Monday, May 27, 2013

Fire in the Sky

May 20, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A meteoroid is a chunk of space rock. If it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere, it is a called a meteor; if a piece lands, it is a meteorite.

Below, high up on the wall of this cliff in the Superstitions you can see what might be an impact zone. On the slope below there appears to be debris from an impact.
Around 1990, I began to hear stories about a meteor that impacted east of the First Water Trail Head. One witness told me he heard the explosion when the meteor hit the earth. He claimed to be near the impact zone. Also, he said he saw the flash from the impact. I trusted this man’s opinion, but he didn’t want to share his story publicly or the exact location.

I heard about a meteoritic impact zone in the mountains at a certain location some two years later from another individual. He shared the location with me. My wife and I rode over to the alleged site. It certainly appeared something had hit high upon the cliff and brought down rocks and debris. I climbed up to the base of the cliff, but didn’t recognize anything that might be meteoritic. I didn’t find any meteorites. I took several photographs and was convinced this was not a meteorite impact area.

I would like to share another story with you that I have heard many times and from different sources. I am not putting much value in the tales, however I believe some aspects of a story are sometimes worth repeating.

Several years ago I was returning from a horseback trip into the Superstition Mountains. I had departed from First Water early that morning and rode eastward toward Garden Valley, Second Water, and Boulder Canyon. I was doing some exploring around the old Indian Paint mine and taking photographs of what I found.

It was a beautiful day and I just lost track of time. I packed up my camera, other equipment and started the ride out. I could see I would be riding after sunset and probably into darkness. I witnessed a celestial event while riding from the first parking lot to the second parking lot where my truck and horse trailer were parked. A very bright light streaked across the sky and appeared to impact somewhere in the northern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Over the years I have made several trips into the mountains and have never found any clues associated with this meteor that I observed crossing the sky west to east low on the horizon on that dark night. However, I have heard many stories about a meteorite that impacted high up on the canyon wall in La Barge Canyon about the same time.

I have remained skeptical about contemporary meteor impacts in the Superstition Wilderness Area. About two years ago I ran into a man who claimed he had removed meteoritic material from the Superstition Wilderness Area. He claimed there were lots of small chrondrites (Stony meteorites) in a canyon east of the First Water Parking lot. He went so far to say he had even sold some of them. Because of the nature of his statements and his credibility I didn’t place much value in what he said. He did not wish to share his name or any personal information.

I continue to wonder if a meteor actually struck the Earth the night I was riding out of the mountains and if it was the one I saw. Often, it is stories like these that become legends. As many of us know, there are many legends and tales about the Superstition Mountains. Meteorites are extremely valuable and demand a high price. There are several meteorite collectors in this country. I am not sure if it would be legal to remove meteoritic material from an impact site within the boundaries the Superstition Wilderness Area. My guess is it would be illegal to remove meteoritic material from the wilderness.

During the past eons of time there has certainly been meteors that have impacted the wilderness area. Finding these meteorites would require a very specially trained-eye. The only hint that would help a novice searcher would be flow-marks on the meteorite. I doubt texture would prove to be significant in a field where lots of volcanic debris can be found.

The search for meteorites in the Superstition Wilderness Area is probably fool’s play, but one never knows for sure. Another man once said, "Your chances of finding meteorites in the Superstition Wilderness Area is much better than finding gold." That’s probably a good point. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Camp Bowers: Pete Carney's Legacy

May 13, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved 

Peter G. Carney owned some copper claims near what is known today as Carney Springs. A mine promoter and prospector, Carney was caught up in the turn of the century Arizona copper rush. After the prominent gold deposits played out around 1900, the Arizona prospector turned his attention toward copper. The great demand for copper wire created by the utilization of electricity in our modern society rapidly opened another frontier to prospectors and mine promoters. Copper was in and gold was out. Pete Carney planned not to be left behind again.

Carney prospected for copper outcrops along the pressure ridges to the southeast of Superstition Mountain during the winter of 1905-06. He discovered a low-grade outcrop of copper ore and stain near a water seep south of Willow Canyon.

A deep incision into face of Superstition Mountain formed a deep canyon located one mile due west of Willow Canyon (Peralta Canyon). Carney was certain this area showed the most promise for a rich copper deposit, and in late 1905, Carney filed his first mining claims on the ore deposit with the Pinal County Recorder’s Office.

Carney soon found a very wealthy New York woolen goods manufacturer who was a willing investor and partner. His name was Ogden H. Bowers. Carney named his mining camp in honor of Bowers and the mine after himself. Bowers became financially active in the Carney Mine in early February of 1907. In July of 1907, three crews of ten men were mining twenty-four hours a day. They sunk a drift some 800 feet into the side of Superstition Mountain searching for a rich copper vein or deposit.

