Monday, July 28, 2008

Allan 'Hoss' Blackman

July 28, 2008 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Several years ago I wrote an article about a man who changed his life based on what he believed in. This man moved from a setting of seascapes in the east to the southwest. His childhood dream of being a cowboy was finally fulfilled when he moved to Arizona in 1972.

In the fall of 1975 the Arizona desert was a burning inferno with temperatures well above the one-hundred-degree mark. Only after sundown did the air begin to cool. It was in my swamp-cooled classroom on the extension campus of Central Arizona College in Apache Junction that I met my first real “Connecticut Yankee.” He was dressed in a big Stetson hat, a western shirt, Levis, and pointed-toe cowboy boots. His better-than-six-foot frame made a real striking figure in a room filled with senior citizens and other students. Momentarily I thought John Wayne had joined my class. At the time I was teaching a special interest class titled “Prospecting the Superstitions.” As fall changed to winter on the Arizona desert this “Connecticut Yankee” would forever alter my philosophy about life and why a lot of people move to Apache Junction.

Allan Blackman on the trail to Haunted Canyon. c. 1978
During the many class sessions that followed he was so inquisitive, so charged with enthusiasm, and so sincere about accumulating knowledge on cowboys and the region. He wasn’t the typical instructor-student challenger; he wanted to learn everything he could about the Superstition Mountains and the American West. Sometimes it appeared he was trying to crowd a lifetime into a few short months. After our formal introduction I understood the motivation behind his drive to acquire all the knowledge he could. He was a “Connecticut Yankee” in search of a dream, a dream of learning and experiencing the life of a real cowboy. Something he had dreamed about since childhood. Allan Blackman was a man in search of a dream and had forgone his previous lifestyle as a successful Easterner to fulfill this burning desire to go west.

No longer would he do lapidary work, paint schooners on the high sea, or build brass cannons for Revolutionary War reenactment groups. Allan was an accomplished seascape painter and had oil paintings hanging in thirty-nine states. He traded all this for a chance to prospect gold in the West and find the legendary cowboy’s way of life.

Allan was born during the “Great Depression” on February 27, 1932 in Bridgeport, Connecticut and graduated from high school in Stamford on June 6, 1950. As a child he traded his piano lessons for art lessons and by the time he was fourteen he had his first one-man art show at the Stamford Museum. He sold ten of his thirty clipper ships and seascape scenes that day. His oil paintings found their way into banks and homes in thirty-nine states of the United States. Allan continued to paint and sell his work throughout high school.

His first introduction to the West was when he was four years old. All dressed in cowboy attire he would ride his tricycle around his parent’s living room while absorbing the music of Montana Slim who sang each morning on Radio WOR, New York City, about 8:15 a.m. His mother used to say the only thing he would sit still and listen to was a cowboy singer. From this point on Allan grew up dreaming of being a cowboy and living the cowboy’s way of life.

The beginning of World War II, when our nation was at its greatest turmoil, Allan passed time at the movie theater watching Tom Mix, Gene Autry and a host of Hollywood cowboys who were his heroes. It was from these characters Allan’s first impressions of the West came. However, nothing stirred him as much as the film Lust for Gold, starring Glen Ford and Ida Lupino in 1951. This film incorporated as one of its basic themes the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine in the Superstition Mountains of Central Arizona. Now young Allan had both the West and lost gold to nurture his desire to see the West.

Allan joined the United States Army in 1951 shortly after high school. He served a tour of duty in Germany and was honorably discharged in 1953.

Blackman was employed as a tool-die maker at the Pitney-Bowes Company. He worked his way up to foreman by 1967. Allan had an excellent job, a beautiful home in West Redding, Connecticut and a wonderful family. In his West Redding home he continued his art and developed his lapidary skills and work. He traded oil paintings for uncut stones to finish and polish. During the twelve years he worked for Pitney-Bowes he continued to develop his painting ability for seascapes.

Allan planned a vacation in 1968 to San Antonio, Texas, but instead traveled to California. It was on his return trip he stopped in Wickenburg, Arizona, the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” It was here, he met his first cowboy. A man he could talk to about the West and the lifestyle here.

Early in 1972, after a severe winter of rain and a problematic asthmatic condition of his son, Bruce, he decided to move to Arizona. This unusual set of circumstances prompted Allan to ask for a transfer to Arizona from Pitney-Bowes. Company officials arranged a transfer for Allan. The Blackman’s sold their house that day and by October 10, 1972, Allan was finally living the legend he had dreamed about. He was only forty years old.

Allan always believed “cowboys were the swashbucklers of the desert.” As he settled into his new life it was a learning experience. He changed from a station wagon to a FWD pickup. He had to learn cowboy talk and special cowboy skills just for his own personal satisfaction. He read just about everything he could about cowboys, the West and lost gold.

Blackman first moved to Mesa, Arizona on one acre of land. On this land he had his horses, goats, and sheep. The first two horsemen he met were Gary Hunnington and Joseph Bailey. Allan learned his basics from these two men. They hauled their horses out to the Superstition Wilderness and rode to various destinations. This Connecticut Yankee thrived on the Wild West and the legends of Superstition Mountain.

Allan lived in Mesa eight years before moving to Apache Junction. He claimed meeting me in October of 1973 broadened his knowledge of the West, the Superstition Wilderness and the life of the cowboy. He was sincerely dedicated to learning about the legends and stories of Superstition Mountain. 

