Monday, November 26, 2007

Horses I Have Known

November 26, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago when I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch I became very well acquainted with some interesting and provoking cow ponies. Many of these ponies were pleased to just dump your carcass anywhere they could. Believe me, they tried it often, with persistence and with some success.

I will never forget the time I was riding a pony called Spook. Spook was a small bay gelding with white socks and a blaze. He was appropriately named because this pony could crow hop and complete a full 180 degrees before coming back to earth. He would spook at the drop of a hat, the snap of a twig or the strike of a match. My bruised and skinned body was a testament to this cow ponies ability or to my lack skill at riding these rough cow ponies. I spent considerable time on the backs of these broomtails searching the Superstition Mountains for Barkley’s cattle, maintaining fence and repairing water holes. When there was nothing else to do I was busy packing salt to some isolated area. Ironically, I worked alone for the most part.

I will never forget the time I left the Quarter Circle U Ranch with two pack mules loaded with salt. The morning was very cold and there were unusually dark low clouds. Rain or snow was in my forecast. My destination was the salt grounds on Peter’s Mesa. The ride required about four hours.

I knew before I left the ranch I wouldn’t get back until after dark. When I arrived on Peter’s Mesa the temperature had dropped and the dark clouds had moved in lower. Bad weather was upon me. Blizzard conditions had moved in by the time I was ready to ride down off the Mesa. As I descended the trail above Charlebois Spring it was snowing so hard I had to depend on my horse to find the treacherous trail down off the rugged escarpment. I turned off the trail and rode into Charlebois Spring for a temporary shelter. It was here that my horse and two mules got away from me and started running for home. I hiked all the way back to the ranch some seven miles following the tracks of the mules and my saddle horse. It was so cold I never stopped to rest. Not only was I embarrassed I was also quite foot sore when I finally arrived at the ranch. This will always be a day I will remember in my annuals at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

During the 1950’s the Barkley Ranch included some 117 sections of forest and state lease land. One hundred seventeen sections of land is one hundred and seventeen square miles my friends. Our range ran south of the ranch to Tule Canyon and north to the shores of Canyon Lake. The western boundary was forest fence east of Apache Junction. The eastern boundary sliced across Peter’s Mesa through Peter’s Divide. All of Superstition Mountain was part of the Barkley Ranch, a ranch that began operating around 1907.

I spent many sunny afternoons talking to Gus prior to his death in 1955 at the old Three R’s Ranch in what is now Gold Canyon. He was a great story teller, and he loved his cattle and this mountain. I worked for his son William Thomas Barkley in the mid 1950’s and in 1959.

Now back to those horses I have known. I am a little older now and a bit wiser about horseflesh. I am not sure I would have climbed on the back of any of the horses Barkley owned with the knowledge I have today. However, in the 1950’s I was young and a very inexperienced cowboy. A real greenhorn is the best way to describe it.

Early one morning we rode out to Tule Saddle to inspect some calves for screw worms when I met with disaster. This particular morning I was riding Spook of course. As I rode through the gate, Spook crow-hopped into the middle of a large Cholla patch. I had Cholla balls from the brim of my hat to the heel of my boot. The pain was excruciating. I couldn’t even get off the crow-hopping and bucking horse.

Finally I just dove off and landed in a pile of boulders, luckily not breaking my leg or arm. The last time I saw Spook he was bucking and running back to the ranch a mile or two away. You might say I was in a difficult situation. If you haven’t had a chance to experience Cholla cactus in your flesh you haven’t really experienced the Arizona desert.

I picked up a small piece of Mesquite and began to knock the Cholla balls out of my hide. This was a long painful process and to top it off I knew I had a long walk back to the ranch. It was ten o’clock in the morning when this horse wreck occurred. I limped into the ranch about 4 p.m. just in time to feed. Not one animal in the corral could care about my painful situation. All they wanted was to be fed on time.
Spook is a horse that is still at the top of my memory list for U Ranch horses. That was just another incident I had with Spook. Let me tell you about another. I was always trying to impress Bill Barkley with my latest acquired knowledge. One day I put on a pair of bat wing chaps, backwards that is. I climbed on Spook and did I ever put on a ride for Barkley.

