Monday, September 19, 2011

A Cholla Education

September 19, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Mighty Superstition Mountain is a place were I retreat from the rigors of city living. When I look toward the mountain and its wilderness I can still see a small part of pioneer Arizona. Actually, it is a land of yesteryear. Each time I sit down to write, my mind wanders back to those wild and woolly days on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

I must admit my cowboy days made a man out me. Someone my father and mother could be proud of and count on. When I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch and a couple of other small ranches I realized I was finally on my own. My teacher for  the most part was experience. No self-respecting cowboy-to-be would want to admit he didn’t know a cinch from a cinch ring. Often my teachers were far and few between.
Many of these cowboys often didn’t know anymore than I did. Those who knew more didn’t particularly want to share their coveted knowledge with an untested hand. I just wasn’t a part of the fold.

My knowledge was gained through experience. Experience that often would put my life in peril. In one year I had ten encounters and any one of them could have cost me my life.

Rattlesnakes, rank bulls,  mother cows, crazy broncos, barbwire, Cholla, windmills, gun-happy fools, intoxicated drivers, intoxicated cowboys, mine shafts, flash floods, dynamite, and lightning all tried to end my cowboy experience at one time or another during my employment on the Barkley’s Quarter Circle U Ranch. Today, I cherish those close calls as part of life’s experiences. I am not sure I should, but the bravado of yesteryear is the memories of today.

Life without peril on an Arizona cattle ranch in the 1950’s was non-existent. With this in mind, I think about my first encounter with Cholla cactus (also called jumping cactus). Bill Barkley, the boss man for the Quarter Circle U Ranch, had asked Mike Finley and I to check on some calves over in Tule Canyon south of the headquarters ranch. Mike saddled ‘Scooter’ and I saddled a horse named ‘Pee Wee,’ better known to cowboys as ‘Spook.’ A gentle horse he was not!

We rode out about 5 a.m. to the sound of Cactus wrens and White-Wing doves. It was just twilight. The eastern sky had just begun to turn a light yellow.

The morning sunrise was beautiful as the rays of light filtered down on the giant Saguaro cactus in Barkley Basin south of Miner’s Needle. We could hear the mournful call of a distant coyote and the first of the early sounds of a late spring morning. Early morning had presented us a beautiful day for a ride.

It seems I always drew the spooky and wild-eyed horses. Pee Wee was no exception. Pee Wee would crow-hop or buck just depending on the atmospheric conditions. Like I said, I learned from experience.

“Keep a tight rein on that spooky broomtail, Tom,” called out Mike as we rode through an open gate. I often wondered why Mike wasn’t riding Pee Wee. He was much more experienced around horses than I was. It wasn’t long before I understood why Mike wouldn’t ride Pee Wee. I soon found out a cowboy doesn’t ride anything any ranker than required to get the job done. Soon I realized I was in the school of hard knocks. Most of the knocks were on me.

Mike and I rode through a saddle that separated Barkley’s Basin and Tule Basin. It wasn’t long before we spotted  the calves Barkley wanted us to check out. Most of the calves ignored us except for a mule-eared small black steer. He must have thought he had balls. He put his head down and charged our two mounts. The little son-of-gun couldn’t have weighted more than four hundred pounds.

Scooter jumped to the right, while Pee Wee broke in the middle. His first jump had unseated me from the saddle. I was still on his back, but not in control. Pee Wee’s next move was a spinning crowhop. On the second spin he found a large Cholla and planted my body on it.

Cholla balls covered most of Pee Wee’s right side from his neck to his flank. I had Cholla balls from my shoulder to the top of my boot. The pain was excruciating. My whole right side felt like it was on fire. Fear filled my mind. I expected Pee Wee to break and go crazy. He didn’t! He just stood there in one spot and shivered from shock.

This brief moment in time  provided me an opportunity to step to the ground and out of the saddle. I collapsed on the ground in shock. Mike climbed off Scooter and rushed to my side. When he saw all the Cholla in me he thought I was a goner.

