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.