Monday, December 24, 2012

Unforgettable Christmas

December 17, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The spirit of Christmas was in the air in late December of 1955. The first snows had fallen in Arizona’s high country and winter had announced its arrival in the Superstition Wilderness. Low stratus clouds engulfed the towering spires of Superstition Mountain and a slow drizzling rain fell, meeting with the approval of local cattlemen.

Deep in the Superstition Wilderness there lived 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 anyone’s devotion to Jesus Christ.

My father and I visited Ben over the years because he and Dad had something in common besides the gold of Superstition Mountain. They were both veterans and had served with General John Perishing, the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, during World War I. Both men had witnessed the slaughter in the trenches along the Western Front and had survived the horror of the war 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 that terrible time etched in Ben’s mind.

Ben chose to live apart from 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 and terror. His mind was scared for eternity.

Dad had also survived the battlefield of that war and for that reason he 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 Meuse-Argonne, Verdun, or the other major 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 a beautiful tree for our house. 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 Eve and 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, if it is not about sharing one’s friendship, didn’t you teach me this dad,” I inquired?

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 with dad driving and advising.

I arrived at First Water about noon and began my hike. A light drizzle fell as I hiked along the trail toward La Barge Canyon. By the time I reached Ben’s Camp near Charlebois 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 Christmas tree. The Cholla skeleton made a fitting desert Christmas tree. I piled some large rocks around the base of our tree and 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 can lids. Ben had a plentiful supply. 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. This was also no ordinary occasion for Ben. The meaning of Christmas had found its way back into Ben’s heart in that odd appearing Christmas tree. We laughed together of 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. With a tear in his eye he 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.

This lonely old man taught me that it is not how much you have, but the 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.

My father eventually talked Ben into returning to society and being a friend to others. 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 50 years, Sharon and I still decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus skeleton in our home for Christmas with our traditional tree.

Monday, December 17, 2012

FAQ About the Superstitions

December 10, 2012 © 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, (480) 610-3300.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Silver Screen Heroes

December 3, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Times were tough in the late 1950s. My dream to attend the university vaporized after my first semester.

Well, who needed a university education? I had neither the ambition nor resources at the time. I was convinced I wasn’t intelligent enough to claw my way through eight semesters of classes at Arizona State Teacher’s College. So I gave up this goal. My second goal in life was to be a cowboy and it was far more desirable.

The old Quarter Circle U Ranch served as my introduction to manhood and making my own living. No longer would I be dependent on the folks at home. Often my checks were so small they didn’t even cover the bare essentials. That was OK with me. I was going to be a cowboy. My drive to accomplish this goal out-weighed my common sense, if I had any at the time.

I sold and traded all my precious childhood possessions and depleted my meager bank account to purchase a saddle, chaps, spurs, headstall, bridle, bit, reins, saddlebags, and a good 35-foot 3/8” nylon rope. My father and mother bought me a change of Levi shirts and pants. At the time I had a worn pair of Tony Lama boots.

I acquired all this tack without even a horse to ride. Barkley had not assigned me a remuda of horses to work with. Eventually I was given three head of horses to use. They were named Scooter, Sorrel, and Spook. All three mounts made an impression on me in one way or another.

Man, can I remember the first day I saddled up for my boss, William Thomas Barkley. I had carefully observed him during his saddling ritual every morning for almost a week. Never once did he ask me to saddle up and accompany him on the range. Finally one morning he looked at me and asked, “Are you ready?”

I tried to remember his saddling routine to the finest detail. First, he checked the horse’s feet to see that the hoof was clear of manure, gravel, small rocks and any other debris that might injury the horse’s foot. Using a hoof pick, Barkley ceremoniously cleared each hoof of debris. This was followed by careful examination
of the horse’s back, withers, and barrel for sores or injuries. After this careful examination, Barkley would then curry and follow by a though brushing. Barkley then placed a smooth blanket on the horse’s back, followed by a thick saddle pad.

Curried, brushed, and padded the horse was ready for his old Kaiser low-roper saddle. As Barkley picked up his saddle you could hear the well oiled leather creak. In one smooth motion he placed the saddle on the horse’s back. He carefully centered and adjusted the saddle to fit the horse’s back and withers. Barkley rode his saddle high upon the horse’s withers.

He then gathered in the cinch D-ring and pulled the latigo through. He checked his cinch to make sure it wasn’t twisted. With a few quick motions he was ready to cinch up his horse and tie off.

Next came the breast strap. He then tied his 45-foot nylon rope on his saddle that he used for groundwork. A canteen and saddlebags completed his saddling ritual. The final step was removing the nosebag and placing the headstall and bit in the horse’s mouth.

Barkley’s old horse Champ had a particular dislike for a cold bit. Bill would warm the bit for a few minutes with his hand before placing it in his horse’s mouth. This simple act convinced me Barkley loved his animals. The buckling of the throat strap ended the morning saddling routine.

He looked over at me and asked, “Are you ready?” At that moment I started a repeat performance of his routine. He watched me like a teacher watches and guides his or her students. He then called out to me, “Hey Slim let’s go. we’re burning daylight.”

The first day I was just trying to keep up with the man I now believed to the “King of the Cowboys.” I had envisioned a cowboy to be something entirely different than what I saw before me on that cool spring morning at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

No silver-studded saddle, no fancy chaps, no Winchester in a saddle scabbard, no fancy Western shirt and most of all no six-shooter on his hip. This was just a plain old cowboy who worked range cattle.

Barkley’s dress and demeanor was just the opposite of what I expected. He wore a sweatstained  denim shirt, pants, gray Stetson and a plain pair of Tony Lama boots. His skin was tanned and wrinkled from years of working in the desert sun. He face revealed the lines of hard work and hard times. He was a man of the desert range.

“Just a real old cowboy,” I thought as we rode off toward Coffee Flat to check on some of his stock. William Thomas Barkley was a cattleman following in the footsteps of his father William Augustus Barkley who settled on desert with his wife Gertrude in 1907.

If you travel to Gold Canyon, East of Mountain View Road, north to the Palmer Mine, and on to Canyon Lake and on east to Peter’s Mesa you are on the old Barkley Cattle Ranch. At one time the ranch encompassed one hundred seventeen sections of private, state and federal land.

I worked at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch during its twilight years as part of the Barkley Cattle Company. We rode the entire 117 sections of land packing salt, doctoring cattle and rounding up stock. By 1970 the Barkley Ranch no longer existed.

Today Chuck and Judy Backus own the Quarter Circle U Ranch and run cattle on state lease land. The Backuses are making an attempt to keep the history of the old Quarter Circle U Ranch alive. I certainly do admire them for doing that. As I look back at my experience on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch I had found the true silver screen hero of the West in William Thomas Barkley.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Riding With Buck Wallace

November 26, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago when I worked on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County I heard many a wild yarn. The storytellers would occasionally gather on the porch of the old bunkhouse on a hot summer evenings and the tall tales would begin. Usually the group was a mixture of cowboys, prospectors and sometimes an occasional deputy sheriff, brand inspector or game warden.

One hot July evening Bill Finch, the state brand inspector showed up about sundown. He wanted to throw his bedroll down and spend the night on the porch. Bill always had his guitar with him to serenade himself, the cattle and his horse. This particular night Buck Wallace, state game warden, was also spending the night. Buck also packed a guitar and a harmonica. Added to the group that night was also an old prospector named Joe Roider who played the spoons. Now add a cowboy and a greenhorn to this mixture and you really had a tall story brew.

The Black gnats and mosquitoes were biting and aggravating everyone. We put out a smoke pot filled with some kind of insect repellent that discouraged the insects a little, but just about suffocated us. I would guess it was about 98 degrees that evening as we sat singing and talking about the Old West and lost gold mines. Today, I believe I am the only survivor of that group. It was certainly one of those unforgettable evenings considering the circumstances.

