Monday, December 15, 2008

Secrets of Peter's Mesa

December 15, 2008 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Peter’s Mesa, a landmark in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness Area, has fascinated many a lost mine hunter over the years. The interest may or may not be merited. Several old time lost mine hunters spent time in the area. The names that come to mind are John Chuning, Walter Gassler, Robert Jacob, John Reed, Roy Bradford, George Miller, Abe Reid and several others. Another interesting name that is associated with the area is John Kochera. John started prospecting the area around 1962. Kochera wrote a letter to Robert Jacob in the mid 1970s attempting to solicit his support. He claimed to have found some high-grade gold ore near Peter’s Mesa on Charlebois Mountain. Kochera’s samples have been somewhat controversial over the years, but have created a lot of interest among Dutch hunters familiar with the story.

Of course many of these Dutch hunters settled for different areas of the Peter’s Mesa geographic region. I mention Robert Jacob because his search in the area near Squaw Box Canyon was very well known through newspaper publicity during the 1970s and 1980s. Several have claimed to have found gold ore caches on Peter’s Mesa. It isn’t necessary to name the successful discoverers [of] gold ore caches on Peter’s Mesa, but only to mention them in passing. Did they actually find gold caches on the Peter’s Mesa or is it pure speculation on their part? The only way you can be positive about a gold find is seeing its source. These tales would always depend on who is telling the story.

Bob Corbin, Arizona retired State Attorney General has made several trips to Peter’s Mesa over the years. I recall a trip he and I made in the mid 1980s and spent four days camped near the old Salt Grounds. We hiked out in every direction from the Salt Grounds looking the area over. We visited the Mescal pits, the natural arch, a mining tunnel with a table in it, and of course I can’t forget the beehive along the Peter’s Mesa Trail.

We also visited the old washed out Rock Dam constructed in Peter’s Canyon and also the concrete tank along the trail that held water in those days. Over the years I have been on Peter’s Mesa about ten times. My first trip was in the mid 1950s when I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company. I packed salt to the Salt Grounds several times over the years. I hiked into Peter’s Mesa from Tortilla Ranch in the early 1960s leaving my truck at the Tortilla Ranch under the watchful eye of Elmer Pope, an Apache cowboy working for Floyd Stone. I remember old Al Reser leaving his truck at the ranch on several occasions also. Reser often worked Tortilla Mountain around Hell’s Hole in Tortilla Creek. Al also parked his truck east of the Quarter Circle U Ranch when he worked the top of Bluff Springs Mountain and west side of Peter’s Mesa.

There are two very interesting things I have found on Peter’s Mesa. One is a triangle of pyramid-shaped rocks and the other is a foundation of an old stone cabin. Several years after I visited these sites somebody tried to totally eradicate them by rearranging the rocks. At least I took photographs of them. I believe Bob Corbin and I visited the Mescal Pits in 1986. A friend of mine, Monty Edwards, believed these pits were silver smelters. He once showed me a large chunk of silver (20 ounces or so) he claimed to have removed from one of the pits near Robert Jacob’s camp. Barkley always told me these were Mescal Pits dug and used by the Indians to cook the hearts of the Agave that grew profusely in the area.

The next thing that has always solicited my interest in the Peter’s Mesa area was the story that Adolph Ruth once camped in the general area sometime during 1928. I am quite sure I read a letter written by Adolph to Cal Morse or Gertrude Barkley relating his experiences in the area. He apparently arrived in the area sometime around April of 1928. Cal Morse, of Mesa, supposedly guided him to a campsite. Cal acquired permission from George Miller to drive all the way into his claims. I am not sure what kind of condition the Tortilla Road or trail was in at the time.

Ruth and Morse hiked while a burro carried their supplies. If this story is true, it puts an interesting twist on the whole Ruth episode and tragedy. If Ruth told Morse much about his Mexican maps I am sure it fired his interest. To this day I believe Ruth was looking for the cave that was located in the upper box of La Barge Canyon. The outline of this cave fits the Peralta Profile Map almost perfectly. To the best of my knowledge Ruth camped somewhere along the Hoolie Bacon Trail not [too] far from the Upper Box area of La Barge Canyon. From the end of the road on Miller’s claim it is about 3.5 miles to a good campsite above the Upper Box in La Barge Canyon. Was this Ruth’s first effort to locate the Peralta Miles in the Superstition Mountains? Did he at first think Coffee Flat Mountain was the S. Cima[?] This may have been the reason Ruth never moved over directly on to Peter’s Mesa from his base camp, but [chose] a site near the Upper Box in La Barge Canyon. I will be the first to say there is a lot of speculation on this theory, however, the old saying [is] where there is smoke there may be fire.

Another interesting story to do with the area is the death of Walt Gassler. Walt died of a heart attack after leaving Charlebois Spring hiking toward Peter’s Mesa. He died along the trail. His body was discovered by Gene Barker and Don Shade on May 4, 1984. It is claimed he had some very rich gold specimens in his backpack. These specimens apparently disappeared when his backpack was reclaimed at [the] Sheriff’s office. Walt had called me on Sunday previous to his hike into the mountains. He wanted Bob Corbin and I to accompany him. Neither of us could take off from work on such short notice. I told him if we were given a little advance notice [we] could accompany him. He was too impatient and insisted that he was going early on Monday morning. The morning he died, he visited with a local horseman who had packed into Charlebois Springs for an overnight campout. He reported Gassler in good spirits, but somewhat fatigued from his hike into the mountains. Did Walt Gassler locate a rich vein of gold on Peter’s Mesa? We will never know!

