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.”