Monday, September 11, 2006

Tall Tales of the Superstitions

September 11, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several readers of this column have asked me to write about some tall tales about the Superstition Mountains. Believe me, I have heard an abundance of these mythological stories. These stories include topics from ghosts to lost gold. I hope you find these vignettes about preposterous situations within the Superstition Wilderness Area interesting. 

The first story that comes to mind is the Pope Springs Monster. Many years ago two prospectors were searching for gold near Pope Springs in the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Their camp was located south of Iron Mountain and they had a small burro for packing their supplies. They tethered the burro in camp, and one night during a severe thunderstorm a large hairy beast attacked their camp and literally dragged off the burro. The next morning the two prospectors found tracks of what appeared to be a hominoid (an animal that stands erect and walks on two legs). One of the prospectors claimed the creature attacked him. He said he shot it three times at close range and it still hauled off the burro.

Experienced guides and hunters who checked the camp site a few days later claimed the burro had been attacked by a large bear. Many old timers made reference to this incident as [the] Pope Springs Massacre. It is interesting it was called a massacre because the only life lost was that of the burro. Tales about the Pope Springs Monster continue to be told around campfires in the Superstition Mountains. Well, after all there is a Mogollon Monster up along the Tonto Rim.

Several years [ago] I heard Ron Feldman, the OK Corral Stables owner, tell a story on national television about a man who saw a dinosaur in Needle Canyon near Weaver’s Needle. According to the story the dinosaur was extremely large, maybe thirty feet in length.

The men who witnessed this large reptile expressed fear, which made the story appear very genuine. The commentator for Good Morning America questioned Ron as to how or why these prospectors had witnessed such a spectacle some 130 million years after such creatures had disappeared. Ron had no real answer, but the commentator suggested “wacky tabacky.” This giant reptile was millions of years beyond its time, and friends of Ron’s believe maybe these guys had experienced a time machine of some kind.

Another interesting story comes from a very dependable source, an old cowboy named Bud Lane. Bud had worked the Superstition Wilderness Area for both Floyd Stone and the Barkley Cattle Company and was a seasoned cowboy and rodeo performer. He spent much [of] his final years working at the Quarter Circle U Ranch helping Everett “Arkie” Johnson. Bud tells a story about flying saucers and it is very believable.

During the mid-1980s Bud talked about a site in the Superstition Wilderness Area [where] he was convinced a UFO had landed. There was a spot in a large arroyo near La Barge Canyon [where] the sand was [fused] in a large irregular circle. Bud believed something landed there and the heat from its exhaust melted the sand particles in the wash forming a circle. Such a place actually existed. Many people who witnessed the site believed it was caused by a lightning strike. This was another interesting story about the Superstition Wilderness Area.

The year was 1935, when a prospector arrived in Phoenix claiming he had found a diamond mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area. He said his mine was located in a rugged southeast region of the Superstition Mountain range and reported that the diamond mine was a large cavern with a wall of diamonds. After the prospector’s diamonds were inspected by a jeweler, the stones were declared to be nothing more than Calcite crystals. Old man Modoc’s diamond mine carried the headlines for a while because people wanted to believe the mysterious Superstition Mountains had more treasure than just hidden gold. Modoc’s Cave still remains hidden today. The only information we find about Modoc’s Diamond Mine today are some periodicals from the mid-1930s.

Of course there is always the story of the Blue Light in Trap Canyon. Two prospectors who spent many years prospecting in the Trap Canyon area prior to 1970 talked often about a blue light shining upward out of the canyon. They described it like the flash of an arc welder. The light, they said, was extremely bright and very hard to look at.

An ASU professor reported the light as being a small carbon arc light used in small, but powerful, search lights. Now here is the real mystery. What would a person be doing with a carbon arc light deep in the Superstition Wilderness Area? Such a light would require a power plant or a large 12 volt battery to operate.

I must admit I have heard people talk about taking things into the Superstition Mountains just to create a hoax of some kind. Many locals have always believed the blue light being emitted from Trap Canyon was such a hoax.

[Part II – September 18, 2006]

Several “tall tales” were discussed in last week’s column. Here are a few more for this week.

The rumble of the mountain’s Thunder God has been heard by many residents of Apache Junction over the years. I have personally heard the rumbling deep within the Earth at Lost Dutchman State Park and also over at the Peralta Trailhead. This rumbling from deep within the Earth has been attributed to many different natural and man-made things. First let’s examine the natural phenomena that might be responsible for this rumbling.