As I recall the moon was full, and coyotes were howling, Bill Finch was singing “the Streets of Laredo,” Joe was playing the spoons, Buck was playing his guitar and harmonica and the rest of us were singing along. The night slowly began to fade away as the Coyotes howled and serenaded us.

I remember the group giving their opinions as to whether or not the old Dutchman’s mine existed and if it did— where? Then there was a story about a dead elk in the back of a pickup with mule shoes on it. As it turned out some dude hunter shot a mule thinking it was a cow elk. This discussion continued into the early hours of morning, never being any real agreement. When the disagreements got out of hand Bill Finch would start another song and play his guitar. Rather than argue everyone would join in playing and singing along with Bill Finch.

This was my first introduction to Garland Ellsworth “Buck” Wallace. Buck was a kind of man who was always on duty. It was after this get together Buck and I got acquainted. We made several rides together that winter into the Superstition Mountains.

Buck and I had spent several different occasions riding the mountains when the weather cooperated and sometimes when he was checking in on all the hunting and prospecting camps. I knew what Buck was looking for and I rode along with him. My boss wanted to be sure nobody was rustling any of his cattle and he encouraged my participation with Buck. I always enjoyed talking to this man. He was dedicated to enforcing the game laws in Arizona and preventing poaching. Buck in many ways was one of the few men I met that maintained my belief in the sliver screen cowboys that were heroes as a child. He was tall and slim and always clean cut. He wore a Stetson, Levis, pearl button Western shirts, always had his belt on that had his name “Buck” carved in it and of course cowboy boots. He always challenged me to do better in life. At the time all I wanted to do was become a good cowboy.

Whenever Buck visited the ranch I just volunteered to open our Serval refrigerator and freezer and let him have a look. The truth was I preferred beef instead of venison any day and Barkley always had plenty of beef on hand for us to eat.

On one beautiful day Buck and I rode over to Piper’s Camp at the base of Weaver’s Needle. I rode into camp ahead of Buck and greeted everyone. Buck would visit with the individuals in camp and look around. After his inspection we rode on to the next camp. This particular day Buck and I checked out four camps. All of our stops were peaceful in nature and we had no problems. After inspecting the camps we made our way back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch.

I will never forget how proud Buck was of his one-eyed Buckskin horse named Pard. Buck would tell me there was nothing Pard couldn’t do with one eye that a horse with two eyes could do. One day he talked me into a short horse race to show Pard’s  ability. Another time he told me how Pard saved his life in a pinch. A limb had knocked him out of the saddle and he was hanging over a cliff hung up in his rope on the side of his horse. Pard stood perfectly still until he was able cut the rope with his boot knife and free his leg.

The stories on the porch that night about the mountains and prospectors reminded me of what life had been like being associated with this mountain and those who called it home. Calling the mountain home was like calling it a special place to visit and regain one’s composure and continue on with life. That night on the porch of the old Quarter Circle U Ranch we recharged everyone’s mind about what was real and what was legendary. Buck Wallace, Bill Finch, Joe Rodier, and Mike Finley were real people in a world of pretenders. The spirit of the West lives in the memories of men like Garland Ellsworth “Buck” Wallace and old Bill Finch. I am a better person for have knowing them both.

Buck Wallace passed away August 8, 2012 at the age of 99. He was a Navy Seabee during World War II. He had worked for the Arizona Fish and Game Department as a warden for twenty years. He was a life long member of the Masonic Temple. Buck was a good man and he believed in helping others. I was proud to have known and ridden with him in the Superstition Mountains back in the late 1950’s. I had found one of my silver screen heroes in Buck Wallace. He was one of those heroes who represented ethics, honesty, integrity, respect and compassion. Today, my friends, we need more people like Buck Wallace.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Earning My Spurs

November 19, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

As the first rays of sun light ventured across the summit of Miner’s Needle it was time for another day’s work at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Usually we were already up and feeding livestock by dawn. Breakfast had been on the stove for 15 minutes when the feeding and watering was completed. Eggs, spuds, beans, chili, beef, bacon, biscuits, and coffee were a solid breakfast for hard-working cowboys. Soon we were saddling our horses for a long day’s ride into the backcountry to check and work cattle.

The call of the quail and a distant serenade of the coyotes were music to our ears as we rode east from the old URanch toward Castle Rock. This towering outcrop of rock east of the ranch looked something like a medieval castle, hence the name Castle Rock. The clinging of our horse’s shoes was mixed with the early morning sounds of the desert. A serenade only a cowboy could appreciate. The green- and yellow-blossomed Palo Verde trees were like burning torches from the light of the early morning sun. We could hear the distant bellowing of a calf for its mother. One of Barkley’s range bulls was rutting and sounding his call.

The trail that lay ahead was steep, rocky and difficult to follow. We arrived at Miner’s Needle Summit with near exhausted horses. As the air temperature warmed we rested our mounts in what shade we could find and adjusted our cinches. We then stepped into our stirrups and back into the saddle for the ride that lay ahead. Slowly we moved our horses toward Bluff Springs corral and cabin. We stopped briefly at a seep and watered our horses. Once we arrived at the corral we opened the gate and checked our supplies in the cabin. We then rode eastward looking for signs of range stock.

Two draws to the east we found about 12 head of cows and calves that needed to be moved back to the corral and checked for screw worms. It was always easier to work cattle in a corral then on open ground in this rugged country. After all we were not expert open ground ropers, especially with all the Mesquite, Palo Verde, Jojoba, Chain Cholla, Prickley Pear, Hedgehog, and Teddy Bear Cholla in the area.

We moved the cows and calves toward the corral without incident. Once they were in we began the task of checking each animal. Some were easy to check and others were not. This required plain hard work and our only tools were a primitive corral, gloves, a rope and a good horse. We roped, handled and doctored each animal. The final tally was 14 cows, 15 calves and two yearly steers. The mother cows we only visually inspected. Two of them we did have to throw and doctor for screw worm infestation. This endeavor required most of the day. We were pleased to know we had eased the misery of these cattle by treating them for screw worms. Our accomplishments were part of the routine of being a cowboy in these mountains. This was Barkley’s first year being involved with the Screw Worm Eradication Program. Almost everywhere we rode on his range we put out sterilized flies in small boxes.

Barkley always told us this was the roughest cow range in Arizona as far as he was concerned. We often rode crosscountry over huge rocks, slide areas and steep slopes to round up cattle. A steep slope was often 45 or more degrees. It wasn’t uncommon for a cow pony to take a spill with you. Many times my horse’s legs would just buckle under me and we would go down. A good cowboy gets his legs out of the way before the horse hits the ground if he is lucky. An unfortunate cowboy breaks a leg or a foot and is laid up for a couple of months or so. A smart cowboy stays out from under his horse under all conditions.

Ranchers don’t like to feed cowboys with broken legs or arms. Sometimes a horse will go end over end on a down hill slope because of loose or soft ground and a steep slope. Sometimes a saddle-tree will get busted, but a good cowboy steps clear with a little luck. Sometimes a wild cow will jerk your horse out from under you in rough country once you have tied on to her with your rope. I was one lucky novice cowboy on the Barkley spread and I knew it.

Somebody ask me about the trails one time. My response, “what trails?” Most of our range riding was over rugged terrain often where no horse had gone before, only a cow. The landscape was covered with thorn brush and Cholla cactus just to aggravate a cowboy.

Cattle will go anywhere to find water or feed. A cowboy has to be able to follow and coax them down out of the rugged terrain where they have sought browse. If cattle have plenty of feed and water in a rugged area they will remain until one or the other is exhausted. During roundup (rodeo) these cattle can be difficult to manage and remove from a rough mountaintop.

There are many such mountains in the Superstition Wilderness. If the rocks, slide areas, and steep slopes aren’t enough to discourage a cowboy, there are always the many thorny plants that stick and slash at your legs and arms as you ride through them. Most smart cowboys invest in thick, heavy leather leggings called Chaps. Usually these leggings add another ten pounds to your horse, but will save you several pounds of flesh. The weight your horse carries in rough country can be extremely important for your survival. An overburdened horse falls easily. These sudden falls tend to break a cowboy’s bones.

