Monday, December 30, 2013

Unforgettable Christmas

December 23, 2013 © 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 Pershing, 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. 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, "Your 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."

After 50 years, Tom and Sharon Kollenborn
still decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus skeleton
for Christmas along with their traditional tree.
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 to hold it in place. Once the Cholla was secure Ben and I went about decorating it.

We placed the Christmas bulb from my mother’s tree on top of the Cholla. We added a few pieces of tinfoil here and there. We then made some ornaments out of empty Sardine and bean can lids. Ben had a plentiful supply because he loved Sardines and beans. We made a simple garland out of bits of colored string we found in camp.

The tree was not an ordinary one, but then Ben was by no means an ordinary man. 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. He looked at me with a tear in his eye, and said, "Isn’t this what Christmas is really about?" Yes, we were celebrating Jesus Christ’s birthday in the simplest manner. I will never forget the happiness of sharing our friendship on that Christmas Eve.

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. Ben returned to the world of the living and each Christmas for many years, until his death, we received a card from him addressed to "My Desert Christmas Friends," and simply signed "Ben".

After fifty years, Sharon and I still decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus skeleton in our home for Christmas with our traditional tree. Caption: After 50 years, Tom and Sharon Kollenborn still decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus skeleton for Christmas along with their traditional tree.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't Blame The Thunder God

December 16, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The Apaches are not known for their stories about Superstition Mountain. Few Apaches have actually ever entered the area. It was the Yavapai that had villages within the area we call the Superstition Wilderness today. It was the Yavapais that were pursued by the Army and had their camps destroyed in the area.
The alleged habitat of the Apache "Thunder God."
 In legend, according to local storytellers, the mountains are known as "Wee-kit-sour-ah" meaning "the rocks standing up" to the Apache. It is said Superstition Mountain and all mountains are believed to be a kind of purgatory where all Apaches must pass before or after death, depending on the storyteller. Some say this mountain is called "Ghan" (sic). According to some storytellers only those warriors who achieve martyrdom were buried in a sacred area deep within the confines of the Superstitions. The stories are all according to storytellers of tall tales. Historically, burials were not significant to the Apaches until Christianity was introduced to them after the 1850s.

Contemporary writers made up most of the foregoing information used in books and periodicals. The Superstition Wilderness Area and Superstition Mountain in particular are known to have very violent thunderstorms during the summer months. When intruders broke the peace and solitude of the mountains the Native Americans believed these were omens of the "Thunder Gods." Research does not prove this out. It is because of this climatic phenomenon, some claim the Apaches called the Superstition Mountains the home of the "Thunder God." The story goes like this. The Apache, as legend claims, believes the "Thunder God" dwells inside of Superstition Mountain and only makes it known during the hot summer months on the desert. It is alleged it is the Thunder God who places the "curse of death" on those who violate this scared domain.

The "curse of the Thunder God" supposedly has been responsible for many of the unexplained deaths in this rugged mountain wilderness. This "curse" has struck fear into the hearts of most intruders, but only because of other circumstances. As long as there are gold-crazed treasure hunters seeking the Lost Dutchman and Peralta mines with guns slung on their hips there will probably be unexplained deaths in these mountains. And of course the misery and deaths will be blamed on the "Thunder God."

Book titles such as Thunder God’s Gold and Killer Mountain appear to go hand in hand with some of the trigger-happy fools running around the Superstition Wilderness Area. Those days were gone when the government withdrew the area from mineral entry. This might be a slight exaggeration of the situation that prevailed in the mountains between 1952-1983. The history of accidents and deaths in the wilderness was quite common during this period.

Vivid book and periodical titles have helped sensationalize the need to carry a firearm in one’s own defense. However, most shootings in the Superstition Wilderness have been caused by the careless and reckless misuse of firearms usually by untrained individuals. Since 1920 more than a hundred individuals have died in the Superstition Wilderness from accidents, and many of those accidents included firearms.

There have been unexplained cases where individuals have lost their lives and to this day these cases remain unsolved and a mystery. The most celebrated and notorious of these cases was the death of Adolph Ruth in the summer of 1931. Ruth, a Washington D.C. treasure hunter disappeared in the Superstition Mountains during the hot and dry summer of 1931. It wasn’t until December 10, 1931, that Ruth’s skull was discovered near the north end of Bluff Springs Mountain and just east of Needle Canyon in an area known as the "old Spanish Racetrack."

During January of 1932, Adolph Ruth’s remains were found near Needle Canyon on the east slope of Black Top Mesa three-fourths of a mile from where the skull was found. There is still controversy as to how Ruth met his demise. This particular case was chalked up to the "Thunder Gods" by the pamphleteers of the day. This was the first case where the "Thunder Gods" roared in the various periodicals of the period.