Several years ago a science teacher at Apache Junction High School inquired at the ASU seismology laboratory about these rumblings in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. A geology professor advised the teacher that there were several hundred small tremors every day along a fault in the Superstition Mountains. He said these tremors were so small that the average person could not detect them. When the professor was asked if these tremors could cause the rumblings heard in the mountains he said he seriously doubted it. However, he added that anything is possible when it comes to tectonic activity in the Earth’s crust.

The ASU professor suggested the mountain’s rumbling came from detonations at the Pinto Valley open pit mining operation near Miami.

Another source of the mountain rumble may come from another bizarre story. Many years ago it was suggested that there was a place in the mountains where  a person could look down into a deep crack and actually see liquid magma flowing. The person that told this story was not the kind to fabricate such stories, so what really happened on that fateful day they became lost and found this site? What did they actually see in this deep crack in the Earth’s surface? Such magmatic activity near the surface of the Earth could cause rumbling.

Another geologist suggested there was movement along a fault line in the eastern portion of the wilderness that caused the rumbling occasionally heard in Apache Junction. The final analysis of the situation would lend one to believe the detonations at the Pinto Valley operations are responsible for these rumblings of the mountain’s Thunder God. When there is a thunder and lightning storm over Superstition Mountain it isn’t difficult to envision the wrath of the Apache Thunder God.

The Superstition Wilderness Area even has a tale about Big Foot. Some time during the mid-1980s a man named Biscardi arrived in Apache Junction from Northern California convinced that Big Foot still roamed the Superstition Mountains. When he was told there was a Ponderosa pine forest in and around the Reavis Ranch he believed that would be the habitat of Big Foot.

Biscardi and his associates searched the area around Reavis, spending considerable time in Log Trough Canyon looking for Big Foot sign. Biscardi claimed he found scratch marks on trees and scat that was associated with Big Foot and not Black Bears. Biscardi’s escapades in searching for Big Foot were documented by local periodicals. Believe it or not, we have a Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area, according to Mr. Biscardi.

I will admit there are some very large Black Bears in the Reavis area that love to visit the apple orchards. My neighbor, Keith Ferlund, and I were riding out of Reavis in October of 2000 and saw a very large Black Bear north of the Reavis ranch house and orchard. That could have left some very large scratch marks on the Ponderosa pines.

I hope you have enjoyed these tall tales about the Superstition Wilderness Area. I will never forget what my wife’s uncle, Dr. Thomas B. Jarvis, said in his commentary about the book Doctor on Horseback by Dr. Ralph Fleetwood Palmer. He stated, “The tall tales seem true and the true tales seem tall.”

Monday, September 4, 2006

Diary of a Lost Mine Hunter, 1907

September 4, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The search for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine has been going on for more than a hundred years. Men and women from all walks of life have pursued this dream, and it is not my place to claim or deny the existence of this legendary mine.

According to some sources, Julia Thomas was the first person to search for old Jacob Waltz’s mine after his death on Octobr 25, 1891 in Phoenix, Arizona. Again, I am not sure Thomas was the first person to search for Waltz’s gold. Richard J. “Dick” Holmes could have, and may well have, searched for Waltz’s gold immediately after his death. Newspaper accounts place Thomas and the Petrasch brothers in the Superstition Mountains in late August or early September of 1892.

The members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) are taught from a young age to keep a journal of their life. Several years ago I acquired a copy of a journal kept by a Mormon prospector named Beach who lived in Miami, Arizona. He had worked most of his life for the Inspiration Mine. His prospecting partner, James Kidd, worked for the mines in Miami also.

The following are several quotes from the passages from this journal that will open a window into the life of a prospector in the Superstition Mountains nearly 100 years ago, in 1907.

February 11 – Started eastward from Mesa compound… headed for Goldfield about 6 a.m. this morning. I told my folks I would spend about six or seven days prospecting in the Superstition Mountains. My horse “Jug” serves me for riding and packing. I lead him to base camp with my supplies and then I will ride him while I inspect the area. I made my first camp at Salt Tank just above Jones’ old place. I filled up my canteens at the Jones’. They have a lot of fresh water. Jones ask[ed] me if I were going anywhere near Silverlane’s mine down toward the Salt River. I told him I wasn’t. There has been a lot of work along Roosevelt Road. Weeks’ station sells water to people using the road. Good thing there is plenty of water now. I couldn’t buy it.

