Monday, January 25, 2010

Gold to Conservation

January 18, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Several years ago I was riding in the Horse Camp Ridge area when I came upon an interesting trail. The trail had been carved out of solid stone by animals carrying heavy loads. There were places were their hooves had worn deep into the volcanic tufa. This certainly excited my imagination. This trail may have been made by a pack train of mules carrying Mexican gold back to Mexico. The thought was mind provoking even though it probably wasn't true. Then reality set in and the situation appeared a little different. If mules had made this trail then there should be a large camp back in one of these canyons around Music or Hermann Mountain.

I followed the trail westward toward Music Mountain. I recalled a man named Michael Bilfrey in the 1980's who claimed he had discovered gold in the area, but was never able to produce enough evidence to convince the forest rangers to allow him to develop a mine. I soon found it wasn't Bilfrey that made this trail. This trail predated any activity in these mountains of contemporary men during the past century.

It was easy to convince myself of this, when I looked at what appeared to be an ancient Spanish drag stone in the bottom of a deep draw. At first I thought I had found one of the Peralta Mines that Barry Storm wrote about in the late 30's and early 40's. When I examined the drag stone carefully I concluded it was used for something else. It appeared to have served as a weight to keep a fence from washing away. Cattlemen often used large rocks tied to the bottom of a fence to keep it from washing away during a flash flood. It soon dawned on me a cowboy had found the stone somewhere else and dragged it to the site of the fence. The drag stone was quite heavy and probably wasn't dragged very far by any cowboy on horseback. It was also possible a cowboy used some hand steel to drill a hole in the rock so he could anchor it to the fence with an eye-bolt.

Now the mystery really deepened for me. It was either Sims Ely or Jim Bark who had talked about such a drag stone on Peter's Mesa. Walt Gassier had mentioned one also. I wanted to believe this was a drag stone used as part of an old Spanish arrastra to crush gold ore. I searched the entire area hoping to discover the origin of the drag stone. I did not find the mill trace where the stone may have come from. This further eliminated the idea there was a mine in the immediate area.

The entire area appeared non-conducive to gold bearing rock or ore. I rode on eastward until I reached Tortilla Creek. The area around the old Miller Mine produced no better clues. As I searched the area closer I wondered if an old cowboy had hauled the stone up from the Salt River. I soon realized that was highly unlikely. The actual stone appeared to be some type of very hard gray basalt com-mon to the immediate area. The Barkley's had an old drag stone around their ranch for many years. Nancy and Kenneth McCullough gave a drag stone to the Superstition Mountain Historical Society several years ago. I don't believe that stone and the one used on the fence line were one in the same.

The mystery of this old drag stone will continue to fascinate people and cause them to speculate about things that occurred in these mountains more than a century ago. I have found many clues that are indicative of mining in the wilderness, but very few clues pointing to smelting and refining operations.

This would lead one to believe if there were any rich mines in the area the ore was concentrated then transported to another location to be processed. This mountain mystery will be passed on to others and they can try and resolve it. This is the nature of things when it comes to the Superstition Mountains and stories of lost mines.

I must admit, during the past fifty years, I have never found anything within the Superstition Wilderness Area that would convince me a mine of substantial worth ever existed here. I will admit there are many examples of prospects and some very extensive prospects within the wilderness. The truth is none of these prospects turned a profit or produced profitable ore. My father spent three decades wandering the region and enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the region but was never convinced anything else worthwhile existed in the region. You might say that is the nature "the Dutchman's Lost Mine." His friend Bill
told him many wonderful stories about the old days involving those who believed the Superstition were filled with mineral wealth. There have been plenty of scams perpetrated by unscrupulous promoters over the years that have separated many unfortunate people from their money.

I have found the real treasure of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This treasure falls into three categories; one, is the beauty of the area, two, the history of the area, and three, and the enormous archaeological resources that lie hidden within the wilderness. We all might remember the wilderness was set aside in 1939 to preserve the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert for future generations of Americans to enjoy. This goal has lead to the preservation of many other valuable resources associated with this 159,780 acre wilderness. We all owe a tremendous debt to men like Pinchot, Muier, and Leopold for being activists for the conservation of public lands in the 1920’s and 30’s. Everyone may not be in agreement, but someday our nation’s greatest resources will be the public lands we have preserved in their natural state. The Superstition Wilderness may not have survived as such if it had not been for the legacy of the “old Dutchman” and his lost gold mine. All this legend focused efforts toward preserving the Superstition Mountain area by both private and governmental groups.

