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.