The bat wings spooked that horse like a bolt of lightning. He literally exploded in the corral. The next thing I knew the earth was coming up fast. My impact in the corral startled the cattle nearby. I was extremely slow getting up, and Barkley looked at me and said, “Slim you got your chaps on backwards no wonder the damn horse spooked.” “Well, why didn’t you tell me that before I got back on the horse?”
I continued to ride Spook or maybe he rode me. Eventually I could stay in the saddle, but it wasn’t always easy. Another horse Barkley had was named Scooter. He was also named appropriately. He was never a problem to saddle or get on.

However, once you were on him he made an effort to scrape you off under just about every Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ironwood or Saguaro along the way. Any of the methods could be quite painful.

One day I was running a mother cow trying to get a rope on her and Scooter decided it was time to dump me. He lined up on a big Saguaro with many arms and grabbed the bit in his mouth. I lost my control and saw the Saguaro coming up fast. Believe me I abandoned ship (horse) at the first opportunity. This particular departure was quite rough on my hide and my shoulder. I again limped around for several days before I recovered from this particular rapid departure. Believe me I didn’t ride Scooter anymore than I absolutely had to. He was a horse to reckon with. I finally started using a mechanical hack with him and was able to break him of his nasty habit of rubbing cowboys off his back.

Barkley had another horse named Sorrel. This was a beautiful red gelding. He was gentle, but somewhat inexperienced. One early cold morning I saddled the Sorrel for a quick inspection of the fence in the east pasture. Several cows had slipped out of the east pasture according to our neighbor Bill Martin. I rode east from the ranch house to locate the break in the eastern fence line. Barkley’s directions were often insufficient. I rode east until I reached Reid’s Water then I started checking out the fence in several areas where we had problems before.

Sorrel was walking along not paying a lot of attention while I searched for a break in the fence line. All of a sudden we went crashing to the ground. I was on bottom and the Sorrel was on top. The only thing that saved my body from the weight of a one thousand pound horse was two large boulders I fell between. I lay there waiting for the sorrel horse to make his move. He just laid there and nickered. He made no attempt to get up. I couldn’t get out from under him because my foot was still wedge in the stirrup. This was a bad situation to be in. If the horse jumped up to soon he could easily break my leg. After about ten minutes of lying on two large boulders the sorrel horse finally got up slowly allowing me time to extract my foot from the stirrup. I looked myself over, then the horse and finally remounted and continue on with my inspection of the fence line casually as if nothing had happened.

Horses were my main tool for working cattle, checking fence, packing salt and inspecting water holes. Working cattle on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch was something I really enjoyed even though it was sometimes very hazardous work. My work on the old U Ranch was sporadic.

I worked off and on for almost five years. The longest period I worked as a cowboy on the ranch was in the winter and spring of 1959. The last day I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch for the Barkley Cattle Company was May 8, 1959. My tenure as a cowboy was ended by a thirteen hundred pound Black Brahma-Angus bull named El Gaucho. After my encounter with El Gaucho I retired from being a cowboy and choose another career.

After I retired from working cattle I continued to ride horses in the Superstition Wilderness for the next forty-five years. I have owned several horses over the years. They were Grey Horse, Crow, and Chico. I rode Grey Horse for about eight years. I rode Crow for twenty- one years in the Superstition Wilderness and I have ridden Chico for the past twelve years.

I still think about those wild and careless days as a young cowboy on the Barkley Ranch in the middle of the Superstition Mountains. I was lucky to live and survive the life many people only dream about. Those wonderful, wild and sometimes dangerous experiences are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bigfoot in the Superstitions

November 19, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago I received a call from a man in northern California, a Mr. C. Thomas Biscardi, who was interested in Yeti or “Big Foot.” He had heard of Reavis Valley, a landlocked biotic island high above the Sonoran Desert floor, that supported a dense Ponderosa pine forest. He wanted to know how to get to Reavis Ranch.

