Monday, November 28, 2011

Jim D. Hatt: The Search Must Go On

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

Who was Jim D. Hatt? He was a man devoted to finding gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area and his desire and tenacity equaled that of any man who ever searched for gold there. Hatt was born in Lansing, Michigan on November 30, 1949. He attended school in Lansing, graduating from East Lansing High School in the spring of 1967. Jim married shortly after high school and had three sons. He joined the United States Air Force after his marriage.

Jim eventually moved to Florida and attended Devry College where he acquired his knowledge of Nuclear Engineering and became a radiation health technician in the Nuclear Power field. He worked for a variety of Nuclear Power Plants including Three Mile Island, St. Lucie, and Arizona’s Palo Verde Plant. Three Mile Island was Jim Hatt’s first experience with dangerous levels of radiation from a nuclear source. Jim told me he was involved in the development of a small robot that could be used for clean up in the contaminated areas. It was after all of this he decided to search for gold in the Superstition Mountains.

He first arrived in Arizona about 1989. He worked at Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant when I first met him. He attended one of my classes on rattlesnakes of the Sonoran Desert in 1992. Jim and I were very close friends for almost twenty years. He shared many of his dreams and expectations with me during that time. We made several trips into the mountains together, but he focused primarily on Tortilla Mountain. Ironically, I understood his obsession with the mountain.

Earl Arthur Hatt, Jim’s great grandfather, told him about the Superstition Mountains and the Dutchman’s lost mine in 1956. Earl Hatt knew members of the Petrasch family personally and heard many stories about the period 1880-1900. This was Jim’s contribution to the Dutchman story.

Jim became very obsessed with the gold of the Superstition Wilderness Area and focused all his resources on the search beginning in 1989. He would take a temporary job such places as Palo Verde, or Ford Proving Grounds, but his search for the old Dutchman’s gold was a full-time avocation. His sometimes caustic and stubborn attitude made him some enemies, however, most of the time he was amiable and friendly. He sometimes stretched the truth or told a story just to get a rise out of people. The best way to tell his story is to let you read excerpts from a letter he wrote to me on March 4, 1995 from St. Lucie, Florida. Jim worked there temporarily on a six-month contract to supplement his grubstake so he could continue his search on Tortilla Mountain.
“Dear Tom: Just a short note to let you know I am alive and well. I used to love the beach, and the sound and smell of the ocean. I don’t know if that love has died or just over powered by the pull of Superstition Mountain and the burning memories I have of my experiences in the SWA. It really was time for me to back off, and see if it was love or lust, I have for the area. As I was on the sugar white sand of the beaches of  Hutchenson Island, I appear content to all that see me, but inside there is a sadness, and words of a great chief echo in my head, 'the mountains, the cactus, the bear and coyote all miss me and wonder when I will return.'

“Tom, I know you think Al Reser and Clay Worst would never tell me any thing of value concerning their beliefs about the location of the mine, but I think they have. After spending three years (1989-1992) on Tortilla, I approached them (one at a time) and disclosed what I had found. I described areas in such detail, and showed photographs of things I had found that convinced them I was one determined individual. They both told me other things in those areas that I missed, which I later verified. Then two days before Thanksgiving 1994, I got a call from Clay inviting me for Thanksgiving dinner. Boy was I shocked to arrive and find Al there. There seems to be a sort of fraternity of individuals who have paid their dues on that mountain. I brought with me, into the Holmes Camp, information from the original Petrasch Camp, that I believe the current Petrasch Camp may not have been aware of it. You at least have never let out anything that leads me to think you are aware of it. But I think you are pretty tight with your secrets! (grin). These things ensure that I will some day be vindicated for my search. There is no way my efforts could ever be looked back on as in vain. I expect to be back this summer to pick up where I left off. Will let you know when I get back. See you this summer. Jim”

The foregoing excerpts from Jim Hatt’s letter allows the reader to realize how devoted he was to searching for the lost gold in the Superstition Mountains and how important it was to be accepted into the Dutch Hunter fraternity. Jim Hatt, like many others, devoted the later part of his life to this search. He was very intelligent, clever and very mechanically inclined.

This letter and several others from Jim Hatt revealed a man with his heart torn between reality and the adventure of searching for lost gold around Tortilla Mountain. So many others have followed this perilous treasure trail through  life and found nothing at the end of the rainbow. He was devoted to the search. He  chose one of the most rugged mountains in the Superstition Wilderness Area to search. He was determined to defend his ideas and opinions to the end. If nothing else, you had to respect him for his dedication and tenacity.