Camp Bowers in 1907 was a very active mining camp with seven or eight houses used for living quarters and a boarding house to feed the miners. The Carney Mine activity began to ebb by 1909 when Bowers withdrew his financial support for the operation.

Carney immediately changed the name of Camp Bowers to Camp Carney. This is the source of the place name Carney Springs and Carney Canyon. In the heyday of Camp Bowers a stage ran bi-weekly from Mesa. From 1909-1914 Pete Carney constantly promoted citizens of Mesa for financial support. He was convinced he would soon strike a rich copper vein. 

According to William A. Barkley, a noted rancher of the area, there was never more then a dozen men living at Camp Carney. Barkley once told me about a feud that occurred at the Carney Mine when a mine foreman was shot to death near the property. There were those who believed a feud existed between claim jumpers and Carney. Most of the periodical accounts indicate it was a feud between the men who worked at the Carney Mine and had nothing to do with claim jumping.

There were two things that allowed the Carney Mine to become reality and neither had anything to do with a rich ore body. One was water and the other was a nearby road to the old Bark Ranch. 

Carney certainly took advantage of the resources available to him and, to no avail, tried his luck at locating a rich copper deposit in the Superstition Mountains. 

Peter G. Carney passed away in the 1930’s. His dream to be part of the Arizona’s copper rush did not materialize, but it did create a legacy for him. 

Carney Springs still remains on topographic maps and other maps of the Superstition Wilderness Area today.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Soldiers' Lost Mine

May 6, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The tale of the Soldiers’ Lost Mine continues to circulate around campfires in the Superstition Wilderness Area of central Arizona. The story is often associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine and the Silver King Mine. Sims Ely mentioned the story in depth in his book The Lost Dutchman Mine published in 1953 by William Morrow & Company of New York. Ely’s version of the story varies from other stories.

Sims Ely stated that others left out important information about the men involved in the story. His version goes something like this. Two young soldiers were mustered out at Fort McDowell in 1879. These young men decided to hike across the Salt River and through the mountains to the south to the Silver King Mine where they planned on seeking employment. Their reason for hiking across the mountains was to save money. Somewhere south of a tall pointed peak, they found an old Mexican mine and dump. They believed the mine to be Mexican in origin because of the small horizontal tunnels that were only large enough for a man to crawl in on his hands and knees.

The young soldiers, fearing Apaches in the area, spent only enough time to fill their pockets with what they thought were rich specimens of gold ore and hurried on to their original destination. Arriving in Pinal they began in inquire about a job at the Silver King Mine. It was in Pinal they met up with Aaron Mason who advised them they could probably find jobs at the Silver King Mine eight miles up the road to the north. The young soldiers mentioned they had some interesting specimens they found between Fort McDowell and Pinal in the mountains south of the Salinas (Salt) River. They showed the specimens to him. Mason couldn’t believe how rich the gold specimens were that belonged to the young soldiers. He immediately asked the boys where they had found the specimens. The boys said they had found an old Mexican mine somewhere between Pinal and the Salinas (Salt) River. The soldiers said the mine was located in a deep canyon, but high up on a ledge where a pointed peak dominated the area to the south. The soldier boys, according to Ely, said the "diggings" was a mine, not a cache.

Mason convinced the young men to return to the mine and recover as much of the gold ore as they could. Aaron Mason grubstaked the two young soldiers and sent them on their way. The soldiers had a pack mule and enough supplies for a week. The soldiers were never heard from again.

Again, according to Sims Ely and others, the young soldiers were murdered and never made it back to the mine. Ely believed Jacob Waltz, of Lost Dutchman mine fame, found the soldiers working the mine and killed them. Other sources say Apaches killed the two young soldiers. Another source claims the soldiers were killed for their grubstake, pack mule and supplies.

Sims Ely’s book claims James E. Bark showed him one of the soldiers’ graves near two boulders on the trail between the Bark Ranch and Reid’s Water. William T. Barkley showed me a spot on the trail during the winter of 1959, and said there was a man buried there. Since that time several individuals have tried to convince me this was one of the soldiers’ graves.

Another story about one of the graves found between the Bark Ranch and Reid’s Water is that it was excavated several years ago. The grave yielded the remains of an unknown person. Among the artifacts a military type brass button was found. The skeletal remains were definitely human. However, there was no compelling evidence that the person buried in the grave was a soldier. Many people wore shirts with military buttons on them during this period of time.

Many questions remained unanswered about this story. One, where did the soldiers get their rich high-grade gold ore? Was the ore as rich as Aaron Mason thought it to be? Did the ore come from the Dutchman’s mine or an old Mexican mine? Were the soldiers murdered for the gold they were packing back to the Silver King? Were they murdered for what they knew?

