Monday, March 29, 2010

Ave Reid: Prospector and Miner

March 22, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Read this article here.

Monument Smith's Gold

March 29, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Tortilla Flat, 17 miles northeast of Apache Junction on the Apache Trail, has long served as a base camp for prospectors, treasure hunters and writers. This interesting stop along the Apache Trail primarily serves tourists today. Visitors come from all over the world for a little taste of the Wild West. This pseudo-Western road stop has acquired quite a reputation over the past thirty years for its food and novelties. The wall of the cafe is plastered with dollars bills and other currency from around the world.

Tortilla Flat at the turn of the 20th century.

Prior to 1950, Tortilla Flat served as a base camp for many prospectors and treasure hunters who believed the Lost Dutchman's mine was located in the mountains immediately south of the road stop. John Chuning and "Monument" Smith were two such men who spent a considerable amount of time at the old stage stop.

John Chuning arrived in the area about 1905, while working as a driver for one of the stage lines that operated on the Apache Trail delivering mail to Roosevelt. Chuning had a keen interest in the area south of Tortilla Flat that included Tortilla Mountain, Malapai Mountain and Peter's Mesa. He believed Jacob Waltz had worked a rich gold mine a short distance from the road stop. The topography south of Tortilla Flat is some of the roughest terrain in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Monument Smith lived in a small crude stone cabin a short distance up Tortilla Creek from the road stop. Smith had one important clue as to the location of the Lost Dutchman's mine. That involved what he believed was a Mexican trail up Tortilla Creek, over a trick and into Peter's Canyon, then on up the east side of Geronimo Head Mountain. Smith was convinced this was the trail Jacob Waltz used to travel back and forth from his mine in the Superstition Mountains. Smith walked this trail many times searching for and pointing rock cairns that were trail markers in his opinion.

The spring of 1944 temporarily changed things around Tortilla Flat. The rain had been extremely heavy that year resulting in a lot of flooding along Tortilla Creek. A massive flash flood washed away most of Tortilla Flat, including Monument Smith's crude stone cabin near the confluence of Tortilla and Mesquite Creek. Smith recovered nothing from his cabin. Russell Perkins, the owner of Tortilla Flat at the time, gave Monument Smith a few things so he could keep up his prospecting activities.

You might say Perkins grub-staked old Monument Smith. With a small pick and a gold pan Smith began to work Tortilla Creek and many of its small tributaries. Smith told Russell he had been panning in a small tributary of Tortilla Creek, somewhere above its confluence with Peter's Canyon, when found a considerable amount of color. Russell Perkins was not too impressed with Monument Smith's' discovery, but another man in the store was. He was none other than Barry Storm. Storm believed the Lost Dutchman mine and the Peralta Mines were one in the same.

Storm was so impressed with the fine flakes of gold Smith had found he tried to encourage him to take him to the source of the gold. Smith refused to share his secret with Storm and told him Russell Perkins was his partner. All Smith ever told Storm was the source of the placer was near Hell's Hole in Tortilla Creek. Smith probably told Storm this story to keep him out of the area he was working in. Storm walked up and down Tortilla Creek several times trying to find Smith's source for the placer gold.

Who was Monument Smith? There are few if any existing records as to who Monument Smith was. One source claimed Smith was an ex-con that had served time in Florence. Another source claimed he was a poet. Some research indicates Smith may have worked for Dr. Robert A. Aiton at the Miller Mines in the 1920's. When the promotion of the Miller Mines failed in 1933, Smith moved on. Smith allegedly arrived in Tortilla Flat around 1934. He built his crude stone cabin along Tortilla Creek about 1936. Smith might have worked on the Horse Mesa Dam construction in 1926-27. He received a small check of some kind he picked up at the Tortilla Flat post office monthly. Most of the sources claimed Smith never strayed far from Tortilla Creek all the years he lived in the area. I am sure some day a researcher will find adequate documents to prove old Monument Smith's existence. Did he really discover placer gold or was it just shiny Biotite flakes?

During the past one hundred and five years Tortilla Flat has served as a jumping-off place for many prospecting ventures into the Superstition Mountains. The exact role Monument Smith played in the legend of the Dutchman's Lost mine is not clear, but he did spend a considerable amount of time in the area telling stories about finding placer gold along Tortilla Creek somewhere. His tale fired the imagination of Barry Storm and probably convinced the author-treasure hunter there was a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Apache Junction Landmarks

March 8, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The other day someone asked me about old landmarks in Apache Junction. At first I responded with landmarks such as the Apache Junction Zoo, Superstition Mountain Shell Station, Cowboy Service Station, and the Apache Junction Inn. All of these services had disappeared by 1958 and very few people remember them.

