking about. Suddenly the silence of the night was broken with the yip of a distant coyote. As I stared out the window at the heavens and I suddenly realized how insignificant I was in this wilderness. This isolation gave me the feeling of loneliness. Then one of Barkley’s cow dogs scratched at the door begging to get in. He smelled the bacon all the way down at the barn. I got up and walked over to the door and let him in. Now I wasn’t alone. I gave the cow dog what little leftovers there were.

Quickly I cleaned up the dishes and headed down to the barn and grained the horses. Barkley had instructed me to count the chickens every morning when I fed. I usually fed just at twilight. As I opened the cow barn door I could see the chickens all roosting on a rack above the hay. We still had fourteen chickens and no coyote, fox, or other [varmint] had chicken on his menu the night before. In the days ahead I would be at war with the wildlife that wanted to deprive me of the chickens or their eggs, a real commodity in this desert wilderness. 

When Barkley left food for a month it included flour, [a] wheel of longhorn cheese, [a] slab of bacon, pinto beans, [a] case of canned peaches, twenty pounds of potatoes, a large piece of beef, six large bags of elbow macaroni, one pound of coffee and a large bag of red chili. Barkley was known for feeding his men well, but most of what he left required “making from scratch.”

Each morning after feeding I would gather the eggs. Usually I would gather six to eight eggs, if I could find them. It was common to find both harmless and poisonous snakes in the barn that had journeyed there in search of food. Usually the snakes were looking for eggs. This particular day I was free of such danger. The future would bring encounters with large rattlesnakes.

After the day’s chores were done, I would feed about sundown and then return to the ranch house to once again prepare a meal. I cooked a lot of pinto beans. First I would pour three to four large cups out on the big red table in the front room and sort through them eliminating any stones or debris. Then I would wash them carefully, then let them soak overnight. I would start the bean cooking process the next morning by sitting them on the propane hot plate. I would let them cook for an hour then turn them off. Barkley had warned me about always putting a heavy rock on the bean pot lid when the beans were sitting on the stove and especially after they were done. He often would laugh and say, “It will hold in the gas generated by the beans.”

I thought this was quite peculiar, but I soon learned why you place a rock on the bean pot lid. If you have ever lifted the lid on your bean pot and found a dead mouse looking you in the eye you would fully understand the purpose of the heavy rock on the lid… and it wasn’t for keeping the gas on the beans.

Cooking on the wood stove would be a skill I would sooner or later have to master if I was going to work on a small cattle spread. Learning to cook properly meant survival to a young tenderfoot such as myself. After a few months I was quite proficient with the wood stove. I learned to start it properly, knew what the damper was all about and how to use the oven to bake biscuits. Oh, biscuits are another story on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County.

I will never forget the first morning I tried to bake my first pan of biscuits. I didn’t have a convenient store-bought box [of] biscuit mix. I made my batter from scratch. I mixed white flour, water, a dash of salt, half a cup of powdered milk, and two cups of water. I mixed up the dough and added a little bacon lard. Once the batter was mixed well I rolled it out flat. Let it sit for a while and used a small can for a cutter. Once the biscuits were cut I placed them on a thin sheet and then in the oven at about 300 degrees and cooked them for 15 to 20 minutes.

The first biscuits were not good. As a matter of fact, as soon as they cooled they were as hard as rocks. Even the cow dogs wouldn’t eat them. I found out what baking soda was used for. Pretty soon I was producing pretty good biscuits.

I survived food preparation on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Evidenced by the fact that I’m still here. Working on the Quarter Circle U Ranch was a tough and sometimes dangerous experience, but it certainly had its rewards. I enjoyed the beautiful slopes of the Superstition Mountains free of development and almost virgin. To be honest I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything. It made me a better person. I learned to respect my fellow man, animals and the environment. I choose to believe all things could live in harmony.

I hope so.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Kidnapping at the U Ranch

July 26, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona’s most infamous and notorious kidnapping case ended at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County near Apache Junction some fifty years ago. 

Evelyn Ann Smith, the wife of Herbert Smith, a wealthy Phoenix industrialist, was taken in Phoenix and held for twenty-nine hours, then released for $75,000 in ransom money on June 11, 1954. The kidnapper told Mrs. Smith, mother of two small children, he would not be taken alive. This statement by the kidnapper made her fear for her life.