A blanket of snow covers Four Peaks, looking east from First Water Creek in the Superstition Wilderness.
Today when I ride through Garden Valley and down into Second Water Canyon and on to La Barge Canyon I’m thankful we call it the Superstition Wilderness Area and it remains today much like it did a hundred years ago, undisturbed by rooftops and commercial development.

There is no price tag on solitude, beauty, wildlife and nature.

The Great Bavispe Earthquake

January 25, 2010  © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The aftermath of any great earthquake generates interesting inquires about areas that are prone to this type of geological event. Could an earthquake of any great magnitude strike the Salt River Valley? Secondly, has an earthquake of any great magnitude ever occurred in the Salt River Valley?

Adobe walls were cracked, adobe buildings collapsed, landslides and fissures occurred, rocks as large as houses toppled over, frame houses where moved from their foundations and splintered, and glassware was shattered by the force of the Bavispe earthquake more than a hundred years ago.
The answer to both of these questions is yes, however the answer must be qualified. The Salt River Valley experiences hundreds of small earth tremors daily, however, few if any of these tremors can be felt by the inhabitants of the area. Only very sensitive seismographic instruments can detect these small tremors. The possibility of a major earthquake occurring in the eastern portion  of the Salt River Valley is highly unlikely, however it is possible.

A major earthquake occurred in the Apache Junction area on May 3, 1887, at 2:35 p.m. The tremor rocked the central mountain region of Arizona Territory for approximately fifty-five seconds and severely shook the area around Superstition Mountain. Some reports suggested the tremor shook the area for at least seventy seconds.

The epicenter of this earthquake was a small Mexican village located in northern Sonora, Mexico. The name of the village was Bavispe.The following is a quote from the Arizona Weekly Enterprise, May 7, 1887, p. 3, col. 4:

At 2:35 p.m. Florence time we had quite a sharp shock of earthquake here. It was of short duration, large pieces of rock were detached on all sides of Picket Post Mountain which course rolled to the bottom raising a cloud of dust, and for several minutes it ascended about the mountain giving it the appearance of a live volcano.

Journals written by early pioneers of the area, such as Gene Middleton, also recorded the impact of this earthquake and described the ascending clouds of debris around Picket Post and Superstition Mountains.

The following are excerpts from the Arizona Daily Gazette, May 5. 1887, p.3, col. 2.

Immediately after the shock all eyes were turned to the southeast from where came a deep rumblings and they saw a dense dust hanging over one of the mountains on the south side of the Salt River about nine miles above the confluence of the Verde River (Superstition Mountain). 
It is reported Sgt. Lucking and Company Clerk Reni saddled up and rode toward Superstition Mountain returning at 10 p.m. They reported one side of the mountain broken down and debris scattered for several hundred yards around. It looked as though there had been hundreds of tons of dynamite under the base and that when it exploded it had raised the mountain bodily, scattering the fragments in every direction. The seismic action created a dust cloud similar to a volcanic eruption.

Adobe walls were cracked, adobe buildings collapsed, landslides occurred, rocks as large as houses toppled over, frame houses where moved from their foundations and splintered, and glassware was shattered by the force of the Bavispe earthquake more than a hundred years ago.

There was no reported loss of life in Arizona Territory, however the territory was very sparsely populated. The total number of people living in Arizona, including the Native Americans at the time, was about 60,000.

The geologic history of the Superstition Mountain area is a very complex igneous rock formation composed of alternating layer of ash and basalt formed some seventeen to twenty-five million years ago. Seismographic data indicates this region today is somewhat stable. One hundred and twenty-three years ago would be a brief instant in geologic time. Some rocks from the top of Superstition Mountain bounced and rolled two miles from the base of the  mountain during the tremor of 1887.

The May 3, 1887, Bavispe or Sonoran earthquake was a major tremor probably reaching the 7.2 mark on the Richter scale. The epic Center was located near the Sierra Teras Mountains in Sonora, Mexico along the Pitaycachi fault near the village of Bavispe. There was an enormous amount of damage in this village. The cathedral collapse and approximately 42 people died.

The probability of a major earthquake occurring in the Apache Junction or Salt River Valley is highly unlikely, but still there always remains a possibility. Since 1887, three earthquakes have occurred in the Salt River Valley area. One earthquake occurred in 1910, another followed in 1935 and the last occurred in 1961. The 1961 tremor that mildly shook Arizona had an epicenter in Baja California.

