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.