Monday, February 28, 2011

A Deadly Vision

February 28, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Gold and treasure have attracted men and women to the Superstition Mountain region for more than a century. Ironically, their quest for lost treasure or gold has often turned tragic. Searching for treasure in the summer months with little or no experience in the region can result in deadly consequences. The vision of riches has led many to their final resting place among the rocks and cacti of this unforgiving land known as the Superstition Wilderness Area.
In July, 2010, three men from Utah embarked upon a treasure-hunting quest that ended their lives tragically. Curtis Glenn Merworth, Malcolm Jerome Meeks and Adrean Charles headed for an unknown destination deep in the Superstition Wilderness Area. In the summer months the ground surface temperatures can heat up to 180*F. The darker the ground the hotter the temperatures can be. The air temperature was above 110*F and water was scare within the vastness of this mountain wilderness. A blind vision of golden riches drew these men into this internal hell like a magnet. The men were aware of the dangers apparently because they carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the burning rays of the sun. However, they failed to carry enough water to survive the stifling heat. The victims parked their car at First Water Trailhead around Tuesday, July 6, 2010.
Soon after the men arrived they were reported missing. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) set up a search and rescue command post at First Water Trail Head on Sunday, July 11, 2010. The sheriff’s office had a helicopter transporting search crews to different points within the wilderness to conduct searches. The helicopter crew searched the area by air looking for any visible clues. Approximately a hundred people were searching the area on foot, horseback and by air.  All of this searching did not produce a single clue as to what happened to these men or where they had gone. The MCSO Search & Rescue Command Post was taken down on Sunday July 18, 2010.  Members of the MCSO, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO), Superstition Search & Rescue, and other volunteers continued searching for the three missing men through December 2010. As of January 1, 2011, not one clue had been found associated with these three missing men. It was as if they had vanished from the face of the Earth.
Searching for hikers is one thing, but searching for treasure hunters is something entirely different. Hikers and horseman generally remain on wilderness system trails. However, treasure hunters (Dutch hunters) wander in all directions over the mountain’s vastness looking for clues to a lost gold cache. A clue might be a pictoglyph, a certain shaped rock, a cactus or maybe an old claim marker. These treasure hunters are usually far removed from system trails and often in extremely rugged country. I’m sure the MCSO and other search groups did everything possible to locate these missing men. These officers are dedicated men and women who are here to protect and serve us.
Once the officials scaled back their operations the volunteer groups began their search for the three missing men. I followed the activities of the Superstition Search & Rescue Teams during their searches. They are a very dedicated and highly trained group of young men and women who devote hours of volunteer time to help others. This team is a member of CERTS, a Community Emergency Response Team working with the Apache Junction Police Department and trained by the State of Arizona. We cannot fault anyone for not finding these men sooner because in the end they were far off any beaten path. They were in an area it was highly unlikely anyone would search.
Richard “Rick” Gwynn, author and prospector, was hiking in the Superstition Wilderness Area on Wednesday, January 5, 2011 trying to piece together clues about the lost gold of these mountains. Gwynn was about two miles east of First Water Trailhead when he made a gruesome discovery on the NNE slope of Yellow Peak. He found two skeletons fully dressed lying on loose steeply sloping black-basaltic rock talus about 150 feet wide and 1000 feet long. Nearby he found two umbrellas they had been using for shade. Near the bodies was a battery-powered lamp. Rick said it appeared the men had died of natural causes. They had no water. Summer temperature on the black basaltic rock probably reached an easy 180*F.  No human or animal would have lasted very long lying or crawling across that black rock.
Again the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office helicopter and search teams began a search for the third victim. You must bear in mind this is extremely rough terrain, and again the search had no success.
After the MCSO was done searching, the Superstition Search and Rescue Team (SSAR) returned to the field. They began a search on Thursday, January 13, 2011, searching northward toward Black Mesa near the southeastern part of the mesa. About ¾ miles north of the first site that SSAR team found what appeared to be debris field that included a bone. They had no idea it was human, but thought it was fresh.
The team returned to area on Saturday, January 15, 2011 and found skeletal remains. Search Commander Robert Cooper immediately notified MCSO and a helicopter rescue team was called out under the direction of Deputies David Bremeton and Jesse Robinson. They supervised the removal of the third victim’s remains from the wilderness area.
This discovery and removal of the third and last body closed another sad chapter in the history of these mountains and the search for missing utah prospectors. The failure of these men to understand the dangers of the mountains in the summer months cost them their lives.
Finally the three Utah gold hunters had been found— ending one of the most difficult searches in Superstition Wilderness Area history. Their vision of lost gold had been a fatal attraction.