The last time I visited with Jim was at the First Water Trail Head in late July of 2010 during the search for three missing Utah prospectors. Jim had hiked into the Weaver’s Needle area trying to help out. While others remained in the cool of their homes during a very hot summer, there was Jim out looking for clues as to what happened to three lost prospectors. We were all sitting under a mesquite tree in the shade with temperatures around 109 degrees. Jim was coughing quite severely and I noticed blood on his hankerchief. I had no idea he was so ill. Later, after he passed away on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, I learned he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer early in the fall of 2009. Jim paid his dues in the mountains; he made his enemies, and also made friends. There were searchers out there that summer who really respected him for his effort.

Jim left behind a sister, Sherry Waller, three sons, and his close friend Doris Abbott. Doris cared for Jim up to the end then he was moved into Mesa to hospice for his last two days of his life.

You might say Jim D. Hatt found his niche in life when he got on the trail of the Lost Dutchman mine.

Monday, November 21, 2011

FAQ About the Superstitions

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

I taught a class about the history, geology, fauna, flora and legends of the Superstition Wilderness Area for more than twenty-five years in Apache Junction. These are the twenty most-commonly asked questions about the area.

1. How did Superstition Mountain get its name?
According to most historians the best answer to this question centers on the early farmers of the Salt River Valley. The farmers grew food for the Army at Fort McDowell in the late 1860’s. These farmers constantly heard stories from the Pimas about how they feared Superstition Mountain. The farmers thought the Pimas were superstitious about the mountain, hence the name. Early military sketch maps used in reports to the commander of Fort McDowell referred to the Salt River Mountains (Superstition Mountain) as Sierra de Supersticiones.

2. Is there a Dutchman’s Lost Gold Mine?
Most Arizona historians believe there is little evidence to suggest the existence of a rich gold mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area. One can never forget the old adage, “Gold is where you find it.” Hundreds have searched for the old Dutchman’s mine over the past century and it still remains lost. Most geologists will tell you there is no gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

3. Who was the Dutchman?

Jacob Waltz indeed existed and prospected the mountains of Arizona from 1863-1891. According to early pioneers of Mesa and Tempe, Waltz made several trips into the Superstition Mountains. He was born in Germany in 1810 and died in Phoenix, Arizona Territory, October 25, 1891. Waltz had gold claims in Yavapai County and worked gold claims in California. He also homesteaded 160 acres of land along the north bank of the Salt River in Phoenix. Much of the legend about this old German immigrant resulted from the gold ore cache found beneath his death bed and the stories written by Pierpont Constable Bicknell as told to him by Julia Thomas, prior to the turn of the century.

4. How do I find Peralta Trailhead?
Drive southeast from Apache Junction on Highway 60 toward Florence Junction. Peralta Road is approximately 2.4  miles east of King’s Ranch Road. Turn east on Peralta Road and drive 8 miles to the Peralta Trailhead; an unimproved dirt road. A hike of Peralta Trail provides a spectacular view of Weaver’s Needle. This is a very strenuous 1.75 mile hike. Remember, this is a wilderness hike.

5. How do I find First Water Trailhead?
Drive northeast of Apache Junction on State Route 88 (Apache Trail) 4.9 miles. Turn right onto First Water Road. This road is dirt and can be a very rough 2.5 miles to the trail head.

6. Where is the Lost Dutchman State Park?
The Lost Dutchman State Park is located 4.7 miles northeast of Apache Junction, Arizona on State Route 88 (Apache Trail). The entrance to the park is on the right hand side of the road traveling northeast from Apache Junction. The various day-use and campsites have spectacular views of the northwestern façade of Superstition Mountain. The park now has overnight hookups for water and electricity.

7. How did Superstition Mountain form?

According to Geologist Dr. Michael Sheridan of Arizona State University, Superstition Mountain was formed from volcanic activity 17 to 24 million years ago. Sheridan says the mountain was once part of a large caldera which resurged to form a massive mountain and after millions of years of erosion, presents as the Superstition Mountain we know. The rocks of Superstition Mountain are primarily volcanic in origin and are formed from alternating layers of ash and basalt.

8. How old is Superstition Mountain?

Geologists believe Superstition Mountain to be between 15 million and 29 million years old.

9. Do Native Americans live in the Superstitions?

Native Americans may occasionally visit the fringe regions of Superstition Wilderness Area today; however, they do not live there. The last Native Americans to occupy a small part of the Superstitions were the Pimas during the construction of the Apache Trail from 1903-1905.