“Just lay there Tom, I’ve got to take care of the horses.” Mike said calmly.

“Horses, hell,” I thought. Mike had his comb out flicking Cholla balls out of Pee Wee. Each time he flicked a Cholla ball off of Pee Wee the horse jumped three feet. On several occasions Pee Wee landed on one of Mike’s toes. Each time that happened I cheered while tolerating enormous pain.

Half delirious, I finally heard Mike say, “Well it is your turn cowboy!” I guess Mike had finally decided I was going to live. I had never felt such pain in my life. Mike started plucking Cholla balls out of my hide slowly at first. He would say one, two, three, and on and on. Finally, after seventy-three Cholla balls, Mike had removed them all.

I had finally got over the initial shock. My shirt was still stuck to my skin. My chaps and Levis were even worst.  I was one miserable amateur cowboy. At that moment in time, I was ready to hang up my spurs.

When Mike reported the whole affair to Barkley he was more concerned about the damn horses than me. I could be replaced for seventy-five bucks a month, board and room. A good cow pony cost three hundred dollars in those days and required several years of training.

Barkley said, “You know Slim, one of my cow dogs is worth five good cowboys.”

This greenhorn cowboy found no sympathy that day. An inexperienced cowboy sure didn’t rate much with  Barkley. I was in such pain that day it really didn’t matter. Mike treated my wounds with Aloe Vera. I was laid up for than a week. My entire right side appeared as if it had been hit with bird shot from a shot gun. My introduction to Cholla was overkill.

The Barkleys tolerated the Cholla cactus on their range because it was an important source of feed for their cattle. I eventually got my revenge on the Cholla cactus. I burned the thorns off many acres of the cactus with a propane burner. When I burned Cholla the cattle would come from all over the pasture to feed on it. Each time I fired up the propane burner I was extracting my revenge for my ride through the Cholla on Pee Wee.

Barry Storm - the Adventurer

September 12, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Barry Storm was born John Griffith Climenson in Seattle, Washington on June 4, 1910. He was the son of Sila Griffith and Clara Virginia (Brown) Climenson. Storm graduated from high school  in Seattle and became interested in mining, prospecting and writing. He turned to prospecting and treasure hunting during the Depression. There were no jobs he often said and he prospected in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Early in 1934 Barry started writing short adventure stories for various pulp magazines such as the Home and Office. He also provided numerous articles for various treasure magazines.

Storm arrived in Phoenix in the fall of 1937 with plans to search for the Peralta Mines in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. He ended up at the YMCA Center in  Phoenix and was befriended by Art Webber, one of the founding members of the Don’s Club of Arizona. Storm advertised for adventurers in the local newspapers in January of 1937 to accompany him on a prospecting trip. This was Storm’s way of raising ventured capital for his prospecting adventures. He also wanted to author a small booklet with hopes of generating more income. Barry was successful at times attracting partners with substantial finances to support his expeditions into the Superstition Mountains.

Early in 1938, while prospecting near Aguila, he hurriedly put together a book titled Gold of the Superstitions which he published by the summer of that year. He had limited success with this booklet, but believed he could do a better job if he could find a backer who would support him for a future book.

Barry Storm just happened to enter the Goldwater’s Store in Phoenix in the late spring of  1938, and by accident he met Barry M. Goldwater. Goldwater was a young entrepreneur and an amateur photographer.  He was only twentyeight years old at the time. Storm talked Barry Goldwater into accompanying him on a hike into the  Superstition Mountains. He told his story to Goldwater and convinced him to finance his next book, On the Trail of the Lost Dutchman. Some old timers might have wondered why Goldwater would have supported Storm with his book writing venture. Just prior to Storm walking into Goldwater’s store, Goldwater had witnessed the success of Oren Arnold’s book advertised at the Korrick’s Department Store in down town Phoenix. “Why not,” he thought!