Monday, February 21, 2011

William H. Martin, Jr. 1925-2011

February 21, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Twenty years ago I wrote a column about an American cowboy from Arizona being inducted in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This was a proud moment for this man, his family, citizens of Arizona and all the members associated with his nomination committee.
He was nominated for this honor because of all the respect other prominent Arizona cattlemen and citizens had for him. He was selected for the first Chester A. Reynold’s award, named for the main contributing founder to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Many distinguished Americans have been selected for this honor since. Actor Sam Elliot introduced William Harding Martin Jr. at the night of his Wrangler Award presentation at the banquet for the Western Heritage Award at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
I first met William Harding “Billy” Martin Jr. in late spring of 1957 at Manny Ruiz stock corrals along Queen Creek. Billy was helping his father and Ruiz with roundup. This particular day they were branding yearlings. Even as a young man Billy was cordial and friendly. They all took a break for lunch and invited Barkley and I to join them. I never forgot this introduction to these cowboys.
William Harding Martin Jr. was born on August 9, 1925, at the old Hewitt Station, which was located on the Martin Ranch. His parents were William Harding Sr. and Lenora Martin. Billy attended school on Hewitt Station Road about two miles from where he was born. He attended high school in Superior, Arizona.
Bill worked on the famous Cleman’s Cattle Ranch for his father who was foreman of the ranch for forty years. Bill won the title World’s Champion Junior Cowboy at the Florence Jr. Rodeo in 1942. This rodeo was known as the “cowboy cradle of the West.”
On September 11, 1943, Billy Jr. married Helen Gillette of Globe, Arizona. Shortly after they were married, Billy Jr. joined the United States Navy and served honorably from 1944-1946. Bill and “Teta” (his wife) owned and operated the Neighborhood Market in Superior while Billy worked for Magma Copper as a hoist operator. Their son George was born in 1952. Billy Martin Jr. purchased the Martin Ranch from his father in 1958. He operated the ranch for 50 years and in 2008 he sold the ranch to his son George.
Billy Martin Jr. was known nationally as a Mountain lion hunter. I recall one time I was riding with Billy and Bob Corbin over the top of Fraser Mountain following one of Billy’s lion hounds. This ride was an experience of a lifetime.
That old hound was trailing and Billy was right behind him hell or high water. The old hound went down into a canyon so steep you couldn’t ride down it. Billy jumped off his mule and handed me the reins and went after his dog into the canyon. A couple of hours later Billy came climbing out of that canyon back to where we were. He said, “It wasn’t a lion he was after, it was a Bobcat.” Billy was quite disgusted with his hound.
As we trailed down off Fraser Mountain Billy came to a bad place, stepped off his mule and walked for about twenty yards. I wasn’t use to stepping off my horse, but I figured it would be a smart thing to do when a man of Billy’s reputation dismounted and walked, it was certainly time for me to do the same. As I walked by the bad place in the trail and looked down into a deep canyon some four or five hundred feet I realized hell was just inches away.
Everyone that knew Billy Martin Jr. probably had a story to tell. He was a true Western cattleman, a traditional cowboy and gentleman respected by his peers and friends. Bill was certainly a friend to his fellow man and he was recognized for this when he was presented the Wrangler Award at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1990. Billy passed away on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 in Mesa, Arizona.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Walk Into Destiny

February 14, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Sometime near the end of my cowboy days at the Quarter Circle U Ranch I met this young lady named Sharon. We were so much alike that I couldn’t believe it. She loved the outdoors, the desert, hiking, horseback riding, and most of all she loved me.

I had never met a person who was genuinely enthralled with me. We met for the first time in October of 1959. I was recovering from a severe injury I received while working as a cowboy. Shortly after our first date we spent more time hiking in the mountains and visiting old mines in the area than anything else. I told her about running in the Apache Junction Lion’s Club Burro Derby in 1959,and she encouraged me to do it again in 1961 Burro Derby. Well I wasn’t much better in that race either. As a matter of fact the burro led me most of time in the 1961 race also. Our friendship was a very strong relationship that continued to blossom based on our love for the desert, Superstition Mountain and each other.

