Monday, May 30, 2011

Eagle of the Superstition Mountain

May 30, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The stories of the Superstition Mountain and the Lost Dutchman Mine continue to conjure up tales of death, deception and greed. Yes, there are individuals who contribute to such stories. However, the majority of people who visit the Superstition Wilderness do it to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the region. There are those who search for gold and follow a dream, and some of these individuals are real American heroes. One such individual was Ronald A. Rousseau, better known as Ron Eagle de Andre II.

Born in Concord, New Hampshire, Ron Eagle arrived in the Apache Junction area in 1974. He had served as a member of the U.S. Army 1st Air Cavalry Division Medcap Unit in Vietnam and had been severely wounded. Ron wanted to forget the war in “Nam” and he immediately began to pursue the treasure legends of Superstition Mountain with a couple of his Vietnam buddies.

When I first met Ron Eagle he was exploring the area around Coffee Flat and Miner’s Needle in 1974. Clues and other information finally led him to the northwest end of Superstition Mountain by 1977. He established Camp Eagle on U.S. Forest Service land near the Lost Dutchman State Park. Ron and his friends searched, dreamed and thought about the weeks, months, and years that lay ahead. Ron organized ATLAREP Inc. a non-profit organization he called the Superstition Wilderness Research Foundation. The purpose of this organization was preserve all historical artifacts found for future generations of Americans to enjoy.

While conducting his research on antiquities and treasures in the Superstition Mountains, Ron also found time to be patriotic and support the role of veterans and service men throughout our state. He was involved with 187th ARCT (Airborne Regimental Combat Team) color guard with some of his friends. The unit has marched in dozens of parades since 1986. He has carried the plight of Vietnam veterans to all levels of government, which eventually lead to him becoming commander of the AmVets. He was actively involved in the fund raising for the Arizona Vietnam Memorial in Phoenix. He has worked diligently in many organizations to achieve equally for all veterans.

Ron is a very sincere, gregarious individual when it comes to the legends and stories of Superstition Mountain or the rights of Vietnam veterans. He served three tours of duty in Vietnam and received three Purple Hearts and numerous other decorations for his service to this country. While recuperating from wounds received in combat, he served as an advisor/ trainer for the filming of the “Green Berets” starring John Wayne. I recall sometime ago perusing a photograph of Ron standing next to John Wayne during the filming of this motion picture (see above). Ron helped train actors for the motion picture “Green Berets” at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1967.

I may not agree with all his stories about Superstition Mountain, but he has every right to stand up and be counted. No one can deny the sacrifices he has made for all of us, and he has certainly earned the right to search for the gold he believes lies in the Superstition Mountains.

This story brings together the legend of the mountain and the life of a man filled with so much patriotism that we should be proud to know him. During the mid 1970’s Ron was known for his prospecting camps near Superstition Mountain where the American flag always flew high above his camp. Since I have known Ron, he has always advocated patriotism in some form or fashion whether it was popular or not. Ron Eagle has always flown his American Flag and proclaimed his love for the American way of life. I cannot judge how successful he has been with his advocacy for veterans, but I do know he has always been dedicated to veteran causes and he loves the stories and legends of Superstition Mountain.

Ron Eagle epitomizes those many men and women who are willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom and safety. It is important we honor all veterans on Memorial Day and Armistice Day each year. Thank a veteran for all the rights you have in this wonderful country of ours. We must remember it takes all kinds of personalities to protect our rights and freedom from tyranny. God Bless our Veterans and America.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Edwin's War

May 23, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Memorial Day comes and goes each year. We remember the men and women who paid the ultimate price so we as Americans can enjoy our freedom. The American soldier has fought around the world. Most returned home and become ordinary citizens once again. Some of these men who are scared for life because of the horrors on the battlefield. Many of these men seek the solitude of nature and become recluses. Such a man was Edwin Buckwitz.

Hikers, prospectors, horsemen, outfitters and cowboys often passed an old man hiking in and out of the Superstition Wilderness Area along the Dutchman’s trail between 1965 and 1993. This man avoided contact and stayed to himself, only speaking when spoken to. He hiked silently along the trail with a large cardboard box on his pack frame never volunteering information to anyone. Outfitters, who were often visitors to the wilderness, called him “Spook”.