I am quite convinced we will never know the answers to these questions. We can’t be positive there was ever a Soldiers’ Lost mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The story continues to be told around campfires. This story will forever tantalize the minds of those who search for lost gold in the Superstition Mountains.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Whistler's Gold

April 29, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area have yielded many interesting characters during my past sixty years associated with the area. They came here to search for lost treasure or gold mines. These individuals followed in the footsteps of Coronado’s Children according to Frank J. Dobie, a noted western author. If anyone could be classified as one of Coronado’s Children the Whistler was certainly such a man.

This obscure recluse wandered the deep canyons and towering peaks of the Superstition Wilderness for more than two decades. His search for the Lost Dutchman Mine began in 1939, and was immediately interrupted by World War II. The Whistler’s first knowledge about the Lost Dutchman Mine came from Barry Storm’s book, On the Trail of the Lost Dutchman.

The Tortilla Flat area served as the Whistler’s base camp from 1949-1951. The years following 1951, he prospected an area around Willow Springs. The Whistler walked from First Water to Apache Junction monthly to up pick his VA disability check and his monthly supplies after 1951. He was always whistling a tune.

The keen eyes of hikers and prospectors rarely spotted the Whistler. They often heard him, but didn’t see him. Even the Barkley cowboys rarely saw him.

He always wore dark clothing, even during the hot summer months. His dark clothing was his trademark. His whistling at night while he walked that gave him his nickname. His nocturnal habit of hiking through the Superstitions at night during the summer months caused other prospectors to be suspicious of him. Some men believed him to be a camp robber.

It was quite strange for cowboys to be sitting around a campfire and hear somebody whistling a tune in the distant while walking. Many of us believed the Whistler was afraid of the dark. He whistled to vent his anxiety.

The Whistler spent much of his time in the West Boulder Canyon area. His camp was located in the high rocks above the canyon floor. He chose this location for his camp because of flash floods and the occasional hiker wandering through the area. He wanted a camp safe from detection and the floodwaters of West Boulder Canyon.

While rounding up cattle in West Boulder Canyon in the spring of 1959, we came across the Whistler’s Camp by accident. We heard somebody with a serious cough. When we rode up the hillside to investigate we found the Whistler flat on his back with either the flu or pneumonia. Barkley sent me back to First Water and Apache Junction to contact the Sheriff’s Office. The next day the Whistler was taken out of the mountains and admitted to the Pinal County General Hospital then transferred to the VA hospital at Fort Whipple near Prescott. The Whistler asked us to look after his meager belongings while he was in the hospital. I rode back to his camp three days later with a packhorse and picked it up. Among his possessions was a small Christian Bible given to American soldiers during World War II with the following inscription in it.

"To Hal, The service you have given to your country in the time of war will never be forgotten by this grateful nation," signed General "Hap" Arnold, U.S. Army, 1943.

How ironic this statement was. Here was a man who gave everything for his country in the time of war and now he was just trying to hold on to a few meager possessions while hospitalized. I couldn’t imagine the Whistler being a war hero, and also being in this desperate position. To this day I don’t know who the Whistler was, except for his first name. Bill Barkley just considered him another one of the nuts hunting for the Lost Dutchman Mine and wanted me to clean up his camp. He might not have been a war hero, but somehow he had attracted the attention General "Hap" Arnold according to the quote in his bible.

This tale enlightened us about those who we sometimes prematurely judged. Most of the cowboys thought the Whistler to be a bum wasting time on a legend of gold. The Whistler eventually returned to the First Water Ranch and picked up his camp from our tack shed where I had stored it. He returned to the mountains to search for his dream.

The only treasure the Whistler found in the Superstition Mountains was probably peace and solitude. He never found the gold of Superstition Mountain, but then again he may not have been searching for it. I had only met the man once, and to this day I don’t recall exactly what he looked like. What I do recall were his penetrating blue eyes, gray hair, and his rugged calloused hands. Was the Whistler a war hero? Or was he searching for peace and solitude to ease his tired and worn out soul? He is now a forgotten man swallowed up by time. He is nothing but a ghostly face from the past that once defended our nation, walked the trails of the Superstition Wilderness and followed in the footsteps of Frank Dobie’s, Coronado’s Children. Ironically I have never forgotten General Hap Arnold’s words, "never to be forgotten by this grateful

Many lost souls have roamed the Superstition Wilderness over the decades searching for gold. The Whistler was just one of many searching for peace and solitude. Many years later Tim O’Grady told me Hal, the man I knew as "the Whistler" was a highly decorated hero of World War II who had an extremely difficult time readjusting to civilian life after the war.

If you have time today tell a veteran thanks for his sacrifice that has insured us a free nation, you don’t have to wait for a national holiday to do this my friends.