We hiked to Fremont Saddle to enjoy the spectacular view of Weaver’s Needle. It took all my energy to keep up with my new hiking partner. We continued to search out new things to see in the Superstition Wilderness. Our hike to the Flat Iron up Siphon Draw was a challenge, but it was also one our most interesting outings.

We were married on June 23, 1961. I had a job and so did Sharon. However, as a young married couple we had very little money. Neither of our parents had much money so there was no big wedding with a paid Honeymoon. We both tried to think of something we could do for our honeymoon that wouldn’t break our meager savings account. Finally we decided to hike from Peralta Trailhead to Canyon Lake on July 4, 1961. The trip is approximately fifteen miles, however the average daytime temperature for July was about 105*F.
The idea sounded insane at first, but we decided to follow the course of La Barge Canyon all the way to the Canyon Lake. We departed Peralta Trailhead at 4:30 a.m. We hiked up over to Bark’s Draw and took an old trail up to Linesbee’s Camp at the base of Bluff Springs Mountain. Due to recent rains we found plenty of water. Sharon and I stopped at Bluff Springs cabin and found plenty of water at Bluff Spring’s tank. We then hiked down Bluff Spring Canyon to La Barge Canyon and La Barge Spring.  As we hiked down La Barge Canyon we found shade quite often and plenty of water.
Yes, my friends it was hot, but we were young and full of energy. We were in Marsh Valley by noon. We stopped and ate lunch by a large pool of water just above the Lower La Barge Box. Our hike through the box was slow and difficult because of the big boulders, however when we exited the box we found a wonderful pool of water to sit in and cool off.
We continued our hike down La Barge Canyon past Chuck and Peggy Aylor’s old cabin on the west side of the canyon. The hardest part of the hike was the climb out of La Barge Canyon to the crest of the hill that looked down on Canyon Lake Marina and Canyon Lake. Sharon led the way to the top of the hill. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but she continued to encourage me. This was the first time I really thought I was going to give up and sit down. What an enduring hike up that hill it was. I will never forget it as long as I live. I watched Sharon go over the crest as I lingered to rest a moment. Finally I made it to the top. I think I was dehydrated and I was out of water finally. Walking down hill I finally caught up with Sharon and she shared some water with me. We made it to the Boulder Creek Bridge and the end of our hike. What a matrimonial test this was. At the end of the trip we were convinced we would be lifetime partners. We will have been married fifty years on June 23, 2011.
The outdoor partnership has lasted more than fifty years if you count it from the time we met. My partner loved my cowboy persona, but encouraged and supported my desire to attend the university. After graduation I remained in my profession as an educator for thirty-five years. I loved teaching science and teaching the history of the area with my partner always assisting and at my side.
All my success in life I must give to her because without her none of this would have been possible. Yes, I have made mistakes in my life, but I have recovered from them and continued down that straight and narrow road. Yes, that hike from Peralta Trailhead to Canyon Lake was “my walk into destiny.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Legend of Jacob Waltz

February 7, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

With Apache Junction’s Lost Dutchman Days celebration only a few weeks away, it’s most appropriate to re-tell the story of the man behind the legend.

Jacob Waltz unknowingly created one of the most popular legends of the American Southwest. Storytellers say he spun yarns and gave clues to his gold mine in the Superstition Mountains for two decades. These clues and stories attributed to Waltz continue to attract men and women from around the world to search for gold in these mountains.

The search for gold in the Superstitions is pure fantasy to most people. However, some believe this legendary gold mine is as real as the precious metal itself. Who was this man that left this lingering legacy of lost gold? The story of the Lost Dutchman’s mine remains the legacy of this old man.

Jacob Waltz was born near Oberschwandorf, Wurttenburg, Germany some time between 1808 and 1810. The precise date of his birth has not been documented with baptismal records. His childhood is quite obscure and few records remain about his early life in Germany. There is no information or documentation that indicates Jacob Waltz had any formal education. There is certainly no record that proves he was a graduated mining engineer as claimed by some writers. Helen Corbin published the manifest of the S.S. Obler in her book, The Bible on the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine and Jacob Waltz, Wolf Publishing Company, Prescott, Arizona, 2002. According to the document, on October 1,1839, Jacob Waltz sailed on the ship Obler from the Port of Bremen to America arriving at the Port of New Orleans on November 17, 1839. Waltz’s name appears 97th on the list and his age is given as 28. His hometown was Horb, Wurttenburg, Germany according to the ship’s manifest. The source of Helen Corbin’s information is said to be Kraig Roberts, the grand-son of Guidon Roberts. Guidon Roberts was at the bedside of Jacob Waltz just prior to his death in 1891.

