Monday, December 26, 2011

Unforgettable Christmas

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

The spirit of Christmas was in the air late in December of 1956. The first snows had fallen in the high country as winter announced its arrival in the Superstition Wilderness Area east of Apache Junction. Low stratus clouds engulfed the towering spires of Superstition Mountain while a slow drizzling rain met with the approval of the local cattlemen.
Deep in the Superstition Wilderness there was an angry, bitter and lonely old man who had chosen isolation rather than the kindness of friends. “Old Ben” had been prospecting these mountains for more than a decade. He believed the old Dutchman’s lost mine existed and he wanted to find it. His search for the Dutchman’s gold had become as strong for “Old Ben” as the devotion of any pilgrim of Islam headed for Mecca.
My father and I visited Ben over the years because he and Dad had something in common. They were both veterans of World War I and had served with General John Perishing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. Both men had witnessed the slaughter in the trenches along the Western Front. Both men had survived the horror of trench warfare in Europe. Each year Dad and I tried to visit Ben’s Camp a couple weeks before Christmas to say hello.
Ben functioned well in the mountains, but within society he was a misfit. His experiences, no less than that of my father’s during the war, had left his heart laden with hate for those who were associated with the production, distribution and application of war materials that were designed to destroy thousands and thousands of lives during a terrible time. Ben chose to live apart from this society because he couldn’t forget the rattle of machine guns, exploding artillery shells, fumes of poison gas and the screaming agony of the wounded and dying soldiers on the battlefields. The war had been over for almost forty years, but Ben still lived in the shadow of its horror.
Dad had also survived the battlefield of that war and for that reason understood Ben and was his friend. Ben and my father had spent many hours in idle conversation discussing the Dutchman’s lost mine, each being careful not to reveal any important information about its possible location.
We often sat under a large boulder in Petrasch’s old camp in La Barge Canyon talking about the Dutchman, Jacob Waltz. Sometimes Dad and Ben would hike up to Petrasch’s old camp on Tortilla Mountain and spend the day.
Christmas was once again coming to Ben’s Camp in the Superstition Wilderness, but he never celebrated Christmas because he didn’t see any real value in it. He said there was no God or Jesus Christ at Flanders, Verdun, or the other battlefields of Europe. Once again we bid our farewell to Ben and began our hike out of the mountains leaving the lonely old man to cope with his misery. As we drove home that day I thought of old Ben and his lonely existence.
Arriving home we found Mother had decorated our house and a beautiful tree for Christmas. The spirit of Christmas filled our home as friends dropped by with a friendly “Merry Christmas.” My mother was always full of the Christmas spirit and she wanted to share it with everyone who would listen or sing carols with her. 
On Christmas Eve morning I got up early and talked to Dad about our friend Ben. I kept thinking about Ben and finally suggested to Dad that I wanted to hike back into the mountains and spend Christmas Day with the old man. I was young and very impressionable at the time. My father’s first concern was my mother and our traditional family’s Christmas get together.
“What is Christmas,” I asked, “if it is not about sharing one’s friendship? Didn’t you teach me this dad?” Mom and Dad decided to allow me to share my Christmas spirit of friendship and giving with Ben on Christmas Day. Mom provided me with a couple of quickly wrapped Christmas presents for Ben and I grabbed a colorful ornament from the tree. I prepared my hiking gear and I was on my way to First Water Trailhead.
I arrived at First Water about noon. By the time I reached Ben’s Camp the daylight was rapidly disappearing. I called out for Ben as I arrived in his camp, wishing him a Merry Christmas. He called back inviting me into his camp. He immediately scolded me for leaving my parents on Christmas Eve and coming into the mountains. I handed him the two small packages mother had wrapped for him. The delicate glass Christmas ornament had survived the hike in my backpack. I handed him the ornament and then suggested we needed a Christmas tree. Ben laughed and said, “You’re not going to find many pine trees in this desert.”
At that moment I could see that Ben enjoyed having my company. He ended his comment with, “The only trees around here are those devilish Cholla.”
Near Ben’s camp, in the dark, using a small flashlight, I found a Cholla cactus skeleton that would serve as our fitting desert Christmas tree. I piled some large rocks around the base to hold it in place. Once the Cholla was secure Ben and I went about decorating it.
We placed the Christmas bulb from my mother’s tree on top of the Cholla. We added a few pieces of tinfoil here and there. We then made some ornaments out of empty sardine and bean cans. Ben had a plentiful supply because he loved sardines and beans. We made a simple garland out of bits of colored string we found in camp. The tree was not an ordinary one, but then Ben was by no means an ordinary man. And this was also no ordinary occasion for Ben. The meaning of Christmas had found its way into Ben’s heart in that odd-looking Christmas tree. We laughed together at our effort to create a Christmas tree. We had found the spirit of Christmas together.
We sat admiring our handy work when Ben reached into his bag and removed a very old Bible, then placed it under our tree. He looked at me with a tear in his eye, and said, “Isn’t this what Christmas is really about?”
Yes, we were celebrating Jesus Christ’s birthday in the simplest manner. The happiness of sharing our friendship on that Christmas Eve I will never forget. My father eventually talked Ben into returning to society and being a friend to others.
This lonely old man taught me that it is not how much you have, from Kollenborn, A-4 it is sharing of your friendship with others that is so important. Since that time many Christmases have come and gone, but few of them are remembered as this one.
Ben returned to the world of the living and each Christmas for many years, until his death, we received a card from him addressed to “My Desert Christmas Friends,” and simply signed “Ben”.
After almost fifty years we still decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus skeleton in our home for Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hollywood Discovers the Apache Trail