The Peter’s Mesa area is adjacent to Music Mountain and Hermann’s Mountain. Of course the Upper Box of La Barge separates Hermann’s Mountain and Coffee Flat Mountain. A lot of stories have emerged from this region over the past seven or eight decades. These stories and tall tales continue to attract treasure hunters, Dutch hunters, and the curious to the region.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Early Aviation on Apache Trail

December 1, 2008 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

When we think of aviation, the names of Orville and Wilbur Wright come to mind immediately. These brothers are credited with making the first flight with a heavier-than-air machine. They accomplished this phenomenal feat on December 14, 1903, near Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Three days later, on December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers accomplished their most successful flight of that year. Their plane flew for fifty-nine seconds and traveled eight hundred and fifty-two feet in the air. This experiment convinced the brothers they had finally solved the problem of flight. One month prior to this date construction began on the Apache Trail below the Roosevelt Dam site in the Box Canyon of the Salt River. This sixty-two mile road would require almost two years [to] build.

Sixteen years later, shortly after the end of World War I, a Wilbur Wright was traveling around the country demonstrating the ability of airplanes. It was about this time a transportation entrepreneur named Wesley Hill wanted to start an airline in Arizona between Globe and Phoenix. Hill knew very little about airplanes, but he had been involved in motor transportation since 1910 in Arizona.

Hill, a transportation entrepreneur, owned and operated the Apache Trail Auto State Company and was interested in developing and promoting business associated with aviation. Hill formed the Apache Trail Aerial Transportation Company in December of 1918. He convinced men like Lt. D.S. Bushnell, a retired U.S. Air Service aeronautical engineer and Lt. J.F. Casey, a retired U.S. Army Air Service pilot to become pilots in his new company.

Hill and J. Robinson Hall were convinced they could operate an aerial stage line. They planned on using a converted Handley-Page bomber to transport passengers and cargo along their line.

The Handley-Page was powered by two 400hp Liberty engines. Hill and Hall were convinced they could open the skyways over Arizona. Their advertisements of the day claimed a flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles would require only three hours and a flight to Globe from Phoenix would only require about an hour.

Hall and Hill released stock in their new company and the periodicals were filled with their advertisements about aerial transportation in Arizona and the Southwest. Sometime around the middle of February 1919, Hall and Hill traveled to New York to purchase their Handley-Page aircraft.

Once in New York they attended a U.S. Air Service reunion and heard a lot of praise about the safety record of the Handley-Page aircraft. Hall and Hill flew in the Handley-Page and further supported the testimony of the Air Service pilots. Hill pointed out the 12,000 pound aircraft landed at 35 mph and was extremely easy to control in flight. They announced that the aircraft would be on its way West within two weeks. Hill announced the Apache Aero Line would start service on August 1, 1919, and the story appeared in the Arizona Gazette on April 3, 1919.

While following the history of Arizona’s first aerial transportation company, I noticed in the Arizona Gazette another article where Wesley Hill sold his Apache Trail Stage Line to another company named Union Auto Transportation for $10,000. Hill had pioneered the Apache Trail Auto Stage Line some seven years prior.

Wesley Hill and Robinson Hall worked long and tedious hours promoting their aerial transportation company, but it never became a reality. Hill and Hall reminded anyone who would listen that a flight from Globe to Phoenix required less than an hour. The company’s stock never sold like Hall and Hill believed it would and the company eventually faded into obscurity.

While researching the aerial transport history of Arizona I came across the following story. On June 16, 1919, the following article appeared in the Arizona Gazette.

Makes Record Flight over Apache Trail
Piloted by Lieut. Wilbur Wright a Curtiss plane came Saturday from Globe, making a record flight of 100 miles in 52 minutes. Capt. F.L. Darrow was a passenger. The flight was made without incident over the beautiful scenery of the mountains traversed by the Apache Trail.

Lieut. Wright made a flight up to Globe last Tuesday, accompanied by a man from the local recruiting station. During the short time spent in the mining town an intensive recruiting campaign gained nine applications for the air service.

The landing Saturday was made in the small oval field within the racetrack at the fairgrounds, as the larger field used by airplanes previously is under irrigation at the present.

Ironically this flight was not piloted by the famous Wilbur Wright who first flew at Kitty Hawk Hill on December 17, 1903. Apparently it was another Wilbur Wright who piloted the plane along the Apache Trail. Wilbur Wright would have never piloted a Curtiss plane according to aviation historians and secondly Wilbur Wright had passed away by this time.

Wesley Hill and J. Robinson Hall dreamed of flight across the Arizona skies a decade too early. Wilbur Wright proved them correct about the one hour flying time between Globe and Phoenix. Did Hill and Robinson take advantage of the fact Wright was in Arizona to demonstrate his airplane? The answer to this question we will probably never know. This story adds an interesting transcript to the history of Arizona aviation, the Apache Trail and the Superstition Mountain region in general.

Many of the Handley-Pages were converted to passenger planes after World War I. The aero company originally built bombers for the British Navy during World War I and after the war produced commercial aircraft by converting the Handley-Page 400. The plane [was] capable of carrying 14 passengers. However none of the Handley-Page aircraft saw service in Arizona. Wesley A. Hill’s dream of commercial air transportation between Globe and Phoenix never became a reality until years later. Today, private aircraft do fly from Cutter Airfield east of Globe to Phoenix.