Old Gus Barkley always said everything in this desert either sticks, bites, stings or eats meat. Believe me these were prophetic words from a great philosopher who knew what he was jawing about.

When the Saguaro cactus begins to bloom the Black gnats swarm. These nasty critters love to bite man and beast alike. After a little summer rain you have the combination of Black gnats and Mosquitoes biting at your hide, both day and night. Just another pleasure a cowboy is subjected to while working on this range after a summer monsoon.

Rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas and centipedes are nothing to fear. Common sense usually takes care of any encounters you would have with these critters. These creatures are the source of many good stories for cowboys to tell “dudes.” A smart cowboy is more concerned with the desert sun and the heat it produces. Cowboys who work in the summer months on the desert wear very wide brim hats and a large scarf around their neck for protection against the sun’s rays. Amazing as it may be, it is always cooler upon a horse’s back then walking on the ground. My guess is the temperature is a least 10 degrees less on horseback.

Our work at the corral ended just about sundown. We tightened our cinches and began the long ride back to headquarters. We knew dinner would be late, but we got a lot of work done and felt we had relieved the misery of a lot of cattle.

We arrived home long after dark. We fed what stock we had in the corral, cooked dinner and went to bed. Our well deserved rest for the night was appreciated, but usually interrupted by a damn coyote or fox in the barn chasing the chickens. We are up again at 2 o’clock in the morning chasing after a coyote, skunk, or fox. If we weren’t guarding the chickens, doctoring animals, or fighting the Black gnats, mosquitoes, scorpions, ants, and snakes then we could get some sleep.

This was just one day of my life on the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Barkley always said, if you can survive a year on this ranch you have “earned your spurs.” I was so dog-tired and exhausted I just couldn’t get too excited about Barkley’s cowboy spun humor or philosophy. However I knew it was the gospel of cowboy tradition in the Superstition Mountain area.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Murder in the Superstitions

November 12, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This article is about two very similar murders in the Superstition Mountains almost one hundred years apart.

Far removed from the urban scene near the southeastern boundary of the Superstition Wilderness Area lies the historic J.F. Ranch. John J. Fraser established this line ranch around 1891 and George Martin operates the ranch today. Martin is from a long line of  cowmen who have run cattle in these mountains since the turn of the century.

In 1892 the ranch was the property of pioneer cattleman “Jack” J.J. Fraser. It was here on May 30, 1892 that Charley Dobie was brutally murdered by Apache renegades according to some sources.

Two weeks prior to his murder, Charley Dobie rode out of Tempe in the company of his uncle, F. M. Neighbors. Their plan was to help  Jack Fraser gather cattle in the Superstition Mountains. Two weeks later Fraser and  neighbors found Charley Dobie dead at the J.F. Ranch. Many people in the area thought it was the work of the Apache Kid, a notorious renegade of the era.

Dobie’s remains were removed and interred at Silver King. A few years ago you could still find young Charley Dobie’s tombstone in the Silver King Cemetery.

Here at this same idyllic setting, among towering Cottonwood trees, corrals, an old windmill and a line cabin, history repeated itself some eighty-six years later. Ironic as it may seem, homicide again made a visit to the J.F. Ranch. This time a young Mexican vaquero named Manuel Valdez died at the hands of unknown assassins.

They laid waiting in ambush, a short distance from the ranch house, and shot him several times without provocation. After their evil deed, his killers buried his body in Fraser Canyon near a large Cottonwood tree. If it were not for his small dog “Prieta” his body would probably still be there. Manuel’s young black dog lay at the foot of his hastily dug grave until an outfitter using the old ranch discovered the site.

The night before his untimely death, Manuel talked of the mysterious Superstition Mountains, their legends and lore. He was also fascinated with the tales of hidden gold. He thought maybe someday he too would search for the hidden gold of the Jesuits. Even in far away Mexico the legends of “Sierra de Espuma” still lingers.

The merciless killing of Manuel Valdez so parallels the death of Charley Dobie one might easily conclude that the ghosts of  Dobie’s killer or killers returned to kill again at the J.F. Ranch. Or did someone read the  following article from the Arizona Daily Gazette, June 5, 1892.

“It is still a mystery, the Florence Tribune, in speaking of the Dobie murder, had this to say: The verdict arrived by the coroner’s jury was that Charlie Dobie was killed by Apache Indians; that Indians had been seen in the  neighborhood; that the manner of killing looked like Indian work; that the way in which the house was ransacked and pillaged  indicated Indians.

“It was found that the boy’s skull was crushed, his face badly bruised, and his shoulder broken. He was shot through the left side apparently with a .45 caliber Winchester, but the wound was not one that would have proved fatal.

“The body as somewhat decomposed by this time, but was carried by the men on foot over the trail, and taken to Silver King for  interment.

“Jack Fraser’s horse had been stolen with saddle and bridle. The tracks were very distinct and were followed for about three miles. The trail was taken up and followed after the conclusion of the inquest.

“Little Charley was generally liked and is spoken well of by all who knew him. The murder was one of the most cowardly brutal acts that have taken place in recent years.

“Opinions of those who know the country vary as to who the assassins could be. The majority appeared to credit the Indians with the death. Others were inclined to the believe it was the “Kid”, who not to long ago committed some depredations perhaps fifty miles from the scene of this affair. A few seem to think that John M. See, the wife murder, committed the crime in order to conceal his identity, after robbing the house.

“Every effort will be made to run down the person responsible for the brutal deed, for the community is very much aroused over the matter.”

There are several similarities between the Dobie and Valdez murders, aside from the fact that they occurred some eighty-six years apart. Each incident involved the theft of a horse, in each case the victim was unarmed, both men were young and their murders were unprovoked. The ranch house was ransacked in both cases. The list goes on and in both cases historical similarities continue to arise.

Let’s analyze some of the facts concerning the Valdez case murder. Valdez was employed by Billy Martin Jr. to repair fence and take care of the J. F. Ranch. Manuel Valdez had only been working at the ranch for nine or  ten days at the time of his death. His killers had camped near the ranch the night before  to study the habits of their soon-to-be victim.

On Friday, April 21, 1978 the plans of the killers were interrupted by the arrival of a small group of overnight campers. The next morning after the departure of the group Valdez was ambushed as he stepped out onto the front porch of the ranch house. Valdez’s killers opened fire with high-powered rifles a short distance from the ranch house killing him instantly. Witnesses had heard rifle shots on Saturday, morning, April 22, 1978. These witnesses had spent Friday night with Valdez at the ranch. They heard the shots as they were closing the gate about ¾ mile from the ranch house.

After firing the fatal shots the killers carried the victim’s body to a big sand wash (Fraser Canyon) and partially buried it thinking they were hiding their bizarre crime. They may have been successful had it not been for the loyalty of Manuel’s small black dog, Prieta. Prieta led veteran mountain guide, Billy Clark Crader, to Manuel’s gravesite late Thursday, April 27, 1978. Crader notified the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office immediately.

Billy Martin Jr. had searched for Valdez the previous week without success. Billy did not suspect foul play because many times fence workers will move their camps to the site of their work. Martin reported a horse stolen, pack saddle and food stolen from the ranch. The killers had hiked into the country. There was no evidence they drove into the area.

The killers were eventually found because of the identification provided by Al Hasty who was one of the campers who had spent a night at the ranch prior to the murder of Valdez. He had taken a hike early Friday evening and came across the two men’s camp. Al had taken a mental description of both men because he thought it was strange that they were out here with no means of transportation.

Two men named Manning and Wallace were eventually arrested, tried and convicted for the murder of Manuel Valdez, ending one of Arizona biggest manhunts. Wallace had worked for one of the local stables and knew the mountains well.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Museums Along the Apache Trail

November 5, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are several museums located along the Apache Trail (State Route 88) and some are good size and some are very small. There is the Roosevelt Interpretive Center located at Roosevelt Dam, not a true museum but an interesting interpretive center on the area. Then there is the Tonto Ruins Interpretive Center that presents the archaeological interpretation of the area. The tiny museum at Tortilla Flat is interesting and unique.

The Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum is located near the Apache Trail and Mountain View Road and is a large and very impressive museum. The Goldfield Museum is located in the Goldfield Ghost Town at the site of old Youngberg. This is an interesting museum found within a recreated ghost town atmosphere. Then there is the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop located on the Apache Trail. This old road stop has been serving tourist since being founded in 1946 by Red Monigan. The Bluebird did not fully develop into a small museum about the history of the area until the 1970s when Lou Alice’s son Louis began to gather things and establish simple exhibits for visitors to look at.

The Bluebird Mine can be found on the western façade of Superstition Mountain near what is known today as the Apache Trail. The mining site has existed as part of Goldfield since the 1890s. My wife, Sharon, and I have been visiting the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop since 1961. Ray and Lou Alice Ruiz purchased the business from the Hamakers in 1967. The Ruizs have operated the business every since.

Louis Ruiz, son of Ray and Lou Alice, returned home from Vietnam in May of 1967 after serving a tour of duty with the, Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd 33rd Artillery Battery “A” in Iron Triangle northeast of Saigon. South Vietnam. Louis was awarded the Bronze Star for gallantry on Jan. 5, 1968.

Louis was born in Detroit on Jan. 23, 1946. His mother moved to Arizona in the summer of 1947. Louis returned home permanently in May of 1968 after Vietnam. It was at this time he found home to be the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop along the Apache Trail.

One of Louis’ first jobs at the family business was running the mine tour. The business included a curio shop, snack bar, mine tour, and eventually a marine repair shop. Louis worked in all the different parts of the Bluebird enterprise. He found gathering history of the area one of his favorite pass times.

He started his collection of old photographs in 1970. Contributors to his photo collection included Arizona pioneers such as Pop Hamaker, Becher Lewis, Ted Sliger, Doc Waterbury, and Norman Mead. Louis displays his photos in the gift shop along with maps and diagrams of the Mammoth Mine and the Goldfield operation. The gold camp of Goldfield was located between and along what is the Apache Trail just east of what was once Youngberg. Today much of the Goldfield Ghost Town is located on the site of Youngberg.

Louis spent years gathering old hand-hewn timbers used in local mining operations given to him by Ted Sliger who owned the Buckhorn Baths. He also gathered up old signs that designated the site of Goldfield. Alfred Strong Lewis made these signs. Lewis was an early mining man who had worked in the old Mammoth Mine for George U. Young. The shaft of the old Mammoth Mine is almost due east of the Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar. Some believe the old timbers on display were hand-hewn by Spaniards, but that is very unlikely. Most likely they were hand-hewn by early Mexican miners in the area before prospectors and miners from Mesa City arrived in the area in the early 1880s.

Immediately south of the gift shop is an area of outdoor displays. This area includes an old arrasta constructed by Red Monigan to crush gold ore from the old Bluebird Mine. In this display there is all kinds of mining implements including scrapers, drill steel, shovels, picks, and ore cars. The entire outdoor display includes a variety of odd and ends associate with the area. Most of the display is tagged. For example there is a whiskey still that was used in the early 1930s by bootleggers in the Superstition Mountains. Glenn Hamaker packed the still out of the mountains from its original site at Whiskey Springs near La Barge Canyon some twenty miles away.

One of the really unique displays at the Bluebird is located on the south wall of the Curio Shop. Louis spent 375 hours carving the history of Goldfield and Youngberg into old lumber he had collected from the various ranches around the Superstition Mountains.

These ranches included Weeks, Tortilla, First Water, Reavis, U Ranch, and Fraser Ranch. These old boards were donated to Louis for the project. After carving out the words for the history, Louis spent twenty-four to thirty hours painting this historical mural that stands about eleven feet high and five and a half feet wide. The old house Louis lives in was one of the early Goldfield shacks built for miners and also served as a schoolhouse.

Another interesting display is all the newspaper articles Louis has made tabletops out of for the Bluebird Curio Shop’s veranda. Most of the history of the Superstition Mountains can be found in these tabletops.

You can easily spend an hour enjoying the history that Louis Ruiz had gathered and displayed at the “Old Bluebird.” Today Louis Ruiz serves as the manager of the Bluebird Curio and Snack Shop.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Final Days of Elilsha Reavis

October 29, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The fall of 1895 had caused concern for several friends of Elilsha Marcus Reavis, the old “Hermit of Superstition Mountain.” He was close to seventy years old and still making trips from his mountain valley farm to the small towns in central Arizona Territory to sell his vegetables. The chores on his farm were enough to keep a young man busy, let alone a seventy-year-old man.

Reavis cultivated and irrigated about fifteen acres of land. He had chickens, turkeys, hogs, burros, two horses and several dogs to care for. His team of horses pulled his disc and shear plow.

James Dalabaugh often checked in on Reavis at his ranch. Dalabaugh knew he wasn’t doing too well in the spring of 1896. It was on April 10 of that year when Dalabaugh was at the ranch with Reavis as he was preparing to make a trip to Mesa to buy seed potatoes. Dalabaugh later stopped by the Fraser Ranch on the 6th of May and found that Reavis had not been there.

Dalabaugh then backtracked back to Reavis’ Ranch. Along the trail about four miles south of his place he found the old man under a large juniper tree lying over his fire pit. He found his burros almost starved to death. The old man’s body was in a state of almost complete decomposition. It appeared his dogs had eaten part of his body.

A grave was dug in an Indian ruin a short distance away and Elisha Marcus Reavis remains were put to rest on May 7, 1896.

Elilsha Marcus Reavis had died alone in a small tributary canyon of Roger’s Canyon. A small stone marker inscribed with his name, date of death, and date of birth marked his grave in the early 1980’s. Since 1975 the area has become so densely overgrown with Manzanita it is almost impossible to locate his grave today unless you know exactly where to look. The grave was located in this ancient ruin because it provided easy digging for the men who laid Reavis to rest.

Elisha Marcus Reavis, for an old hermit, had a considerable estate for the period of the time. Reavis did not own title to the land he was living on. He claimed squatter’s rights but had never recorded this claim in Florence.

Shortly after his death on May 11, 1896, Judge D.C. Stevens was appointed to probate Reavis’ estate. H.H. Benson became the special court appointed administrator of the E.M. Reavis estate. The estate was reported to Judge Stevens not to exceed two hundred fifty dollars. John J. Fraser served as an appraiser for the Reavis estate along with Charles P. Mason. James Willaboa cared for the animals and other property at the ranch until the probate was settled.

The list of items from Elisha Marcus Reavis’ estate and their value accompany this article. This list gives a deep insight into this man’s life.

Prior to this careful study of the inventory of Elisha Reavis estate it was easy to see how people made confusing  remarks about his activity in the mountains and his life. He didn’t plow fifteen acres by hand. He had a team of horses to pull both a shear and disc plow. He had a land plane and all the tools necessary for a good one-man farming operation. The probate itemization of his personal property did not reveal much information as to how he conducted his day to day living.

He did own a shotgun and rifle. It is reasonable to believe he hunted to supplement his diet with wild game. Early visitors to his place talked about the many antlers he had hanging around the dugout. He had several bear skin rugs. These items certainly pointed pointed to the fact he was quite a skillful hunter and tracker. Old pioneers all said Reavis had lived in these mountains for more than twenty years. He had been an outdoorsman since the 1850’s when he first moved to California from Illinois.

Many visitors to the Reavis house had mentioned the up to date library he kept in his home. It is interesting none of the books he owned were mentioned in the probate. It could be his personal things such as books, writing material and lighting fixtures that were used around the house were considered valueless. But the are many stories about the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain” being an educated man.