Blackman and I rode in the mountains for ten years together. He often volunteered to work for Bill Bohme in the eastern end of the Superstition Mountains during roundup. Royce Johnson, Bill Bohme’s foreman, once said he made quite a cowboy. He was tall in the saddle and a very strong rider. Allan loved his horse, Apache. The bay quarter horse was a powerful animal that carried him throughout the Superstition Wilderness from Black Top Mesa to Mound Mountain for more than 10 years. 

Blackman was an impulsive and stubborn person. One day he was driving through Globe when he saw a fiddling contest. He became interested in fiddling, bought a fiddle from a Mesa pawn shop, and began to fiddle his way into competition[s] around Arizona. Allan’s last remarks I recall were somewhat philosophical. He said, “Live each day of your life to the fullest, you won’t live it again.”

Allan Blackman was an ordinary person with a dream. He left his name on the Superstition Wilderness by having a trail he blazed named after him. The trail is known today as the Blackman Slope Trail to Circlestone. He found his niche in the West and became a son of the West. His dream had been fulfilled.

Blackman had many friends in the East Valley and the Apache Junction area. He lived in and around Apache Junction for more than fifteen years. About a year ago he had open-heart surgery and never really regained his health. Allan Blackman passed away on Sunday, July 5, 2008. He is survived by his two children, Bruce Blackman of Cottonwood, Ariz., and Nancy Foffett of Camdemton, Mo. Allan had five grandchildren.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wild Cattle

July 14, 2008 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

William Augustus “Tex” Barkley owned and operated the Quarter Circle U Ranch for almost 50 years. In the 1940s, Barkley’s ranch covered more than 117 sections. The family ran cattle from Canyon Lake in the north to almost Castro Springs in the South. Their range included most of Peter’s Mesa east of La Barge Canyon and Barkley also had a lease on several sections of state trust land around Superstition Mountain. The Barkley Cattle Company owned most of the land that Gold Canyon and Meadow Brook is located on today.

William Augustus “Tex” Barkley, circa 1940

Harold Christ and the Dinamount Corporation bought the Barkley Ranch in 1970 from a business group who had purchased it from the Barkley heirs in 1965. So much for the demise of the old Barkley Cattle Company. Let’s talk about the wild bulls of West Boulder Canyon.

Each Spring and Fall Barkley would check out his calve crop and round up the yearlings. There were several areas on his stock range where it was impossible to ride a horse. Most cattlemen will tell you Barkley had the roughest stock range in the Southwest.

Removing wild cattle from Old West Boulder Canyon became an annual event, but not part of the regular roundup. Any cattle successfully removed from Old West Boulder Canyon’s upper reaches would have to be done on foot and with dogs. There was always water in the potholes and good grass in the Spring, high on the slopes of Superstition Mountain’s east side. This was an almost impossible range from which to remove cattle.

There were old timers around that had a variety of suggestions on how our problem might be solved. One old man claimed he used to take a jackass into the mountains and tie the jackass to a wild bull and eventually the jackass would lead the bull out of the mountains. This idea might have been sound in some areas, but I wasn’t sure you could get a jackass into the area. Another man suggested we shoot the bulls, jerk them and haul them out in packages. This idea sounded most practical to me, but it was not my decision to make.

Tex Barkley died in early Fall of 1955, and his son, William Thomas “Bill” Barkley, took over the operation of the ranch. Jimmy and Tafoya Ruiz lived at the Quarter Circle U Ranch, and old Jimmy had worked for Tex for many years. Jimmy stayed on for about two years after Tex Barkley died, and then he retired.

It was during my first summer working for the Barkley’s that I learned of the wild bulls in Old West Boulder Canyon. I was young, inexperienced and not too knowledgeable about cattle. I suggested to Bill that I hike up in the canyon with a couple of the dogs and try to haze the bulls down into West Boulder Canyon. I put on my military brogans and with two of Bill’s cow dogs I started my hike into Old West Boulder Canyon from the First Water Ranch. This experience taught me that wild cattle were just plain “wild.”

Hiking up Old West Boulder convinced me these old bulls didn’t want to be disturbed. They didn’t plan on leaving their habitat. The dogs barked, the bulls jumped from one rock to another and basically avoided all herding attempts. There was no way these bulls were going down Old West Boulder Canyon, and Bill wasn’t very happy with my attempt. Now I understood why some cattlemen recommended shooting wild bulls in impassible country. Eventually, the wild bulls of West Boulder Canyon were shot to rid their impact on the fragile ecosystem of the canyon.

Cattle were totally removed from the western end of the Superstition Wilderness by 1990. No grazing permits have been issued on the western end of the Superstition Wilderness Area since then. The Barkley Cattle Company owned most of the land that Gold Canyon and Meadow Brook is located on today. Several years ago the Gold Canyon and King’s Ranch Resort area had a problem with cattle, but this was because of cattle permitted to graze on state trust land adjacent to the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Wild cattle, grazing cattle, cowboys, windmills, dirt tanks, salt blocks, barbed wire, and cow pies on the landscape were all part of the ranching heritage of the Apache Junction area. For the most part, it is all gone.

Today, the closest thing to wild bulls and cowboys are the rodeos here in Apache Junction during the annual Lost Dutchman Days in February and Ben Johnson Days in November.