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

As early as 1910, while in its infancy, Hollywood recognized the potential of the Apache Trail and area around Roosevelt Dam for filming. The Southern Pacific Railroad promoted the beauty and vastness of the area as early as 1915. The Southern Pacific (SP) published a color photo album with some fifty handcolored photographs in it to promote the beauty of the Apache Trail to passengers of the SP’s Sunset Limited.

These black and white images were sent away to Switzerland to be hand-colored and toned. The final product was vibrant and vividly hand-colored photographs. The beauty and isolation of Roosevelt Dam, and the rugged Apache Trail was revealed in photographs and films of the period. The Southern Pacific had captured the essence of this new frontier.

Several films were shot around Roosevelt Dam and the Apache Trail. These films were shown around the nation to an emerging new theater audience. The movie industry moved from the East Coast to the West Coast around 1905 in earnest, and the Apache Trail and Roosevelt Dam were popular subject matter between 1910 – 1925.

The building of Roosevelt Dam between 1903-1911 was one of the most photographed and publicized events at the turn of the century in America. The fledging movie industry took notice to this region for on-site  filming. Several silent films had been shot along the Apache Trail prior to 1925. These films included some early Tom Mix silent movies and other well-known actors. Film location managers found Mormon Flat one of the most spectacular areas to film in. Today, this site impounds Canyon Lake. The introduction of talking movies ended the long run of silent films.

A special train with five cars arrived in Phoenix from Los Angeles on February 13, 1927. The purpose of the special train was to carry a company of fifty famous Player-Lasky players who were filming a western movie for Paramount Films.

The title of the picture they were filming was “Arizona Bound.” The director of this western motion picture was John Waters. His assistant director was Richard Blayton. The company motored along the Apache Trail to Fish Creek Canyon where they planned to film several takes of “Arizona Bound.” The film centered on the stagecoach days of early Arizona, back in the 1890’s.

Betty Jewel played the feminine lead while Gary Cooper, Jack Dougherty and Christian Frank interpreted the important male parts. The scenes are centered on a picturesque stagecoach and twenty-two head of horses negotiating Fish Creek Hill. The location managers couldn’t have picked a better site for filming based on the dramatic and scenic backdrop Fish Creek Canyon provided for the cameras, however, the area was quite remote. It was more than fifty miles from Phoenix.

