Monday, October 18, 2010

A Last Stand, Part II

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

Read Part I here.

As I rode along a lonely trail toward Horse Camp Ridge in March of 19851 thought about the battles that once raged on the distant hilltops more than a hundred years ago. I wondered what kind of artifacts I might find if I could locate the place where a small band of Yavapai-Apache made a last stand in May of 1866. A place called Fortress Hill.

The directions I had to the hill were quite vague, however I knew the area well and felt I would recognized the hill from the description I had been given. The conical- shaped hill actually stood out among the many other hills in the area. As I rode toward the hill it fit the exact description I had been given.

Desert Apaches from a photo circa 1903.
The old man who told me about the hill described finding brass casings, lead balls and even a brass button or two. He said erosion had carried the artifacts down from the slopes of the hill. I was quite excited about what lay ahead as I quickly assembled my White Gold Master metal detector.

I began a systematic grid search of the lower slope of the hill. Within a few minutes I got my first beep. It was a brass casing and appeared to be a 45-90 cartridge. This find was followed by discoveries of more casings, lead mini-balls and one solitary brass button. I found some twenty mini-balls and almost as many brass cases. These artifacts indicated something had to have occurred on the top of this hill many years before my arrival. The metal detector had made myjob easier. I was convinced I had found Fortress Hill.

I had been told this story about a long forgotten hill in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness. I researched the military history of the area with the help of Joseph Crary and the United States Army Archives. I then traveled to the site to prove the old man's story. I was very fortunate and pleased to find relics from a battlefield dating back almost to the time of the American Civil War. It was so refreshing to hear a story about the Superstition Mountain area that actually panned out because most don't.

The discovery of these relics convinced me this battle occurred at this site. The discovery was also supported with military sketch maps of the area dating to the 1860's. This was an untold story of American history hidden deep in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

The artifacts found on Fortress Hill remain there today as part of a rich treasure trove of archaeological history. It is possible someday in the future Fortress Hill will be rediscovered and its story told.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is a treasure trove of historical and pre-historical artifacts and information. Federal law protects archaeological artifacts found in the Superstition Wilderness or on federal land. The removal of any artifacts including pottery shards, projectile points, or other historical objects construed to be fifty years or older is a violation of Federal Law. Please respect historical sites in this vast wilderness area that serves as an archaeological treasure trove.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Last Stand, Part I

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

You might say I enjoy recording historical events and also investigating them if they involve the Superstition Wilderness Area. I would like to tell you about a trip I made into the Superstition Wilderness in March, 1985, to check out a story about a military skirmish between the Army and the Apaches. An old friend told me about a small hill deep in the wilderness that once served as a refuge for a small band of Yavapai-Apache in May of 1866. This hill was located a short distance from another landmark known in military parlance as Dismal Valley.

Tom Kollenborn searching Feeder's Mesa.
Two Army infantry companies, the 14th and 32nd stationed at Fort McDowell, had cornered a small band of Apache-Yavapais, on a conical-shaped hill. None of the Native Americans planned to surrender a way of life they had known for generation e after generation. This was their "last stand." All of them fought to the death rather than become slaves of a culture foreign to their way of life. This is a inherit desire that is sometimes difficult for Anglo-Americans to understand about the first Americans.

For many years I had heard stories about the campaigns waged against the Apaches in the Superstition Mountains (Sierra Superstition).

I researched the topic, but failed to find much material. It wasn't until I met a gentleman named Joseph Crary that I was successful. Joe had done a considerable amount of research in and around Washington D.C. while in the U.S. Army. He found documentation involving military activities and campaigns in the Superstition Mountain and Salt River region. He found several military skirmish reports dating back to the mid-1860's.

Some of these reports revealed vivid descriptions of military action in the Superstition Mountain region by the U.S. Army against native Americans. Such places as Quail Camp, Dismal Valley, Picacho Butte, Coyote Tank and Fortress Hill were all disasters for the native Americans. The United States Army had only one soldier killed and three wounded in all of the Superstition Mountain skirmishes. The Yavapai-Apache fought these battles with bows, arrows, clubs, lances and a few outdated and primitive Mexican cap-lock muskets.

