Monday, May 2, 2005

The Gonzales Story, Part I

May 2, 2005 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Library Note: The Library's copy of the May 9, 2005 edition of the News is missing and so part 2 of this story is unavailable.

There are few tales in the annals of Superstition Mountain history that can chronicle the feverish quest for gold by men better than the Gonzales story. 

Historians ascertain the story is strictly fabrication, the imagination of a creative writer who first put it in print in the 1930s. Most of the story is supposition; however, there are lingering facts that tantalize the imagination. A close examination of documents fails to produce any substance to the story, but the Gonzales name does appear frequently in Mexican history. The hearsay in the story appears to produce enough pseudo-evidence to satisfy those who believe in lost gold mine stories. Tales of bonanza gold have always obscured documented fact and more often these stories command the attention of the reading public. The average reader is also a dreamer searching for an armchair adventure.

The Gonzales story has always produced interesting controversy and has, on many occasions, subjected credible historians to criticism. The lure and lust for gold often overwhelms and obscures fact and replaces it with hearsay. There is no truth stronger [than] the true story told by an old and trusted friend even if historic evidence does not exist to support it. Men have been blinded from the truth by exaggerated stories of huge quantities of gold or treasure for the taking. The Gonzales tale is such a story.

Juan Gonzales supposedly lived in the Mexican state of Sonora near the village of Arizpe. It was here his grandfather, Miguel Peralta, told him the story of the Peralta gold mines in the Pimeria Alta to the north. Juan promised his grandfather someday he would search for the family’s mines and bring wealth once again to Arizpe. It was two decades later before Juan could organize his first expedition into the Pimeria Alta. On November 20, 1878, Juan Jose Gonzales Sanchez departed from Arizpe with his cousin, Alvarado Luis Sanchez, and a friend, Jose “Mano” Peralta Quiroz. Alvarado was Juan’s partner and Quiroz was a helper. Juan’s father warned him the Americans did not like Mexican prospectors who competed with them for the mineral wealth of the territory recently stolen from Mexico. Often the Americans would kill Mexican prospectors and claim they were Apaches or hostile Indians. Juan’s father also cautioned them about the Apache who dominated the Apacheria. They were still seeking the revenge of Chief Victorio, Magnus Colorados and others.

The small Mexican party crossed the international border near what is [known] today as Agua Prieta. At this point they traveled northwest until they arrived at the banks of the Rio San Pedro. For three days they followed the Rio San Pedro to its confluence with the Rio Gila. They then followed the course of the Gila until they arrived at Dos Lomas, the two hills.

At this point they traveled across the desert guided only by a sharp pointed peak called La Sombrero. After two days of hard travel the small group arrived at the old Ruiz Hacienda near what is known as Queen Creek today. The Ruiz Hacienda was a fortress on the banks of the Rio Tortuga (Queen Creek). At the Ruiz Hacienda they purchased a few meager supplies and continued their journey toward La Sombrero.

The three young men had two French rifles and a limited supply of caps, powder and ball for protection. They made their first night’s camp in the Superstition Mountain near La Sombrero. Juan’s grandfather had called Superstition Mountain by its Mexican name “Sierra Supersticion.”

The trip from Mexico had been a difficult one and the three were near exhaustion. After a day of rest they [began] their search for the La Mina del Sombrero, the mine of the hat. The three men followed the instructions given to them by the elder Peralta, Juan’s grandfather.

Late one evening the young men heard a woman’s scream in a neighboring canyon. Picking up their rifles they went to investigate. They climbed a steep ridge dividing the two canyons. Once on the summit they saw four Apache warriors assaulting a young Mexican woman. She was screaming at her attackers in Spanish. For a moment the young men were overwhelmed with fear and confusion, but the woman’s continued struggle with her captors forced them to make a decision.

Lifting their rifles to their shoulders, they took careful aim and pulled the triggers. As the roar of their weapons echoed through the canyons two Apache warriors fell dead. The remaining warriors quickly grabbed their rifles and fled for cover in the rocks. Juan and his companions lay quietly near the summit of the ridge waiting for the Indians to make the next move. Soon the young Mexican girl began to crawl toward them. Suddenly, an Apache warrior jumped to his feet and took careful aim, but before he could pull the trigger of his rifle the roar of Alvarado’s rifle and the speeding bullet tore the top of the Apache’s head off. The warrior fell dead, but his comrade fired a fatal bullet into Alvarado’s chest. Juan fired a second shot killing the fourth Apache warrior. Alvarado lay on the ground near his friend with his life blood [slowly] draining out on the rocks of Superstition Mountain.

Juan and “Mano” slowly climbed down from the summit to the aid of the young Mexican woman. The young woman told how she was kidnapped from the Silver King area three years previous. As the young men talked to her they soon realized she spoke Apache and English, as well as Spanish. It wasn’t long before they found out she knew the Sierra Supersticiones well. She told them her name was Carmen Maria Antonio Ruiz. Carmen claimed she had lived with a white prospector near the Ruiz Hacienda who was more cruel than the Apache. She showed them a brand on her back. It was placed there so that there would never be any mistake as to who owned her. One late night an Apache warrior plunged a knife into her tormentor’s chest and stole her in the night.

As twilight gave way to darkness, Juan and “Mano” buried their friend on a ridge overlooking the canyon leading to the base of La Sombrero. After a short prayer the three returned to Juan’s camp. As they ate a meager meal of corn mush and jerky Juan was prepared to tell the young woman why he was in the stronghold of the Coyotero Apache.