February 12 – Up at sunrise this morning. It is a lot colder than I thought it would be. I scrambled some eggs and a couple of slices of bacon. I broke camp by 8:30 a.m. I am following an old trail over to First Water. I spotted a large buck deer. I wish I had a rifle. There is a brush corral at First Wate that Jim Bark uses. The trail was really rocky from Bark’s Corral to Boulder Canyon. I plan to camp in Boulder Canyon tonight.

February 13 – This is really beautiful country. Weaver’s Needle towers over the entire region. No wonder people believe there is a gold mine in this country. Today I was up early. I didn’t bother with breakfast. I decided to start my search up Boulder Canyon. It wasn’t long before the country really got rough. I found an old prospect on the western side of Boulder Canyon. Returned to base camp about 5 p.m. totally exhausted. This country is too rough to ride Jug so I leave him staked out.

February 14 – I was up early again today. I prospected much of Needle Canyon looking for gold sign with a spoon. Needle Canyon is flowing and it is possible to spoon every once in awhile. I am disappointed that there is little sign of quartz in this area. Around the Goldfield mines you find quartz. I planned this trip for six days and am already running low on provisions. I think I will pack Jug up and head for home tomorrow. I should be home day after tomorrow if I am lucky.

February 15 – I was up early preparing for the trip home. I camped at the Jones’ property. It was a long fifteen miles, but I made it. Mr. Jones was working his prospect. He invited me to have a meal with him. We visited about relatives and all the gold that had been found at the Mammoth. He told me there wasn’t any gold in the mountains. He knew a lot of men who had searched there and they had found nothing. Mr. Jones didn’t totally convince me, but I didn’t argue with him. I plan to return to the Superstitions to have another look someday.

February 16 – I was up early today and I plan to be in the Mesa compound by tonight. I am not sure whether I want to go back to the fields. Maybe somehow I can go on another prospecting venture into the mountains. I wish I had more money. Mother wants me to go to school, but we can’t afford it. Wish I had kept a better journal, but I really don’t know what I would have written. I did see the stagecoach going into town from Government Wells work station. Also I saw one of those new wagons which run on oil. Most of those new wagons I have seen just run around town. My trip to the Superstitions was a lot of work and I learn (sic) a lot.

February 17 – I have decided to keep a journal. Mother told me it was an important contribution to my child and their children. I plan to return to the Superstition Mountains someday if God is willing.

Walter Beach was 20 years old in 1907 when he made his trip into the Superstition Mountains and documented it in his journal. Beach continued throughout much of his adult life to search for lost gold. He was James Kidd’s partner for many years and had several claims near the Miles Ranch.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monday, August 7, 2006

Monday, July 3, 2006

Circlestone: Another Stonehinge? (sic)

July 3, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Throughout the eons of time, man has continued to speculate about his origin. In the last decade or two, a new science has emerged called astro-archaeology. In general, this has little or no meaning to the general public because its approach has caused several unfounded hypotheses about a variety of ancient monuments and ruins found in Great Britain and Europe.

The development and implementation of this new science has often been associated with fictional space science by the layman. Basically astro-archaeologists are attempting to date various ancient dwellings with mathematical theories developed from detailed studies of these megalithic ruins in ancient Europe.

You might say astro-archaeology is the scientific endeavor that examines the nature of early astronomical knowledge via the interpretation of ancient monuments and other relevant archaeological data. For some time astro-archaeology was known as megalithic astronomy and primarily developed from studies conducted at Stonehenge (England) and other British stone monuments.

However, in recent decades great strides have been developed in dating ancient dwellings, monuments and ruins with astrological calculations. It is generally accepted by the scientific community that the sun, moon, and certain constellations, in particular Pleiades, were of utmost importance to many primitive societies.

In England, at Stonehenge, a circular 58-hole computer was found which could be used to predict lunar eclipse[s] with precise accuracy. Man was using complex mathematical ingenuity some 5,000 years before Christ.

The reader may now be wondering hat this has to do with the Superstition Wilderness Area. In the next few paragraphs I would like to expound upon a hypothesis that would explain a strange ruin located in the Superstition Wilderness Area known as “Circlestone.” Over the past few decades I have accompanied several different archaeologists to the Circlestone site. All of them have suggested Circlestone was probably some type of celestial site for the ancient inhabitants of the area. I am sure many people will disagree with this hypothesis. However it is something to think about.

The early Salado and their predecessors used the sun, moon and many of the constellations to keep accurate records of time to provide information concerning the planting season. The sun, moon, and earth were without a doubt important deities in the lives of these ancient people and their religious beliefs. The sun was the god of all life, the source of all living things on this planet.