The story, Arizona Bound, was by Paul Gangelin. The cameraman for the project was Charlie Schoenbaum, one of the best known cameramen on the coast. Schoenbaum was really impressed with the filming opportunities he found in this area. Betty Jewel was the only star brought from the coast for the filming. At the time Gary Cooper wasn’t a major star in Hollywood.

The crew motored in a large bus from the Adams Hotel and the Arizona Hotel to their filming site daily. The filming involved extremely long days for the crew under quite primitive conditions.

The story “Arizona Bound” was woven around the transportation of a particular gold shipment from New Mexico to Arizona in the early 1890’s. The entire film was built around Arizona life and scenes.

John Waters directed many of Zane Grey’s stories into motion pictures and they were very popular. Waters returned to Arizona to film other productions along the Apache Trail and was one of the leading directors in the moving picture industry in the late 1920’s. His success focused around new film techniques, new stars and innovations. One important attribute of John Water’s films was “on location” no matter where.

Gary Cooper appeared in this film and this was one of his first trips to Arizona for the purpose of filmmaking. Yes, Gary Cooper rode the Apache Trail (for any of you who were fans of this legendary actor.)

This film was followed by many more. Such films as “Lust For Gold” starring Glenn Ford, Ida Lupino, Gig Young, Chill Wills, and Edgar Buchanan. “The Mountain Road” starred James Stewart. There is quite a film history for the Apache Trail area. We have listed only a few of the films from along the Apache Trail. Just a few years ago a portion of “Jerry Mcquire” which starred Tom Cruise was filmed at Lost Dutchman State Park along the Apache Trail.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lost Gold: An Affliction

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

Arizona’s Superstition Wilderness Area has fascinated and mesmerized those that have walked or ridden the trails within the towering spires and deep canyons of this region. The terrain can overwhelm you with beauty, isolation, vastness, tranquility and just pure ruggedness.

These 159,780 acres of  wilderness continue to attract gold and treasure hunters. Prospectors still wander the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area in search of gold. Most of the gold they search for is “in their minds” according to “Doc” Rosecrans, an old time prospector of the area now deceased. He spent forty years living along the Apache Trail and occasionally hiked into the Superstition Wilderness to explore a hunch. He published a small book on the Dutchman’s Lost Mine in 1949. His book wasn’t much of a success; however it did get him a threat of a lawsuit from Barry Storm, another author on the topic.

The way of life for today’s prospectors and treasure hunters is slowly disappearing. Strict forest service regulations and the withdrawal of the wilderness from mineral entry; has all but ended prospecting and mining in the region. A few wildcatters still take their chances with the authorities.

Contemporary writers, weekend explorers, and the curious continue looking for facts and information associated with events that occurred decades ago. Such research and discussions has been opened to the public through various forums about the Superstition Mountains and The Lost Dutchman Mine on the internet or worldwide web. You might say a new Argonaut has arrived on the landscape for the wilderness area.

The three most controversial topics are the location of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine, the Peralta Stone Maps and the tragic death of Adolph Ruth. These topics continue to attract a wide range of interest among readers on the internet or the worldwide web. The internet has changed the way we view and research material today. The forum about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine can be factual and fictional at the same time. After
all, history is a very thin line between the truth and a lie. You can Google up these forums on the inter-net. You might want to look at Desert USA, Treasure Net, and The Lost Dutchman Mine.

When somebody claims they have found a lost gold mine how do you know they are telling the truth? A simple question might be; where is the gold?

If that person were to produce gold then there would be some interesting repercussions from those interested in where the gold was found. The next question would be; did you stake a claim?

