Monday, August 16, 2010

Wagon Tracks in Stone

August 16, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Since I can remember there have been stories about wagon tracks in stone around or in the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some 60 years ago I heard a man telling my dad a story about some stone carreta tracks south of the wilderness boundary. A carreta was an old two-wheeled heavy-duty Spanish cart that could carry very large loads of the period. The man telling the story swore these were the tracks left behind, produced by two-wheeled carts carrying heavy loads of gold and silver bullion, back to Mexico from the rich mines around the Superstition Mountains.

These are the wagon tracks in stone. I am pointing to the tracks of the lead mules that is also in stone. As you stand silently over these old stone tracks you can almost here the teamster cracking the whip and the mules trudging along pulling their heavy loads.
My father talked to Jimmy Herron and Billy Martin Sr. about these alleged wagon tracks in stone. When dad first heard the story he didn't believe the Spanish hauled gold or silver bullion from this area back to Mexico in the 1840's. These ranchers knew exactly what the guy was talking about. They told dad exactly where the tracks were located and a little about their history.

According to Billy Martin Sr. the tracks were the results of the ore wagons hauling silver ore from the Silver King Mine to the Pinal Mill on Queen Creek just west of present day Superior. During the late 1870s and early 1880s there was a large milling op¬eration on the side of Queen Creek just west of Superior. The ore wagon road crossed a large deposit of welded volcanic tuff. This type of rock was not too resistant to the metal rims of the old wagon wheels carrying heavy loads of silver ore. The wagon wheels slowing etched two deep ruts across this large deposit of welded volcanic tuff (ash). This wagon wheel rut reveals the years of transport over this route from the Silver King Mine to the old Pinal Mill.

The old Silver King Mine was discover in 1875 and developed into one of the largest and richest of the early silver mines in Arizona Territory. At first the mine owners tried to ship ore to Yuma then down to the Gulf of California and on to San Francisco. This method of shipment was far too expensive. A mill was constructed on Pinal Creek west of Superior in the late 1870's where the ore was processed much cheaper and made the Silver King a very profitable mining operation. Today little remains of the old Silver King mine. Forty years ago I took some photos up at the Silver King that included the old mine superintendent office. Today the building is gone. All that remains of the Pinal Mill along Queen Creek is parts of its foundation. The history of the area is etched in the ash just north of the mill along the road to the old Silver King Mine where the wagons crossed a long de¬posit of volcanic tuff. Sorry treasure hunters, these are not carreta tracks made by the Mexican Or Spanish pioneers of the Southwest.

The turnoff to the Wagon Tracks is about halfway between the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and Superior along Highway 60 on the right side of the highway. A visit to the wagon tracks is a wonderful historical reminder of the past mining history of Arizona Territorial days. The State of Arizona should preserve this unique site for future generations to see.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jesse Capen Is Missing

August 15, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Some time around the first week of December 2009, a young man embarked on trip to search for a lost gold mine in Arizona. He chose the Tortilla Creek drainage basin of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some time after that and prior to December 20, 2009, Jesse Capen went missing.

Jesse Capen of Denver, Colo., has been missing in the Superstitions since December 2009.
On December 20, 2009, a white Jeep wagon was found abandoned at the Upper Tortilla Ranch Windmill. The vehicle was reportedly owned by Capen of Denver, Colo. He was 35 years old, 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 204 lbs. He worked as a bell hop for the Downtown Denver Sheraton hotel.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office contacted Capen's mother, Cynthia Burnett and she reported Jesse was in Arizona looking for a lost mine in the Superstition Mountains. She said he had driven to Arizona after Thanksgiving.

On December 22, 2009, somewhere in the area of Indian Springs, Jesse's camp was checked. Capen's wallet, credit cards, cash, iPod, backpack, food and water were found in his tent. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office conducted a search of the area throughout the month of December finding no sign of Jesse.

Search dogs, SAR members, deputies and a helicopter search the areas marked on a map found in Jesse's tent. All of this effort produced no clues as to what happened to Jesse. The area where Jesse went missing was hit by a severe winter storm between November 22-23, 2009, and blew down many trees in the area including a large Cottonwood tree near Kane Springs.

The entire region around Indian and Kane Springs northwestward toward Tortilla Mountain is extremely rough and very treacherous terrain. I worked round up in this area in the 1950s and it is difficult to even spot cows in this country let alone an injured man. Elmer Pope, an old Apache cowboy who worked for Floyd Stone, once told me this was the roughest cattle range he had ever worked.

There are several vertical prospects that are eight to 15 feet deep in the area. Elmer had covered several of them and fenced in others to keep cattle from falling in them. There were several prospects and old tunnels over toward Night Hawk Springs.

What happen to Jesse Capen? Did he fall into some prospect hole, fall off of a boulder, slip and fall of off of the trail? Did he injure himself jumping, from one boulder to another? Or did he hike on over to Pistol Canyon on Peter's Mesa and become disoriented and injured in that area? Or did he change his mind and hike up toward the top of Tortilla he wanted to search and was injured? Maybe he just decided to walk out the other side of the mountain and disappear off the face of the Earth? Speculation continues to aggravate the search.

