Monday, September 27, 2010

Cowboys and Windmills

September 27, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

When you're young and trying to learn to be a cowboy there are several rules one should follow. First and most important is to listen and not be heard. When my boss Bill Barkley would explain and introduce me to a new skill for my cowboy experience I often found myself asking too many questions and not listening close enough to details. This was the case with stringing barbed wire, packing salt, digging postholes and working on Aeromotors or windmills.

There were many windmills located on the old Barkley Ranches when I worked in the 1950s. This one was located along First Water Road where the Crosscut Trailhead is located today. Some historian claim barbed-wire, windmills, the Winchester rifle and the Colt single-action revolver tamed the West.
As many an old rancher or Midwest farmer can tell you, windmills can be damn dangerous to the inexperienced. The old Barkley Ranch had several working (or partially working) windmills in the summer of 1955. I believe there were seven or Aeromotors windmills scattered over the 117 sections of rangeland that was the Barkley Cattle Company in the 1950s. After the demise of William A. Barkley in September of 1955, the ranch slowly began to decline. I worked during the twilight years of the Barkley dynasty. Windmill repair was still a necessary job on the ranch and required some skill. I was young and capable of climbing the windmill frame to service and work on these Aeromotors. I repaired the windmill at Don's Tank, the U Ranch, and Salt Tank several times. The mill's blades and gear cases were often shot full of holes by inconsiderate shooters or hunters. I replaced many windmill blades each summer. It always amazed me why the ignorant would vandalize such important equipment for pumping water to animals in such a dry arid region. In the Sahara Desert, if a man, or women damage a water-well it was a death penalty act.

I began my windmill apprenticeship in July of 1955. The temperature was somewhere around 108 degrees in the shade. Huge dark anvil shaped thunderclouds rose above the towering facade of the Dacite Cliffs north of the Quarter Circle U Ranch and to east over Coffee Flat. I had been instructed to check the windmill motors, oil them and then turn the tail vane parallel with the blades of the windmill so the winds of a thunderstorm would not damage them. This needed to be done only on the two at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. After all, these windmills provided the water we used at the ranch.

I climbed to the top of the windmill nearest the corral to quickly check the Aeromotor and then tie off the wind vane with the mill blades. I then climbed down to the ground and rushed down the pasture to the other windmill. I could see a storm was on its way.

Wind was beginning to kick up a little and the thought of climbing up on the lower windmill tower did not set to well with me. However, I wanted to please the boss and do my job as best I could. By the time I arrived at the base of the second windmill the blades were spinning wildly. I pulled the release lever for the wind vane chat kept the blades pointed away from the wind. The wind vane slammed into the blades, but finally the mill blades quite turning.

The wind was still blowing quite hard when I climbed up the windmill frame. That was my first big mistake! By the time I reached the top windmill frame thefwind was gusting and dust was so thick I couldn't see the ground. All of a sudden I realized how serious and hopeless my situation had become in just seconds. It was like riding a wild bull in an arena at night and the lights going out. Within seconds I was hanging on for dear life.

Read part II here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Abe Reid: Prospector and Miner

September 20, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

As you ride into the brush thicket just above the confluence of Whitlow and Fraser Canyon you find two old shot up Aero windmills and concrete water tanks. Just above this site was the camp of Abraham "Abe" Reid. He had prospected and searched the Superstition Mountains off and on for the old Dutchman's lost mine. His friends knew him as "Abe". Abe had been in the mining and prospecting business since territorial days. He had worked around Globe, Miami and Ray since the turn of the century. He started work as a mucker and eventually worked his way up to a hard rock driller. By the early 1920's Abe was promoting mining property throughout the central mountain region of Arizona, in particular the area around Ray, Arizona and Mineral Creek. The stock market crash of 1929 sent Abe Reid into the mountains to eke out a living searching for gold. Abe promoted one property after another verily surviving the "depression years." Around 1935 Reid settled on a property some six and a half miles east of the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Reid called this mine the Silver Belle. Reid maintained a camp below the mine at a permanent source of water, known today as Reid's Water.
Abe Reid standing near Fraser Canyon a short distance from his camp. This was about four years prior to his death. Photo courtesy of Dan Hopper, c. 1954
For almost twenty-two years Reid dug a tunnel into the side of the mountain on his claim. His work produced a large waste dump that is still visible today. Reid had a low grade silver ore deposit at the site, but it wasn't profitable to work. Reid spent a considerable amount of money building a road from the Silver Belle to Milk Ranch Creek. There was a road from the old Cavanaugh Milk Ranch to the Silver King Road. This road provided Abe Reid a route to and from his mine to haul supplies. It was possible to drive a high clearance pickup truck over the road from the Quarter Circle U Ranch through Coffee Flat to Reid's Water in the early 1960's. Around 1951, my father spent a weekend helping Abe Reid survey his tunnel and property. He was thinking about patenting the claims. However he decided against it because of annual property tax. While my dad worked, my mother and I stayed near his camp at Reid's Water. It was a beautiful spring morning for us. I remember the fresh green-yellow color of the early spring Cottonwood leaves, and most of all I recalled the magenta flowers of the Hedgehog cactus. It was from this experience that I remembered the character of Abe Reid and the beauty of the desert.

Abe was around seventy-two years old at the time. He had slowed down physically, but mentally he was prepared to dig forever in search of his bonanza of silver ore. My father wanted to help him continue that search even though dad knew it was fruitless. Abe was convinced his silver mine was a bonanza and he would someday hit pay dirt. Dad helped Reid because he liked him and had known him since before the "Great Depression Days."

Abe Reid always had three to eight burros he used in his prospecting and mining operation in Whitlow Canyon. Often Reid would be gone into the mountains for several days searching for the old Dutchman's gold mine. Contemporary storytellers mix Abe Reid into the Dutchman's Mine story with so many inaccuracies that it is obvious they are making up the story as they went along. Barry Storm wrote about Abe Reid prospecting throughout the Superstition Mountain region looking for the Dutchman's Lost Mine. From the "Great Depression" 1929-1938 Abe Reid spent a lot of time searching for the Dutchman's lost mine and digging his tunnel at the Silver Belle. Abe Reid was even mentioned as a plotter in the death of Adolph Ruth. If any of these individuals had actually known Abe Reid they would have known such a story was preposterous.

Abe Reid was always the topic of discussion when mining or the Dutchman's lost mine came up. Reid was known to hunt the Dutchman lost mine, sometimes with vigor, but after many years he settled on his silver claims near Whitlow Canyon and lived out his final years there. Fortunately Abe Reid told his story on magnetic tape and the recording has survived all these years. Today a copy of this tape survives at the Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction, Arizona in the Abe Reid Collection. An old friend of Abe Reid's found him dead in his camp in October of 1958. Soon after Abe Reid's death the only accessible route to Reid property was through Queen Valley. It wasn't long before the road below Cavanaugh's old goat ranch was impassable in Milk Ranch Creek. Eventually the road through the Quarter Circle U Ranch was closed and Reid's old diggings became isolated from the modern world. A visit to Abe Reid's old mine today requires a vigorous hike up Whitlow Canyon from the Milk Ranch or a hike from the Peralta Trail Head through Castle Rock Divide then down to Whitlow Canyon from the opposite side. The last time I visited the area there was still water available in Reid's old campsite. At one time Abe had a network of corral at the site he kept his pack burros in. In my collection of Superstition Mountain artifacts I have one of Abe Reid's old burro packsaddles I acquired from George Martin. The legacy of Abe Reid focused on mining and prospecting in the Superstition Mountain region.