Pulp writers such as Barry Storm and Barney Barnard accredited the "Thunder God" with the death of Adolph Ruth. They both claimed it was the revenge of Superstition Mountain’s "Thunder God."

So many writers have credited the Apache with the tale of the "Thunder God." Actually there is no proof to substantiate this statement. So let’s not blame the "Thunder God" or the Apache for the unexplained phenomenon that has occurred in these mountains. The Superstition Mountain’s "Thunder God" is where great tall tales come from.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Merrick Expedition

December 9, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A group of University of Arizona students decided to form an expedition to search for the Lost Dutchman Mine during spring break of 1949. Their leader was an energetic and well-to-do student named Merrick Lewis. Prior to their expedition into the Superstition Mountains they had a banquet at the Camelback Inn with Governor Dan E. Garvey as the guest of honor April 9, 1949.

The lesson to learn from this old story is not to pick up Native American artifacts on public lands.
When Merrick had an opportunity to speak at the banquet he announced the expedition would have twelve pack animals, four riding animals and a guide. Old John DeGraffenreid was the only person in the area that could have put such and expedition together for these students at the time. Mules were ten dollars day and a guide would received anywhere between ten and fifteen dollars a day.

Merrick Lewis must have been from a very important family in Tucson to have enough influence to convince and invite Governor Dan E. Garvey to speak at a banquet at the Camelback Inn. It is also quite remarkable the Governor attended this banquet as the guest of honor.

Some research indicates Governor Dan E. Garvey had an interest in lost mines. It was at this banquet Merrick Lewis announced the expedition into the Superstition Primitive Area for the purpose of searching for the Dutchman’s lost mine.

Merrick Lewis led his party through the Superstition Mountains or Superstition Primitive Area camping at various sites. They stopped at Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwellings and other well-known Native American sites at the time. In the beginning, Merrick was looking for gold, but probably didn’t find anything worthwhile so the group began looking at old Native American sites. As they used their supplies they replaced the pack space with artifacts. According to one source their artifacts included some ceramic bowls, arrowheads, pottery shards, and flint knives. Their guide told them the removal of artifacts could lead to trouble for them.

The Merrick Expedition traveled from Roger’s Canyon to the old Tortilla Ranch and then west to Peter’s Mesa. Once on top of Peter’s Mesa the group set camp near a good supply of water in a man-made tank. From this point they spent three full days searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Merrick allegedly had some important clues.

The group was looking for smelting pits on Peter’s Mesa. Merrick believed the Spanish, the Mexicans and Waltz used the mesa to reduce their ore and then packed it back to what they considered civilization. Merrick claimed they found several smelter pits on Peter’s Mesa. One pit even contained reduced ore in it. Merrick was convinced they were close to the mine on Peter’s Mesa. By the time they found the pits they were just about out of time and would have to return to trailhead to be picked up. The pits that Merrick was so convinced were smelting pits were actually nothing but depressions the Native Americans used to cook Agave bases in for food.

As the group made their way off Peter Mesa down in La Barge Canyon Merrick could only talk about the smelting pits and how close they were to the mine. I am sure if he believed this he would have returned another day and searched for the mine somewhere around Peter’s Mesa. Many people have searched for gold on Peter’s Mesa before and after the Merrick Expedition.

On April 29, 1949, the forest rangers confiscated all the artifacts the expedition had taken out of the mountain. Actually the whole group was lucky they were not charged with trafficking in Native American artifacts.

The lesson to learn from this old story is not to pick up Native American artifacts on public lands.

Editor’s note: The Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction has a prehistoric Indian exhibit with displays of Hohokam and Salado artifacts, including bowls, awls, arrowheads, stone hammers, axe heads, metates, manos, pitchers, turquoise and shell pendants, on display.

The Salado culture occupied the Superstition Mountain area about AD 1450. Neither their origins nor their ultimate fate is known. They farmed in the area for 300 years and then disappeared leaving no clues to where they went. 

Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and is located at 4087 N Apache Trail, Hwy 88, 3.5 miles NE of Apache Junction. 480-983-4888

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Silver Screen Heroes

December 2, 2013 © 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.

Tom Kollenborn, "Ready for range work." Circa 1960. Photo credit Greg Davis.
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 injure 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 with a thorough 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 be 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 sweat-stained 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. His 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 2, 2013

A Search for Gassler's Camp

November 25, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The death of Walt Gassler in the Superstition Wilderness Area in early May of 1984 was news Bob Corbin or I didn’t want to hear. The Sunday evening prior to Walt’s fateful trip he had called and asked Bob and I if we could make a trip into the mountains with him. Walt had called us one day prior to his departure without any warning. Neither Bob nor I could make plans and prepare for a trip like this on such short notice.