The kidnapper’s ransom note was left in a golf bag at a service station in Apache Junction. Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff Paul E. Mullenax was sent to Apache Junction to check out the golf bag. The deputy drove 32 miles east to Apache Junction, a small desert community at the time, with a zoo and several telescopes trained on Superstition Mountain. The community was the home of the Superstition Mountains, the Dutchman’s Monument and several winter visitors. Several newspaper reporters who reported on this kidnap case confused the Jefferson Davis Highway Monument with the Dutchman’s Monument in Apache Junction.

Deputy Mullenax stopped at Ed’s Place and asked about the golf bag left for Mr. Herbert Smith. Station attendant Robert J. Plucinski, 17, brought out the golf bag. The deputy found a sealed envelope with a note in it. The note basically told Herbert Smith his wife was being held for $75,000 ransom and instructed him to go to Apache Junction and wait for further instructions. Smith carefully followed the kidnapper’s instructions.

The next day Smith drove east along Highway 60 to Peralta Road and stopped at the old Jefferson Davis Monument. Smith found another note under three rocks across the road near a cattle guard. Notes guided Smith east on Peralta Road to the point where the Quarter Circle U Ranch road turned off.

At this point Smith followed the Quarter Circle U Ranch road going through three gates. He went beyond the ranch some four miles, to a spot where he was [supposed] to deposit the valise full of ransom money. Once Smith sat down the valise containing the money he heard his wife scream. She was some two hundred feet away in the desert. He started toward her and a man fired a shot into the rocks near him. After the kidnapper was convinced nobody was with Smith, he released his wife.

Mrs. Smith rushed to the awaiting arms of her husband. The ordeal was almost over. Herbert Smith still feared for their lives as they rushed away from the ransom site. Once to his car Herbert drove straight to his home in Phoenix without stopping, not even for the police. The FBI interviewed the Smiths at their home.

The release of Evelyn Ann Smith sent county sheriff’s deputies, Phoenix police officers and the FBI into the hills south of Superstition Mountain and east of the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Evelyn Smith’s car was found in a wash off Peralta Road some seven miles east of Highway 60.

According to Mrs. Smith, the kidnappers were going to hike across the Superstition Mountains to Canyon Lake with the $75,000 in ransom money. This was an attempt to throw the police off their trail. 

Posses and bloodhounds began to search the Superstition Mountains north and east of the Quarter Circle U Ranch for the kidnappers. Daniel Marsin, the suspected kidnapper, appeared at the Quarter Circle U Ranch after barking dogs gave him away.

Jimmy Ruiz’s cow dog, Queenie, gave Marsin away at the U Ranch and led to his arrest. Jimmy Ruiz was Tex Barkley’s foreman at the U Ranch and also a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Posseman.

At first Daniel J. Marsin claimed he was lost in the desert. He had walked all the way down to the U Ranch from Randolph Canyon. The police officers that found him at the U Ranch held him as a material witness. It wasn’t long before Evelyn Smith identified him as the man who kidnapped her.

After Marsin’s arrest at the U Ranch, authorities believed he hid the ransom money somewhere near the Quarter Circle U Ranch southwest of Miner’s Needle. The search was on for the $75,000 of ransom money.

The police totally closed off the area to prevent a modern day treasure hunt for the ransom money.

On June 14, 1954, the ransom money was found in a wash just 100 yards from the Quarter Circle U Ranch and some eight feet from a road the posse was using to search for the money. The package containing the ransom money was opened on the front porch of the Quarter Circle U Ranch bunkhouse by Captain Orme Moorehead and detectives Ed Langevin, Jim Wallace, and Lt. Clem J. Hoyt.

Phoenix Police Chief Charles P. Thomas declared the Smith kidnapping was a one-man job, a crime committed by Daniel J. Marsin.

William T. Barkley, Jimmy Ruiz and Tafoya Ruiz all testified in the kidnapping trial. Marsin was eventually convicted of kidnapping for ransom and sentenced to prison.

With the ransom money found, the victim safe, the kidnapper’s weapon located and Daniel J. Marsin in jail, the biggest kidnapping case in Arizona history was solved.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Pancho Monroy’s Gold

June 28, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are endless fables about lost and buried treasure in the Superstition Mountain area. Also there are many true stories about events that have led to tales about lost and buried treasure. The following is such a story.

Don Francisco “Pancho” Monroy was born on October 18, 1840, in Altar, Sonora, Mexico. Growing up as a child in Mexico he and his brothers survived a wolf attack. When he was fifteen he survived an attack by a group of renegade Apaches by hiding in a cornfield. He was involved in a Mexican feud between the Gandaristas and the Pesquueiristas. All of this happened to him before he was eighteen years old.

