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.