Then I thought about more contemporary landmarks that many people might recall. These included Superstition Ho Hotel, The Lucky Nugget, Traynor's Texaco, Blakely's Service Station, Yucca Cafe, Hacienda Cafe, The Superstition Skies, Pappy Russell's Garage, Slim Fogle's Moonlight Ranch, Norman Teason's Palo Verde Lodge, George's Steak House, Jordan's Chevron, Henry's Tasty Freeze, Arnold's Auto Center, Bill Bemo's Plaza Barber Shop, C.L. King Towing, Lake Realty, Copper State Bank, Ray's Western Wear and many, many more.

Someone else asked are these the only landmarks in Apache Junction and I replied, "By no means." I thought for a moment and talked to a couple of old friends. This talk resulted in old names such as the fire station on Ocotillo Drive, Vineyard Road, Wilson Road, Mouer Road, and of course the legendary Rattlesnake Drive.

It is stories like the following that have always gathered my attention. Thirty years ago an old lady called from Texas was inquiring about a road or street in Apache Junction called Rattlesnake or Sidewinder Lane. She had a bizarre story to tell, but didn't know exactly how to begin. She said her father once lived in the desert near Apache Junction on a roadcalled Rattlesnake Lane. She believed her father named the road because of all the rattlesnakes in the area. She remembered her father mentioning that Barney Barnard didn't live to far from her, but she also said you drove east of the Junction "Y" about a mile or so. That is all she could remember about her father and mother's abode in the desert. Her father had emphysema and he found living in the desert better for his health.

She continued her story and talked about how her father did not trust banks. He was a "Depression Era" man. He also placed his entire savings in gold coins and kept it buried in a small steel box on his property. She said she had seen her father's gold coins on several occasions over the years. Most of the coins were twenty dollar double eagles, but he also had a large selection of five and ten dollar gold pieces.

She claimed his coins would have filled two or maybe three quart jars. Her father had been gathering gold coinage since 1890. She also mentioned that her father had ignored the Gold Act in 1933 that limited the amount of gold to five ounces an American citizen could hold. She estimated her father may have had 200 or more ounces of gold coinage. Not knowing where Rattlesnake Lane was or anything about it created quite a mystery. I inquired with local old timers if they had ever heard of a Rattlesnake Lane. Several said no and a couple said yes, but they didn't recall where it was located exactly. The road could have been a dirt trail he named on private property to his abode.

For several months the search for Rattlesnake Lane was one of my research projects. The more I inquired about Rattle-snake Lane the more stories I heard. These stories ranged from; I don't know if that was ever an officially names street in Apache Junction; Well, I knew there were no officially named streets in Apache Junction prior to 1975.

This is an August 2007 photo of the Lost Dutchman Monument after the Grand Hotel was demolished. The clear view of Superstition Mountain is in the background, and it was almost 50 years since you could get a shot like this.
I believe Clay Worst chaired a street naming committee just prior to incorporation of Apache Junction in November of 1978. As far as I know Clay Worst or Jeannette Lake didn't know of any Rattlesnake Lane in Apache Junction. Many early property owners in Apache Junction had 1.5 to 5 acres of land in the late 1960s. Many of these properties were part of the old Veteran's Homestead Act of the early 1950's. Many of these property owners named small road tracks on their private property that did not have a public easement. It is for this reason I believe Rattlesnake Lane has become lost and gone the way of the Dodo bird. Locating Rattlesnake Lane today is an impossible task. However, there is always the possibility someone might come forward with the precise location of Rattlesnake Lane one of these days.

Many of the old landmarks around Apache Junction are gone and few people today remember them. These landmarks were often colorful and different, but for some it is probably better that they have vanished.

I remember the old Lost Dutchman Cafe, McKinney's, Yucca Cafe, Sand Tanks Cafe, The Rib Eye, and of course Elvira's Cafe on Apache Trail which is still there today. I recall the old fire station and sheriff's office on Ocotillo Street. Yes, Apache Junction has really changed. Many old timers fought a valiant battle to preserve old Apache Junction, but progress became reality. There is nothing more evident concerning change then the rise and fall of the Superstition Ho Hotel (later named the Grand Hotel) in the center of Apache Junction at the "Y" between 1959- 2008.

A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus once said something like this, "There will always be change."

Monday, March 1, 2010

P.C. 'Bick' Bicknell

February 22, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona history records many interesting characters that have helped to build this frontier state. Perrepont Constable Bicknell was such a man. He was a mining man and newspaperman born in Syracuse, New York around 1836.

