Monday, June 24, 2013

Little People's Gold

June 17, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are many tall tales about the Superstition Mountains and it environs. The story about a colony of little people (Dwarfs) living in the mountains at the turn of the 20th Century continues to be told occasionally around campfires. A young cowboy in his teens who worked on the Bark-Criswell Ranch told the following story.

Jose Varela was a young Mexican vaquero who would go up to the Bark Ranch and work for his board and a few dollars when school was out each year.

Elmer Booty, who was the Bark and Criswell foreman, let young Varela work several summers for them. Jose learned to handle cattle in a rough mountain environment, and one hot summer day he was riding alone on a high mountain ridge and looking down into the canyon below. He was looking for signs of wormy cattle. Jose was told the cliffs and peaks of the main range to the west of him possessed the finger-like rock formations that Native American superstition said represented the spirits of long-dead warriors. I have also heard this story on several occasions over the years from members of the Pima and Apache tribes.

Jose decided to shade up in some laurels to rest and maybe take a nap. He unsaddled his horse and used his saddle for a pillow, a common practice among cowboys and vaqueros. Jose laid down to rest. A cool breeze blew through the laurels providing a cooling effect for the tired vaquero.

All of a sudden five or six little men appeared, not more than three feet tall, dressed in brown with white beards and shiny bright bands around their heads. They just popped out of a crevice in a cliff above where Jose was laying. They walked along a ledge near the crevice. The leader appeared to harangue the others. Jose could not hear the words, but the leaders voice was clean. After the discussion, the group vanished into a crevice on the cliff ending the encounter. They then appeared at the base of the cliff and walked over to where Jose was laying. The leader of the group placed a piece of quartz in Jose’s hand.

Jose was totally dumbfounded and could not believe what had happened. He thought about climbing up on the cliff and finding the crevice. However with cowboy boots on that would have been difficult if not impossible. Jose saddled up his horse and rode back to the Bark Ranch arriving at suppertime.

When Jose sat down to the supper table he showed Elmer Booty the quartz that had been placed in his hand by the leader of the little people. Jose asked Booty what was the yellow stuff in the quartz. Booty responded with, "That is gold, my friend."
Jose Varela guided Elmer Booty back to the site in West Boulder Canyon. Once they arrived at the site Jose placed his foot near one of the little people’s footprints. The footprint was much smaller than Jose’s.

"Well, I’ll be damned, looks like either some little men or some kids have been here," remarked Booty.

Jose’s father looked at Jose and told him to tell the truth. He insisted he was telling the truth. Jose’s only other explanation was maybe I fell asleep and had a dream. Then where did the rich specimen of gold ore come from?

All summer long Jose, his father and Elmer Booth searched for the little people when they had a chance. They never found another trace of the little people or high-grade gold ore.

Frank Criswell, part owner of the Bark Ranch at the time, tells another story. He believed the kid found a high-grade piece of float and went to sleep. He woke up after a dream of seeing little people and their leader placing a gold nugget in his hand. He sincerely believed a prospector made the hole in the cliff and the footprints were from some kid in a nearby camp.

Criswell was always known as the practical person, however Jim Bark was a great storyteller. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Treasure of Rattlesnake Cave

June 10, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The rock wall in Music Canyon that old man Simmons was making reference to.
Bill Finch was an Arizona State Brand Inspector, and he told this story many years ago when I worked at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. He and Buck Wallace and others would gather on the porch of the old ranch and play their guitars occasionally when they were working in the area. Between the songs there were often great stories told about the Superstition Mountains and its environs. One evening after a few verses of the "Strawberry Roan" Bill Finch started a tale about a man named Ed Simmons. The story went something like this.

Ed Simmons prospected the Superstition Mountains each year for about fifteen days then returned to his home in Kansas City. Simmons had been prospecting the mountains this way since 1939. Finch said Simmons told him about a very special place in the mountains which was located near a canyon that had a rock wall across most of it.

Finch said the wall served as a drift fence, but Simmons believed it served another purpose. He told Finch it was used for defense purposes, but he didn’t know by whom. Simmons said if you hiked over the divide into the next canyon to the south you would find a trail up to a place called Sheep Mountain Springs. It was here Simmons always made his camp because there was adequate water and shelter from the elements.

Simmons made his trips into the mountains in early March of each year and sometimes the weather could be quite severe. Somewhere in the area of Sheep Mountain Springs Simmons made an interesting discovery. He said he found three old rifles stacked military style and what appeared to be an old abandoned camp.

The rifles were so rusted it was difficult to tell what kind they were. Simmons thought they were Springfield Trapdoor 45-70’s similar to what the Army had used. He remembered the Soldier’s Lost Mine story and thought maybe there were three soldiers instead of two. With this reasoning, Simmons believed he was near a rich gold deposit or cache.