Today, science has proven the sun is the source of all energy on our planet and, without it, this planet as we know it would not exist. Taking into consideration the significance of these celestial bodies, one cannot help but believe there was a definite relationship between the religion of these early inhabitants in this area and the celestial bodies in the heavens.

Deep within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area lies an ancient circular ruin (Circlestone) which predates any contemporary development by several thousand years. The ruin is situated near the summit of a high mountain peak suitable for a celestial observatory even by today’s standards.

For some time, I have carefully studied the drawings of this ruin and methodically computer the various angles of the portals from the center of the ruin. These angles then were compared with the moon rise - moon set and solar rise – solar set. The results of these computations have provided some interesting correlations – clearly indicating the possibility this ruin served as some type of celestial observatory for the ancients who once lived here. The implications produced by this study of the site stirs the imagination. My personal study is not significant because I lack the archaeological training, therefore no scientific hypothesis or theory can be deduced by my work. However, other scientific archaeologists have applied mathematical calculations to these measurements and have deduced that Circlestone may have served as a celestial observatory used in the planting of crops.

[Part II – July 10, 2006]

It is now a known fact that two prehistoric sites of ancient celestial observatories have been identified in the western portion of the United States, one in New Mexico and the other in Montana. If the ancients who lived at Stonehenge in England could develop a method by which to predict celestial occurrences, surely it is conceivable that their American counterparts could do so as well.

Let’s examine the Circlestone site in the Superstition Wilderness. A circular wall encompasses the entire central portion of the ruin. The stone wall is mortar free and lacks any type of stability. Great portions of the wall have toppled, probably the results of an earthquake or vandalism. Solar portals appear to be located at the four points of the compass along the wall. Keep in mind this wall does not have the stability to be used as a fortress or corral; it was laid out originally for some other reason. It is this unknown use I would like to speculate about.

The wall of this ruin measures approximately one and a half meters in height across most of its course around the center of the great circle. The circular enclosure is about sixty-five meters in diameter with a circumference of two hundred and six meters, making the structure a roughened circle. At four precise intervals portals can be found. These portals during the past three or four decades have been damaged or vandalized. These portals did not serve as rifle ports for the United States Cavalry nor did they serve as windows, since their position in the wall rules out this possibility. The circular enclosure is definitely large enough to be used as some type of celestial prediction tool.

At this point you might ask, what would these primitive aborigines want with something of this nature? Think for a moment; [weren’t] the sun, moon, and constellations of great importance to the religious beliefs of these early inhabitants of the Superstition Wilderness? Can you imagine the power a shaman or medicine man would have had over his subjects if he could accurately predict a lunar or solar eclipse?

Some scientist[s] had suggested the power of the shamans and medicine men may have originated from their ability to predict celestial events. The effacement of petroglyphs in the area leaves little or no evidence of the religious beliefs of the early people that once inhabited this remote corner of the Superstition Wilderness.

It is a common agreement among astro-archaeologists that the sun played an important role in primitive religion. In Egypt it was Ra, the Sun God. In all primitive pagan societies there were deities for the sun, moon and many other celestial bodies. The American Indian also used these natural deities in their religion.

Let’s speculate on a few significant clues left behind at Circlestone in the Superstition Wilderness Area. This circular ruin is high above the surrounding terrain, it is a great distance from water, the wall is too fragile to serve as a corral or fortress, [and] very few utility shards have been found to indicate occupancy of the site by family groups. It is quite apparent the severe climatic conditions would have forced a complete abandonment of the mountaintop by these early inhabitants during the winter months. These clues are just a few reasons that would eliminate the structure as a family unit type farmstead.

Using an accurate survey instrument at the center of the circular ruin, it is soon realized the motion of the earth is in direct relationship to the portals in the walls. Just off the center axis is the remains of an inclined pit that is stone-lined. Through some simple mathematical calculations it is soon realized this inclined pit is directly related to the summer solstice. Due to the Earth’s processional motion, the declination of this solar angle would be at least 12-15 degrees in error.

At Circlestone, vandalism and the elements are destroying a mute testimony to mankind’s primitive achievements in celestial observation. Of course I am in total agreement, at least at the present, that this is purely speculation and the hypothesis I have put forth has not been fully or objectively explored. However, there is a strong possibility the Circlestone ruin could be a primitive celestial observatory.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Red Terror on Apache Trail

June 26, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The title of this story sounds like something out of the “cold war” between the Allies and the Soviet Union. This story actually predates the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. A new era of transportation was introduced to Arizona Territory with the construction of Roosevelt Dam (1903-1911). The Apache Trail would witness a transition from team-drawn wagons to powered horseless vehicles. Even W.A. Kimball’s handsome new Concord stages in 1905 couldn’t turn the tide of change. When Kimball received his first new Concord stages on June 1, 1905, J.J. Holdren and Sons had already ordered their first gasoline powered vehicle.