"Bick" as he was known by friends, arrived in Arizona Territory about 1870. He first associated himself with the Salt River Herald as a writer in the early 1870s. Bick preferred hunting for lost mines and prospecting to writing stories for the newspaper. He was well educated in eastern schools and used his writing ability to make a living on the Arizona frontier. Bicknell was well established by 1880 as a writer and mining man in Arizona Territory.

Bicknell would write and sell a few stories then he was off on another major prospecting expedition into the mountains. Bicknell spent time searching for lost mines in the Mazatzals, Superstitions and other Arizona mountain ranges. His success was limited; however he wrote many interesting stories about his search for lost mines. These stories proved popular to the reading public at the time. Perhaps he is best known among historians of Arizona for his tall tales.

Bicknell spent many months riding and searching the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix for the Doc Thorne Mine, the Lost Soldier's Mine and the Lost Frenchman Mine. After the death of Jacob Waltz, the alleged owner of the Dutchman's Lost Mine, in Phoenix, on October 25, 1891, Bicknell became very interested in this story. He researched the story the best he could.

He began a systematic search for the mine when he was about fifty-five years old. He interviewed Julia Thomas and the Petrasch boys shortly after Waltz’s death. He then wrote a long article about the Waltz mine that appeared in many newspapers in 1895. The San Francisco Chronicle ran the article on January 13, 1895.

Bicknell wrote about Waltz being an old miser. It is interesting to note how he viewed this old prospector and the possibility of his hidden wealth. In this article Bicknell presents clues to Waltz's alleged mine. His contributions to the story have confused even more people about the story of the Dutchman's Lost Mine. Bicknell was known for his tall tales and jokes on the Arizona frontier.

On his many visits to the Superstition Mountains he made notes about the many ancient Native American ruins. He visited the ruins in Roger's Canyon sometime between 1893-1894. Confirmation of his visit to Roger's Canyon may have been verified with a recent discovery on a center post of a cliff dwelling ruin. Recently, Jesse Feldman published a statement that Bicknell's name was carved in the center post of the Roger's Canyon Cliff Dwellings and dated 1894.

Nyle Leatham, a photographer and special feature writer for the Arizona Republic, visited the cliff dwellings in early December 1975 and closely photographed the interior of the ruin. He also photographed the logs used to support the roof. Jesse said he recently found Bicknell's name on the center post of the ruin in a very inconspicuous location and believes it to be authentic. When Nyle photographed the ruin he did not remember all the names on the center post, but did recall photographing all the graffiti he found carved since Elisha Reavis' time. I was with Nyle Leatham on that trip in 1975 and I don't recall seeing Bicknell's name. Again that wouldn't mean anything because I wasn't interested in Bicknell at the time nor did I know anything about him.

Bicknell visited Roger's Canyon Cliff Dwelling in 1894, making him one of the earliest valley residents to visit this portion of the Superstition Mountains.
Jesse has certainly made an interesting discovery. This discovery places Perrepont C. Bicknell at these ruins in Roger's Canyon prior to 1900.
Perrepont Constable Bicknell lived in the Phoenix until the late 1880s when he moved to Prescott. Bicknell soon became a close friend of "Bucky" O'Neill, Prescott's mayor. An interesting article appeared in the Arizona Daily Gazette, on August 22, 1899, page 8, col. 2, the article read as follows:

P.C. Bicknell, for a long time of Phoenix, a well known magazine writer, for some years past a close companion of the late "Bucky" O'Neill, has come into a fortune of about $2,000,000.00.

After moving to Prescott Bicknell began exploring the Colorado Plateau for mineral resources and even looked for a few lost mines. He spent a considerable amount of time exploring the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River for mineral resources. He had more knowledge of the Grand Canyon then any other professional writer of the period. Even after he acquired the small fortune in 1899, Bicknell remained very frugal. Bicknell was slowing down by 1900, and he was spending more time writing then exploring.

P.C. Bicknell passed away on March 31, 1904, in Prcscott, Arizona. He was sixty-eight years old.

Most records indicate Bicknell was both a mining man and newspaperman. Bicknell was a man of considerable wealth who lived a life of privation most of the time he was in Arizona Territory. He appeared to care little about money.

When his estate was settled in May of 1906 in Syracuse, New York, Eugene P. Bicknell of New York was granted papers of inheritance on May 14, 1906. Bicknell had owned 1,104 acres in the town of Redfiedk, Oswego County, New York and 2,445 acres in Lewis County, New York. He also left a considerable amount of money to his immediate heir.

Bicknell probably helped create the tale of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine with his many stories that appeared in newspaper and magazines around the nation in the late 1890’s. Perrepont Constable Bicknell was an enigmatic personality on the Arizona frontier because of his frugal ways when he was actually an extremely wealthy man.