Would any person in their right mind stake a claim on rich vein of gold? Probably not! A claim notice would be an invitation for everyone to come and look at your rich gold mine. I believe this explains the dilemma you would be in. I would believe some old timers might not have told anyone about their discoveries in the hills. This type of behavior could easily explain all the confusion involving the Dutchman’s lost mine.

Jacob Waltz, the legendary “Dutchman,” may or may not have had a gold mine. Nobody knows for sure. When he died on October 25, 1891, a candle box of high-grade gold ore was allegedly found under his bed. This gold proved to be of bonanza quality. The discovery of this candle box of rich ore created a controversy that continues to linger to this day. Where did this gold orecome from? Men and women have searched the high peaks and deep canyons of the Superstition Wilderness Area for the source of this gold ore to no avail.

The are some unscrupulous pseudo-historians who will tell you that the gold came from an old Mexican ore mill on Peter’s Mesa and that other similar fragments of the gold ore can be traced to the Massacre Grounds, supposedly confirming or backing up the story of the Peralta Massacre in 1847. This is a bizarre tale with no historical foundation to support it.

To believe such a story is to believe a fairy tale. My father walked Peter’s Mesa and several other areas west of old George Miller’s place in the late 1930’s, and found nothing but the hard work of old time dreamers. My father never questioned the tenacity and obsession of the old timers that searched for gold in the Superstition Mountains.

The Dutchman’s lost mine continues to be a tale about a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. To many folks, the mine is a figment of somebody’s imagination that continually draws in more dreamers each year. Since the early 1920’s, more than 170 individual have claimed they found the fabulously rich Dutchman’s lost mine. The roll of discoverers lists the names of men like Glen Magill, Barry Storm, Robert Simpson Jacob, Charles M. Crawford, Howard Van Devender, and many, many more that allegedly found the mine and reaped its profits. Most of those profits were monies they conned out of innocent and naïve investors. I have watched this vicious cycle for more than fifty years and witnessed the destruction and heartache it has caused to innocent people.

Attorney General Robert K. Corbin successfully tried and jailed a couple of these crooks. Most notable was Robert Simpson Jacob. Jacob was sentenced to ten years in prison for his part in a criminal conspiracy. Even after Robert Jacob was convicted, some still believed he had found a bonanza and that the government was trying to keep him from bringing the gold out.

Is there a Dutchman’s lost mine somewhere out in the rugged Superstition Mountain region? Yes, I have dreamed of finding this mine, but I have never found any evidence that really suggested the mine existed. Everything is based on subjective hear-say. Actually, facts about the lost mine just don’t exist. Even the alleged rich gold ore found under Waltz’s bed is based on hear-say information. Yes, there are alleged pieces of this gold that supposedly exist today. The documentation that supports this alleged gold ore is nothing more than hear-say. Even I am guilty of signing an affidavit that verifies I saw the gold ore and jewelry “Brownie” Holmes claims belonged to Jacob Waltz. Again, witnessing such a thing is still subjective information at best.

A very distinguished gentleman once said Waltz’s gold ore is what dreams are made of; meaning, who knows where that gold came from that was found under his bed. Dreams help to build subjective ideology.

Let’s face it, if you have spent a lifetime searching for the gold of Superstition Mountain, there has to be something meaningful to the story. Maybe my father had it all figured out when he basically said, “Yesterday’s adventures are today's memories."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lost Over the Wilderness

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

Because of the rugged terrain, early aviators have always feared the Superstition Mountain region between Apache Junction and Globe. The reason for the fear was, in case of an emergency, there was no place to land. Flying at low altitudes to get under severe weather often endangered early aviators in the area. This turned out to be the case in October of 1949.