Some researchers claim Waltz worked in the gold fields of Meadow Creek, North Carolina and Dohney, Georgia for awhile, but there are no records to support this claim. Jacob Waltz filed a letter of intent to become a citizen of the United States at the Adams County Courthouse in Natchez, Mississippi on November 12, 1848. This is one of the first actual documents Waltz’s name appears on in America.

It is believed Waltz traveled overland to California around 1850. He spent eleven years working in the gold fields of California. Waltz’s name appeared in some early California census records and he did file papers to become a citizen of the United States in the Los Angeles County Court House. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States on July 19, 1861, thirty years prior to his death in Phoenix. The events surrounding Waltz’s life during his twenty-seven years in Arizona Territory is what created his legacy.

Waltz traveled to Arizona Territory with the Peeples- Weaver Party in the May‘ of 1863. The Peeples Party discovered gold in the Bradshaw Mountains along Lynx Creek. While these early prospectors were busy staking out claims Waltz and three other men staked out a claim called the Gross Claim in the Walnut Mining District on September 21, 1863. Waltz would stake out two more claims in the Bradshaws before eventually moving down to Phoenix in 1868. Waltz gained much of his knowledge about prospecting and mining while working in California.

Waltz came to the Bradshaws as an experienced prospector and miner. While in the Bradshaws, he signed a petition to Territorial Governor Goodwin to raise a militia to stop the predatory raids of the local Native Americans. It is highly unlikely Waltz spent anytime around Wickenburg. He did settle on a homestead on the north bank of the Salt River, filing papers on a homestead in March 1868. Waltz farmed a little and raised a few chickens. He also prospected the surrounding mountains until about 1886. Some believe, if Waltz had a rich mine, he found it between 1868-1886.

There are so many stories about Waltz and his mine in the Superstition Mountains it is impossible to separate the truth from fiction. The old prospector had few friends, but Julia Thomas and Rhinehart Petrasch appear to be a couple of Waltz’s friends according to information that is available today. Julia Thomas traveled into the Superstition Mountains looking for Waltz’s mine in August of 1892, about ten months after Waltz’s death. She found nothing. It is believed by many Arizona historians that Thomas drew and sold maps to Waltz’s mine to help recoup her losses after selling her business and going on a wild goose chase in the Superstition Mountains looking for his mine.

Thomas may have sold her story about Waltz and his mine to P.C. Bicknell, a free lance writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Bicknell published a story about Waltz and his lost mine in that paper on January 13, 1895. Many Arizona historians believe this is the origin of the Lost Dutchman Mine story.

If Waltz indeed had a mine, there are those who are totally convinced it was the old Bull Dog some two miles west of Superstition Mountain. The Bull Dog had an eighteen inch vein, a significant clue in the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Waltz could have easily worked the Black Queen, Mammoth or Bull Dog mines in the Goldfields. However it is also difficult to believe Waltz worked a mine in the Goldfields because there were numerous prospectors in the area between 1879- 1892. It would have been difficult to work a gold deposit in the area without being observed by somebody.

Did Waltz have a rich gold mine east of Phoenix? The gold Waltz had at the time of his death came from somewhere. It could have come from California, the Bradshaw Mountains, the Goldfield area or possibly the Superstition Mountains. The rich gold ore he has in a candle box under his bed helped create the legacy of the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jesse Capen: UPDATE

Coming soon.

SSAR Locate the Remains of a 3rd Victim

On Thursday, January 13, 2011, Superstition Search and Rescue sent in a team to work the area between Yellow Peak and the First Water Parking Lot. On Saturday, January 15, 2011, the SSAR team located the remains of a third victim about .51 miles N of Yellow Peak and Black Mesa near Second Water Canyon just above the old concrete tanks. It is quite apparent these three skeletal remains are those of the three missing Utah prospectors who disappeared July 6, 2010. The remains found on the NNE slope of Yellow Peak were found by Rick Gwynn, a local author and prospector.  Positive ID is pending until the county medical examiner make his report.