Monday, September 28, 2009

Tribute to a Legend

September 28, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The legend and lore of Superstition Mountain has prompted a continuous search for hidden gold or lost treasure within the towering spires and deep canyons of this nationally known landmark for the past century. Men and women from all walks of life come to bid their luck against the elements and dangers of a mountain some men call “evil”.

A German immigrant named Jacob Waltz, supposedly started this contemporary search with clues about a rich gold mine that he allegedly hid within this mountain’s realm. These clues, after his demise, on October 25,1891, fired the imagination of the citizens of Phoenix and the surrounding countryside about lost gold in these mountains. These stories are centuries old now and they still tantalize the imagination of contemporary adventurers. A century of searching has passed since Waltz’s death and has produced no gold.

Only one other man has created such an interest and lust since Waltz’s death. This was Adolph Ruth. He did it by dying in the summer of 1931, alone in the heart of the Superstitions. Ruth’s sudden and violent death in mountains quickly replaced the headlines of “depression” news in major newspapers across the nation.

Across this nation, coast to coast, newspaper headlines echoed the story of Ruth’s mysterious death in the Superstition Mountains while searching for gold. Soon after these stories appeared authors and journalists capitalized on the story of Superstition Mountain and the infamous Lost Dutchman’s mine. The story caused temptation on the part of readers to pack their bags and head for the Superstition Mountains in Arizona and begin the search for gold.

The list is endless of those men and women who have searched and died in this barren and rugged wasteland known as the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some threw their fortunes away just for an opportunity to search for this hidden wealth. All of them believed they would find that single solitary clue that would lead them to the golden cache, riches beyond the dreams of kings.

The Lost Dutchman’s mine is one of the most often found mines in the world, yet it is still lost. Since 1895, the mine has been found at least 150 times by a variety of individuals from all walks of life. The annual winter migrations of prospectors who descend upon the Superstition Wilderness Area only prove the interest that still exists in the mine today. This story is still America’s most popular lost mine story and continues to captivate the imagination of dreamers. This fanatic search for lost gold has driven some men to the brink of insanity and some even to suicide.

Some of these individuals have even organized complex corporations and implemented sophisticated electronic equipment to aid in their quest for the gold they believe is contained within the rocks of Superstition Mountain or its wilderness. Even with the advent of modern technology and the advancement of electronic metal detection equipment to aid in the quest for gold from the legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine continues to elude the prospector’s pick and shovel.

Hunting lost mines, in particular the legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine, is like chasing a rainbow, “so close yet so far away.” The search itself is a solo avocation among the most ethical and honest lost mine hunters.

These men and women share no information and ask nobody for assistance. Maybe it is not the finding that is so important to them, but the searching. It is a documented fact many an old-timer found pay dirt, only to sell it or lose it so he could return to his wander lust way of life. The source of gold and legends are where you find them, “out in the hills.”

The true Dutchman aficionados are definitely blessed with a certain amount of happiness and the rewards of adventure in the great outdoors. They spend countless hours, days, months and years around campfires speculating about the location of Superstition Mountain’s hidden wealth. As long as there are those who dream there will be Dutch Hunters and treasure hunters probing the towering spires and deep canyons of the Superstition Wilderness Area searching for lost gold and treasure.

Al Morrow spent nineteen years of his life living in Needle Canyon in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness searching for the Peralta Mines. He believed these mines and the Dutchman were one in the same. This man knew what happiness was and he most definitely knew the pain of loneliness among the towering escarpments of Needle Canyon. He found success in something that we are not able to measure, his was the simple everyday task of survival in this remote wilderness. Morrow chose this way of life so he could deal with nature firsthand and continue his life at this slow pace far removed from the complexities of urbanization.

He did this with great success and integrity. And he did it in an age where everything was based on material wealth.
It is difficult to imagine the likes of Al Morrow and other prospectors like him, who choose such a solo way of life despite the demands of modern society. Al Morrow marched to the ”beat of a different drummer.”

Superstition Mountain is a tribute to those people and their stories of hidden gold and the never-ending search for it. This mountain has become a fitting monument to these men and women who suffered the hardships of isolation, hard work and being different just to survive.

Maintaining a camp deep in the mountains required an enormous amount of work and the constant search for good water. However, the beauty and adventure associated with searching the lofty ridges and deep canyons for hidden wealth was well worth any exerted energy.