While Holdren and Sons were waiting for the arrival of their first automobile a giant steam-powered traction engine [weighing] close to 16 tons made a trial run between Mesa City and Goldfield. It was soon decided these giant steam tractors would haul oil to Government Wells [where] it would be loaded into wagons for the remainder of the trip to the Roosevelt Dam site. The steam tractor was capable of hauling 140 barrels or 7,700 gallons of oil at a speed of 3 miles per hour.

When construction first started on Roosevelt Dam horses and mules reigned supreme over other methods of transportation on the Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Apache Trail). Millions of tons of materials and supplies had to be moved from the railhead in Mesa City to the dam site over this primitive road by today’s standards.

The Holdren Stage Line made daily trips to the Roosevelt Dam site, leaving Mesa City at 6:00 a.m. and arriving at Roosevelt at 6:00 p.m. The Holdrens ordered the automobile in hopes of shortening that time. Their plan was to operate the vehicle between Mesa City and Government Wells a distance of twenty-three miles.

The Holdrens purchased their automobile from the Knox Automobile Company, Springfield, Mass. It had a twenty horsepower gasoline engine and was capable of transporting fourteen passengers comfortably with a limited amount of baggage. The automobile weighed 3,500 pounds and was capable of speeds up to twenty miles per hour. The roads of the period would not support such speed. The car cost $3,000 delivered in Mesa City in 1905.

The Holdrens’ Knox was probably the first automobile to operate on the Apache Trail for the purpose of generating revenue. The automobile’s first trip was made on August 25, 1905. The trip from Mesa City to Government Well was made one hour sooner than by stage. The automobile made the trip in one hour and thirty minutes, a distance of 23 miles. Future road improvement further reduced this time to one hour.

The Knox was painted a bright red and soon became known as the “Red Terror” of the Apache Trail. The brilliant red color of the automobile could be seen from a great distance warning teamsters of an impending confrontation between the horseless carriage and horse drawn wagons. It is said by some Arizona historians the completion of Roosevelt Dam announced the introduction of the self-propelled vehicle to Arizona Territory. It would be almost a decade after the construction of Roosevelt Dam before automobiles really replaced horses as a means of transportation in Arizona.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Garden Valley

May 1, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Garden Valley lies about one and a half miles east of First Water Trail Head. Sixty years ago this valley was a noted archaeological site, and prior to 1920 this large, flat valley was often called Indian Valley.

The origin of the name can probably be traced to the military and probably originated from the many Native Americans who dry farmed the area centuries ago and left behind artifacts to be found later by American archaeologists. Archaeological expeditions gathered artifacts here as late as the mid-1930s. The valley was quite obscure until a man named Odds Halseth [led] an expedition into the area for the Phoenix Archaeological Commission in December of 1931. This expedition became nationally known when they discovered a missing prospector’s skull.

The commission authorized this expedition into the Superstition Mountains to explore and record the impact of Native American occupancy in the region. All of the field work completed by the expedition was recorded and reported by the “Arizona Republican” under the direction of Harvey Mott. The expedition found the Garden Valley site a rich storehouse of early Native American artifacts. The valley floor was littered with projectile points, pieces of stoneware, beads, fetishes and pottery shards. The artifacts were believed to be Hohokam and may have been deposited 800 to 1,000 years earlier.

To accurately describe the content of the valley prior to 1931, we must depend on Harvey Mott’s description and sketch of the area. Mott’s sketch and narrative describes a central ruin at the south end of the valley littered with matates and manos. This ruin and the small caves along the western fringe of the valley probably served as a shelter for the early occupants of the region. The numerous trash mounds found along the eastern edge of the valley were difficult to recognize in 1931. Some of these mounds may have been burials. Today these mounds are only visible to the trained eye due to the eons of erosion. Mott mentions several small burial sites, however it is believed the Hohokam cremated their dead.

Petroglyphs, grinding holes and stationary matates are quite common in several areas. The basalt rock along the perimeter of the valley was ideal for petroglyphs. Most of the stoneware has been picked up during the past thirty years, but numerous lithics can still be spotted on the valley floor after a good rain and in the right places.