Early visitors to his place believed he was a college graduate. There are a couple of references that mention he attended Illinois State Teacher’s College at Jacksonville. I have often wondered if this information was confused with his uncle Isham Reavis, who indeed did attend Illinois State Teacher’s College in Jacksonville, Illinois.

There is also the account about Elisha Reavis teaching in El Monti, California shortly after moving to California. It is quite reasonable to believe he was a very learned individual and could have easily taught school in California before turning to prospecting and mining. One California census report places him working a mining claim on the San Gabriel River a short distance from Ruben Blackey mine in 1863. It is Ruben Blackey who Jacob Waltz, of Lost Dutchman Mine fame, worked for at the same time.

Many people believed Reavis and Waltz may have know each other quite well because of their close association with the Blackey Mine on the San Gabriel. It appears they may have worked in close proximity of each other for almost a year.

John R. Walker recruited his expedition member for the trip to the Bradshaw Mountain in Arizona Territory from the miners working along the San Gabriel. It is quite reasonable to believe Reavis and Waltz both may have traveled with the Walker Party to the Bradshaw Mountains in 1863 to search for gold along Lynx Creek.

The “Some Snake” story in the Weekly Arizona Miner, on December 4, 1869 certainly placed E.M. Reavis in the Prescott area prior to 1869. However, Elisha Marcus Reavis’ name did not appear in the Special U.S. Census of 1863 or the Territorial Census of 1864. Reavis could have appeared in the area after 1864, but certainly before 1869.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dutch Hunter's Rendezvous 2012

October 15, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

We are now well into the 21st century, and the intense interest of lost mines in the Superstition Mountain area still prevails. Men and women continue to come to the Superstition Wilderness Area hoping to find their fortunes. Most find nothing and others are lucky to walk away.

Adventurers and prospectors have been injured or died from extreme weather conditions, from gunshot wounds, from falls, drowned in flash floods, dehydration and sun stroke to name a few.

Since the early 1880s men and women have searched these rugged mountains for lost mines and treasure. Gold is the natural magnet that attracts the modern day adventurer. The most significant lost mine story centers around a German immigrant name Jacob Waltz. His infamous mine was allegedly located with a 2-mile radius of Weaver’s Needle, a prominent landmark east of Superstition Mountain.

Each year I am amazed at the people who become interested in the search for the Lost Dutchman mine. There is a continuous list of new prospectors who are searching these rugged mountains for clues.

Several years ago a businessman and prospector named Joe Ribaudo, who lives in Lake Havasu, decided he wanted to see the Dutchman’s legend carried on by some kind of annual gathering. He came up with the idea of the “Dutch Hunter’s Rendezvous.” He held the first “gathering” just west of Twin Buttes along the Gila River east of Florence.

This first “Dutch Hunter’s Rendezvous” was small with only thirteen people attending in October of 2005. However there was a lot of enthusiasm Dutch Hunter’s Rendezvous 2012 for the idea. The next year the rendezvous was moved to the Dons Camp with the help of Dons member Greg Davis. The camp is located at the base of Superstition Mountain at a site at the end of Peralta Road.

Each year the activity has been held toward the end of October and has continued to grow.

The third year Joe Ribaudo handed over the organizing of the “Dutchman’s Rendezvous” to Wayne Tuttle and Randy Wright. Greg Davis continued to make the arrangements for the Dons Camp for the annual rendezvous. Joe and his wife, Carolyn, remained camp hosts providing some shade and cold water.

The scheduled activities include a variety of options for attendees. Friday includes sitting around various campfires and telling stories about the mountains and the many characters that searched for gold there. There are usually two hikes Saturday morning. One is a very difficult hike over rough terrain and the other hike is over much easier terrain and gentler slopes. After dark on Saturday evening everyone gathers at the Ramada to listen to a couple of guest speakers.

I attended last year for the first time and found it an excellent opportunity to meet a variety of people from all over the United States who were interested in our local history of the mountains. This event is not connected with the Chamber of Commerce or the Superstition Mountain Museum. Last year’s Rendezvous included
three days of events. The interested, the curious, and the very serious showed up for the events last year. They traveled from such distant places as Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, California, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois and other states. The organizers of this event should be proud of their accomplishment. I would estimate approximately a hundred people attended last year and the event is growing.

Noted Dutch hunters, historians, and authors attend this gathering. Many of the authors have published books on the history of the area.

Over the years Clay Worst, Bob Corbin, Jack San Felice, Bob Schoose, Gregory Davis, Jack Carlson and Dr. Thomas Glover have attended the event and added their signature to it.

The “Dutch Hunter’s Rendezvous” is an open event, so everyone is welcome. This year’s event is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26, Saturday, Oct. 27, and Sunday, Oct. 28. The guest speaker will be Dr. Thomas Glover.

There is no admission, no charge for camping, and all activities are free, based on first come first served. The gate will not be open until Friday morning. The camping is primitive, so you should bring what you need to be comfortable.

Be sure to bring water, food, tent and bedding if you plan on spending the night. If you don’t bring a tent you will have to sleep outside or in your vehicle. There is no electricity or running water. There are restroom facilities. For more information you may email Randy Wright at Djui5 at yahoo dot com.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Day of the Cowboy

October 8, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The 2012 “Day of the Cowboy will be held Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14, at the Gold Canyon Golf Resort, 6100 S Kings Ranch Rd., Gold Canyon. You may call 480- 671-5599 for additional event information.

A national holiday that recollects the “Day of the Cowboy” is somewhat interesting and unique. The cattle industry was a wild and rough business in the early days, 1850 thru 1930. These eighty years of cattle ranching, roundups, trail drives, rodeos and even motion pictures played a role in shaping our image of the American cowboy. All these roles helped formed that cowboy image so personified by many of us. When we think of cowboys we think of cattle, horses, the open range, a ranch house, corrals, windmills, Stetson hats, chaps, spurs, boots, lariats, saddles and etc. Today, we mill around within an imaginary image of the “Old West” many us believe still exist, to some degree.

I can only speak from my experiences as to what cowboys are really like.

When I was a young man I dreamed of being a cowboy based on the images portrayed on the silver screen. I knew cowboys were good, honest and respectable men. They always defeated the bad guy and won the heart of the ladies. Hollywood had created the perfect image of the American Cowboy. This persona has accompanied me throughout my life.

My image of the American cowboy was shattered when I accepted a job on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the mid 1950’s. I expected the cowboys to be a hero in all aspects, however, I soon found out this
was not case. Real cowboys were only human, they were not the demigods I thought they were. The real cowboys I met around Globe, San Carlos, Tonto Basin and Apache Junction were of a different breed. Most of them were rowdy, wild and often careless. They drank far too much alcohol, cussed too much and were often not too dependable.

Some of the best cowboys I ever saw were Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation east of Globe. Floyd Stone, owner and operator of the Tortilla Allotment, hired Apache cowboys to work his ranch. Most were really good cowboys. Elmer Pope, an Apache cowboy, could rope a wild cow on the run in the roughest country east of Superstition Mountain. But Stone always had a problem of keeping his San Carlos cowboys sober.

Cowboys such as John A. Bacon, Bernard Hughes, Charlie Weeks, George Cline, Billy Garlinghouse, Slim Ellison, William A. Barkley, Billy Martin Sr., Billy Martin Jr., Duane Reese, Wheeler Reece, Bill Bohme, Royce Johnson, Jack Reeder and many more were real cowboys in our area that have left the legacy of the cowboy and cattle ranching in central Arizona. They were all good men.

First, and most important, a good cowboy has to be honest and dependable. These are the star attributes of a cowboy’s character because they were often left in charge of corralled animals that needed to be fed and watered daily. By all means, not all cowboys are good cowboys. Any rancher can testify to that. Most cowboys are hard workers and they also play hard. Most of them love cowboy or country music. They would rather talk about cattle, horses, saddles, horse trailers or pickup trucks. Now, your old time cowboys wouldn’t be caught dead listening to some of the music we call Country-Western today.