Walt had his wife drive him out to First Water trail for the hike into Peter’s Mesa. He chatted with Dan Russell at Charlebois Spring about noon on Tuesday, May 3, 1984. Walt hiked up the short-cut trail from Charlebois Spring to the main trail to Peter’s Mesa. His body was found near the junction of the cut-off trail and the Peter’s Mesa Trail by Don Shade and Gene Baker on May 4, 1984. Walt probably died on Tuesday after leaving Charlebois Spring.

Bob Corbin and I wanted to make a trip into Peter’s Mesa country to try and find Walt Gassler’s camp. Bob had visited with Walt and found him to be a very creditable person. The truth was Bob Corbin believed what Walt had told him in confidence. Walt had indicated his camp was near the "mine." Corbin loved to hunt for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and Corbin and I had made many trips into the Superstition Wilderness by 1986. We were now preparing for a three to four day pack trip into Peter’s Mesa.

Walt Gassler died in 1984. He had been searching
Superstition Mountain since 1932. Photo circa 1970.
I must admit Bob reminded me a lot of my father. He was impeccably honest. Bob always approached most stories about lost gold very objectively. He also had an almost perfect photographic memory for facts, dates, and numbers. What Bob told you could be depended on as the truth. He was a great prospecting and riding partner in the mountains. Bob was always extremely helpful around the camp.

On November 9, 1986, we loaded the horses for another pack trip into the Superstition Wilderness Area. This time we planned a three or four day pack trip to Peter’s Mesa in search of Walt Gassler’s Camp. The weather was beautiful the day we departed the Quarter Circle U Ranch for Peter’s Mesa some fourteen miles away. We rode out of the ranch about 10 a.m. and arrived in our Peter’s Mesa camp about 4:45 p.m. Bob and I set camp near Pistol Canyon. It was bed time when dinner was over and the horses had been fed and watered.

We sat around the camp fire talking about the several versions of the Deering story, other stories related to Peter’s Mesa and the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Bob and I speculated about Gassler and the possible location of his camp now that we were on Peter’s Mesa near Pistol Canyon. I was somewhat convinced Walt Gassler carried his gold samples into the Superstition Mountains to match them with the country rock in the area of his camp. Corbin wasn’t convinced that was the case. Corbin and I had thought maybe Gassler found his three rich specimens of ore in the mountains somewhere near his camp.

As the embers of our fire glowed and the night air chilled us, Corbin and I finally called it a night. After such a strong discussion it was difficult to ignore the many stories about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness Area. I am sure to this day that Bob Corbin was convinced Walt Gassler was telling him the truth about the gold on Peter’s Mesa before he died. If Walt Gassler found the gold of Peter’s Mesa he died before he could get any of it out. It was ironic because Gassler had been searching the mountain since 1932.

As I closed my eyes for the night I could hear a distant coyote. I rolled over and looked out of my tent at the star-filled sky above. I realize how lucky I was to enjoy such experiences in the wilderness. I sometimes think I was born a hundred years too late. I was soon dreaming about the lost gold of Superstition Mountain. The wind was blowing briskly when I woke up the next morning at 7:30 a.m. Bob and I slept in—we were quite tired from the long ride.

I rolled out of my tent and started a fire. It was quite cold even by my standards. Anything below 50° F is cold weather to my thin Arizona Desert-rat blood. I led our horses down for water and I had to break the ice so they could drink.

By the time I returned to camp Bob had the fire stirred up and roaring. We soon prepared breakfast and stayed close to the fire for warmth. After breakfast we prepared for our first day of searching on Peter’s Mesa. I wanted to find Gassler’s camp as much as Bob did.

We split up for our search, figuring we could cover more ground that way. We had a good idea of what we were looking for. Gassler had told Corbin he hauled his water in one gallon plastic water jugs. To find Gassler’s camp we needed to locate a site with numerous plastic jugs. Knowing the most common plastic jugs were white or no color at all would make the task much easier. We were quite confident we would find Gassler’s camp. After several hours of searching we discovered this would be no easy task in the wilds of Peter’s Mesa. We continued our search all day. We climbed to the top of the various high points and surveyed the surrounding terrain. All of our effort proved fruitless. We found nothing that resembled Walt Gassler’s Camp on Peter’s Mesa. By the end of the day Corbin and I were convinced we would not find Gassler’s Camp unless it was accidentally.

The next night we sat around the fire quite disappointed with ourselves, but at the same time believing we had made an honest effort to locate Gassler’s Camp. We were still convinced Gassler had a camp on Peter’s Mesa some where. As Bob and I perused the thought we wondered if Walt would have given us erroneous directions about the location of his camp. Could his camp have been on Malapai or even Geronimo Head? Why would Gassler have given information to anyone as to the location of his camp? Information that might lead them to the rich outcrop of gold he might have found.

