Monday, August 26, 2013

DeGrazia’s Treasure

Buried treasure, lost gold mines and Spanish gold have all played their role in the history of the Superstition Wilderness. The history and legend of these rugged and beautiful mountains continues to captivate the imagination of those who enjoy them.

Contemporary tales of lost treasure in the Superstition Wilderness do not haunt the minds of treasure hunters as much as old stories of lost gold in the region. Many of these tales are far different than the ordinary tales of lost gold. One of these treasures is a cache of hidden paintings and sketches done by Arizona’s famous artist Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia. This is the story of one man’s struggle with his inner self and his environment. It is about a man in search of self-identity, and he had spent decades trying to find his niche in life.

The celebrated and famed artist Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia was born in Morenci, Arizona Territory on June 14, 1909. He was the son of an Italian miner and a Tarahumara Indian. As a child Ted found painting with different colors an interesting challenge. He loved to collect colored rocks from around the hills near Morenci. This interest in color later in life helped him to create some of his famous paintings.

DeGrazia, like most artists, had a difficult time finding his place in the real world. He studied under Mexico’s greatest artists, men such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. DeGrazia finally built a gallery in Tucson at the corner of Campbell and Prince Roads. He called it the Gallery in the Sun.

In the desert north of Tucson in the 1940’s, DeGrazia adopted a new form for his work using vibrant colors. The Arizona Highways were the first to discover Ted DeGrazia’s vibrant use of colors. The legend and fame of DeGrazia’s work was spread worldwide when his "Los Ninos" was used on an UNESCO stamp. The rest of DeGrazia’s success is history.

Ted DeGrazia claimed he became interested in the Superstition Wilderness Area when he first worked for some unsavory characters out of Superior, Arizona in the late 1920’s. He said when he was attending the University of Arizona he worked a summer helping some bootleggers in the Superstition Mountains near a place called Whiskey Springs. This early introduction to the myriad of canyons and towering spires overwhelmed his imagination. He returned to the Superstition Mountains often during the remainder his life. He painted the "Dutchman" series, wrote a book about Superstition Mountain, guided people through the mountains and told stories about the mountains.

DeGrazia become entangled in a legal battle in the early 1970’s with the United States Internal Revenue Service over Inheritance Tax. He organized a special pack trip with Billy Clark Crader around May 12, 1976. The purpose of the trip was to haul several of his paintings and sketches into the Superstition Wilderness and burn them in protest of the Inheritance Tax. Crader packed DeGrazia, some news media personnel and several friends to Angel Springs Basin.
The following are quotes from various newspapers about the trip into the Superstition Wilderness and the hiding of the paintings:
"The paintings range in size from miniature originals to full size canvases. The value of an original DeGrazia could range from $3,000 to $33,000."
"The artist said only one other person knows where the paintings are hidden... an Indian who accompanied him to the spot."

DeGrazia and one of his Papago friends hid the paintings in a small cave or tunnel according to reliable sources. The San Diego Union headlined a story "Artist Raps IRS. Burns Paintings," on May 15, 1976. The article stated, "Arizona artist Ted DeGrazia has burned 100 paintings that he valued at over $1.5 million in protest over U.S. Tax laws, the Phoenix Gazette reported yesterday."

Ten people witnessed the burning of DeGrazia’s paintings. The paintings and sketches DeGrazia burned and hid that day were from his early days as an artist. A witness claims DeGrazia burned two insignificant oils, ink and pencil sketches. Another witness who worked for Billy Crader’s Wilderness Safaris claimed DeGrazia only hid one insignificant oil, a couple of ink sketches and a few pencil sketches. The number of paintings, ink and pencil sketches burned is still conjecture among many people.

The action of Ted DeGrazia in May of 1976 is what creates legends of lost treasures. His "fire of protest" may have consumed some of his work, but he left behind a legacy involving a hidden treasure near Angel Springs in Roger’s Canyon. To this day people continue to probe the area around Angel Springs looking for DeGrazia’s cache. Some estimate DeGrazia’s cache of paintings to be worth more than a million dollars. Others claim all he buried were insignificant pencil sketches. The DeGrazia Treasure of the Superstition Wilderness Area will certainly live on in the annuals of the American Southwest.

Today, around Apache Junction, there are many people who claim they accompanied Ted DeGrazia on his trip with Billy Clark Crader. Also there are those in Apache Junction who know exactly who was there and how long they stayed. Again there are many stories still emerging about others who claim they helped DeGrazia bury his oil paintings. Please don’t invest money in any of this idle conversation. It is not the truth. Ted DeGrazia was brilliant entrepreneur and thoroughly understood business, marketing and the promotion of a product. I personally leave it up to a good businessman to say whether or not he burned one or two million dollars worth of oil paintings and ink sketches at Angel Spring or even hid an equal number. Not too long ago a map was floating around Apache Junction attributed to Bob Ward. Some claimed Ward was with Ted DeGrazia when he hid the paintings. I will leave that up to those who really know.