Francisco “Pancho” Monroy first visited the Salt River near Blue Point in 1874. His sister had married W.W. Jones. Jones herded cattle from Sonora to the Salt River and Four Peaks area. Monroy settled on the Blue Point Hacienda about 1884.

It is said Private Sullivan, of Silver King Mine fame, brought rich silver samples to Monroy to examine. It was Monroy who told Sullivan he had discovered a rich deposit of silver ore according to legend. Sullivan wasn’t interested enough in silver to return to the site of his discovery. Sullivan left the Monroy Hacienda on the Salt River and traveled on to California forgetting about his discovery near the Stoneman Grade in the Pinal Mountains. A couple of years later Aaron Mason stumbled onto Sullivan’s discovery and located the famous Silver King Mine in March of 1875. If this story is true then Monroy must have been living in Blue Point as early as 1875.

When Roscoe Wilson interviewed Francisco Monroy in 1925 he was 93 years old. He told Wilson he had lived on his hacienda for more than fifty years at the time. Monroy’s name has appeared in different periodicals over the years, however the one that has linked him to buried treasure appeared in the Arizona Republican in August of 1918. The following account was reported.

“Savoring strongly of the methods in vogue among the bandits in old Mexico, word came to Phoenix yesterday of the robbery of an old, wealthy Mexican cattleman at Blue Point, who was threatened with death by armed and masked men, was forced to disclose the hiding place of his fortune. This netted the desperadoes some $1,500.

“The robbers had ridden into Monroy Hacienda about 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. There were six bandits in the group. After beating the old man severely he revealed the hiding place for $900.00. A bandit accidentally moved the stove and beneath it found another $500 in gold.”

Francisco “Pancho” Monroy did not speak English. Monroy was born in 1840, in Northern Sonora. He was one of the earliest, if not the first pioneer to settle along the Rio Salinas (Salt River). Senor Monroy left Northern Sonora, Mexico in the early part [of] 1875 after [the] reign of President Benito Juarez. Many Mexican landowners left Mexico during Juarez’s reign.

Yes, it is probably true Private Sullivan visited Monroy’s Hacienda and showed Pancho the rich specimens of silver ore he had found prior to mustering out of the Army. Sullivan had worked on the Stoneman Grade. It is also believed Monroy didn’t own the Blue Point Ranch at the time, but may have been herding cattle in the area for W.W. Jones.

Yes, Don Francisco “Pablo” Monroy could have hidden a fortune in gold coins somewhere in the vicinity of his hacienda. Monroy was known to stash or cache large amounts of gold coinage.

Bill Cage, an early territorial blacksmith who had worked in Christmas, Arizona, told the following story. This old man named “Lem” who spoke fluent Spanish supposedly worked for Pancho Monroy for several years between 1910-1934. Lem said he helped Monroy dig many holes in the desert looking for gold coins. According to Lem, the only bank Monroy trusted was the desert. The old vaquero had Lem digging holes all over the desert between Salt River and Superstition Mountain. When Lem would inquire as to why he was digging so many holes for no apparent reason the old vaquero replied he had lost something he buried years ago and was trying to find it. Lem felt the old vaquero was losing his memory and had forgotten where he buried the caches. Many old timers used the ground for a bank.

It is quite likely Don Francisco “Pancho” Monroy buried gold coins somewhere in the desert. It is very likely these coins remain buried to this day. The story has been around for a long time and is quite interesting to speculate about. Don Francisco “Pancho” Monroy died at his ranch on December 4, 1935. He was 95 years old.

The old Blue Point Ranch was located near the present Blue Point Ranger Station and parking lot. So when you visit the Salt River between Stewart Mountain Dam and Granite Reef Dam or float down the Salt River you might think about “Pancho” Monroy’s various gold coin caches in the desert.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Letter From the President

June 21, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. Read this article here.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, passed away on June 5, 2004. He was born in Dixon*, Illinois in 1911. He served two terms as Governor of California and two terms as President of the United States. Reagan often corresponded with different people around the world. He shared his time using his pen with many people who would never have had an opportunity or chance to physically meet him and say hello.

Some forty years ago I had an opportunity to [meet] Ronald Reagan when he filled in as host for Death Valley Days shortly after Stanley Andrews, the “Old Ranger,” decided to retire from the program. Barry Stabler wanted Reagan was host for Death Valley Days. Reagan had been the very popular host of the General Electric Theater. Stabler had twenty-six Death Valley Days episodes to film but he wasn’t sure if Reagan could fulfill this task. Reagan had been asked to run for Governor of California at the time.