It was about 10:30 a.m.  Wednesday, October 20, 1949 when three United States Navy F4U Vought-Corsairs pilots flew low over Safford, Arizona to avoid heavy clouds and rain. This was reported by a Safford resident as the planes roared over his home at a very low altitude. The three single place planes were being ferried from Quonset Point, Rhode Island to El Paso, Texas to Litchfield Park Naval Air Station for storage. A severe winter storm had moved into the state causing very low ceiling and lots of precipitation. Commander Marvin Hart believed he would have heard from the pilots if they had landed safely somewhere. The pilots of the Corsairs were Lt. (j.g.) George Albert Heckler, of Portsmouth, Va., Engs. James Truett Pilgreen of Shreveport, La., and Engs. John Earl Lawrence Jr., of Grosbeck, Tex.

Flight control at Litchfield and Williams A.F.B. believed the planes were down somewhere between Safford and Litchfield. Both the rugged Pinals and Superstition Mountains were the first places to be searched. On the morning of October 21, 1948, nearly fifty aircraft were launched to search for the three downed Navy Corsairs. Sixteen twoplace AT-6’s took off at dawn from Williams Air Force Base near Gilbert.

Charles S. Barnes, President  of Phoenix Precipitation Control, a rain making company, spotted the wreckage of a Blue Corsair while searching the rugged Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction and north of Superior. Barnes was flying a converted BT type aircraft.

Barnes reported the plane crashed in the snow and burned several Pinyon trees. He said he could identify the blue tail section of one of the planes. Barnes estimated the wreckage was due west of the Castle Dome mine and five miles north of the Superior-Miami Highway (Hwy. 60). The plane crashed near Government Hill about two miles northwest of the Toney Ranch in Haunted Canyon, and about two miles south of the Kennedy Ranch along the West Fork of Pinto Creek. The other two planes crashed on Granite Mountain just west of Campaign Creek near the Horrell Upper Ranch, known today as the Reavis Mountain School. The distance between the crash sites was seven and three-quarters miles.

The United States Air Force Fifth Rescue Squadron out of Williams Air Force Base sent a helicopter to the site. Lt. Herman T. Kennedy and Lt. Paul Obidowski piloted the helicopter into the dangerous and rugged terrain. Severe turbulence was common near the ground in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The helicopter was able to land on a 5,500 feet ridge (Government Hill). They were able to identify the body of one of the pilots of the Corsairs. Once the crash site was located, a rescue and recovery team of six Navy and two Air Force men would go to the site overland from a nearby ranch. By October 24, 1948 all three bodies of the pilots were recovered from the area.

During the war years (1941-1945) many training aircraft crashed in the Superstition Wilderness Area (Primitive Area). All of these aircraft have been recovered. Only one aircraft remained in the Superstition Wilderness Area as of 1961. This aircraft was an old PT-6 Waco Ryan that was located in Whiskey Springs Canyon.

Some time during early 1991, Richard Johnson became interested in the Navy Corsairs that crashed in the Superstition Mountains in 1949. He contacted me about their location. I was able to assist him with the plane near Government Hill.

I had visited that crash site in 1978 with Allen Blackman. I believe Royce Johnson, foreman for the old Miles Ranch, told Allen how to find the crash site. The area was rugged and brushy around Government Hill. Allen and I had ridden into the area on FS Trail 203 off of FS road 287A. At the top of the hill  above Limestone Spring, we entered thick brush and broke our way through it to the old Corsair Navy F4U tail section. We photographed it and worked our way back to the trail and out.

Richard Johnson met a man named Craig McBurney who was interested in vintage aircraft. The three F4U Vought-Corsairs were packed out by Johnson and McBurney. The removal of the wreckage required thirty-five helicopter loads to remove it from the wilderness area and required six months to complete.

This was a major salvage project with the support of the Tonto National Forest Ranger District. Before this salvage project could be undertaken the United States Navy had to reopen the crash report and approve the salvage operation. The recovery operation of the three navy planes was accomplished under the direction of Richard Johnson.

Other pieces of the aircraft were packed out by a group of hikers. The United States Department of Agriculture wanted the wreckage totally removed from the Superstition Wilderness Area and therefore supported the operation. Without their cooperation the project could never have been accomplished.