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.