Just maybe someday a lucky man or woman will come forth with the gold of Superstition Mountain and forever end the tantalizing tales of lost gold within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The discovery will also vindicate all those who have believed in the legend. Jacob Waltz undoubtedly left behind the most lingering story ever told about lost gold in the American Southwest.

This is strictly a romantic view of the Superstition Wilderness Area and the life of early prospectors in the area, but as we face the future the significance and importance of the region will grow enormously.

Today we find hikers and joggers wandering the trails of the Superstition Wilderness looking for adventure, recreation, and relief from the stress of our modern urban society. The Superstition Wilderness Area has become an important habitat for these urbanites with their daypacks, water bottles, and Nikes on weekends.

Today the region serves more as a park than a true wilderness with more than 90,000 (estimated figures) people using the system trails this past year. The future and survival of the wilderness is totally dependent on the forest service’s management as the Phoenix metropolitan area grows. We will probably soon see the day access to the wilderness will be limited as more and more state trust lands are closed or developed.

Until this gold is found, the legend of Superstition Mountain is the stuff that dreams are made of. Dreams of hidden gold or personal enrichment it matters not because the opportunity to search has been worthwhile to the old timers.

While this legendary land of the old “Dutchman’s” lost mine has become a prime recreational resource for the Phoenix metropolitan area and old Superstition Mountain continues to remain as a tribute to a legend.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The First School House

September 21, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

When people think of the first school in the Apache Junction area they instinctively think of Superstition Mountain Elementary School located on Broadway Road just east of Ironwood Drive. Construction began on this school in 1952, but Superstition Mountain Elementary School was not the first school or school district in the Apache Junction area.

The first school was established over one hundred years ago in the small gold mining community of Goldfield. The site of this once booming territorial town lies 4.4 miles northeast of Apache Junction on the Apache Trail (State Route 88).

The boomtown of Goldfield, Arizona Territory, appeared overnight after the discovery of gold along Goldfield Wash on April 14, 1893. This discovery of gold led to the development of the famous Mammoth Mine and Mill. The Mormon Stope, in the Mammoth Mine, produced more than 1.5 million dollars in gold bullion in two short years when gold was valued at $20 per troy ounce.

Goldfield grew rapidly. The town had three saloons, a hotel, mercantile store, butcher shop, boarding house, livery stable, barbershop, blacksmith shop and about three hundred residents. The one thing Goldfield did not have was a public school. Thirtyfour school age children lived in Goldfield by the middle of July 1893. The Phoenix Daily Gazette on September 12, 1893, reported Goldfield was in need of a school.

A request to form a school district was submitted to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to establish the Superstition Mountain School District. This request was delayed because of the controversy involving the political location of Goldfield. It was not known what county Gold- field was located in. This legal question had to be settled before a school district could be established.

Although the newspaper had reported thirty-four school age children resided in Goldfield, the board of supervisors did not act on the request for a school district. Mr. M. Lewis Spears open a private school in a small building constructed by the miners. Spears became the town’s first school teacher. He was shortly thereafter appointed Goldfield’s first Justice of the Peace.

The Pinal County Board of Supervisors apparently approved the school district by February 1, 1894 because the Mesa Free Press reported this date as the first day of school for thirty-six children in Goldfield. The Phoenix Daily Herald reported Mr. M. Lewis Spears as teacher at Goldfield School and stated he had twenty-one students in his class. According to the article, he was also serving as Justice of the Peace for Goldfield. Newspaper articles indicate Mr. Spears served as schoolteacher in Goldfield from September 18, 1893 until September 13, 1894. Spear’s private school served as an interim school until the Pinal County Board of Supervisors formed the Superstition Mountain School District in the Spring of 1894.

Ms. Mamie Kennedy, of Florence, was hired as the first public school teacher in Goldfield. The first public school in Goldfield opened its doors for students on September 20, 1894. School started with thirty-one students. Ms. Kennedy taught school at Goldfield for the 1894-95 school year.

On June 16, 1895, Ms. Agnes Dobbie, Tempe Normal Class “95” was hired by the Superstition Mountain School District’s Board to teach the 1895-96 school year at Goldfield. Ms. Dobbie taught two years before resigning in June of 1897 to get married.

Ms. Holmesley was hired in June of 1897 for the 1897-1898 school year. It was during Ms. Holmesley’s tenure that the Goldfield Mines began to decline. When Ms. Holmesley dismissed school for Christmas vacation on December 22, 1897, only eight students were attending her classes. The real mass exodus of families from Goldfield had begun by December 20, 1897.