Apache Land was a very busy movie locale between 1962-1969. Barry Stabler continued shooting his Death Valley Days episodes at Apache Land. Ronald Reagan became a regular on Death Valley Days. It was during his work at Apache Land that I briefly met Ronald Reagan one morning on the set.

Madison Productions, Barry Stabler’s company, moved into Apache Land on June 6, 1966 to do the series. The Apache Land staff was looking for extras for Sadler’s company. Candidates who wanted to work were asked to wear Western clothes that would be appropriate seventy-five years ago when they showed up at the casting office. Horses were being leased and rented for these episodes of Death Valley Days. There was one particular film shoot [where] a few extra horses were needed. The horses were leased from Dallas Adair as I recall. I happened to be visiting at the U Ranch early one morning when there was a call for a couple more horses. I rode down to Apache Land with the cowboy working at the ranch. Once at the movie set we dropped off the horses. While on the set I got to meet Ronald Reagan briefly and talk about the horses and the old ranch. We returned to the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

The next thing I knew Reagan had been elected Governor of California, then President of the United States in 1980. Late in December 1981, Jim Swanson and I published a book titled Superstition Mountain: A Ride Through Time. Somehow Jim and I thought bringing up the names of the United States presidents that had visited this area would make interesting reading in our book. We thought of Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan. We planned to print a special leather-bound gold-embossed copy of our book for the President of the United States with the Great Seal of Arizona on it. We eventually had the book printed on linen paper and in a slipcover. Fourteen of these books were printed, and one copy was sent to President Reagan.

Arizona’s Attorney General Robert K. Corbin, a friend of mine, carried President Reagan’s copy of our book to Washington D.C. around Christmastime 1981. When Corbin returned from Washington D.C. he told us the President would respond to the book. On April 14, 1981 I received an envelope simply marked “THE WHITE HOUSE.” The letter was addressed to Tom Kollenborn. The letter read as follows:

Dear Mr. Kollenborn:

I’m certainly glad you asked Bob Corbin to bring the handsome copy of your book, Superstition Mountain, for me when he came to Washington. This handsome Collector’s Edition on Apache Junction and some of its interesting residents is a delightful remembrance of your friendship and will also help me relieve many happy days filming the Death Valley series. Many thanks for sharing your work with me. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.

With my best wishes,


Ronald Reagan

President Reagan acknowledged Corbin bringing the book to him and he did recall our brief meeting almost twenty years earlier at Apache Land. I would have never dreamed he would become President of the United States on that hot dusty movie set lot that day at Apache Land. I would say, “you never know who you are going to meet and where they will end up.”

As we rode into Apache Land that day we didn’t even know they were shooting Death Valley Days. At the time I was more excited about meeting Barry Sadler, the author and singer of “The Green Berets,” a very popular song out of the Vietnam War.

Ronald Reagan is gone now. He lived a very productive life and had a very devoted wife. History will undoubtedly remember him as the man who ended the Cold War and defeated Communism. I had grown up with the Cold War and the threat of worldwide Communism.

I remembered the McCarthy days and the Committee on Un-American Activities. He remembered the Senator’s attack on Hollywood producers and stars. I find it interesting that Ronald Reagan emerged from this to become President of the United States. When I received this letter it was truly one of the highlights of my life.

* Library note: Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois.

Monday, May 24, 2004

A Great Gold Find

May 24, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

It is extremely difficult to find examples of gold actually being found in the Superstition Wilderness Area. This geographical region is not conducive to gold-bearing ore, according to most geologists. However, to all stories there are exceptions.

Charles Williams was a gold prospector who prospected the Superstition range east of Apache Junction in the years following World War I. Williams was a disabled veteran who had no job or means of supporting his family. He turned to gold prospecting rather than a full time job.

A man working ten to twelve hours a day could scratch out enough gold in the Gold Fields, west of Superstition Mountain, to buy beans, flour and salt. Times were really bad for most people during the “Depression” of the 1930s.

The topics of conversation in those days around the Apache Junction Inn focused on lost gold, cattle, the weather and the “Depression.” The “Inn” served as a watering hole for cowboys, prospectors and dreamers. Charley Williams was a dreamer on the horizon hoping to strike it rich.

Williams wasn’t always welcome around the Apache Junction Inn, especially when he couldn’t pay his tab. George Curtis, the owner of the Inn, would limit the amount of anyone’s tab according to his or her ability to pay. One day Charley Williams disappeared. This was on January 2, 1935, and Curtis figured he had just skipped out on his tab. 