Gassler had told Corbin, in their only meeting, he had never taken anyone to his camp. Corbin inquired of Gassler if he had ever taken samples of gold ore into the mountains to match up with the outcrops around or near his camp? Gassler told Corbin he had not. This tidbit of information sure didn’t help our cause any. In Gassler’s own words he had never taken anybody to his camp on Peter‘s Mesa. My guess was Gassler’s camp was well hidden from any vantage point in the mountains.

The next morning we broke camp early and prepared for the long ride back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Clouds were building fast and a slight drizzle had began. Corbin and I felt we had made an honest effort to locate Walt Gassler’s Camp.

We rode out on the Peter’s Mesa Trail wondering about Gassler’s gold and where it had come from. Speculation was a big part of our conversation. We would have welcomed any accurate information from any sound source. After three and a half hours of hard riding we arrived at my stock truck just east of the Quarter Circle U Ranch. We loaded up thinking about the wonderful adventure we had shared searching for the Gassler’s camp on Peter’s Mesa.

A final update to this story includes another return trip to Peter’s Mesa by Bob Corbin with another party 2004. This party included Jack Carlson, Greg Davis and Kraig Roberts. Bob was being guided to another site of interest on Peter’s Mesa. Still, in the back of Bob’s mind he wanted to find Walter Gassler’s camp and the outcrop he was working. Again, Corbin had no success in locating the possible site of Walt Gassler’s Camp on Peter’s Mesa.

Bob Corbin and I traveled the Superstition Wilderness Area through out his twelve years as Attorney General of Arizona. Bob rode with me in the Superstition Mountain from 1980-1996. Corbin’s wife has published several books on the Superstition Mountain and the Dutchman’s Mine.

Monday, November 25, 2013

FAQ About the Superstitions

November 18, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I taught a class about the history, geology, fauna, flora and legend of the Superstition Wilderness Area for more than twenty-five years here in Apache Junction. This week and last, this column covers the twenty most commonly ask questions about the area. Questions 1 through 10 appeared in last week’s edition of The News, and today’s column features questions 11 through 20.

For more information about the Superstition Wilderness Area check out the City of Apache Junction Library and the Superstition Mountain Museum.

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—mines such as the Mammoth, Bull Dog, and Black Queen, just to the west of Superstition Mountain proper. Visit the Goldfield Ghost Town and see the nostalgic remains of old mining equipment and hear the stories about mining in area.

A hike up Peralta Trail provides a spectacular view of Weaver’s Needle.

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 of Americans to see and experience. The Superstition Wilderness Area encompasses some 159,780 acres of land in the Tonto National Forest. The region includes part of three Arizona counties, Gila, Maricopa and Pinal.

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 7.0 miles northeast of Apache Junction at a new vista point 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 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 is very expensive. The cheapest method is hiking the enormous trail system of the wilderness. There are more than 140 miles of improved system trails in the Superstition Wilderness Area. 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. Trails that do not appear on forest service maps are not considered system trails and are not maintained in any manner.

18. How high is Superstition Mountain above sea level?

The highest point on Superstition Mountain above sea level is 5,074 feet. This is Southeast Superstition Peak. Summit 5,024 is the second highest point on Superstition Mountain.This point is directly above Lost Dutchman State Park. The highest point in the wilderness is Mound Mountain at 6,242 feet above sea level.

19. What is the difference between Superstition Mountain and the Superstition Wilderness Area?

Superstition Mountain is one specific geographical location (landmark) within the Superstition Wilderness Area, immediately east of Apache Junction. The Superstition Wilderness Area is a region of some 242 square miles (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?
The Mesa Ranger District has excellent maps of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Contact the Mesa Ranger District, 5140 East Ingram, Mesa, Arizona 85205, at (480) 610-3300.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Edwin's War

November 4, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Armistice (Veterans) Day comes and goes each year. We remember the men and women who have paid the ultimate price so we as Americans may enjoy our freedom.

Edwin Buckwitz served with the 15th Army Air Corps and was stationed in Italy during World War II. He was a waist gunner on a B-24 Liberator and flew many missions over Germany. He said growing old put more time between the present and his memories of the air war over Germany and the tragic explosion that cost the lives of his entire combat crew.
The American soldier has fought around the globe defending this country. Most of these soldiers return home and become average citizens once again. There are some of these men who were shell shocked for rest of their lives because of the horrors on the battlefield. Today we call this the Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder. Many of these men sought the solitude of nature and became recluses. Such a man was Edwin Buckwitz.

Hikers, prospectors, horsemen, outfitters, and cowboys often passed an old man hiking in and out of the Superstition Wilderness Area along the Dutchman’s trail between 1965 and 1993. This man avoided contact and stayed to himself, only speaking when spoken to. He hiked silently along the trail with a large cardboard box on his pack frame, never volunteering information to anyone. Outfitters, who were often visitors to the wilderness, called him "Spook".