Simmons started prospecting the area carefully, but found nothing in the immediate area. He tried to remember the details of the story. Ed Simmons searched the entire area for a crude mine dump, but didn’t find anything of interest. He hiked over a large, flat mesa and found several burn pits. At first he thought these pits were Mexican or Spanish smelters, but was later told they were depressions where the Native Americans cooked Agave hearts. The large mesa was covered with Agave. This explanation made sense to him.

Simmons soon returned to the Sheep Springs Mountain area and it was somewhere in this area that he discovered a small cave. The entrance was about thirty-six inches high, but once inside, the cave opened up. His flashlight batteries were very weak, but he could hear rattlesnakes rattling to the rear of the cave. In one corner he spotted four or five wooden cases. It was the type case that could easily be packed on a horse or mule. Simmons was convinced he had found a treasure hidden by soldiers or thieves.

While in the cave Simmons flashlight’s batteries failed and he sure wasn’t comfortable with the rattlesnakes in the back of the cave. According to Bill Finch he packed up his gear and returned to civilization never returning to the Superstition Mountains again.

Bill Finch told us Simmons had made twenty trips into the Superstition Mountains between 1939-1959. Upon returning home from his last trip his health failed and he passed away around 1963. Bill Finch’s story certainly peaked my imagination and I always wanted to go to the area and search for that cave. I made a couple of trips into the area, but I didn’t find anything but the old stonewall mentioned in the story and a camp near Sheep Mountain Springs that could have belonged to anyone.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is filled with stories that will continue to be told around campfires and listened to by dreamers of lost gold and treasure.

The treasure of Rattlesnake Cave will probably prove to be another tall tale with a small following. 

Tom Kollenborn heading for Sheep Mountain Springs with a pack string to search for Simmon’s Rattlesnake Cave.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Bark Notes

June 3, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Old newspaper photo of James E. Bark
taken in Phoenix c. 1900.
James E. Bark was born in New York in 1860 and became a prominent rancher and businessmen in Arizona Territory between 1890-1930. He first learned the printing business before he got involved in the cattle business. He arrived in Arizona around 1879 and soon became partners with Frank Criswell. He became the president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association. Bark also was on the ballot for Sheriff of Maricopa County.

Jim Bark, as he was best known, was a man interested in lost gold mines and stories about them. He had gold mining claims up the Salt River near Box Canyon. This area was known as the Volcanic Mining District, and Bark and his partner found a little placer gold in the area, but nothing that proved significant. He also made a trip to Nome, Alaska searching for gold and ended up selling cattle to the Alaskans. Probably Bark’s greatest legacy were the "Bark Notes."

Bark and Criswell acquired the old Marlar Ranch in Pinal County in the 1890’s. He became friends with a man named Sims Ely shortly after, and Ely knew a lot of important people in those days and he introduced Jim Bark around. Ely actually thought a lot of Jim Bark and they became close friends. Both men prospected the Superstition Mountain together from his ranch in Pinal County just off the southeast end of Superstition Mountain near Willow Canyon. Today his old ranch is known as the Quarter Circle U Ranch and is owned and operated by Charles and Judy Backus.

When Jim Bark choose to talk about the Lost Dutchman gold mine people would listen. Bark was never convinced Jacob Waltz had a mine in the Superstition Mountains. He believed Waltz might have found a rich cache. Bark was a terrific storyteller. As late as 1936 he was still giving talks about the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. He gave his last public talk about the Lost Dutchman mine on December 9, 1936, for the Arizona Historical Society at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He was seventy-seven years old.

Bark moved to Pasadena, California in 1928, claiming his wife couldn’t take the heat in the valley. However, Jim Bark continued to return to Arizona to search for the elusive Lost Dutchman mine. His nephew, John Spangler, often accompanied him on these Arizona expeditions. Bark always had a story to tell those who were willing to listen.

Bark’s best-known story was the one about Jacob Waltz going into the Superstition Mountains and finding a cache of rich gold ore. Bark never believed Waltz had a gold mine. Bark was a contemporary of Jacob Waltz and many people have said he knew Jacob Waltz quite well. He always believed Waltz had found a rich Mexican cache hidden before 1847.

Bark was convinced the Mexicans had worked a rich gold deposit in the Goldfield area. When the Apaches struck and killed most of the mining party they packed up their high-grade ore and took it back into the mountains and hid it in a cave on the side of a cliff where the cache would be safe from detection. Bark searched a lot in Needle Canyon because he believed the cave was located on the west face of Bluff Springs Mountain. As a matter of fact, Bark was given credit for naming Bluff Spring Mountain. There has always been a discussion as to whether or not the mountain is named because of its bluffs or because of the buff color. Bark always said it should have been known as Buff Springs Mountain.