We recently experienced a very mild tremor in portions of Phoenix as recent as 2009.

Was the Sonoran Earthquake severe enough to alter landmarks in our area? Many people would say no because we have so many balanced rocks in the Superstition Mountain and surrounding mountains. Balanced rocks fall and balanced rocks stand during major earthquakes. There are many documented examples of such landforms in earthquake prone areas of the world.

The accurate prediction of earthquakes still remains far beyond the ability of scientist today. For this reason we cannot totally ignore the possibility of such a natural event occurring again in the future.

The tragedy in Haiti today only reminds us of what can happen when a severe earthquake strikes a major urban area.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fool's Gold

January 11, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I recall an event that occurred in La Barge Canyon many years ago near a site called Horse Camp. This particular site was a common destination for old John DeGraffenreid when he packed dudes in for an overnight campout. Many of his customers liked to camp for a couple of nights deep within the wilderness, and this site provided such an environment. It was about eight and a half miles from First Water Trail Head. Old John was the earliest licensed outfitter in Apache Junction for the Superstition Primitive Area in the 1950's. He was packing people into the Superstition Mountains as early as 1955.

In early April of 1959 a couple of Hawaiians requested John's services. He packed them into Horse Camp for a week-long stay. At the time I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company and often ran into DeGraffenreid's pack strings in the mountains. Mike Finley and I were working on the old corral in La Barge Canyon for Barkley when we ran into the two Hawaiians. We had no idea who they were or what they were doing in the area. They were very secretive and we thought they were Mexicans from Mexico looking for Spanish gold in the area. We said hello to them as we rode by their camp at Horse Camp heading out to the First Water Ranch.

Mike and I were in La Barge Canyon several times in May and June for various ranch chores. We were often checking on cattle to see if there were any Screw Worm infestations. William T. Barkley, our boss, was working with the Screw Worm eradication program. We often carried sterilize flies in small boxes to very remote areas of the Barkley cattle range. I believed 1958-59 was the last two years of the Screw Worm eradication program in the Superstition Mountain area.

The next thing we heard was one of the Hawaiians had been shot and buried in a shallow grave beside the trail going past Horse Camp in La Barge Canyon. Later we found out we had tied our horses on the spot where he was actually buried. We tied up there in early May of 1959, and could smell this peculiar rotten smell of something dead. We never dreamed it was a human being. Wc figured the smell was the decaying Mule deer from a lion kill. We were probably no more then fifteen feet from the shallow grave where the Hawaiian was buried.

This photograph of the area gives some idea of how beautiful this particular part of La Barge Canyon is. The two Hawaiians were packed to Horse Camp because of a nearby source of water.
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office began a search for Stanley Fernandez, 22, of Honolulu, Hawaii on June 7, 1959. The body of Fernandez was found in a shallow grave along the trail near Horse Camp in La Barge Canyon.

The prospecting partner of Fernandez immediately became a suspect in the case. Benjamin Ferrierra was arrested and returned to Arizona from Hawaii by Pinal County Sheriff Lawrence White. Ferrierra told Sheriff White he feared for his life and was afraid of Stanley Fernandez. He said one evening around the campfire they were tal
king about the gold they thought they had found. Actually it was nothing but Iron Pyrite or Fool's Gold. It was shortly after that discussion Ferrierra shot Fernandez to death with a .22 caliber rifle they had in camp.

After shooting Fernandez, Ferrierra buried him in a shal¬low grave and hiked out of the mountains and returned to Hawaii like nothing had happened.

I have always felt an innocent soul had died from a bad case of Fool's Gold fever. There is a small outcrop of Iron Pyrite in the area, however I tend to believe they found some small concentrations of Biotite in the streambed and thought it was gold. It is amazing what happens to people who think they have found gold. Both men had little or no knowledge of prospecting or mining.

During his trial Benjamin Ferrierra pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to a short term in the Arizona State Prison. Benjamin Ferrierra served his time and was released.

Did Benjamin Ferrierra get away with First-Degree murder? We will never know. The Pinal County prosecutor could never have proven a case of murder because there were no witnesses. Ferrierra stuck to his story and was finally convicted of manslaughter. After his release from the Arizona State Prison he returned to Hawaii and another tragic chapter in the history of the mountain was closed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Wagoner Golden Ledge

January 4, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A tale of lost gold without a "Dutchman" or "Peralta" would be inappropriate for the Superstition Mountain area. However, such stories do exist in the files, and Wagoner's lost ledge has intrigued the imagination of many prospectors.