Spook’s real name was Edwin Buckwitz. He was born on July 6, 1924, on a South Dakota wheat farm near McLaughlin. He was the middle child in a family of seven. Edwin was very shy and a true introvert. This man spent most of his life avoiding contact with people. He preferred to be alone.

After graduation from high school he joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1942. This was the thing to do at this period in American history. Edwin served with the 15th Army Air Corps and was stationed in Italy during World War II. He was a waist gunner on a B-24 Liberator and flew many missions over Germany. Edwin once told his brother about the time he took off his flight jacket on a mission and hung it next to the waist gun aperture. When the flight was over he found the jacket filled with bullet holes. Another story Edwin told his brother I am sure played a dramatic role in shaping Edwin’s life after the war.

Edwin told the following tragic story that involved the loss of his crew and aircraft. Edwin was grounded one day. He watched his crew take off in an overloaded B-24 filled to capacity with bombs for the Third Reich. He then watched helplessly as the plane stalled, then crashed. All the crew, his friends, were lost in a split second. This event scarred Edwin’s mind for the rest of his life.

After Edwin’s short and dangerous military career he attended school to become an electrical engineer. Upon graduation, he worked for McDonnell-Douglas in the mid-1950s. He did drafting work on the A-3D bomber and the F-5D fighter escort plane. He worked for almost two decades in the aircraft engineering industry in California.

At the age of 45, Edwin decided he would fulfill his life dream of living with nature and surviving alone in a wilderness. He wanted to get away from people and traffic congestion. Working in the Los Angeles area would make anyone want to run away to the hills. Edwin resigned his job and traveled to Arizona. He decided he would devote the rest of his life to searching for the Peralta Treasure in the Superstition Wilderness. His goal, if he ever found the gold, was to build a modern hospital for all those who could not afford medical care.

Many years ago Edwin told me about the anxiety he felt the first day he stood at First Water Trailhead and planned his first solo trip into the Superstition Wilderness. He didn’t know whether he could find water or not. He had never camped outdoors before. He wasn’t even familiar with the wildlife of the Sonoran Desert. He wondered just how long he would survive in this rugged wilderness with little protection from the weather and the animals. He was convinced most animals were harmless if left alone. He finally made up his mind not to worry about broken bones, dehydration, rattlesnakes, lions or the desert heat. He sincerely believed, at the time, anything was better than the traffic congestion of California freeways, streets and the war he had served in honorably. He finally convinced himself, he said to me, he was here to find the gold of Superstition Mountain and to seek the peace and solitude of this mountain wilderness.

Edwin lived in East Boulder and Needle Canyons for twenty years. He searched the area with total dedication believing he would find his gold. Edwin had an unshakable faith that the Peralta Mines existed. The last time I talked to Edwin, he revealed no traces of the young man who had gone to war, who had studied electrical engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit and Northrop University in Inglewood, California. His skin was rough and tanned like leather from years of exposure to the hot desert sun. His body was slender and wiry from decades of walking in the Superstitions and his hair was gray from age. Edwin was a simple man, but well educated. I must admit I watched Edwin grow older and he loved every minute of it. He said growing old put more time between the present and his memories of the air war over Germany and the tragic explosion in Italy that cost the lives of his aviation combat crew. He loved every minute of his isolation in the mountains. He had many friends among the animals. Birds would sit on his shoulders, squirrels would eat from his hands, and Cottontail rabbits filled his camp.

Edwin lived almost twenty-eight years in the outdoors and survived with the minimum of conveniences. His amenities included a plastic tarp, an old bedroll, a backpack, a cardboard box, a pot, a pan, a canteen and a bible. He carried all he owned on his back for almost three decades.

I passed Edwin Buckwitz on trail many times between 1966 and 1986 before I actually met him. Edwin hiked from his camp in Needle Canyon to Apache Junction twice a month, a distance of fifteen miles, for more than twenty-five years. The only treasure Edwin found was peace of mind and the solitude of the mountains, not its gold.

Life in the Superstition Mountains for Edwin had not been easy. His paradise had become his own master. I often awed at his tenacity to continue his epic journeys into the mountain each time. I was fascinated with his interaction with wildlife around his camp. Edwin was at peace with his God and the environment around him.

Actually Edwin paid an exacting price for his privacy and isolation from his fellow human beings. It is ironic that such a man who shunned society died near a busy intersection along the Apache Trail in March of 1993. He accepted no social pensions, although eligible, of any kind. He arrived in Apache Junction with almost one hundred thousand dollars in 1965 and when he died he willed almost a quarter of million dollars to a religious radio evangelist in Kentucky.