Lost Dutchman State Park

March 1, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The magnificent and spectacular beauty of Lost Dutchman State Park that we know may be lost forever if the Arizona State Legislature continues its present agenda. The park provides an active window whereby we can interact with the beauty of the western bajada and facade of Superstition Mountain. If the legislature continues to sweep funds from the park and heritage fund it will eventually close most state parks.

The historic perspective on Lost Dutchman State Park dates back to 1967.
A historic perspective on Lost Dutchman State Park dates back to 1967 when the Bureau of Land Management developed three hundred and twenty acres of desert land immediately west of Superstition Mountain as a recreation area. The BLM created picnic sites with tables and a few campsites. On September 13, 1977 the three hundred and twenty acre site was turned over to the State of Arizona and became part of the Arizona State Park system.

Ron Kraig became the first park manager and the park was opened on December 5, 1977. Kraig was park manager for about four years when Bob Sherman took over in 1984. Sherman remained manager for twenty-four years guiding the construction projects within the park and caring for it continuous needs. Under his leadership the park became a nationally known destination for hikers and campers from around the world. Today the park is one of the premier state parks in the United States. Bob Sherman retired in 2008, and Tom Fisher became park manager. From December 5, 1977 continuous improvements were made by park personal creating one of Arizona's finest public state parks.

The park has approximately 8 miles of hiking trails. There are about 3.2 miles of paved roads in the park and 72 overnight camping sites. There are 3 group ramadas for picnics, 13 single ramadas for picnics and 25 other picnic sites. There are two restrooms and one shower building. There are three trailheads within the park to access the Superstition Wilderness Area. There are a variety of activities including moonlight walks, ranger guided hikes, and a Junior Ranger program. These programs are active during October thru April.

The state park system has very well trained park managers and employees who fully understand the systems required to manage a public park. The park has many highly specialized tasks that must be properly managed. These tasks include managing and maintaining the septic transfer system, water system, the trails, the fences, the roads, the parking areas, the campsites, RV sites and the ecosystem of the park.

The employees of the park are highly trained in management skills and the duties of park rangers. All park employees and volunteers need to be knowledgeable about the history, fauna, flora and legend of the area. This is a unique park where visitors have a multitude of questions to be answered and guidance about hiking the parks trails. In addition to all the numerous activities of a park the employees must work with the many campers and RV'ers that spend days and weeks staying at the park during the prime winter months, November through April.

This unique park setting is extremely beneficial to the community of Apache Junction and all the communities of eastern portion of the Salt River Valley. Day hikers come from around the valley, the nation and the world weekly to hike the many trails of Lost Dutchman State Park. The park's trail system feeds into the Superstition Wilderness Area trail system that is part of the Tonto National Forest trail system.

The wilderness trail system connects with the Arizona Trail System in the eastern portion of the wilderness. Visitors come from all over the world for the unique view of Superstition Mountain from the park grounds. They also enjoy the parks camping facilities and trail system. Park trails lead visitors into the beauty of this unique American wilderness area.

Many people claim Superstition Mountain is second only to the Grand Canyon as the most visited, painted and photographed landmark in Arizona. The Superstition Wilderness Area attracts almost a hundred thousand people annually from around the nation and the world. In addition, thousands people visit the area primarily for camping and hiking from the Salt River Valley's communities.

Presently, with the severe economic crisis that faces the State of Arizona all of the state parks could eventually be closed permanently. The closing of the parks will only increase the economic crisis this state is facing. The enormous numbers of tourist and residents these parks attract to the state will be lost. The economic influx that Salt River Valley communities experience as the results of this park being in their area is significant. The community of Apache Junction estimates about four million dollars in tourist dollars will be lost annually in the immediate area if the park is closed.

This loss will eventually impact the entire community in some way. Maybe we should be asking ourselves; how can we save our community the loss this enormous economic benefit? Tourism is a very important economic factor in our community. The loss of our park will result in lost revenue for the community which eventually will lead the closure of more businesses that we have learn to depend on for services.

There are several scenarios as to what may happen. The park will be closed down and eventually the land will revert back to the Bureau of Land Management and then could be transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Tonto National Forest for management. There is an enormous difference between the philosophy of state parks and federal lands. A state park encourages the use of the land and the federal government tries to control the use of the land by closing many areas to public use. It is doubtful the forest service would manage the area as a public park. The future of Lost Dutchman State Park is in the hands of those who find this unique treasure an important part of this community. For more information, contact the Arizona State Park Foundation at (602) 920-4505 or