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.”