Spook’s real name was Edwin Buckwitz. He was born on July 6, 1924, on a South Dakota wheat farm near McLaughlin. He was the middle child in a family of seven. Edwin was very shy and a true introvert. This man spent most of his life avoiding contact with people. He preferred to be alone.

After graduation from high school he joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1942. This was the thing to do at this period in American history. Edwin served with the 15th Army Air Corps and was stationed in Italy during World War II. He was a waist gunner on a B-24 Liberator and flew many missions over Germany. Edwin once told his brother about the time he took off his flight jacket on a mission and hung it next to the waist gun aperture. When the flight was over he found the jacket filled with bullet holes. The one story Edwin told his brother I am sure played a dramatic role in shaping Edwin’s life after the war.

Edwin told the following tragic story that involved the loss of his crew and aircraft. Edwin was grounded one day. He watched his crew take off in an over loaded B-24 filled to capacity with bombs for the Third Reich. He then watched helplessly as the plane stalled then crashed. All the crew, his friends, his buddies were lost in a split second. This event scared Edwin’s mind for the rest of his life.

After Edwin’s short, but dangerous, military career he attended school to become an electrical engineer. Upon graduation, he worked for McDonnell-Douglas in the mid-1950’s. He did drafting work on the A-3D bomber and the F-5D fighter escort plane. He worked for almost two decades in the aircraft engineering industry in California.

At the age of 45, Edwin decided he would fulfill his life dream of living with nature and surviving alone in a wilderness. He wanted to get away from people and traffic congestion. Working in the Los Angeles area would make anyone want to run away to the hills. Edwin resigned his job and traveled to Arizona. He decided he would devote the rest of his life to searching for the Peralta Treasure in the Superstition Wilderness.

Many years ago Edwin told me about the anxiety he felt the first day he stood at First Water Trailhead and planned his solo trip into the Superstition Wilderness. He didn’t know whether he could find water or not. He had never camped outdoors before. He wasn’t even familiar with the wildlife of the Sonoran Desert. He wondered just how long he would survive in this rugged wilderness with little protection from the weather and the animals. He was convinced most animals were harmless if left alone. He finally made up his mind not to worry about broken bones, dehydration, rattlesnakes, lions or the desert heat. He sincerely believed, at the time, anything was better than the traffic congestion of California freeways and the war he had served honorably in. He finally convinced himself, he said to me, he was here to find the gold of Superstition Mountain and to seek peace and solitude of this mountain wilderness.

Edwin lived in East Boulder and Needle Canyons for twenty years. He searched the area with total dedication believing he would find his gold. Edwin had an unshakable faith that the Peralta Mines existed. The last time I talked to Edwin, he revealed no traces of the young man who had gone to war, who had studied electrical engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit and Northrop University in Inglewood, California. His skin was rough and tanned like leather from years of exposure to the hot desert sun. His body was slender and wiry from decades of walking in the Superstitions and his hair was gray from age.

I must admit I watched Edwin grow older and he loved every minute of it. He said growing old put more time between the present and his memories of the air war over Germany and the tragic explosion in Italy that cost the lives of his aviation combat crew. He loved every minute of his isolation in the mountains. He had many friends among the animals. Birds would sit on his shoulders, squirrels would eat from his hands, and Cottontail rabbits filled his camp.

Edwin lived almost twenty eight years in the outdoors and survived with the minimum of conveniences. His amenities included a plastic tarp, an old bedroll, a backpack, a cardboard box, a pot, a pan, a canteen and a bible. He carried all he owned on his back for almost three decades. I passed Edwin Buckwitz on the trail many times between 1966 and 1986 before I actually met him. Edwin hiked from his camp in Needle Canyon to Apache Junction twice a month, a distance of fifteen miles, for more than twenty-five years. The only treasure Edwin found was peace of mind and the solitude of the mountains.

Life in the Superstition Mountains for Edwin had not been easy. His paradise had become his master. I was often awed at his tenacity and fascinated with his interaction with wildlife around his camp. Edwin was at peace with his God and the environment around him. Actually Edwin paid an exacting price for his privacy and isolation from his fellow human beings. It is ironic that such a man who shunned society died near a busy intersection along the Apache Trail in March of 1993. He accepted no social pensions, although eligible, of any kind. He arrived in Apache Junction with almost one hundred thousand dollars in 1965 and when he died he willed almost a quarter of million dollars to a religious radio evangelist in Kentucky.