Some historians call this period between 1864-68 the Rancheria Campaign. The mission of the Army and Pima Scouts during this period was to search out and destroy the Yavapai-Apache villages. All men who resisted were to be killed and those who surrendered were to be placed on a reservation. The military reports indicated the body counts ranged from 11 to 53 dead at each of the Superstition villages that were raided.

The Army had destroyed the Apache-Yavapai villages in the Superstitions by 1868. Only raiding parties from San Carlos entered the Superstition area after 1868. The surrender of Geronimo in Skeleton Canyon near the Mexican border in 1886 ended the Indian Wars in Arizona Territory.

As I rode along a lonely trail toward Horse Camp Ridge I thought about the battles that once raged on the distant hilltops more than a hundred years ago. I wondered what kind of artifacts I might find if I could locate the place where a small band of Yavapai- Apache made a last stand in May of 1866. A place called Fortress Hill.

Read Part II here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cowboys and Windmills, Part II

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

Read Part I here.

As many an old rancher or Midwest fanner 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.

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.

Wind was beginning to kick up a little and the thought of climbing up a 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 windmill the blades were spinning wildly. I pulled the release lever for the wind vane that kept the blades pointed away from the wind. The wind vane slammed into the blades, but finally the mill blades stopped 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 the wind 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.

The wind must have been gusting up to about fifty miles per hour. Then all of a sudden thunder and lightning were crashing all around. The electrostatic discharge in the atmosphere raised the hair on my arms and on the back of my neck. I was told later that I served as great antenna for lightning on the top of that windmill tower. Raindrops pounded my bare flesh as soon as the dust storm subsided. My Mexican straw had probably blown back to Mexico. As I hung on for dear life and said a few prayers I couldn't see much of a future atop of the windmill frame, but I couldn't get down until the storm let up.

The storm roared on for about thirty minutes and finally the wind began to subside. I now knew how birds might have felt while riding out a windstorm in a tree. I had just ridden out a severe windstorm anchored to the top of windmill almost three and a half stories off the ground. My life of me I don't know how Stan Jones wrote the words for Ghost Rider's in the Sky while hanging on to a windmill during a thunderstorm in southern Arizona.

My experience that day taught me not to work on windmills during a windstorms or an electrical storm. The experience had made me far more conscience of the weather and its impact on humans. As a matter of fact, I learned to stay off windmills during any kind of storm. I could have been electrocuted or blown off the framework of the windmill and critically injured.

All of these experiences were about learning to be a cowboy and that was what I wanted most of all. As I continued to learn these various jobs I wondered if I would ever sit astride a horse and work cattle. That's what I thought cowboys did for a living. I soon found out that cowboys dug post holes, mended fences, built fence, cooked, worked on windmills, repair water holes, stacked hay, grained horses and none of these jobs required a man astride a horse. My vision of a cowboy had been shattered after all these ground jobs.

Recently I returned to the Quarter Circle U ranch, thanks to Chuck and Judy Backus, and as I rode by the upper windmill I reminisced about my experience there more than fifty years ago as a young, inexperienced, fearless, foolish buckaroo.

Yes, fear was an element in my senses, however it often didn't kick in until I was in grave danger of being injured or killed. As I grew older I began to respond to my senses and recognized dangerous situations, if for no other reason just out of fear.

Many of us were young and reckless once. We have been lucky to survive. Now as we grow older it is time to apply common sense and hopefully keep ourselves out of harms way. I wouldn't trade those days on the old Quarter U Ranch or those years in the service of my country for any other experiences in life. However, as I look back I can see why young men and women eagerly step forward to join the military and defend our country.

Most young people still don't know the meaning of fear until they experience it in the military or by a dangerous life-threatening experience. Learning to work on windmills was just another routine job on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. You could always ask, "Was working as a cowboy really that dangerous?" I will always agree it can be hazardous if you're inexperienced.