Staff Sgt. Edwin Buckwitz was laid to rest with full military honors in the Phoenix Veterans Cemetery at 2:30 p.m. on March 26, 1993. Taps were finally sounded for this man who lived through hell high over Germany during World War II, but found his ultimate peace on earth in the Superstition Mountains.Don’t wait until Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day to say thank you to a veteran that was willing to risk his life for our way of life. We Americans are so lucky to have these brave men and women who gave so much for our freedom and our country.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lost Dutchman Mine Story Origin

October 28, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Mountain has served as a beacon to treasure hunters and the curious, attracting them from around the world. Fortunes have been made and lost in the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine, however, the mine has never been found. Some claim the majestic beauty and tranquility of the region is the only treasure man will find in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Cattle range beneath the facade of Superstition Mountain c. 1930s. Photo source unknown.
The Lost Dutchman Mine was name after Jacob Waltz, an old German prospector mistakenly called the "Old Dutchman." He allegedly discovered a rich gold vein in the Superstition Mountain region east of Phoenix.

Hermann Petrasch was probably one of the most persistent seekers of Waltz’s mine. You might say Hermann was the "father of all modern Dutch hunters." Hermann and his brother Rhinehart began their search for the mine with Julia Thomas in the summer of 1892.

Carl Gottfried Hermann Petrasch was born in Hennersdorf, Germany on the 24th day of April 1864. Hermann arrived at the Port of Entry, New York, New York in the spring of 1869. He had left Germany with his father Gottfried when he was only five years old. Hermann accompanied his father to the town of Whatcom, Washington. Hermann’s father, traveled widely throughout the West, first Washington, Montana, Colorado, then finally to Arizona. Hermann lived in Arizona almost sixty years and most of those years were spent in and around the Superstition Mountain area. Petrasch did not apply for United States citizenship until October 1938.

Hermann Petrasch arrived in Arizona shortly after the death of Jacob Waltz on October 25, 1891. He came to Arizona at the request of his brother Rhinehart. Rhinehart wanted Hermann to assist Julia Thomas and him in the search for Waltz’s gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. Rhinehart claimed that he and Julia had the clues given to them by Waltz to locate his rich gold mine.

Rhinehart Petrasch had been residing in Phoenix for some time and helped Julia Thomas with her business. Some historians believe Rhinehart became a close associate of Jacob Waltz in his final days at Julia’s residence on West Jackson Street in Phoenix. Rhinehart learned a few meager clues during this period some believe, but not enough to find the mine. Waltz may or may not have mumbled out any clues in the final days of his life. If any clues were given out, surely Waltz would have given them to Julia, who was his caregiver during his long illness.

As the end became apparent for the "Old Dutchman" he called Julia and Rhinehart to his side, some say, and gave them the final clues to his rich gold mine in the Superstitions. This would have been fine, but Julia and Rhinehart had been celebrating a bit much and their minds were a little foggy. This they would regret when they wandered aimlessly in the mountains searching for Waltz’s mine.

Julia and Rhinehart tried to put the pieces together after old "Jake’s" death. Their first decision was to find another partner they could trust. Julia accepted the idea of inviting Rhinehart’s brother Hermann to join them in the search for Waltz’s mine. Hermann was living in Colorado at the time.

Early in August of 1892, shortly after Herman Petrasch’s arrival in Phoenix, Julia Thomas, Rhinehart and Hermann Petrasch began to organize their expedition to search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Julia Thomas had purchased a team, wagon, and camping gear for their expedition into the Superstition Mountains. The group departed Phoenix before sunrise on August 11, 1892, with little fanfare. The party moved slowly along the old Tempe-Lehi Road. They spent their first night at Marysville Crossing. The next morning they turned southeastward toward Superstition Mountain and the desert flatland west of the mountains. The second day of travel eastward across the desert toward the western face of Superstition Mountain proved difficult until they found some wagons tracks. These wagon tracks lead northeast toward Superstition Mountain, but crossing washes became very difficult for their overloaded wagon.

Somewhere along this old trail the group realized they had to abandon the wagon.

They spent their next night under the cliffs of Superstition Mountain. At sunrise the next morning they were packing up their two horses and decided to walk toward the northwestern end of Superstition Mountain. Julia Thomas was searching for La Sombrero, the pointed peak she said Jacob Waltz had told her about. The heat and humidity was stifling, but the three adventurers continued walking and leading the pack animals.
According to Hermann Petrasch they camped the next evening in Needle Canyon, at least he thought it was. Years later Hermann said, "we might have camped in East Boulder Canyon on the west side of Black Top Mountain that third night. The next morning we were up at sunrise again and climbed a steep ridge to a pass and walked down into a deep canyon. We could see the pointed peak old Jacob had talked about. It was here they set camp for the next three weeks as they searched the area with their clues."