As a young man, I dreamed of someday owning my own cattle spread. Of course, it was nothing but a dream. However, I did work on one of the true legendary cattle outfits. The old Quarter Circle U Ranch belonged to William A. Barkley and William Thomas Barkley. I worked for the Barkleys in the twilight years of this legendary Arizona cattle ranch. This was during the late 1950’s.

To this day, I cherished those years I spent becoming what I am today on that old cattle ranch. Life on that ranch certainly shaped my character, but also strengthened the values I had learned from my mother and father. More than fifty years ago I sit astride a wild ranch pony and chased wild cattle across the mountains and desert east of Apache Junction. In those early days there was not much in Apache Junction but a “filling” station, and a few desert dwellers who lived in mobile homes.

To find the old Quarter Circle U Ranch you had to drive out Highway 60 some nine miles and turn east toward Don’s Camp. After driving another eight miles you arrived at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. This
ranch was really isolated and had no communications with the outside world. The old ranch had no electricity and little running water. Conditions were very primitive, but I learned to cope with my new environment.

My parents thought I was insane working in such an isolated place making little or no money. I could never convince them I had found my calling. I wanted nothing more than be a cowboy. My dad had wanted me to go to college and make a career for myself. I suppose I was a disappointment when all I could talk about was the Quarter Circle U Ranch and the cattle I cared for.

Like all good things my cowboy job ended one day when I was severely injured by a large Brahma-mixed bull. I lay in a hospital bed for several weeks and realized my father and mother were correct and I needed a new direction in life. I eventually returned to college and embarked upon a new career with the life of a cowboy always in the back of my mind.

Now, friends, that is why I continue to this day wearing my cowboy hat, western shirts and jeans. Deep down in my soul I am still that young cowboy who worked on the Quarter U Ranch so many decades ago. The “Day of Cowboy” honors this magnificent persona of the American West.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Machete Man

October 1, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I have ridden the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area for  more than 50 years and have been witness to a variety of unusual events. Sometime during the 1970s most of the livestock was removed from the wilderness lands in the Superstition Mountain region and the removal of livestock led to the brushing up of the trails. It wasn’t long before I started seeing trails that had been brushed out (cleared).

The trail I remember in particular was the old West Boulder Canyon Trail. I couldn’t imagine a sincere Dutch hunter doing such a thing. Brushing a trail would be like advertising exactly were one would be going in this rugged terrain. Someone had done an enormous amount of physical labor clearing this particular trail.

There were a couple of prospectors working the West Boulder Canyon area at the time that I was familiar with. One was H.V. Baun and the other was old Don Shade. Shade had a spot of interest in Old West Boulder Canyon and Baun was interested in a location just above the stone corral in West Boulder Canyon.

At the time I was convinced neither Baun nor Shade would have brushed out three miles of trail. It had to be someone who was far more ambitious then these two men and more physically adept.

Late in September of 1979 I was riding my horse “Crow” into West Boulder Canyon. I wanted to photograph the old stone corral in that canyon. As I rode along the trail I noticed it was brushed out quite well and easy to ride along without snagging cat claws or cactus. Someone had definitely cleared the trail and made riding much easier. Cattle going to and from water once kept the trails quite clear of brush and cactus. Since the cattle had been removed, the trails had become overgrown. This particular day was quite warm
and I was really surprised when I came upon a man cutting brush along the trail. He was wearing a yellow cap and red shirt. He was swinging a large military machete and cutting brush and cactus here
and there clearing the trail. I called out to him.

He was very friendly as I approached. Then I recognized the man to be Monte Edwards, an airline pilot, who was a part time Dutch hunter. He spent most of his spare time in the Superstition Mountains looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Mr. Edwards was a command pilot for Delta Airlines. He flew international flights in the DC-1011 later in his career. At first I was amazed to see him out here in the mountains alone. He was totally self-sufficient. His backpack contained everything he needed. He told me his pack weighed 60 pounds. At the time Monte Edwards was in top physical shape. I soon learned he had been a major in the United States Marine Corps and flew F-86 Sabre Jets during the Korean PoliceAction in the early 1950’s.

Monte Edward hiked the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area for more than thirty years. He spent a majority of his time photographing pictoglyphs and markings on rocks in the area. He had hundreds of photographs and precise GPS locations for all the markings he had found in the Superstition Wilderness Area. To this day nobody has duplicated his work. His work was a monumental task. He was always asking me about any markings or pictoglyphs within the Superstition Mountain area. I would give him some directions to a site he had never photographed. He would then go find it. He always surprised me with his tenacity to search out and find a marking or pictoglyph in the region.

One day Edwards and I were visiting and I asked him why he brushed the trails so much and worked so hard at it. He told me he sat for hours in a cockpit five days a week. He explained that he needed to get out and do some good hard manual labor to stay in shape. He told me cutting and clearing trail was good physical exercise for him. There was a logical explanation for the “Machete Man” after all.

I am certain his work will appear in some museum in the Southwest someday. His work was unique and special in annals of Southwest history.

Monte Edwards was born in Lewiston, Idaho on November 16, 1932 and attended Colorado Western College at Gunnison, Colorado. He searched the Superstition Mountain region from 1963 until 1989 and passed away on May 6, 1990.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Anderson & Curtis

September 24, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

George Cleveland Curtis should be known as the founder of Apache Junction and his contemporary, Jack F. Anderson, as “The Father of “Apache Junction.”

Jack Anderson certainly speculated on the future growth of Apache Junction and would have succeeded if he had not passed away in his youth. It was Jack Anderson who dreamed Apache Junction would someday be a major community in the heartland of Arizona. However, it was Curtis who braved the uncertainty of success when he established a small business on a homestead some sixteen miles east of Mesa,
Arizona in 1923.

By late 1923 Curtis was well situated at the junction of State Route 88 and U.S. Highway 60-70. This was a time when cow trails and wagon tracks covered much of the Arizona desert. Cutis’ endeavor included pumping gasoline for the Union Oil Company, servicing automobiles, selling groceries, and lunches to the few customers that traveled the lonely desert roads. Curtis laid claim to 160 acres under the Homestead Act and local ranchers were quite apprehensive about his claims to the land he settled on.

When construction was approved on Mormon Flat Dam in late 1923, Curtis saw a slight boom in his business. This sudden prosperity provided the needed capital to expand his growing enterprise even more.

Curtis was a very clever entrepreneur who realized he had to draw the public to his business. This led to the construction of Arizona’s first licensed zoo. Curtis soon found problems in trying to gain title to his homestead land because of prior claim. He fought this case to the Supreme Court and finally
emerged the winner.

Curtis tangled with George U. Young about the naming of Apache Junction. Young had suggested the junction of SR 88 and U.S. Highway 60 be called Youngsberg Junction after the name of his mining interest at Youngsberg (Goldfield). Eventually the site was named Apache Junction from Curtis’ original suggestion.

For several years Curtis leased his property to numerous parties who were not successful with the business. Finally in 1940, he leased his property to Jack F. Anderson. Anderson expanded and improved the property making it profitable during the war years 1941-1945. At the close of 1945 Anderson exercised his option to buy the property from Curtis.

Jack F. Anderson was an energetic man who visualized a future for Apache Junction. He recognized that this desert climate was well suited for tourism and retirees. By 1948 the first subdivisions of land were organized and lots sold. The future of Apache Junction looked very bright.

Always lingering in the shadows of the Superstitions was the legendary gold mine belonging to Jacob Waltz to attract people to the area. However, the attraction was not the legend, but the climate and magnificent scenery. It was the latter two that brought forth the multitudes who settled on the desert floor at the base of Superstition Mountain.

During the 1950s veterans were allowed to homestead parcels of land east of the junction of State Route 88 and U.S. Highway 60-70. This act converted a large section of public lands to private ownership permitting the eventual building of homes and an economic boom for Apache Junction. One of the earliest settlers of the area was Barney Barnard, well known for his tall tales about the Superstition Mountains.