The Hewitt Canyon Wagon Road. Wagoner's Lost Gold was in really rugged country very similar to this.

It was spring-time when John Wagoner arrived in Florence, Arizona Territory, 1883. Wagoner traveled west for his health. He suffered from a severer respiratory illness. Eastern doctors had advised him to move to a hot dry climate to rebuild his health. Wagoner made short forays into the desert surrounding Florence to regain his strength. As he regained his health his trips became longer and more intensive. He would board the stage at Florence and travel to a site near Black Point on Queen Creek. From here he would hike in a northeastern direction into the Superstitions carrying nothing more than a canteen and small black suitcase. On his return trip he would catch the stage near the "Narrows" on Queen Creek for a ride back to Florence.

By 1893 several rich gold strikes were found west of Superstition Mountain. These mines included the Bull Dog, Black Queen, and the Mammoth mines. The discoveries encouraged Wagoner to take his prospecting a little more serious. He soon realized the discovery of a bonanza was not impossible so he began to work the Superstition Mountains with earnest. A stage driver, who had become his friend, would drop him off and pick him up at prearranged locations along the stage route between Florence and the Silver King, Pinal and Hastings.

Wagoner was not an experienced prospector or miner, but he was familiar with gold. He had traveled to the Goldfield area to become informed about the deposits there. He was sure if gold existed in quantity at Goldfield, it was only reasonable that gold could be found in other locales around the Superstition Mountain range.

Wagoner began his quest for gold in the desert lowlands southwest of Superstition Mountain, Working his way northeast toward the area of Miner's Needle. Somewhere between the stage route and Superstition Mountain he found his bonanza. Fred Mullins, a stage driver, remembered one particular day when Wagoner flagged him down. Wagoner was standing and waiting for Mullins. His black suitcase was under a large Mesquite tree. He was very excited. Mullins pulled the stage to a stop and dismounted. Wagoner came up to him and said excitedly, "Hey Fred I've found it."

He hurried to the shade of the Mesquite tree and brought back his suitcase to show Fred Mullins the specimens he had. As he opened the suitcase, Mullins saw some of the richest gold ore he had ever viewed. The gold was laced so thickly through the Quartz it would have been almost impossible to separate it other than by hand-cobbing.

All the way to Florence, Wagoner sat on the box with Fred and told him about his discovery. "Fred," he said, "it was in white quartz on a ledge about twenty inches wide." He continued, "The gold is laced in the quartz and easy to separate." Wagoner told Fred the quartz had intruded a large black basalt outcrop on the desert not to far from the stage route. Wagoner continued to gather gold from some undisclosed location for five years on a monthly basis. Wagoner continued to tell Fred Mullins more about his golden ledge with each trip.

Wagoner talked about seven shallow shafts with Ironwood collars near two black hills. At the base of these hills was a stone mill for grinding the ore. From what Wagoner said the rich ore was never placed in the stone mill for grinding. This ore was hand-crushed and the gold was separated from the quartz. Mullins was convinced that Wagoner worked the mine with out the benefit of tools. He concluded this because he hauled Wagoner for all those years and he never transported any tools or powder.

Many years later Fred Mullins told friends he believed Wagoner had found a rich Spanish mine filled with cache gold ore. The reason for this conclusion was the richness of the ore. Wagoner told Mullins one day he was returning to his home back east. He had plenty of gold and had regained his health. Wagoner told Mullins he did not ever plan on returning to the mine so therefore he wanted to tell Mullins how to find the mine.

Wagoner said the gold ore was located four hours walking time north of the "Narrows" on the stage route. The ledge was located near two black hills. A sharp needle rock could be seen on the horizon to the north. Water could be found one mile to the east year around no matter how dry the season was. Indian markings can be found on the rocks just to the west of the site over some very rough and steep terrain. The old alternate route for the military trail between Fort McDowell and Camp Pinal lie about one mile to the north. Fred Mullins never found Wagoner's golden ledge and it remains lost to this day.

Mullins and Wagoner are both gone now, but their tale of lost desert gold still intrigues the hearts of adventurers young and old alike. There are several versions of this story; so maybe you will be fortunate enough to find the missing clues and locate this fabulous bonanza known as Wagoner Golden Ledge.