Spirits were high among the three very amateur adventurers searching for Waltz’ lost gold mine. The tortuous summer heat and humidity soon took its toll. Toward the middle of the second week it was impossible to search except in the very early morning or late evening. At the end of the third week, the three explorers collapsed from exhaustion, lack of food and water. The search for Waltz’s mine was abandoned and the three returned to Phoenix exhausted, defeated and unsuccessful. A local newspaper, the Arizona Weekly Gazette, noted the expedition with the following excerpt on September 1, 1892, "A Queer Quest, Another Lost Mine Being Hunted by a Woman."

This prospecting venture reduced Julia Thomas to financial ruin. She and the Petrashes were destitute, having no source of income or a place to reside. Julia soon parted company with the Petraschs and married a farm laborer named Albert Schaffer on July 26, 1893.

At Schaffer’s encouragement Julia produced maps using what information she could remember. She became very resourceful and began producing excellent maps illustrating how to locate the lost gold mine of Jacob Waltz, her recent friend. These fraudulent sheets of paper were probably the first maps to the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.

It is also quite apparent that Julia Thomas gave Peirpont C. Bicknell an interview about the Lost Dutchman Mine. Bicknell chronicled the mine in the San Francisco Chronicle in article on January 13, 1895, making reference to most of Thomas’ clues. Now, the story was out nationally that there was a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains.

The abandonment of the Petrasch brothers by Julia Thomas left them on their own. Rhinehart worked around Phoenix for a while and eventually moved up to Globe. He worked as a caretaker at an archaeological site in Globe for many years before committing suicide on February 5, 1943. Rhinehart was known as "Old Pete" around Globe and Miami.

Herman had many odd jobs working for different cattlemen around the Superstition Mountain area. He was an excellent carpenter and worked at the old Reavis Ranch house for the Clemans Cattle Company in the 1930’s. Hermann also repaired waterholes and windmills for the Clemans. He was seriously injured when a packhorse pulled his riding horse over backward along Hewitt Canyon in 1938. Hermann eventually settled near the bank of Queen Creek in the area of the Martin Ranch. The Martin’s looked after Hermann for many years. The Martin’s would take Hermann to the dances in Superior where he would play his fiddle. Old Hermann could really play the fiddle. Hermann had a host of friends including my father. Newspaper reporters, authors, and magazine writers visited him from time to time and many articles were written about Hermann and his search for the old "Dutchman" mine.

My father and I visited old Hermann Petrasch on Queen Creek in October of 1952, during my freshman year in high school. I was more interested in baseball than I was lost gold mines at the time. He told us he was ailing a bit, but was still willing to talk with us. Hermann never complained about his aches and pains, he just endured. Herman Petrasch passed away on November 23, 1953.

I would like to clear something up about an old photograph taken of Hermann Petrasch on Queen Creek with a gold pan and shovel. The photograph appeared in Barney Barnard’s book, giving credit for the photograph to him. The person who actually took that photograph was Robert L. Garman, one of Hermann old friends.

The awful irony of the Petrasch-Thomas episode is that their journey into the Superstitions in the blistering hot days of August 1892, led them directly over the Black Queen and Mammoth mines that were discovered later that year. Julia Thomas and Petrasch brothers were not successful in finding gold, however, they began a legend that will live forever. It was in April of 1893, four men discovered the famous Mammoth mine. This mine produced two million dollars in gold bullion when gold was worth only twenty dollars a troy ounce. Some historians believe the Bull Dog or Mammoth mine was the source of Waltz’s bonanza gold ore.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Packin' Salt

October 7, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago when I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company I learned how to pack salt the hard way. Come to think of it, I learned everything the hard way on that ranch.

Bill Barkley assigned me a job to pack salt to a place called Tule Canyon. His directions were vague to say the least. Actually I would have been better off following a blind man’s directions.

"The salt grounds," Barkley said, "are near a small seep south of the ranch house just through the gate up there in the saddle. The pads and cross bucks are in the barn." Bill was always a man of few words around his cowhands.
Tom Kollenborn on a pack trip in the Superstitions.
My first question was, "Bill what do I put the salt in to pack it?" His reply was simple and to the point. "Swing the salt blocks with a rope." I didn’t want to sound ignorant so I didn’t ask anymore questions about how to pack salt. He then said, "See you in a week." Unfortunately, this was another of those experiences I would never forget.

First, you must understand the U Ranch and the Barkley Cattle Company were in their twilight years when I accepted employment. The forest service was constantly reducing the number of units that Barkley could have on his grazing allotment. A new management plan had been just introduced to the West called "multi-use." This was at a time when I knew very little about the forest service or grazing allotments. All I knew was Bill Barkley owned a large cattle ranch and he had just assigned me a job to carry out for him. I didn’t know the different between patented land, state lease land, national forest land or Taylor graze land when it came to ranching.