I must admit I have heard everything now. A story of Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area was preposterous, if not down right laughable. Then I thought for a moment about another tale about a strange encounter more than eighty years ago when two prospectors hiked into the area of Pope Springs to search for gold.

Late at night something attacked their camp, killed and hauled off their burro before they could even fire a shot. Both men got a good look at the towering beast as it dragged their burro away. The two prospectors stayed up for the rest of the night scared out of their wits. The only thing they could think of capable of carrying off a burro was a large Grizzly bear. Their burro weighted about four hundred and fifty pounds. It would require a mighty large animal to carry off a four hundred and fifty-pound burro.

The story, as I recall, said the prospectors described the intruder as a large, smelly, strange animal with a matted, coarse and tangled hair coat. They said it walked on its hind legs and towered at least eight to ten feet in height. When the prospectors told their story, many old timers figured they ran into a large Grizzly bear.

The prospectors said they could not identify the beast as an animal or a human, but did say it smelled like feces and urine and was unusually agile on its hindquarters. They estimated the animal weighed between 400 – 800 hundred pounds. This description could easily fit a Grizzly bear. This same story could have fueled the imagination of noted Big Foot hunter C. Thomas Biscardi.

The Phoenix Gazette on Monday, May 11, 1981, announced, “Explorer Plans Capture of Big Foot.” C. Thomas Biscardi was making an exploration trip to the Superstition Mountain of Arizona to search for Big Foot. Biscardi claimed his latest encounter with Big Foot occurred on Mount Lassen in Northern California. He said he took photographs of the elusive primate but concedes the front-view images of a large hairy figure emerging from a clump of trees may not be enough to convince skeptics.

Biscardi reported there were more than eight hundred fifty sightings of creatures matching the descriptions of Big Foot in the Soviet Union, Canada and the United States. Biscardi planned to prove their existence and said he believed these creatures could be the possible missing link.

The researcher had two reports of large human-like creatures in the Superstition Wilderness Area and spent two weeks in the Reavis Ranch area reporting no sightings. He did report finding signs of Big Foot in the region. He pointed out Ponderosa pines with scratch marks thirteen feet above the ground indicating a mighty tall animal scratched on the tree. Biscardi also stated there was a sour-sweet smell associated with Big Foot. This smell was reportedly found in several locations south of the Reavis Ranch in tall timber.

Biscardi’s exploration trip into the Superstitions may have been a serious attempt to prove the existence of Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area. However, Big Foot was not found. Biscardi said his expedition was disappointing and he concluded in the final analysis that the wilderness area was not large enough to support a population of these unknown creatures.

There has been another update as of 2007 on Big Foot in the Superstition Wilderness Area. It was recently reported that a large upright animal spooked a rider and pack horse near the head waters of Rough Canyon along the northern edge of White Mountain. This story surfaced about five years ago. Rough Canyon is almost impossible to hike through. The area is extremely remote and ignored by many. The rider who reported the large upright animal was trying to get to the head of Rough Canyon to set up a camp and explore the area for archaeological sites. He claimed he was studying the pattern of inhabited areas north of White Mountain and south of Reavis Mountain. Recent years have produced a lot of interesting characters who explore the Superstition Wilderness Area trying to explain what exists there whether it is archaeological, fauna, flora or just plain tall tales.

The Superstition Wilderness Area has always been a region that attracted the unusual and unexplained tales and stories. If Big Foot exists, it still remains to be proven. I must admit I was riding horseback north of the Reavis Ranch in the fall of October 2000 when a friend and I spotted a large Black bear. The animal ran in the opposite direction from us. I could easily see, if a person had an imaginative mind they could have envisioned Big Foot running across the old pasture in tall grass. The scratch marks on Ponderosa pines reported by Biscardi could have easily been caused by Black bears. Black bears can climb pines like squirrels almost. Often when bears are playing they will slide down trees using their claws.

If nothing else, the Big Foot story created interest in yet another Superstition Wilderness Area legend or myth.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Aylors at Caballo Camp

November 12, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I can not claim to be Chuck Aylor’s biographer, but while working for the Barkley Cattle Company in the 1950s I met Chuck and Peg Aylor on several occasions and had many interesting conversations with them.

