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.