Staff Sgt. Edwin Buckwitz was laid to rest with full military honors in the Phoenix Veterans Cemetery at 2:30 p.m. on March 26, 1993. Taps were finally sounded for this man who lived through hell high over Germany during World War II, but found his ultimate peace on earth in the Superstition Mountains.

Don’t wait until Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day to say thank you to a veteran who was willing to risk his or her life for your way of life. We Americans are so lucky to have these brave men and women who gave so much for our freedom and our country.

Editor’s note: Author Tom Kollenborn is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tragedy at Charlebois

May 9, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Some thirty-five years ago a man tragically lost his life at Charlebois Spring. This story begins in St. Johns, Ohio some fifty years ago.

Harold Lewis Polling had just completed reading “The Lost Dutchman Mine,” by Sims Ely. Harold was convinced he could figure out where the Lost Dutchman Mine was located
if he made a few trips to Arizona and looked over the area. His wife wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but always supported him. Polling made his first trip to Arizona in early spring of 1973. Dallas Adair, who owned Greenhorn Stables at the time, packed Harold into the mountains. Dallas had recommended Charlesbois Spring because of the abundant shade and plenty of water. Charlebois Spring had served as a popular campsite for Dutch hunters over the years. The William A. Barkley had his cowboys move the old cabin at Charlebois to Bluff Springs around 1948. This opened the area for camping.

Harold Polling was very pleased with the camping area at Charlebois. He was still in good shape at 52 and really enjoyed the rigors of camping in the mountains and hiking around the area checking out all the clues he had assembled from his research. Harold never left camp without his 44. Magnum pistol strapped to his waist. He was a peaceful man, but didn’t want to appear like a dude wandering around the mountains.

Each year Polling returned to Arizona and the Superstition Mountains to continue his search. He had narrowed down his area and finally staked a claim. He worked his claim believing he had found the gold of Superstition Mountain.

It was the fall of 1976 Harold decided to make another trip to his mining claim in the Superstition Mountains from his home in Ohio. His plan was to check out some new clues he had found. He and a friend, Ronald Cook, were packed into the mountains and set up their camp once again at Charlebois on September 3, 1976.

Polling and Cook spent the weekend resting and decided to work hard the following week. On Monday they started working at the claim trying to dig through some caliche. They had little success, but worked hard at it. On Thursday, September 9, 1976 they were digging in the same area when they decided to return to camp for lunch.

As Harold walked into camp he unstrapped his .44 Magnum revolver and hung it on his shoulder. When he leaned over his bed the revolver fell, hit the ground and discharged. The bullet hit Harold in the left side. Cook could see immediately the injury was extremely serious. Harold was still conscious while he instructed Cook to go for help.

It was a three and half hour walk out to First Water. Ronald did all he could do for Harold then grabbed a canteen and headed out to First Water. The nine-mile journey that lay ahead was a challenging walk under the best of circumstances. Four hours later Ronald was able to contact the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office immediately called for a helicopter to evacuate Polling. Harold’s wound was too severe for him to survive. He was immediately transported to a hospital were he was pronounced dead.

Ronald Cook told investigators that Polling had a holstered 44 Cal. Revolver on a belt slung over his shoulder. When he learned over the revolver fell from the holster, discharged and the bullet hit Harold in the left side. Maricopa County Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas B. Jarvis reported the bullet penetrated Polling’s lungs and spleen. Internal bleeding was the cause of Polling’s death.

Harold Polling was a regular visitor to Arizona and the Superstition Mountains. He carried an Arizona driver’s licenses. Polling’s son said his father loved his prospecting trips to Arizona. This was certainly a tragedy for the Polling family in St. Johns, Ohio.

Those who carry firearms should have good training. Without training, accidents often occur. This tragedy could have been avoided with a little more caution carrying a firearm.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Other Side of the Mountain

May 2, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area, like many other places in Arizona, can capture your imagination with its spectacular vistas and tall tales. There are stories about lost gold mines, secluded cabins, unexplored caverns, unknown archaeological sites and seldom-visited campsites.