Before sending me off on my latest adventure as a "genuine" cowboy, Bill told me how important salt was to his cattle. When Bill was done with his lecture about salt and cattle I was certain I was on a mission of mercy. My effort to pack two hundred pounds of salt blocks over Tule Summit and down to Tule Seep would be a monumental task for the preservation of the herd. I was proud he had chosen me for such an important responsibility. If he had only known my ability or inability as a cowboy or packing, he probably would never had assigned me this chore. You might say I was getting on-the-job training to be a cowboy.

I was up the next morning before dawn preparing for my trip. After breakfast I returned to the barn. I stood there and looked at the blocks of salt and the packsaddles thinking of just how this job was going to be accomplished. First thing was putting the pads and packsaddles on the horses that were going to carry the salt. After trial and error for several minutes I finally got the packsaddles on the horses and they were secure. I stood there and continued to study this "swing the blocks" thing. Ah, finally I figured it out. I would slip the rope through the holes in the blocks of salt and swing them from the packsaddles. Wasn’t that what Bill said, "swing the salt blocks with a rope?"

When I finally got the last horse packed with its swinging salt blocks I was ready to ride for Tule Summit. Well, I thought I was.

Once on the trail, I found out the horses didn’t care for free swinging blocks of salt hanging from their backs. I could soon see it was going to be a long day on the salt block trail to Tule Seep. The first hours were spent unpacking and packing the salt blocks back on the horses. Nothing appeared to work! It was one disaster after another. Occasionally a salt block would fall off near a steep embankment and roll for almost a hundred yards before coming to a stop. On one occasion the salt block exploded like a stick of dynamite when it hit a large rock. The pieces of salt where scattered over a large area. Oh well, Barkley’s cows could lick the salt here and there.

Finally the undesirable occurred. I dropped one of the blocks of salt on my big toe. I limped around the rest of the day believing I had broken my big toe. While hopping around on one foot I backed into a cholla and that didn’t improve my day. For moment I couldn’t figure out which pain smarted the most. At least it took my mind off packing salt for a few minutes.

Actually I was afraid to look at my toe, so I focused on trying the pull the cholla out of my hip. My last attempt at packing the salt appeared to work even though the pain in my big toe was smarting and I still had not pulled all the cholla spines from my flesh. I finally cradled the salt in a rope net giving the salt support rather than allowing the salt to swing freely. Packing and unpacking two hundred pounds of salt blocks, actually one hundred and fifty pounds of salt by now, will work any man into the ground. Even a young man like myself in those days.

I finally climbed back into the saddle, sore toed, sore tailed and rode on. I finally rode down a canyon into the small valley flat where Barkley had directed me to dump half of the salt blocks. I carried the rest of the salt blocks another mile down canyon and dumped them near another seep where several head of cows and calves were standing around as if they were waiting for my salt delivery.

My return trip to the ranch could have been uneventful, but it wasn’t. I was leading one packhorse and tailing the other. When I arrived at the divide gate, I stepped off my horse and opened the gate, then pulled the two packhorses through the gate. Just as I climbed into the saddle something spooked my horse. I wasn’t seated and the horse threw a wild-eyed fit. The packhorses bolted and ran for home as I crashed to the ground, landing on a small Teddy Bear cholla near the gate. The only thing I can be thankful for the cholla was a small one, but my leg, hip and arm thought it was an extremely large cactus. The pain was excruciating as I began to pull the dozen or so cholla balls from my body. I don’t really want to explain my methodology of extraction at this time. I finally got most of them out and then began my two miles walk back to the ranch.
There were times along the trail I really didn’t believe I would make it back to the ranch house. Finally, about sundown, I was limping into the corral at the ranch. I unsaddled the runaway horses, my horse, who by the way, was waiting for me. Then I fed them. I then continued my painful walk to the bunkhouse.

I was a mess. I probably still had hundreds spines in my flesh. Actually I sorta looked like a porcupine. I picked spines out of my body until almost midnight and finally fell asleep from fatigue. After that ride, picking cactus spines out of my hide became more or less a routine part of the job. Believe me, anyone who has ever worked cattle on the desert and didn’t get into cactus spines hasn’t worked cattle on the Sonoran desert.
The next morning I was a slow moving "genuine" cowboy. I looked like some poor soul that had been shot with a load of No. 8 birdshot from a double-barrel shotgun. Oh yes, I did ask myself, "Why do I want to be a cowboy?"

Maybe Bill Barkley was right when he said, "You’ll probably make a pretty fair hand if you live through the summer."

There were times when I didn’t think I would survive that first summer in hell on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.