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.”