Each week I try to bring to you another story of a different, intriguing or haunting place. When I say different I don’t mean necessarily unusual. When I say haunting I don’t mean ghost or aliens. When I say intriguing I don’t mean the unexplainable. I am a realist, however I am also a romantic. I don’t believe in the unexplained as explained by others.

National television has looked at the Superstition Mountains with hope of finding stories about ghosts or other unexplained phenomena. What they have found is nothing more than just stories. Legend and myth is a healthy ingredient of American folklore. Each American locale has its special stories and myths about the unknown and the unexplained.

Since childhood I have heard many stories about the unusual events occurring in the Superstition Wilderness Area. These tales range from “blue lights” to tremors in the ground. I was once told about a place in the mountains where molten lava could be seen through a small portal flowing deep beneath the surface of the Earth. Several years ago an old time cowboy of the area told me about a spot he found in the mountains where the sand in the wash had been turned to glass when it was superheated by something. He suggested a flying saucer could have taken off there. I have talked to men who claim to have seen UFO’s land; little green men got out; sampled the vegetation and soil.

I have been told about dinosaurs living in caves deep in canyons located in the mountains. I was also told about a tiger that lived in a cave behind a waterfall. Another interesting story was told about Bigfoot in the Superstition Wilderness Area near the Reavis Ranch. A man named Biscardi from California was convinced Bigfoot lived in the area around the Reavis Ranch in the 1980’s. I could go on, but I don’t believe it is necessary. Are all these stories just outright lies or is there something to some of them? Many of these stories are the basis of legend and myth.

I could never locate any “blue lights” in Trap Canyon even though I spent three nights there one time. I have felt and even heard “the tremors” on several occasions. I have always been told these tremors can be attributed to either seismographic activity or blasting the Pinto Valley Mining area.

I could never find the site of the “lava flow.” The story is feasible because the entire Superstition region is of volcanic origin. Some volcanic activity occurred as recently as three million years ago. The story the cowboy told me about the glass ring in a wash could have been caused by a lightning strike. At least lightning is a logical explanation for such phenomena.

Alcohol, prescription drugs or “whacky tabacky” are known to bring on illusions about UFO and dinosaurs. The tiger in the cave behind the waterfall is another type of illusion that haunts the human mind. Simply lying for attention could bring on many of these stories.

The man from California searching for the American Yeti was probably legit. He sincerely was misled by somebody he respected as knowledgeable on the topic of Bigfoot in the Superstitions. There are no Yetis in the Reavis Valley. Biscardi would have been hard pressed to even find an occasional Black bear in the region.

Many of these stories I have on tape. I find them an interesting experience with human nature and imagination. Most phenomena within the Superstition Wilderness can probably be explained by reasonable logic. Of course these days, who’s reasonable? We have tendency to believe the way we want to believe regardless of the facts. If only the facts were believed then there would be no legends or myths.

All these stories have been interesting whether truthful or just misinterpreted. I have enjoyed exploring the source of these stories and listening to them be told. Any campfire surrounded by old timers will produce a wide range of legends, myths, and stories about the Superstition Mountains. The topics will range from treasures, crystal skulls to lost underground cities. There is such a wide variety of topics to tell tales about. Many storytellers just make up the stories as they go along.

There are stories about the Black Legion, a group of militant Native Americans, who protect the sacred burial grounds on Peter’s Mesa. They are well trained in traditional Apache culture and their purpose is to prevent looting and robbing of their ancestor’s graves.

These sacred burial areas are within the confines of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Does the Black Legion actually exist? I do not know, but there are those who claim it does exist. Its sole purpose is to make the thieves of time responsible for their illegal actions. Some claim they leave rabbit fur and the feather of a raven to mark the area they are protecting. Again, my friends, this is just another story.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is a fascinating locale. Its legacy is filled with myth and folklore. All stories need to be taken with a grain of salt until proven objectively.

The granddaddy question of all is, does the Dutchman’s Lost Mine exist? I can honestly say I don’t know. I have been on many pack trips, expeditions, and hikes with known Dutch Hunters and listened to their ideas and thoughts about the mine’s existence.

A consensus of their ideas would indeed fill a book and maybe verify the mine’s existence. It is for this reason the mine is still part of folklore and myth. Nobody has been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the infamous Dutchman’s lost mine exist, however hundreds believe in this mythical lost mine. Maybe it is not a mythical lost mine after all!