10. Are there any roads into the Superstition Wilderness?

Roads are prohibited in a national wilderness area by law. Today, only one road actually penetrates the wilderness. This road is the Tortilla Ranch access corridor. The forest service plans on withdrawing this access corridor sometime in the future.

11. Are there any working gold mines in the Superstitions?
There are no working (profitable) gold mines operating within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The only gold mines that ever existed in the immediate area were the mines associated with the Superstition Mining District such as the  Mammoth, Bull Dog, and Black Queen, just west of Superstition Mountain proper. Visit the Goldfield Ghost Town to see the nostalgic remains of the old mining equipment and hear past stories about mining in the area.

12. What is a wilderness area?
A wilderness is a piece of public land set aside in its natural state and preserved for future generations to see and experience. The Superstition Wilderness Area encompasses some 159,780 acres of land in the Tonto National Forest.

13. Where can I see Weaver’s Needle from the highway?
Weaver’s Needle can be seen from both State Route 88 (Apache Trail) and U.S. Highway 60, approximately 7 miles northeast of Apache Junction at a new vista point. This is the best view of the “needle” from a paved highway.

14. Are permits required to visit the Superstition Wilderness?

The Superstition Wilderness Area does not require a permit to visit. First Water and Peralta are very popular trail heads to visit.

15. What agency regulates the Superstition Wilderness Area?
The Tonto National Forest Ranger District under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture.

16. What is the easiest way to see the Superstition Wilderness?
The quickest and easiest way to see the Superstition Wilderness is by helicopter, but this method can be very expensive. The cheapest method is hiking the enormous trail system of the wilderness. To use the trail system you must be prepared to do a lot of hiking or horseback riding. The best time of the year to hike the wilderness is between November and April.

17. How many miles of hiking trails are there in the Superstitions?
There are 140 miles of improved  system trails in the Superstition Wilderness Area and approximately 100 more miles of unimproved trails that do not appear on maps.

18. How high is Superstition Mountain above sea level?
The highest point on Superstition Mountain above sea level is Southeast Superstition Peak at 5,074 feet. Summit 5,024 is the second highest point on Superstition Mountain proper which is at the head of Siphon Draw.

19. What is the difference between Superstition Mountain and the Superstition Wilderness Area?

Superstition Mountain is one specific geographical location within the Superstition Wilderness Area, immediately east of Apache Junction. The Superstition Wilderness Area is a region of some 242 square miles or 159,780 acres containing many lesser mountains and some even higher mountains than Superstition Mountain.

20. Where can I get information on the Superstition Wilderness Area?

Mesa Ranger District, 5140 E. Ingram St., Mesa, Arizona 85205

Monday, November 14, 2011

Edwin's War

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

Armistice (Veteran’s) Day  comes and goes each year. We remember the men and women who have paid the ultimate price so we as Americans can enjoy our freedom. The American soldier has fought around the world defending the American flag. Most of these soldiers return home and become average citizens once again. But there are some who were shell shocked for the rest of their lives because of the horrors on the battlefield. Today, we call the Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder.

Many of these men sought solitude 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 whenspoken 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. He spent most of his life avoiding contact with people. He preferred to be alone.

After high school, he joined  the United States Army Air Corps at the height of World War II in 1942. Edwin served with the 15th Army Air Corps and was stationed in Italy during  the war. 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 scarred Edwin’s mind for the rest of his life.

After Edwin’s honorable military service, 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 decade 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 and the ugliness of the war he had served in. He finally convinced himself,  he said to me, he was here to find the gold of Superstition Mountain and to seek the 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.

Edwin was a simple man, but well educated. I must admit I watched him 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 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, not its gold.

Life in the Superstition Mountains for Edwin had not been easy. His paradise had become his own master. I often awed at his tenacity to continue his epic journeys into the mountain each time. I was 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 that was willing to risk his 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.

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Just a Name

October 31, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The cattle barons of early Arizona territorial days left their names on many of our state’s landmarks. Cattlemen who worked the Superstition Wilderness left their names on landmarks also.

As each decade fades, names of various old landmarks are lost to time. The Bark Ranch in Pinal County is now known as the Quarter Circle U Ranch. The change occurred when William A. Barkley bought the ranch from James Bark in 1907. The old Barkley Camp of the 1930’s at the end of First Water Road is lost forever. For several decades, the camp was known as First Water Ranch. Today, the old Three R’s Ranch was part of the Apacheland property owned and operated by Ed and Sue Birmingham of Gold Canyon. Recently, the Birminghams sold the Apacheland property that included the old Three R’s Ranch. The ranch was obliterated to make way for a new housing development on the old Three R’s Ranch will survive for a few decades on old topographic maps and other old maps of the area.