Goldwater also did all the photography for Storm’s book. Storm further convinced the Don’s Club through Art Webber to use his handsome gold currency covered book for their 1939  Superstition Mountain Gold Trek. The club thought it was a worthwhile  adventure and involved Barry Storm with their Superstition Mountain Trek for 1939. Senator Barry Goldwater once remarked, “The man borrowed my name and some money, but I enjoyed the experience with him in the mountains photographing his dreams.”

Soon after Storm’s experience with Goldwater he met a man named Fisher who had developed an electronic device for locating mineral deposits, but needed somebody to test it. Somehow Barry  Storm convinced Fisher he was his man. Storm took the M-Scope into the Superstition Mountains and tried it out. He claimed the Fisher Scope located the Peralta Land Grant Lost Mine in 1940. The publicity resulting from these claims launched Storm’s career as a mining expert and author. Storm was a so-called self-educated mining man. He had little or no actual underground mining experience. He had no formal geology  training, but he claimed to have enormous knowledge about ancient European mining (Spanish).

One of Storm’s best attempts at writing was his book Thunder God’s Gold in 1945. He wrote most of this book at Tortilla Flat after serving a short hitch in the United States Army Air Corps from 1943-1944.

The first time I heard the name Barry Storm I was a very young lad. My father and his friend Bill Cage were discussing the merits of Barry Storm’s book Superstition Gold in 1945, just before Storm’s book Thunder God’s Gold was published that same year. Prior to Storm’s book there were few publications that mentioned Jacob Waltz, the Peraltas or the Lost Dutchman Mine. The publications of Oren Arnold, Will Robinson, Mike Burns, Irwin Lively and a couple of other authors had tried to explain  the mystery of the Superstition Mountain and its alleged lost gold mine. These authors took a more romantic view of the Superstition Mountains, and Storm was the first to capture the story in an armchair adventure form. The reader could actually experience Storm’s excitement as he wrote about the Peraltas and the Lost Dutchman Mine. None of the other authors were as popular or as well circulated, other than Oren Arnold.

It was Storm’s Thunder God’s Gold that really took center stage when Columbia motion pictures decided to make a film based on the book in 1948. When Lust for Gold appeared in theaters the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine became part of the national spotlight. Not since the disappearance of Dr. Adolph Ruth in 1931 had the subject of this lost mine received such national interest. Storm wasn’t happy with how he was portrayed in the film. Columbia had portrayed him as the son of Jacob Waltz. Storm sued Columbia therefore delaying the release of the film for two years. The film still portrayed Storm as Waltz’s grandson when it was released in 1950.

Barry Storm was certainly one of “Coronado’s Children.” He continued to chase lost gold mines and treasures the rest of his life. He was a confirmed bachelor and always lived alone. Storm traveled annually to promote the sales and distribute his books.

Barry Storm spent most of his life chasing a dream and the latter years of his life were spent on a mining claim near Chiraco Summit, California. It was there he believed he would strike it rich with his Storm-Jade mine.

Storm was quite paranoid and believed somebody was out to kill him or steal his mine. He always carried a firearm. I visited Barry at his Jade mine in 1969. He  corresponded  with a variety of Dutch hunters around the country expounding his theories about lost gold in the Superstitions and other places around the country. Barry Storm was one of those ever lasting characters that legends were formed around. Barry impacted the Lost Dutchman Mine story more than any other person.

When I visited Barry at his mining claim I knew he was quite ill. The next thing I heard he had passed away in the Veteran’s Hospital in San Diego on January 5, 1971. This sage of lost gold and treasure history had passed on leaving a dramatic legacy on the stage of the American Southwest.

The last time I visited with him in the Superstition Wilderness area was at the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shopin 1967. We sat out front in some old chairs and talked about Superstition Mountain and the Lost Dutchman Mine, the Peralta Mine and even the mysterious stone maps. Barry still dominated the stage of western storytellers. He was just as dramatic about telling his story whether it was with one or fifty listeners. For the most part Barry Storm lived his life like a dream, always believing he would strike it rich in some way.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Wings of Santa Maria

September 5, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Colonel Francesco De Pinedo planned carefully for his flight around the world during the winter of 1926-27.
The Italian aviator would be flying a sea plane called the Santa Maria named after Christopher Columbus’ ship.