Jack Anderson’s dream for Apache Junction was becoming a reality by the mid-1950s. Apache Junction had a post office, fire station and a sheriff’s sub-station. Anderson was the first president of the Apache Junction Lion’s Club.

The Lion Clubs was the leader of community affairs in those days. Anderson believed in the welfare of children and was instrumental in the organization of a Little League Baseball program in Apache Junction. His support of community projects earned him the respect of many people. His efforts helped create a modern community in the desert at the foot of Superstition Mountain.

Jack Anderson also wanted to support some kind of a community event through the Lion’s Club to attract people to the area. The Apache Junction Lion’s Club sponsored the first Burro Derby in February of 1958. The event was a big success.

On October 11, 1955, George Curtiss died. Just a year and  a half later on June 8, 1957, Jack Anderson died suddenly while vacationing in California. Both men were true pioneers in founding of Apache Junction. Both had gambled on the future of this land near the base of Superstition Mountain and had won.

Our community is a fitting monument to this kind of pioneering spirit. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our roots and how this community came about.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Charley Williams is Missing

September 17, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Charley Williams created a lot of news copy when he went missing the Superstition Mountains in January, 1935. This World War I veteran was unknown until his disappearance, but his story brought out a lot of interesting points involving possible hoaxes with gold in the Superstition Mountain area.

It is extremely difficult to find examples of gold actually being found in the Superstition Wilderness. This geographical region is not conducive to gold bearing ore, according to most geologists. However, the Charley Williams’ story is an exception.

Charles Williams prospected the Superstition range east of Apache Junction in the years following World War I. He was a disabled veteran who turned to gold prospecting as a means of supporting his family. A man working ten to twelve hours a day could scratch out enough gold in the Gold Fields, west of Superstition Mountain, to buy beans, flour and salt. Times were really bad for most people during the “Great Depression” of the 1930s.

The topics of conversation in those days around the Apache Junction Inn focused on lost gold, cattle, the weather and the “Depression.” The “Inn” served as a watering hole for cowboys, prospectors and dreamers. Charley Williams was a dreamer on the horizon hoping to strike it rich.

Williams wasn’t always welcome around the Apache Junction Inn, especially when he couldn’t pay his tab. George Curtis, the owner of the establishment, would limit the amount of anyone’s tab according to his or her ability to pay. Charley Williams disappeared on January 2, 1935. Curtis figured he had just skipped out on his tab.

The next time George Curtis heard about Charles Williams was when he read about him on the front page of the January 4, 1935, Arizona Republic. The headlines read, "William’s Lost in the Superstition Mountains.” Williams was originally reported missing in the rugged Superstition Mountains by his wife.

Maricopa County Sheriff J. R. McFadden organized a search party to try and locate Williams. After four days, most searchers believed the crippled war veteran was dead. But, miraculously on January 8, 1935, Williams stumbled into a prospector’s camp eight miles northeast of Apache Junction at 2:09 a.m. in the morning. Charles Williams had survived a four-day ordeal in the rugged mountains east of Apache Junction.

Williams had been missing for 85 hours. The 41-year-old prospector was extremely weak, dehydrated and disorientated from his ordeal. He also appeared incoherent and incapable of explaining what had happened to him. The authorities found fifteen ounces of gold nuggets in his pockets.

The story Williams eventually told about his experiences in the Superstition range became extremely controversial. Old-timers examined the gold he had and claimed it came from volcanic debris. The largest nugget in Williams’ possession was one about the size of a quarter in diameter and weighted close to 3.4 ounces. Williams later claimed there was at least an additional twenty pounds of nuggets on the floor of the cave he had found in the Superstition Mountains.

For short period of time Williams became one of the most celebrated prospectors in Arizona. Can you imagine the significance of such a find during the “Great Depression” era? Newspapers around the country played up Williams as the man who had discovered the Lost Dutchman Mine. The national newspapers had just about made a hero of this brokendown World War I veteran when it was learned he had been indicted by the United States Department of Justice for the possession of more than five ounces of refined gold. The indictment was not popular among Arizonans. Those were real nuggets, claimed Williams’ many friends and
prospecting partners.

Williams told the following story to his many friends. “I was following the clues of an old map I had in some of the roughest terrain in the Superstition range when I became disoriented and lost my way. I came up over a ridge and in the distance I saw a small cave near the base of a pointed peak. Tired and in need of rest I made my way toward the cave. Once inside the cave I cleared a spot to rest and this is when I discovered the floor of the cave was covered with gold nuggets, some of them as big as walnuts. In a frenzy of excitement over the discovery I began to gather the nuggets. I stuffed them in my pockets. I kept screaming, “I am rich, I am rich.” I ran out of the cave and turned around to run back in and I hit my head extremely hard on the roof of the cave knocking myself senseless. I wandered about the mountains at least two days before I recalled what happened. I was resting on a rock near Weaver’s Needle when I realized where I was and what had happened in the cave.

"I then reached in my pockets and found the gold nuggets. Only a few of the nuggets remained because of a hole in my pocket. I looked for the cave for two more days and finally gave up. I walked toward the Apache Trail where the Sheriff’s deputies found me. I decided, as soon as I returned to civilization, I would acquire more supplies, then immediately return to the approximate location of the cave.”

The Charles Williams’ story made front-page news for a while. Then, on November 15, 1935, the United States Treasury Department seized the Williams’ gold claiming it was refined gold and not natural gold. The gold was sent to Denver metallurgist who identified the gold as refined dental gold. At this point, Williams was arrested and re-indicted for possession of more than five ounces of refined gold.

The final government adjudication of this case led to Williams being fined $5,000. After the hearing Williams was released and the government kept the gold to cover the fine. Did Charles Williams salt the cave with gold? It is very doubtful Williams had enough gold of any kind in possession to pull off such a scam. Many people believe Williams accidentally stumbled on to somebody else’s cache of refined dental gold. Or maybe he accidentally stumbled on to some kind of scam and exposed the operation before the perpetrators had an opportunity to initiate their plan.

Stories are still told about Williams around campfires. He may have found a cave full of refined dental gold. The cache may still remain hidden in some cave deep in the wilderness. The real mystery to Williams’ find is who had the kind of capital in those days to perpetrate such a hoax. The treasury department hounded Williams  for several years, but never found him to have a partner. Could it be he actually found a cave filled with gold nuggets and the government claimed they were dental gold or was he a victim of circumstances far beyond his control?

The Williams’ story still intrigues those interested in lost gold mines and treasure. Everyone who knew Charley Williams intimately believed he was an honest man and the United States Government went after him to quiet his story about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

This legacy of lost gold in the Superstition Mountains continues to this day because of stories about people like Charley Williams.

Monday, September 17, 2012

History Shown by Petroglyphs

September 10, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Mountains have long been hunting grounds for a variety of Native Americans who wandered this region since the beginning of time. Their silent legacy remains today in rocky ruins, cliff dwellings, grind holes, and petroglyphs.

The deeply incised canyons of the Superstition Wilderness Area provided an ideal hunting ground for these Native Americans. A thousand years ago the climate could have been damper than it is today therefore providing an even wetter environment than we are familiar with today.

At Apache Springs, on the southwest end of Superstition Mountain, is located some of the finest petroglyphs  (pictoglyphs) in the entire Superstition Mountain range. The west wall of this canyon is covered with Antelope, sheep, deer, snakes, lizards and geometric patterns. Most of the images were composed of animals. They were significant in these early Native Americans’ diet and the geometric patterns probably had some kind of significant use in their religion.

Apache Springs is not the name most Superstition aficionados are familiar with. Apache Springs was changed to Hieroglyphic Springs shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Will Robinson referred to the original name of these springs as early as 1918 in his book, “History of Arizona.” Most early maps of the area do not attempt to identify the springs or canyons along the western façade of Superstition
Mountain. Whoever named Hieroglyphic Springs originally did not know the different between hieroglyphics and petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are indigenous to the American Southwest, while hieroglyphics are found only in Egypt. The name was colorful and added charm to this desert country near Dinosaur Mountain. The misnomer was very misleading to scholars of the Southwest and Egypt.