Who was Jesse Joseph Capen? His mother reported him to be a gentle giant. He didn't even consider carrying a firearm into the mountains. He had collected over 100 books on the Superstition Mountains and the Dutchman's Lost mine. He had downloaded all the information he could find about the Waltz's mine from the Internet and carefully organized it. Jesse was single and had never married. His mother Cynthia Burnett said he never really talked about the Dutchman's Lost Mine and the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. She also revealed on an Internet forum her son was bi-polar.

Searching with even good information can be difficult at best. Over the years, I have been involved with five or six major searches. All of them but two ended tragically. One young man was angry at his father and decided to teach him a lesson by hiding from searchers for more than a week.

Another young man was angry at his grandmother and remained lost during the heat of July in the mountains for almost a week before he walked out to the search command post at the Peralta Trail Head. He was very familiar with the area. He knew where an old mine tunnel was that had a spring in.

These types of experiences can callous ones initiative to participate in such searches for missing people. Volunteers continue being involved in search and rescue because they know most missing people did not intend to become lost or injured. However the largest majority of searches end finding or saving the missing person. Sadly enough a few search and rescue efforts end tragically.

We must all take a moment to thank the many volunteers of the many search and rescue groups in Arizona and our nation. They are on call 24 hours a day from their jobs, families and friends. However, without them many lives would have been lost over the years. The search is never over until a rescue is made or the remains are recovered. The volunteer knows this is what brings closure for a family of a love one who has been lost. This is the reason we have so many wonderful people involved in search and rescue.

Jesse will be brought home eventually.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Charley Boy or Charlebois

August 9, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area has many historical sites that have played a role in the history of Arizona Territory. Charlebois Spring is such a site. This idyllic and verdant oasis situated deep within the Superstition Wilderness Area has attracted humans for a millennium. The spring has always been a good source for permanent water in the mountains. Prior to the lowering of the valley water table by agriculture Charlebois Spring provided enough water for a year around garden. The spring is located in Charlebois Canyon approximately nine miles southeast of First Water trailhead along the Charlebois-First Water Trail (also known as the Dutchman Trail FS 104). The spring is located among a large stand of Cottonwood and Sycamore trees off La Barge Canyon in a side canyon called Charlebois Canyon.

Petroglyphs (pictoglyphs) located a short distance from the spring in La Barge Canyon attest to prehistoric man's use of the region. These petroglyphs depict successful hunting forays by the early inhabitant of the region. The military, prospectors, cattlemen and treasure hunters followed the Native Americans in this area. Many treasure hunters have a misconception that these pictoglyphs are Spanish treasure symbols. Considering the fact the Spanish were never in these mountains should be convincing enough. However, there are always those who skirt the facts and believe the unlikely.

This ancient petroglyph near Charlebois Canyon that depict a hunting scene is called a Master Map by treasure hunters.
Soldiers from the 14th, 24th, and 32nd Infantries out of Fort McDowell campaigned against the Apache and Yavapai who sought sanctuary in these mountains after raiding ranches and farms in the Salt River Valley. The soldiers at Fort McDowell knew these mountains as the Sierra Superstitions. Several of these campaigns were started in late May and early June of 1864. Charlebois Spring became an important source of water for man and beast during these early skirmishes. Prospectors and cattlemen soon followed the soldiers in the mid 1870s after the Apaches and Yavapais were subdued in the area. Some of these prospectors risked death prior to 1886 in their search for gold in the area.

Originally Charlebois Spring was called Black Mountain Spring, or Alamo Spring according to some sources. However, later the spring was named after a French-Canadian cattleman named Martin Charlebois. This was around the turn of the 19th century. Mart, as he was known, ran cattle in the area for several years. Charlebois eventually built a cabin at the spring. He also had an extensive terraced garden under the Cottonwoods and Sycamores he irrigated with water from the spring. Charlebois lived in the area for several years packing all his supplies in from Florence or Mesa.

The site of the old cabin at Charlebois Spring. The area was terraced for gardening. This photo was taken during the winter and the trees had no leaves on them.
This original cabin built by Charlebois burned down in the early 1920s. William A. Barkley owner and operator of the Barkley Cattle Company from 1907-1955 rebuilt the cabin and used it as a line camp for many years. The cabin and spring served as a base of operation during the search for Adolph Ruth in the summer of 1931.

The tin cabin Barkley built was torn down in 1948 by Jimmy Ruiz and Grady Haskins, then moved to Bluff Springs were the cabin was reconstructed. The cabin then was used for storing salt blocks and hay. The old Charlebois cabin stood there until 1962, when the Tonto National Forest required the cabin's removal from the Superstition Wilderness Primitive Area.

Martin Charlebois was a territorial pioneer who suffered the hardships and rigors of this hostile land. It is only fitting that a canyon, spring and mountain bear his name today. Some time ago a bureaucrat tried to convince me there was no history associated with the Superstition Wilderness Area worthy of preservation. I adamantly disagreed with him. The truth is there are hundreds of stories about men and women who came here to eke out a living and raise a family. Their lives and tribulations are the history of this vast mountain wilderness. Each decade more and more pioneer names of landmarks are removed from maps of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Eventually few names of these pioneers will exist on the maps of this region.