The Santa Maria was a mono-wing seaplane with two engines, one a pusher and the other a puller. The Franchini engines were water-cooled and the airplane was designed to lift a given amount of weight at sea level. This factor created a real problem for De Pinedo at Hall Lake in New Mexico because the lake was so much higher than sea level.

De Pinedo and his crew of three left Italy near the end of March 1927. His mechanic was Lt. S. Fachetti and Captain Carlo Del Prate served asco-pilot and meteorologist.

De Pinedo’s flight around the world carried him to North Africa, then across the Atlantic to the Amazon Basin then on to Colombia, across the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. From New Orleans De Pinedo flew across Texas to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico. He landed on Hall Lake, at Elephant Butte, New Mexico on April 5, 1927 at 3:15 p.m. MST.

Colonel De Pinedo had previously been presented the Grand Gold Medal by the Royal Geographic Society for his accomplishments in aviation. His crew was dedicated to him and Italy and this 1927 flight represented Italy’s first attempt to fly around the world.

In New Mexico, De Pinedo, a world famous aviator, presented one of the Santa Maria’s cracked propellers to Ettore Franchini, a representative of the Italian Colony known as the Colombo Society. The Colombo Society was an organization preserving the history of Christopher Columbus’ vovage to the New World. The presentation of the propeller was made on April 5, 1927, at Hot Springs.

Early on the morning of April 6, 1927, De Pinedo tried to lift the Santa Maria off Hall Lake. But, before he could become airborne he was forced to dump 250 gallons of fuel, tools and spare parts. The plan was to fly to Roosevelt Lake to refuel and then on to San Diego, California.

Colonel De Pinedo and his crew arrived at Roosevelt Lake about 11:50 a.m. on April 6, 1927. Only minutes later, Italy’s dream of having the first team to fly around the world was ended. By 12:15 p.m. the airplane was totally consumed by fire during refueling. A cigarette caused the fire that destroyed De Pinedo’s airplane and it sank below the surface of the lake within minutes.

The Franchini engines of De Pinedo’s plane were raised from the bottom of Roosevelt Lake on April 19, 1927. Members of the Christopher Columbus Society of Albuquerque, New Mexico recovered the engines. The three men most responsible for this achievement were Ettore Franchini, Tom Domenici and Pete Vichi.

A native Arizonian diver  named Charles Granger helped recover the Franchini engines from forty feet of water at Roosevelt Lake. The engines were eventually transported to New York and then shipped to Italy.

After World War II Ettore Franchini was awarded a gold medal by the Italian government for his part in helping return the engines. The engines were eventually used as a memorial to the De Pinedo flight around world that ended tragically at Roosevelt Lake.

When we look back on the accomplishments of this flight it was truly a monumental undertaking in 1927. Though the around the world attempt ended prematurely in Arizona, De Pinedo’s flight still recorded 16,000 miles across uncharted jungle, ocean and desert. This was quite an accomplishment for 1927 and only one month prior to Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic.

General Francesco de Pinedo was killed in a fiery plane crash at the Floyd Bennett Field in New York while taking off to fly non-stop from New York to Bagdad on Saturday, September 2, 1933. He was one of this century’s greatest pioneer aviators. 

Author’s Note: In 1993, I traveled to Albuquerque searching for information about De Pinedo and found a display and model of De Pinedo airplane at the Albuquerque Air Terminal. The display was maintained by an organization known as the Cavalcade of Wings. If ever you visit the Albuquerque Air Terminal you should look at this display. The search for more information about Francesco De Pinedo linked another part of the world to the Superstition Wilderness Area and Roosevelt Lake region.