The next time George Curtis heard about Charles Williams was on the front page of the Arizona Republic. The headline read, “Williams Lost in the Superstition Mountains.” This was on January 4, 1935. Maricopa County Sheriff J.R. McFadden organized a search party to try and locate Williams on January 5, 1935. Williams was originally reported missing in the rugged Superstition Mountains by his wife.

After four days of searching, most searchers believed the crippled war veteran was dead. Miraculously, on January 8, 1935, Williams stumbled into a prospector’s camp eight miles northeast of Apache Junction at 2:09 a.m. Charles Williams had survived a four-day ordeal in the rugged mountains.

Williams had been missing for eighty-five hours. The forty-one-year-old prospector was extremely weak, dehydrated and disoriented from his ordeal. He also appeared incoherent and incapable of explaining what had happened to him. The authorities found fifteen ounces of gold nuggets in his pockets.

The story Williams eventually told about his experiences in the Superstition range became extremely controversial. Old-timers examined his gold and claimed it came from volcanic debris. The largest nugget in Williams’ possession was one about the size of a quarter in diameter and [weighed] close to 3.4 ounces. Williams later claimed there was at least an additional twenty pounds of nuggets on the floor of the cave he had found in the Superstition Mountains. Charles Williams had found a bonanza cache.

For a short period of time, Williams became one of the most celebrated prospectors in Arizona. Can you imagine the significance of such a find during the “Great Depression” era? Newspapers around the country played up Williams as the man who had discovered the Lost Dutchman Mine. The national newspapers had just about made a hero of this broken-down World War I veteran when it was learned he had been indicted by the United States Department of Justice for the possession of more than five ounces of refined gold. The indictment was not popular among Arizonans. Those were real nuggets, not refined gold claimed Williams’ many friends and prospecting partners.

Charles Williams told the following story to his many friends. “I was following the clues of an old map I had over some of the roughest terrain in the Superstition range when I became disoriented and lost my way. I came up over a ridge and in the distance I saw a small cave near the base of a pointed peak. Tired and in need of rest I made my way toward the cave. Once inside the cave I cleared a spot to rest and this is when I discovered the floor of the cave was covered with gold nuggets, some of them as big as walnuts. In a frenzy of excitement over the discovery I began to gather the nuggets. I stuffed them in my pockets. I kept screaming, I am rich, I am rich. I ran out of the cave and turned around to run back in and I hit my head extremely hard on the roof of the cave knocking myself senseless. I wandered about the mountains for at least two days before I recalled what happened. I was resting on a rock near Weaver’s Needle when I realized where I was and what had happened in the cave.

“I then reached in my pockets and found the gold nuggets. Only a few of the nuggets remained because of a hole in my pocket. I looked for the cave for two more days and finally gave up. I walked toward the Apache Trail where Sheriff’s deputies found me. I decided, as soon as I returned to civilization, I would acquire more supplies, then immediately return to the approximate location of the cave.”

The Charles Williams story made front page news for a while. Then, on November 15, 1935, the United States Treasury Department seized all of the Williams’ gold claiming it was refined gold and not natural gold. The gold was sent to [a] Denver metallurgist who who identified the gold as refined dental gold. At this point, Charles Williams was arrested and reindicted for possession of more than five ounces of refined gold.

The final government adjudication of this case led to Charles Williams being fined $5,000. After the hearing Williams was released and the government kept the gold to cover the fine.

Did Charles Williams salt the cave with gold? It is very doubtful Williams had enough gold of any kind in [his] possession to pull off such a scam. Many people believe Williams accidentally stumbled on to somebody else’s cache of refined gold. Or maybe he accidentally stumbled on to some kind of scam and exposed the operation before the perpetrators had an opportunity to initiate their plan.

Stories are still told about Williams around campfires. He may have found a cave full of refined dental gold. The cache may still remain hidden in some cave deep in the wilderness. The real mystery to Williams’ find is who had the kind of capital in those days to perpetrate such a hoax. The treasury department hounded Williams for several years, but never found him to have a partner. Could it be he actually found a cave filled with gold nuggets and the government claimed they were dental gold or was he a victim of circumstances far beyond his control?

The Williams story still intrigues those interested in lost gold mines and treasure. Everyone who knew Charles Williams intimately believed he was an honest man and the United States government went after him to quiet his story about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area. 

Stories of lost gold in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona continue to fascinate those who walk in the steps of “Coronado’s Children.”