There are several stories as to the source of the name Hieroglyphic Canyon. Apache Springs appears on maps as late as 1939. It is my guess the canyon was renamed after 1940. It wouldn’t surprise me if Pearl Bates or William N. King named the canyon prior or during the war years 1941-1945. Julian and Lucy King arrived in December 1945 shortly after the war. I believe the canyon was renamed before Julian and Lucy King arrived in Arizona. I suspect Pearl Bates pasted the name of Hieroglyphic Canyon on to Julian and Lucy King.

These petroglyphs are located about a mile and a half east of King’s Ranch Resort. Today there is a large paved parking lot at the east end of Cloud View for hikers. On some winter weekends the parking lot is filled to capacity.

The unique thing about these stone writings of Hieroglyphic Canyon they provide the visitor with a walk through an ancient art gallery created almost a thousand years ago. We must all protect and respect this unique gallery of those who have gone before us.

Monday, September 10, 2012

All the Gold in Arizona

September 3, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona became a territory of the United States during the American Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Organic Act for territorial status on February 24, 1863. Prior to 1863, Arizona Territory was a part of New Mexico Territory. The Civil War between the North and South forced the formation of the territory because the Confederacy had drawn a boundary line east to west near the 108th  meridian forming a confederate territory in 1862.

The first gold prospectors arrived in Arizona Territory around 1863. Most of these men had traveled through  Arizona Territory on their way to California during the Great Gold Rush of 1849. It was under the leadership of John Walker that some of these men returned to the mountains of Arizona to search for gold. The conditions in Arizona Territory were dangerous and very primitive. The Apaches preyed on the prospectors and supplies were in short demand. These prospectors found several good gold deposits in the months that followed their arrival in the territory. Gold was discovered at Rich Hill, Wickenburg, and in the Bradshaw Mountains. Eventually prospecting parties were sent south toward the Rio Salinas (Salt River) and the Rio Gila.

The first prospecting parties to examine the rolling hills immediately west of Superstition Mountain was in the winter of 1864. John Montgomery and a man named Binkley found an outcrop of quartz filled with fine gold near the present site of the Bull Dog mine. Their find was short lived. The gold stringer soon played out and then they were attacked by a band of hostile Apaches. The ensuing battle convinced the two prospectors they were lucky to escape the area with their lives.

The loss of the small quartz vein near Superstition Mountain did not discourage these two hardy prospectors. They knew gold was much more plentiful in the Bradshaw Mountains near Fort Whipple. A year later (1865) Camp McDowell was established along the west bank of the Rio Verde. The United States Army, with the aid of the Pima Scouts, brought an uncertain peace to the area for five or six years.  Settlers began moving into the Salt River Valley by 1966. Many of these pioneers were farmers who wanted to acquire hay contracts from the Army at Fort McDowell.

The miners around Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains were soliciting Territorial Gov. John P. Goodwin to raise a militia to protect the miners from the predatory raids of the hostile Native Americans in the area. When this protection finally came the gold production of the Bradshaw Mountain increased significantly.

The gold fields west of Superstition Mountain were ignored for several years because of the hostile Apaches. John Montgomery eventually moved to the Salt River Valley from Prescott and became a highly respected peace officer in the village of Phoenix. Montgomery’s partner, Binkley, wondered off into obscurity.

It was rumored two Mexicans found a rich outcrop of gold near Superstition Mountain some time around 1879. A newspaper account describes an incident involving two Mexican prospectors near Superstition Mountain being attacked by Apaches. One of the men survived the attack and made his way back to Phoenix. He reported finding a rich deposit of gold near the base of Superstition Mountain. The Mexican was named Peralta. Could this incident have been the source of the famous Peralta Massacre story near the northwest end of Superstition Mountain?

Some time after the Peralta mishap in 1879, three Mormon prospectors staked the Lucky Boy claim immediately west of Superstition Mountain. This claim was staked in 1881. The old Iron Horse claim just off First Water Road is the old Lucky Boy claim. The Lucky Boy was followed by many other claims over the years. The Black Queen was a rich deposit of gold. It was staked in November of 1892, but the bonanza of the gold fields was the Mammoth Mine staked in April of 1893. The fabulous Mammoth Mine was located and the rich Mormon Stope discovered. This hole produced approximately three million dollars in gold bullion between 1893-1897 when gold was worth $21 an ounce.

The mining history of Arizona was a fertile place for tales of lost gold and buried treasure to emerge. The territory was rugged and the Apaches were fierce. From this backdrop came prospectors and treasure hunters from around the nation and world.

No story of lost gold is complete without the tale of the Lost Dutchman mine. This old German immigrant, his burro, and Superstition Mountain have left a legacy that has become "all the gold in Arizona."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Somewhat Stranger than Fiction

August 27, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

You can’t imagine the surprising and unbelievable stories I have heard over the past many years. The tales of gold and treasure lost among the deep canyons and towering spires within the wilderness of Superstition Mountain are numerous. These tales stir the souls of young men as well as old. The search for adventure has filled the hearts of many who have followed in the footsteps of “Coronado’s Children” as told by Frank J. Dobie. When Dobie penned his book in 1941 he could never have imagined the impact his words would have on a generation of young men who pursued the treasure trail.

I choose not follow each and every one of these stories; however some are stranger than fiction itself. The following story is buried in pages of a journal written forty years ago about an event that occurred in the Superstition Mountains. Since the first Anglo-Americans laid their eyes upon the rugged façade of Superstition Mountain there had been stories about lost gold in those mountains. Those who believe these stories can’t be deterred with facts or even common sense. They will continue their search until they can no longer walk or ride the trails of these rugged mountains. There are few people who understand
this devotion and dedication to a dream.

Over the years I have had many friends who were devoted believers in this of lost gold in the Superstition Mountains. I had one particular friend whose story I wanted to believe so bad, but I just couldn’t accept the facts he had gathered to support his theory. I would never discourage, but I never really encouraged him until I realized his life hung in the balance. His dream of riches kept him alive. He would swear me to secrecy and then tell me things he actually saw in the mountains.

“Tom,” he said. “I was hiking up this narrow canyon when I saw a cave in a side canyon. I climbed over large boulders and made my way to the entrance of the cave. I could see the cave had been used many years before. I had a decent flashlight so I started exploring the cave. Near the rear of the cave was a small shaft that dropped down about five feet. The cave then opened into a large chamber filled with massive crystalline rock. In one corner of the chamber there was more gold bullion and artifact than the mind could imagine.

“There were hundreds of pounds of gold in bars, statues and even nuggets as big as chicken eggs,” he said. “I was so excited and disoriented I didn’t realize my flashlight batteries were about to die. All of a sudden I was in total darkness with no light. I was sure which direction was toward the entrance. Finally I gained enough composure I remembered having some matches. I struck a match and saw the tunnel I came down into this chamber from. I immediately headed for what I believed was the exit. The only specimen I kept was a nugget about the size of a small chicken egg. Striking one match at a time I finally made my way out of the tunnel. Once I reached the entrance the sun had set and it was dark. I picked up my pack and walking stick and made my way down the canyon and back to the trail.

“I found a place along the trail to pitch camp for the rest of the night. The next morning at sunrise I thought I would try to retrace my steps back to the cave and the treasure I had found.

“Tom, I never could find the treasure cave again. As I sat under an old Mesquite in Needle Canyon I thought maybe I had dreamed this story and it wasn’t real. Then, when I reached into my pocket and felt the nugget the size of a chicken egg I was convinced it was not a dream. For past decade I have tried to find that treasure cave in the Superstition Wilderness Area.”

Fifteen years ago old Joe showed me that chicken egg size nugget of quartz and gold. I would say there was about five ounces or more of gold in the nugget of Quartz and gold.

Even when Joe showed me the nugget I still really didn’t believe his story, but then again “truth can be stranger than fiction.”