The first time I met Chuck Aylor was with my father in 1948. The next time our trails crossed, Chuck Aylor was at his Caballo Camp in East Boulder Canyon. I believe it was in the summer of 1955. Barkley had asked me to pack salt down to the Brush Corral salt grounds. I found my way to Brush Corral, dumped the salt and then decided to take the stock over to East Boulder for a drink of water. As I was riding up East Boulder I came upon Chuck and Peg Aylor’s Caballo Camp. Chuck knew I worked for Barkley the moment he saw me riding toward his camp. I am sure Betty Barkley had told him. Chuck always called me “Slim” or “Red” for obvious reasons. He asked me to step down and talk for a little while. He offered me a cool drink of water and a chance to rest. This began my friendship with Chuck and Peg Aylor that lasted for almost a decade.

I was no different than other visitors that stopped at Caballo Camp. Chuck began his spill about the mountains once he learned who my father was. We talked for a couple of hours about the old Dutchman and Spanish gold in the Superstitions. He offered to take me over to see his mine, but I decline because it was getting late in the afternoon and I needed to get back to First Water Ranch and start the windmill or Barkley.

Chuck was working closely with the Q.E.D., a corporation on the East Coast at that time. A man named Jim Butler was the lead man for Q.E.D., and Chuck had taken him into the country above the Upper Box of La Barge Canyon. I am sure he showed Butler old Roy Bradford’s diggings at the head of the Upper Box and they may have gone on into Miller Basin looking for the juniper stumps.

Chuck Aylor was a very interesting man. He found quoting Shakespeare a way of relaxation. I was told Chuck had worked as a cook in an insane asylum in Colorado prior to moving to Arizona. I heard many stories about Chuck and Peg Aylor; some were probably true and others were undoubtedly not.

Chuck was always packing people and their gear into the mountains to make a little money. He had two burros, one named Cisco and the other Jacko. There were many occasions when I was sitting around a campfire I would think of Chuck and Peg Aylor and their many stories.
Chuck and Peg staked a claim in the Pioneer Mining District near the Silver King Mine on January 20, 1937. They called the claim El Caballo. They soon moved to the Superstition Mountain area in 1938 and then recorded the Palomino #1 on February 24, 1939.

Chuck and Peg were actively involved with prospecting and mining in the Superstition Mountains from 1939-1961, according to the record books. I have heard stories about them prospecting in the Superstition Mountains as early as 1935.

My father and Bill Cage first met Chuck Aylor in 1937 on the old road to the Silver King Mine. About 1955 Chuck built Peg another house in La Barge Canyon near the old Indian Paint Mine. Chuck had to give up this residence and returned to Caballo Camp when the forest service learned about the La Barge house in an article written by Mary Leonard in the Arizona Republic. The forest rangers would not allow any permanent camps. Chuck’s La Barge Canyon dwelling had a masonary wall and a large glass picture window.

The last time I saw Chuck and Peg in the Caballo Camp was in late spring of 1960 when I rode into Charliebois Spring. Chuck Aylor had come in contact with many of the old timers who had searched for the Dutchman after 1900. Chuck believed in the gold of Superstition Mountain, and many men have spent time with Aylor prospecting and talking about these mountains. Aylor’s stories still flourish because of these people.

The other side of Chuck Aylor’s life was his wife, Peggy. She considered herself an astrologer and also thought of herself as a predictor of future events. Peggy had also taken up oil painting and had painted several pictures of the interior of the Superstition Mountains. I have one of her paintings in my collection that was done about 1951. There is a good possibility that several of Peggy Aylors’ oils still exist around Apache Junction.

The Aylors were a special part of Superstition Mountain history. They were icons to many old timers who hiked the trails of the Superstition Wilderness in the 1950s and early 1960s. Their names have been etched into the pages of Superstition Wilderness history and will remain there forever.