At the northern drainage point of the valley Halseth found indications that would suggest the early inhabitants may have controlled the runoff in this area for irrigation. The valley floor consists of a sandy-loamy soil that would have drained well when it was first cultivated. The central portion of the valley appears to be leached out. The leaching could have resulted from years of primitive agriculture or over-grazing by livestock. The raising of cattle in the valley has resulted in an overgrowth of mesquite and Cholla cactus.

Garden Valley is a fascinating place to visit today. The region is protected, so all artifacts must be left in place. This is now part of the Superstition Wilderness Area. 

To visit Garden Valley, drive out the Apache Trail north to the First Water Trailhead turn-off. Turn right and drive down FS78 road for 2.5 miles and you will arrive at the First Water Trailhead. I would recommend you take a Superstition Wilderness Area map with you on your hike. For more information contact the Mesa Ranger District, 26 N. MacDonald P.O. Box 5800 Mesa, Arizona. (480) 610-3300.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Little Joe Roider

April 24, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Over the years, my father and I met many prospectors who spent a lot of time in the Superstition Wilderness searching for gold or treasure. It was my father’s opinion that there was little gold to be found in the area. He believed the only gold in the Superstitions would be in a cache. He never believed the Tertiary basalt and ash that had formed Superstition Mountain and the surrounding area would contain any reasonable amount of gold bearing rock.

Sometime in the Spring of 1952, Dad and I were out at Peralta Canyon looking around and visiting with old Louis Volk. It was at this time we were introduced to Joe Roider by Louis. Joe had been searching an area east of Weaver’s Needle since 1945, and was very secretive about the location of his diggings. He told us he only came out to the mountains once a year, usually February or March, depending on the weather in Chicago. 

When Joe learned Dad had been wandering around these hills since the 1930s he became a little more sociable. Joe and Dad talked for a couple of hours under an old Ironwood tree while I hiked around the local area. The Dutchman’s Lost Mine was the main topic of their discussion. By the time we were ready to leave and drive back to the town of Christmas, Joe began to tell Dad about two soldiers and some of the information he had learned about them. Joe was trying to trace the soldiers back to Waltz’s mine.

The soldiers’ story is prominent in several “Dutch” scenarios about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine, and goes something like this. Two soldiers were mustered out of the Army at Fort McDowell in 1879. They decided to hike to Silver King Mine and look for work. They hiked down the Verde River then crossed the Salt River and followed it upstream. Somewhere between Boulder and Fish Creek Canyon they turned south to pick up the wagon road between Mesa City to Pinal City. It was in one of the rugged canyons south of the Salt River they came across what appeared to be an abandoned mine dump.

On this mine dump the two soldiers found a bonanza in gold ore. They picked up several rich samples and continued on their journey to Silver King. Once in Silver King the two soldiers decided to look for a grubstake. They showed a piece of their ore to Aaron Mason, owner of the Silver King Mercantile. Mason immediately recognized the ore’s richness and knew these young men had found a bonanza. He offered to grubstake them.

Instead, they [chose] to seek employment at the “King” and grubstake themselves. Like all lost mine stories the two soldiers were never able to return to their fabulous bonanza. There are several versions of this story and what happen[ed] to the two soldiers. One version claims both soldiers were murdered and buried on the desert west of Reid’s Water and Whitlow Canyon.

When I worked as a young cowboy on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch, Bill Barkley showed me a depression with a slight mound at one end with a few rocks piled up. He told me it was the grave of one of the soldiers that had found the Dutchman.

This scenario about the two soldiers and the mine dump they found while hiking from Fort McDowell to Silver King can be found in several stories. Some claim John Chuning heard the story from Joe Deering. Deering never searched for the soldiers’ mine dump because he died in an accident at the Silver King Mine. Somehow, Joe Roider came across information in Chicago that convinced him the story was true. He claimed to have known a descendant of one of the soldiers. Joe claimed to have seen some letters explaining the soldier’s good fortune and a few clues as to the location of the mine dump. I never saw one of the letters Joe talked about.

Joe Roider pursued this story for the rest of his life. I packed him into the mountains twice between 1955 and 1959. Sometime around March, 1960 I made my last trip into the Superstitions with “Little Joe.” We hiked, with heavy backpacks, into Whiskey Springs Canyon from the U Ranch. Joe and I spent two nights camped near the old airplane and searched the entire area for any sign of military buttons. The purpose of this trip was to check out Buck Wallace’s story about military buttons being found in Whiskey Springs Canyon. I believe Joe had a very primitive metal detector called a “beachcomber.” All Joe found that day were parts that had flown off the airplane when it crashed in 1942.