Another interesting name change in the area was that of Silly Mountain. The mountain along Highway 60 (the Lost Dutchman Gold Route, The Old West Highway, and so forth) was originally called King’s Mountain. It wasn’t named after Julian King, but William N. King, the founder of the Superstition Mountain Ranch Club in Apache Junction in 1934. King owned a small ranch in the area during the late twenties and early thirties. I would imagine  somewhere in the Southwest the old minutes of the Superstition Mountain Ranch Club still survive waiting to be discovered.

One of the oldest named landmarks in the Gold Canyon area is Barkley Hill, but people aren’t familiar with it today. The hill was located almost due south of the old Three R’s Ranch and stone corral. The old mine that belonged to Pearl Bates is probably covered up today. Bates  sold the first 180 acres in the area to Julian King who slowly developed it after 1946 into the King’s Ranch Resort and  then sub-divided. I believe
Black Hawk Road runs along  the east boundary of the subdivision bordering State Trust Land.

One interesting landmark  that remains to this day has only suffered a misspelling rather than total eradication. This misspelling confuses the meaning and the origin of the name. This landmark is Iron Mountain in the southeastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Iron Mountain was named after a pioneer cattleman Robert A. Irion.

Irion arrived in Arizona Territory in 1876 with a small herd of cattle from Montana. He brought his herd to the area to provide beef for the miners of the Silver King and the Globe mining area. The booming Silver King Mine provided cattle drovers of the period with sufficient opportunity to make a profit with their herds. Robert Irion pioneered the Pinal Ranch (Craig Ranch) halfway between Superior and Miami in the late 1870’s. When Irion passed away the mountain was named after him. The name Irion became distorted by cartographers (mapmakers) near the turn of the century and Iron Mountain began to appear on maps.

Recent arrivals to the region continue to refer to Irion Mountain as Iron Mountain. The advocates, who support  the name Iron Mountain, claim there was a large iron deposit on the mountain that attracts lightning. The iron content of this mountain distorts the needle of a magnetic compass, hence, proof for the name, according to some sources. Today, the name Iron Mountain appears on all U. S. Department of Agriculture maps and U.S.G.S. 71/2” topographic maps of the region. The incorrect name may not mean a lot today, other than the fact it’s just a name.

Researching place names of  old landmarks in and around the Superstition Wilderness Area can be confusing avocation. Names appear to change every generation of so. Another classic change is Flat Iron or Ship Rock on Superstition Mountain immediately east of Apache Junction. Over the years, many hikers have climbed to the Flat Iron or Ship Rock by way of Siphon Draw, immediately east of Mining Camp Restaurant.

The hike up Siphon Draw  is a challenge even for the best conditioned hikers. The point on Superstition Mountain known today as Ship Rock was originally called the Flat Iron. Early newspaper accounts from the 1890’s make comments about “the Flat Iron.” When people began settling near the base of Superstition Mountain they thought the point looked more like the prow of a ship, therefore the name “Ship Rock.”
Also an east-west street in Apache Junction is named Ship Rock in direct reference to this noted landmark on Superstition Mountain.

Other interesting landmarks in the area include Bull Dog Peak and Goldfield Point. Bull Dog Peak was dynamited in the 1890’s around Christmas time, destroying a large rock that looked like a bulldog. The rock has been gone for over a hundred years, but the name remains with us.

Goldfield Point is the extreme rock edge on the northwestern end of Superstition Mountain. The residents of the gold camp known as Goldfield named the prominent point “Goldfield” in the early 1890’s.

Another interesting controversy around 1918 arose when Superstition Mountain’s name was temporary changed to Coronado Mountain. A group of early Phoenix entrepreneurs believed Coronado Mountain
sounded more southwestern than Superstition Mountain. Actually the mountain’s name was changed for a short  time, until the ire of James H. McClintock was raised. He protested to the state government at the time and the name Coronado Mountain was soon dropped. McClintock was the Arizona State Historian at the time.

After this incident, a state historic landmark commission was formed. Even with a historic landmark commission, names still get changed from either lack of use or knowledge.

Another interesting name in  our area is the Apache Trail. The sixty-two mile roadway from Mesa to Roosevelt Dam has had several names over the years. The first name was the Tonto Wagon Road, and this was followed by the Roosevelt Road, then the Mesa Roosevelt Haul Road, and, finally, the Apache Trail in 1915. Most historians agree that a ticket salesman name of E.E. Watson coined the term “the Apache Trail.” Watson worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad during the heyday of the “Sunset Limited” and the railroad’s many concessions along its route from Florida to California.