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.