Bark spent several weeks of the later years of life with his nephew John Spangler searching for the cache. After Jim Bark’s death on November 8, 1938, Spangler returned to the Superstition Mountains many times to continue the search. It was at Charlebois Spring that Chuck Aylor allegedly copied the "Bark Notes" in secret from John Spangler after Bark’s death.

Spangler did not know Aylor copied the notes. Bark kept notes on all his exploration trips and always stated what he believed to be true and supporting information. Whether you agreed with Bark or not, his notes are one of the best examples of pioneer notes on the Lost Dutchman mine. Today these notes have been interpreted and re-written by different people for various reasons. Many of these pseudo-notes look nothing like the original "Bark Notes".

Today it is difficult or maybe impossible to find an original set of the "Bark Notes". I have in my collection four different versions of the Bark Notes, and I know where there are other versions. I am not convinced I have an original set of the "Bark Notes."

Again, like many things associated with the Lost Dutchman mine, the "Bark Notes" are an enigma to many who have examined them.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Lost Dutchman Gold Route

May 27, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

This plaque was installed at the Lost Dutchman Monument on Sunday, October 22, 1961, by the Don’s Club of Arizona.
How many of you have heard of the Lost Dutchman Gold Route stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans passing through Apache Junction on Main Street? I am sure there are some old timers who would remember the dedication ceremony.

Bill Creighton served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. The media reported U.S. Highway 70 would be renamed "The Lost Dutchman Gold Route" running from Moorehead City, North Carolina to Los Angeles, California. The highway ran coast to coast.

How did all this come about and why was Apache Junction the center of the activity? The beginning started around 1955 when the "great flood" hit Apache Junction. Water flowed across U.S. Highway 60-70 about eighteen inches deep and much of Apache Junction was damaged by floodwaters. After this flood, control dikes were built north of Apache Junction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This system of dikes and waterways protected Apache Junction from future flooding. Our streets still flood during downpours of rain, but not like prior to 1955 when water would run across U.S. Highway 60-70. This was long before the freeway (c. 1991) south of Apache Junction.

After the "Great Apache Junction Flood" serious development was proposed for the Apache Junction area. First, there was the development on the north side of the road that replaced the old Apache Junction Inn. A Texaco service station went up, then there was the Jones Steakhouse and Bar that became the Lucky Nugget (burned down about 1980). Bayless put in a large grocery store and parking lot. Then in 1959 construction began on the Superstition Ho Hotel (later the Grand Hotel). Also work began on the Apacheland Movie Set by Superstition Mountain Enterprises. All of this was followed by other development along the Apache Trail or Main Street.

This all became reality through the effort of William "Bill" Creighton. He continued to promote projects such as Geronimo Field for major league baseball. For two years (1961-1962) the Houston Colt 45’s held their spring practice in Apache Junction. Apache Junction played host to some famous baseball players including Willie Mays and others.

Bill Creighton was convinced Apache Junction needed something to get it national and international recognition. He started promoting the idea of Highway 70 being named nationally the "Lost Dutchman Gold Route." He encouraged governors along Highway 70 in various states to rename the route. He claimed the route was the trail of 49er gold miners going to California in search of gold.

Creighton’s campaign to change the name of Highway 70 was nationally successful and the task was finally accomplished in the summer of 1961. Creighton and his committee then began the task of organizing and transporting dignitaries from Europe and the United States to Apache Junction for a ceremony dedicating Highway 70 on Sunday, October 22, 1961.

When the highway was dedicated, Apache Junction had grown and changed considerably. It was no longer a sleepy desert hamlet, but had become a more vibrant community. The Apacheland Movie Studio was up and running, Superstition Ho Hotel was open, and Bayless was open for business. There where other businesses active in the area including the Yucca Café, Cobbs, Ribeye, Hacienda, Apache Junction Greyhound Park, Jordan Chevron, and many more.

There were three large cast bronze plaques that designated the Lost Dutchman Gold Route. One would be placed in Moorehead City, North Carolina, one in Los Angeles, California and one in Apache Junction, Arizona. The plaques were put in place according to stories.

The one placed in Apache Junction was soon stolen. Ron Feldman and Tom Kollenborn recovered the plaque many years later. Today this plaque can be found just north of the Dutchman’s Monument at the Focal Center in Apache Junction. Believe it or not there are individuals who still refer to Highway 70 as the "Lost Dutchman Gold Route."

These characters have to be in their seventies because the dedication was fifty-two years ago.