Monday, April 26, 2004

Jabez Clapp – Mountain Philosopher

April 26, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

On August 31, 1961, the “Phoenix Gazette” reported a Superstition Mountain prospector missing. According to the article, Jabez “Jay” Clapp was last seen on July 1, 1961, as he made his way back toward his camp from First Water.

Clapp’s camp was an old mine tunnel about three miles north of the Pinal County line in Maricopa County. Maricopa County deputies searched the area around Hackberry Springs and Garden Valley for three days without finding a trace of Clapp.

Jabez Clapp was a 52-year-old recluse who lived some 250 feet back from the mouth of a deserted mine tunnel for more than seven years. According to his mother, Mrs. Audrey Clapp, a school teacher in Norton, Kansas, her son had come to the Superstition Mountains late in 1951 to find another way of life.

Jay’s mother sent him a monthly survival allowance and he made monthly trips to Apache Junction to collect the allowance and buy supplies. He usually stayed at the old Grandview Motel in Apache Junction while in town. Jay was well known by Marie Porter, Apache Junction’s postmaster. She was the one who first alerted authorities that Clapp might be missing in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

After several days of searching the deputies located Jay Clapp’s mine tunnel. All evidence at the site indicated he had not lived there in several weeks. The deputies found a rusty old coffeepot, countless pencils, manuscripts and magazines. They also found an Army rifle, a .45 caliber pistol, a camera, Geiger counter, forty-two dollars and clothing. The deputies were certain Clapp had not abandoned his camp. They believed he had left the camp, planning on returning soon.

One deputy stated that Clapp had either left the country or he was dead somewhere out in one of those canyons with the [latter] being most likely true.

After finding his camp, Range Deputy Amos Hawkins and three other deputies continued the search for Clapp. Marie Porter notified Clapp’s mother of his disappearance. Mrs. Clapp’s concern for her son resulted in a massive search of the Superstition Mountains in 1961. 

The last two people to see Jabez “Jay” Clapp alive was Pinal County Deputy Jack Martz and William T. Barkley, a local rancher. Martz said he gave Clapp a ride on June 26 to the area of First Water. Barkley later said he saw Clapp walking toward Apache Junction on July 7th.

Jay Clapp was a devoutly religious man and loved to write about astrology and the Superstition Mountains. His manuscript about his life in the Superstition Mountains revealed his inner self and how he believed about the environment and his place in life. He was certainly a gentle soul to those who really knew him.

While working for the Barkley Cattle Company in the mid-1950’s, I visited with Jay on many occasions and often gave him a ride into the Junction or back to First Water. He was an interesting character, certainly different than the average prospector who roamed the Superstition Mountain region.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Sgt. William Russell supervised the search by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Jeep Posse. Deputy Amos Hawkins shrugged at the suggestion that Clapp died of a bullet from a sniper’s rifle deep in the Superstition Mountains. There was constant speculation about prospectors being murdered because of the hostilities in and around Weaver’s Needle in the early 1960’s.

Finally, officials concluded that Clapp must be considered dead, and on September 11, 1961, the search for Jabez Clapp was called to an end. He was still missing without a trace.

A California man prospecting the Superstition Mountains found the remains of Jabez Clapp on March 25, 1964, three years after he disappeared. David E. Hermosillo, 32, of Indio, California, told deputies he found what appeared to be human bones in a bleak desert area in the rugged West Boulder Canyon. Hermosillo brought back postcards and two cameras found near the remains. The initials “J.C.” were inscribed on the cameras.

Deputies who later visited the site were quite convinced Jabez Clapp died a natural death, even though his skull was never found. A coroner’s jury, after testimony by Dr. Thomas B. Jarvis, ruled Clapp’s cause of death as unknown.

Clapp was very religious and enjoyed living in almost total isolation. He was very interested in writing and photography and his manuscript revealed an excellent talent for writing.

Jay attended Southeastern State College at Durant, Oklahoma, for three years. He was a member of the Baptist Church at Checotha, Oklahoma.

The following is a brief quote from his manuscript. “If man was meant to be absolute on this planet, then God would not be necessary. God is absolute, man is not.”

Clapp carefully weaves the meaning of religion, man and nature into a very interesting manuscript about life, which he wrote.

The Hermit Jabez Clapp is gone. He was a gentle and unusual soul who roamed the Superstition Mountain for more than [a] decade searching for his niche in the realm of things. Those who knew him considered him a man “marching to [the] beat of a different drummer.”

Monday, March 29, 2004