Chuck and Peg Aylor both passed away in the early 1960s leaving behind a legacy of searching and dreaming.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Desert Life in the Early Days

November 5, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

My mother and I arrived in Apache Junction for the first time in May of 1948. We lived on the desert southeast of the “Junction” in a small stone cabin. The stone insulated the cabin quite well from the early morning and evening heat from the desert. However, there was no insulation from the old tin roof on the cabin. My father constructed a very primitive cooler for us. He made it out of two “powder” boxes used for dynamite. He took a small rotating fan and made it stationary, then anchored it in the bottom of one of the powder boxes. Large rectangular holes were cut in two sides and the bottom of the box by my dad. He then carefully threaded copper tubing, that had holes drilled in it every two inches, through some burlap material and then hung it around the box covering the cutout rectangular holes. This allowed the fan to draw air through the moistened burlap. As the air was pulled through the burlap it was cooled. My father’s primitive cooler worked well enough for us to survive a couple weeks until he returned to further improve our primitive desert swamp cooler. My father was working at the mines in Christmas, Arizona at the time. It was a long drive in those days over very primitive roads.

Our cooler worked quite well I thought, but my mother always claimed it wasn’t cool enough. We had a fifty gallon barrel beside the house we kept full of water. The cooler constantly recycled the water in the barrel. Eventually through evaporation we would have to refill the barrel. Staying cool on the Arizona desert in the late 1940s was no easy task. Most people today living under refrigeration couldn’t have survived the summer heat in those days. If the conditions still existed today Arizona would still be a ghost town. Air conditioning made the desert habitable in the summer months.

My father was constantly making improvements on our cooler. Within a month he built a large cooler out of four powder boxes and some metal lathe to form a stronger box. This cooler was twice the size of our first one and twice as efficient. His work resulted in a much cooler house. Even my mother noticed the difference. Sometimes with summer temperatures reaching 119 degrees these primitive desert swamp coolers really made a difference in our lives. During the hottest part of the day my mother and I stayed indoors and she read to me or had me read.

A friend of my mother’s came by one day in the summer heat and she was amazed how cool our little cabin was. The following summer metal water coolers were being produced. We bought our first metal cooler in 1952 in Phoenix. During the 1950s there were a lot of recycled swamp coolers on the desert. Few people spent the summer on the desert in Apache Junction during the early 1950s. Even seasoned veterans like Barney Barnard traveled to cooler climates once the summer heat started.

We hauled all of our water in those days. I don’t remember exactly when the well on Octotillo Street was first in use, but I do know we picked up our water there in 1948. The well was located just north of Pappy Russell’s garage. Eventually they built a volunteer fire station, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the justice court at the site. The desert dwellers of the day also carried “desert water bags” on the front of their cars. The old canvas water bags had been around since the Model T Ford. The bags were soaked in water then filled with water and hung on the front of the car. You could always depend on a cool drink of water from these simple water bags. Mother also kept an old Olla on the front porch wrapped in burlap soaked with water. The Olla was a simple method to keep water cool enough to drink. She always had a clean ladle available to dip the water out of the Olla. The water container was always covered with a lid to keep bees, wasps and flies out of it. The water was always cool after being outside in the heat.

Our life in the Apache Junction desert was bearable and we survived quite well. During the forties and early fifties we traveled in the early mornings or late evenings to avoid the heat of the day. We always had food, water and shelter. However our living conditions were quite primitive compared to today’s modern living with refrigeration. I would imagine Apache Junction and much of the valley wouldn’t exist today if it hadn’t been for the invention of refrigeration.

One of the most interesting things I recall as a child was a “window swamp cooler” for an automobile. My Aunt Nelllie lived in Chloride, Arizona in the 1940s. My Uncle Harvey was the hoist operator at the mine. Each summer Aunt Nellie and Uncle Harvey would come to Christmas for a visit.

Uncle Harvey had a friend of his rig up a blower fan operated by airflow in a tube with burlap around it. The burlap was kept moist and the blower, while the car was moving, would produce cool air. Of course it was mounted on Aunt Nellie’s side of the car. You might say Aunt Nellie in 1945, had one of the earliest passenger cooling devices in Arizona.