Monday, July 11, 2005

The Story of Edgar Piper

July 11, 2005 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The towering spire of Weaver’s Needle has played a major role in the history and legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine. The canyons and draws of this famous slope were once the realm of several colorful and interesting characters. One such character was Edgar Edmond Piper.

Piper came from Oregon in the early 1950s to settle in the shadows of Weaver’s Needle and begin his search for the Lost Dutchman Mine or one of the Peralta Mines. The landmark “Piper Springs” preserves the legacy of his life and times around Weaver’s Needle.

Piper was a tall, lanky man, deeply tanned by decades of exposure to the sun. His facial features were sharp and extremely pronounced. His attire generally included khakis, a baseball cap and a pistol strapped to his hip. Ed was a mild-mannered, gentle and fearless individualist. His personality reflected his burning desire to find the gold he believed to be buried near Weaver’s Needle.

Piper was also a cautious man, a good conversationalist if he chose to be, but if provoked or challenged he could protect himself and his property. Piper was a friendly man, not a violent man, and he always welcomed strangers to his camp with a cup of coffee.

I visited his camp many times during the late fifties while working for the Barkley Cattle Company, and I was always welcome in his camp. Piper was a decent storyteller when he talked about what he believed to be true. He was dedicated to his search for the lost gold in and around Weaver’s Needle.

Not a man to [be] take[n] lightly, Ed Piper would certainly challenge you if he felt threatened. And he felt threatened on November 11, 1958, when he was confronted by a young man on the slopes of Weaver’s Needle above his camp.

Piper was accosted by Robert St. Marie, a young man employed by Marie Jones, the leader of a rival prospecting camp. Jones had been feuding with Piper over some mining claims adjacent to Weaver’s Needle. St. Marie pointed a revolver at Piper and told him he was going to kill him. Ed drew his pistol and shot St. Marie to death. The killing was later ruled an act of justifiable self-defense. Piper’s story proved to be the accepted version of the confrontation that occurred high on the slopes of Weaver’s Needle, and it was a drama that is still argued around campfires to this day. If this tragedy had not occurred it is doubtful that Piper’s name would be remembered. 

Edgar Edmond Piper was born in Florence, Kansas, on April 4, 1894, to Edmond and Laura Eason Piper. He arrived in Apache Junction in early 1952 and had been a farmer and fruit tree grower in New Plymouth, Idaho.

Just prior to Piper’s departure from Idaho his wife and mother died within days of each other. He told some friends “the whole world collapsed” around him. He then chose to spend the rest of his life in obscurity, living briefly in a small trailer in Apache Junction before moving to the base of Weaver’s Needle. He established a permanent camp there in 1955. He staked out his first mining claims on February 9, 1956. The claims were named “The Thing No.1 – No.5.” 

Piper continued his talent at growing fruit trees after moving into the Superstitions. When a visitor rode into his camp he always pointed proudly to a small peach tree he carefully cultivated. He loves this world apart from the pressures of our complex mobile society and he continuously pointed to that fact.

Piper was also a prospector in the true sense of the word. He had many claims in and around Weaver’s Needle and sincerely believed he was within 300 feet of the richest gold mine or treasure in the world.

He lived near Weaver’s Needle during the violent years of 1958-1961, when death was no stranger to the region. Just fourteen days after the tragic death of Robert St. Marie, Lavern Rowles died of gunshot wounds inflicted by Ralph Thomas. According to Ed Piper, Thomas and his wife had just completed a visit to his camp and were leaving the area when an argument erupted between Rowles, Thomas and his wife that ended in that shooting. A few months later, on March 21, 1961, the body of Walter Mowry was found in Needle Canyon, a short distance away. This bloodshed in the area appeared to prepare the future dialogue for numerous articles and books on the Superstition Mountains.

Piper lived in the mountains during a very turbulent time and became part of the legend, willingly or unwillingly. He survived all the hostilities during this violet period, only to die in the Pinal County Hospital in Florence on August 13, 1962, from stomach cancer. He was 68 years old.

“Gold can possess a man’s soul, but the soul cares nothing of gold beyond death.” This old proverb measures the value of gold after death. Ed often told me, “Gold creates an obsession in some men’s minds that eventually destroys them.” His quote was quite prophetic. All men appear to want gold; therefore the yellow metal of the kings continues to flow from one generation to another without interruption by the death of any one individual.

Piper made James Slaven the executor of his will and he requested in the will to be buried in the Superstition Mountains. Although the law prohibits this, there are faint rumors that claim Piper’s remains were buried within the mountains he loved so much. The rumors have no supporting documentation and, according to existing documents, Edgar Edmond Piper is buried in a pauper’s grave near Florence, Arizona. This too is ironic for a man who was born in Florence, Kansas [to] be buried in Florence, Arizona.