Joe continued hiking into the Superstitions until about 1983. He then started packing in with Billy Clark Crader, who owned and operated the Wilderness Safaro Outfitters out of Durango, Colorado. I rode into Joe’s camp sometime after 1983. He was camped in Needle Canyon about a half mile below Edwin Buckwitz’s camp. He had a comfortable floor tent setup, a battery television, radio and most of the comforts of home.

Most of Joe’s trips into Needle Canyon were made up and over Cardiac Hill, then through Bluff Saddle and down the old trail into Needle Canyon.

Crader’s crew considered “Little Joe” a true gentleman and scholar.

When I traveled in the mountains I would try to pay “Little Joe” a visit. Off and on for many years Joe and I would sit around the campfire and reminisce about the past and talk about “what if we found it.”

The last time I saw Joe Roider he dropped by my home here in Apache Junction to buy one of my books. He told me it was for his sister. He asked me to please sign it and place my phone number in it. A few months later I received a call from Joe’s sister letting me know Joe had passed away. We talked for several minutes about Joe’s dream in Arizona. She told me Joe’s heart finally gave out, but he wanted me to know the mine did exist and it was somewhere out there in the mountains.

Joe Roider was what I call an unsung hero with a good soul and a wonderful mind filled with dreams. He believed in the gold of Superstition Mountain and searched for it most of his adult life. He had prospected the mountains for almost fifty years. He expected nothing from anyone, nor did he ask for anything. He was determined to find the mine on his own. It was for this reason I respected him so much. So many had gone before him and certainly many will follow him. Robert K. Corbin once said it when he said, “You can’t legislate dreams.”

As long as there are believers like Joe Roider, somebody will be searching for the gold of Superstition Mountain.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Legend of Billy Clark Crader

April 10, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Billy Clark Crader was born in Clarksville, Texas in 1936. From his early childhood he lived his life the cowboy way. He found the great outdoors of Arizona and Colorado had room for him and his horse to roam.

Near the end of 1967 Crader took over the operation of the Superstition Mountain Inn’s stables in Apache Junction. He eventually called his new business Crader’s Wilderness Safari. During the long hot summers on the Arizona desert he roamed the Colorado Rockies with his friends and customers. During the winter months he rode the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Crader was a dynamic, robust and tactful cowboy diplomat. He earned this title because of his ability to work with his customers. Men and women admired him and most worshipped his way of life. He was symbolic to those who wanted to live his way of life, but never had the nerve to do so.

He was often late at the trailhead to meet his customers, but he could calm the most frustrated dude with his charm and charisma. When the chips were down, Billy Crader was a good man to have in your corner. You could always depend on him in an emergency to save a life or provide immediate first aid to an injured person or animal. He was no phony, and those who knew him understood why. He did and said what he wanted, but still respected a person’s individual rights. He was a modern icon of the Old West for those of us who cherish and love the West.

He challenged death like most men challenged an adventure. Even after triple bypass heart surgery Billy Clark Crader continued his never-ending pace. He once said, “I would rather die with my boots on with everyone cheering than in a hospital bed.” Billy Crader lived faster and harder in one year than most men lived in a lifetime.

Crader socialized at night with his customers and was a businessman during the day. This would best describe Billy Crader’s business plan. Many a person wanted to follow in his footsteps, but those footsteps were often too big for ordinary men to walk in.

Billy Clark Crader was a true snowbird by the old cowboy’s definition. A snowbird defined in cowboy lingo originally was a man who worked cattle up north in the summer and down south in the winter. These old snowbirds wanted to avoid the cold winters of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and other northern states, so they moved south when winter arrived.

On a warm winter afternoon in February of 1984, while unloading horses at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County, Billy Clark Crader bid farewell to this world. He was doing what he loved most; working with horses and people, the two things he cherished most in life. He was preparing for another one of his famous guided tours of the Superstition Wilderness. We all believe, those of us who were his friends, that he died the way he wanted – with his boots on.

Shortly after his bypass surgery I witnessed Crader betting a man he could lift a 1,000 pound horse off the ground. I stood in amazement as he first lifted the front quarters of the horse off the ground, then walked around to the rear of the horse and lifted the hindquarters off the ground. It takes one hell of a man to [lift] a horse off the ground, especially the hindquarters.