It was clear the mines had failed by January 3, 1898. When Ms. Holmesley reopened school on January 3, 1898, she had only nine students. The school board had resigned and moved away by the middle of January. The county school superintendent appointed Charles I. Hall and John Mechan to serve on the school board of trustees.

When the Richards family moved to Wickenburg on January 27, 1898, only seven school age children remained in the Goldfield School District. The Goldfield School closed it doors in May of 1898, never to open again to the voices of children learning and playing together.

Goldfield School served the needs of the early miners and their families at a time when Arizona was a territory of the United States.

It is interesting to note that public education played an important role in the lives of these people when gold was “king” at Goldfield. These hard working Americans realized the greatest resource our nation had was our children. They were willing to take that step forward and support education at the turn of the century. It is certainly no different today. We are all obligated to support public education today so we can prepare students for the future.

Monday, September 14, 2009

From Dreams to Reality

September 14, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

My father introduced me to one of the most important aspects of my life and that was historical preservation. Since those early days, I have been involved in a variety of community projects related to historical preservation. There was the historical designation of the Apache Trail, involvement with the Superstition Mountain Museum, the rededication of the Dutchman’s Monument in Apache Junction, and various publications over the years. My interest has always been associated with the Superstition Mountains; I’ve always tried to change dreams to reality.

I don’t recall the first time I hiked to the top of Bluff Springs Mountain, but it was with my father sometime in the late 1940s. I was attending Hill Street Elementary School in Globe, the spring my father and I climbed to the top of the mountain.

We drove out to the old Quarter Circle U Ranch and then hike up Bark Draw to the old Williams Camp then east toward Bluff Springs water trough and cabin. We started our ascent from the southeast end. I was worn out by the time we arrived at the base of Bluff Springs, but my dad wanted to climb to the top and into the interior of the mountain. My back pack was quite heavy, even though I was only carrying my bedroll, pillow and some water. Dad was carrying our food and other necessities.

We climbed over the southeastern end of Bluff Springs Mountain and hiked down into the canyon on top of the mountain. Dad wanted to camp near water so with hiked down into Bluff Springs Mountain Canyon and set camp near a pool of water. We had a small, two-man pup tent. Once camp was set, Dad rested for awhile then decided to do a little looking around. He suggested I stay in camp. However, in my spare time, I could gather of some wood for the fire. He also advised me to be very careful about snakes because it was spring time and they were out.

My father wanted to travel to Bluff Springs Mountain because he wanted to find something that was Spanish or Mexican. Something that would prove the Spanish or Mexicans were mining or prospecting in the area. Dad was checking out a story he was told by old Pete Petrasch who lived in Globe. According to Pete, he and his brother Hermann had a camp on Tortilla Mountain. Pete committed suicide about three or four years before our trip. Dad knew most of the old timers around Phoenix, Globe and Miami. He was always listening for another treasure story or tale that he could check out. Father loved to check out lost mine stories. It was his hobby and an opportunity for some recreation and outdoor fun.

I wandered around the camp site area searching for wood while dad hiked up toward the eastern facade of Bluff Springs Mountain. Petrasch had told father there were some steel rings embedded in the rock near the eastern edge of the mountain. When dad returned to camp, he said he found nothing that would confirm old Petrasch’s story. The next morning, we hiked down Bluff Springs Mountain Canyon toward the north end of the mountain. All I could think about was the long hike out of this country. We spent the morning hours looking around the north end of the mountain. We discovered some markings and maybe some very ancient petroglyph on an outcrop of black rock, probably basalt.

By 10, we were back in camp and packed up for the long walk out. Thank goodness I thought, most of our hike out would be downhill. We hiked down off the southeast end of the mountain to the Crystal Springs area then headed for Miner’s Summit. The hike from Miner’s Summit to the Quarter Circle U Ranch is a long walk, but most of it was downhill.

It was on hikes like these that I grew to love the desert. I was very fortunate to have a father who loved to take me into the hills and share his dreams and expectations with me. Dad never really believed the Dutchman’s mine existed, but he wasn’t going to leave anything up for grabs without checking it out. Basically this is how I was introduced to the tale of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.