He was a legend in his lifetime. He left behind a legacy of a man who could have been anything in life he wanted, but chose to remain a “Son of the West.” He was a friend to humankind and he never met a person he couldn’t like if given half a chance. He was loved, cussed and discussed, but was still respected by most people in such a way he became a legend. Billy Clark Crader’s epitaph was those who bid him farewell in Apache Junction and Durango. These men and women came from all walks of life to say goodbye in their own respective ways to a man who was a legend in their lifetime.

Billy and Rowean Crader founded and operated the Wilderness Safari Stable each winter at the Superstition Mountain Inn from 1967-1980 and each summer they moved to Colorado and operated another stable out of Durango. The Wilderness Safari Stable was one of [the] early riding stables and pack outfits within the boundaries of Apache Junction after the community became a city in November of 1978. The same stable and outfit was previously run by Slim Fogle until his death on January 31, 1968.

Billy’s friend Ted DeGrazia once said of him, “He was the kind of man legends are made about.”

Monday, February 20, 2006

Burro Race in Apache Junction

February 20, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

History is the recording of memorable events of the past. I’m not sure just how historical this story is, however it is certainly history to me. Several decades ago, during the infancy of Apache Junction, I became involved in a wild race because of how naïve I was in those days.

In February of 1959 I was working for the Barkley Cattle Company at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Early one Saturday morning I drove down to Apache Junction to spend a few leisure[ly] moments away from cactus, coyotes, rattlesnakes, cattle and horses. While sitting before a cool glass of nourishment at the old Apache Junction Inn, I was approached by Chic Jones, the manager of the bar and restaurant in those days. I could tell he had something on his mind.

With a friendly hello he asked, “How are things going up on the mountain?” He made his point. It appeared Chic had decided at the last moment to enter his banner in the 2nd Annual Burro Derby sponsored by the Apache Junction Lion’s Club. Chic was somewhat desperate. However, at the time I didn’t realize it.

He needed someone to lead a tame burro in a local race. I just looked at Chic and smiled. I told him I didn’t lead burros, I rode horses. Of course he neglected to tell me about the length of the course. My billfold was somewhat lean and at the time I needed a few bucks. Without much talk I accepted his offer of five bucks and a free steak dinner to lead this tame burro around a prescribed course in Apache Junction. This was an agreement I would live to regret.

Chic’s style was quite simple. He told me all I had to do was lead this gentle burro around a track and with my long legs I was sure to win. Little did I realize the burro had never been halter broken! The course was marked off with pieces of white cloth. The course also included a stand of Cholla cactus that would have discouraged a wild mother cow trying to find her calf, and to top things off the track was nothing more than an outline of seven miles through cactus, Mesquite, Palo Verde, Catclaw, and Ironwood.

At the starting line on that eventful day it took three strong men to hold my burro so I could tie the advertising banner around his middle section. This was the beginning of a real rodeo. What a mistake I had made.

That burro had other ideas and one of them wasn’t running along behind me. Kicking, biting, and rearing were some of his finer qualities. Finally, when the gun sounded the start of the race, the burro went one way and I went in the other in a huge cloud of dust. Soon I found I had gone in the wrong direction because that jackass was dragging me. Three gentlemen waving their hats turned him in the right direction. Finally we were on course and behind the others.

After a quick inspection of my hide, I again realized this was a big mistake. At this point I was far too embarrassed not to continue. Ahead of me I could see a cloud of dust so I knew what direction to go. It didn’t take many smarts to realize I was at the rear of a herd of burros racing for the gold. I was in my first marathon race crossing the desert lowlands below Superstition Mountain.

After about five minutes or so my burro decided he would catch up with the herd. And off we went through Cholla, Catclaw, Palo Verde, Mesquite, and Ironwood. The thorns in my body, rope burns on my hands, [skinned] spots on my legs, and the blisters on [my] feet convinced me I would never live to complete this ordeal. Some two hours and twenty minutes later I crossed the finish line still tied to my burro. My mother would not have recognized me. I didn’t lead this burro through the course he led me. My grandfather once told me, “Tie a burro to the wildest bull and after a few days the burro will bring the bull to water.” I think I know what he meant now.

After crossing the finish line I was never so happy to depart company with a burro. Chic kept his part of the bargain even though he was disappointed I didn’t win the race. While I sat in agony and tried to eat my free steak Chic would introduce me as the “wild burro chaser of Apache Junction.” The truth was I tried to let go of that burro several times during the race and changed my mind. By the way, that burro’s name was Wildfire.

Yes, I remember my first Burro Derby, known today as Lost Dutchman Days, and I will never forget it.

Whether or not it was an historical event… you must ask someone else.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Monday, January 9, 2006