My father instilled in me the importance of historical preservation. He always said the cultural history of a region was worth preserving for future generations to explore and learn about. He constantly spoke about the many characters and their dreams of striking it rich. His dream certainly has been fulfilled with the construction and development of two museums in the Apache Junction area, especially two museums on the Apache Trail. I never forget the conversations he had with Jack Anderson before he died about someday having seeing museum in Apache Junction about our area. The Curtiss and Andersons in 1938 gave the Don’s Club of Arizona a perpetual easement on a piece of land they owned 50 feet by 100 feet to build their monument. One might say this was the beginning of the museum movement in Apache Junction. Yes, I agree this is stretching it quite a bit. Then again, maybe not! This was all started when I was born in 1938.

Today Apache Junction has two museums. One is located on the Apache Trail near Mountain View Road and the other is located in the Goldfield Ghost Town. Both organizations are preserving the unique history of Superstition Mountain and the surrounding region. I am sure your support of either or both of the fine organizations will help preserve the history of this area for future generations to enjoy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Incident at Doggie Springs

September 7, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are many interesting stories about the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some tales are believable and others are not. The following story was told to me by an old cowboy named Bud Lane many years ago. Bud had worked for both Floyd Stone and the Barkleys. One evening, some time in the late 1970’s I was riding with Bud over the Apache Trail.

We were headed for the IV Ranch where we were taking a group of riders to the Reavis Ranch from Floyd Stone’s IV Ranch. As we rounded Inspiration Point and looking into the vast emptiness of Fish Creek Canyon we saw a brilliant meteor tracking north to south across the sky near Castle Peak. The meteor was so bright the light was reflected by Castle Dome Peak. It was at this point Bud spoke up and told this story.

“Tom,” he said, “all the crazies around Apache Junction and the mountains are always talking about flying saucers. I am not going to tell you I believe in flying saucers, but this really happen to me. I’m going to tell you a true story, but I don’t want you to ever repeat it until after I am dead and gone. First, I want to tell you I have never seen a flying saucer drunk or sober, and if I had I wouldn’t admit it for fear people would think I am a lunatic.”

At this point, Bud cautioned me again never to tell this story until he was dead and gone. Bud continued the story something like this. He said he was working some stray Mexican steers for Floyd Stone near the upper end of Tortilla Canyon above Doggie Springs. He planned on riding until dusk then working his way back to the Tortilla ranch house. Close to dusk he said, “Tom, I heard this whining roar that was so loud it was deafening. It even vibrated my lungs. All of sudden back toward Doggie Springs I saw this object rise into the sky so fast I couldn’t recognize what it was. Actually I thought it was some kind of a volcanic eruption. The object was gone in a split second.”

Bud further explained he had ridden all around the area trying to confirm what had happen. He found nothing to support what he had seen. He told me he was not suffering from illusions and he didn’t have a hang-over that day. Bud said he continued looking around the area every chance he had when he was in the region. Some ten or twelve years later Bud said he was in the area and found an interesting formation on the ground. On the side of a sandy wash he found a ring of sandy glass about ten feet in diameter. He was convinced this sandy glass ring wasn’t a geological feature. He believed the glass ring was formed from extreme and sudden heat. The heat, he believed, was produced by a rocket launch or something similar. I had known Bud since 1965, and he had always been exceptionally truthful with me. However, Bud was known to tell dudes a few tall tales when he worked for Billy Crader’s Safari Wilderness Trips.

This was a very puzzling and intriguing story that would be impossible to prove unless the melted sand ring could be found. Bud indicated it was located somewhere about Doggie Springs. I have ridden into Doggie Spring several times over the years and found nothing. Tom Jarvis, Maricopa Deputy County Medical Examiner and I spent an entire day riding the area and searching for this melted sand ring.

Several years later a hiker tried to sell me a piece of melted sand, much like sand that has been melted by a lightning strike. When he told me it came from the Doggie Springs area I immediately became more curious. He said it appeared at one time this piece of melted sand and glass had been part of a large circular piece material. He further stated he didn’t really know what it was, but he was -quite convinced it was part of a lighting strike. He gave me directions to the site, but I never found it. I am quite sure the site had been damaged from flash flooding over the years which made it difficult to recognize.

The story still fascinates me because Bud was such truthful story teller; unless he was just joshing you around. But, he would always relent andlet me know he was just joking. He never relented and said he was just telling mea tall tale when it came tothis story about an unknown melted sand ring near Doggie Springs.

I am sure Bud probably told this story to others. There are numerous stories about unusual things occurring in the area. I still wonder if this is a true story about some unusual occurrence in the Superstition Wilderness Area or a powerful lightning strike caused by ground to cloud lightning.