Yes, DeGrazia was an unimaginable eccentric in many ways, but he was always in control of his business, he thoroughly understood marketing of his own talent, and knew how to manipulate his associates. I knew DeGrazia, but I am not too sure I knew him at all. He would stop at my home in the late seventies wanting me to work on his old International Travel-All. The float in the Travel-All’s carburetor would often stick. I would take a screwdriver and tap on it and the engine would run smoothly again. Ted always had to have a good reason to stop. He couldn’t say I am stopping by just to say "Hello".

Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia, a miner son, became a renowned world artist of Native Americans and Hispanic work, died of cancer on September 17, 1982, in Tucson, Arizona. The University of Arizona, his alma mater, refused to hang his artwork in the 1940’s because of his association with Orozco and Rivera, strong Mexican "leftists" in Mexico City. DeGrazia’s tenacity to choose his own associates came back to haunt the university four decades later. His legacy and the legacy of his adopted mountains will live on forever in America and throughout the world.

The Gallery of the Sun in Tucson is displaying the Superstition Mountain series painted by DeGrazia at the Superstition Mountain-Lost Dutchman Mine Museum in Apache Junction this 2013-2014 winter season. For information call the museum at 480-983-4888.
Arizona artist Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia
 August 19, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Lost Dutchman Monument

 At the junction of State Route 88 and U.S. Highway 60-70 is a monument of a prospector and his burro that commemorates the story of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and Superstition Mountain. This monument reminds us of the hardship Arizona pioneer prospectors faced prospecting this frontier more than a hundred years ago.

The Don’s of Arizona (Phoenix Don’s Club) constructed the monument in February of 1938. The purpose of this monument was to perpetuate the history and legend of this beautiful state of ours. This monument stands today as the oldest structure in Apache Junction and has seventy-five years of history and tradition behind it.
The monument as it appeared in 1940. 

The construction of this monument required the cooperation of many people, including Mr. and Mrs. George Cleveland Curtis, owners of the Apache Junction Inn. Also involved was the Brick Mason’s Union of Phoenix, the Arizona State Highway Department and the Salt River Project’s Water User’s Association. The Phoenix Don’s Club received considerable assistance from these groups in their effort to establish and finalize the construction of this monument in Apache Junction.

The Phoenix Don’s Club secured a "grant of easement" from George Cleveland Curtis and his wife, Aurora, on April 12, 1938. This "grant of easement" insured the Phoenix Don’s Club permanent access to the monument and its grounds for maintenance and repair. Fred Guirey, working for the highway department at the time, designed the monument. To insure the permanent site for the monument the Don’s Club recorded the "grant of easement" in both Pinal and Maricopa counties.

The monument was constructed in the shape of a stone wall, about eight feet high, twelve feet long, and two feet wide. It is surrounded by a cactus garden that includes saguaros and is surmounted by large figures of the prospector and his burro cut out of boilerplate. The wall had a bronze plaque set in it stating this legend:
"Here lie the remains of Snow Beard, the Dutchman, who in this mountain shot three men to steal a rich gold mine from Spanish pioneers, killed eight more to hold its treasure, then died in 1892 without revealing its location. Dozens of searchers have met mysterious death in the canyons there, yet the ore lies unrevealed. Indians say this is the curse of the thunder gods on white man in whom the craving for gold is strong. Beware lest you too succumb to the lure of the Lost Dutchman Mine in Superstition Mountain."

The construction of the monument was completed on February 25, 1938, and was dedicated on April 8, 1938, by the Phoenix Don’s Club. Approximately 200 people attended the 3 p.m. event. The dedicatory address was made by James Murphy, the Don’s Club president, who presented the monument to the people of the State of Arizona, and Mulford Windsor, State Librarian, accepted the monument on behalf of the State of Arizona.

Oren Arnold, noted Southwestern author, stated the following in his historic address: "This monument is a reminder that on this vast and colorful stage known as the Southwest, some extremely interesting characters have played dramatic roles."

Arnold was talking about the characters of the Old West the monument represented and was making reference to Jacob Waltz and the prospectors and treasure hunters that followed him. However, today the monument celebrates much more. It has become an icon of this community.
The monument was rededicated on Saturday, February 27, 1988. James Murphy, fifty years later, stood once again on the speaker’s platform. The keynote speaker for the rededication was Governor Evan Mecham.

Mecham was a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot during World War II, and flew P-51 Mustang escort fighters over Europe protecting B-17 bombers. During training at Williams Air Force Base, Mecham lost a trainer over Superstition Mountain and parachuted out, living to tell about it. He was certainly an excellent keynote speaker for the rededication of the LDM Monument. To this day the old monument is still a center of controversy between those who believe it should go and those who believe it should stay. My guess is, it will remain for another millennium reminding us of the importance of open spaces, our past heritage and the special lifestyle that exists here now.

The Dutchman’s Monument today represents the open spaces and the free spirit of the people who moved to this desert. They moved here to get away from the pollution, crime and traffic congestion of larger cities.

Look at all the businesses and business cards that use the icon of the old prospector and burro on them. The monument commemorates more than just a story; it celebrates a way of life.
On July 8, 2013, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the monument’s construction, Apache Junction Mayor John Insalaco signed a proclamation devoted entirely to preserving and protecting the Dutchman’s Monument. Apache Junction has become an advocate and conservator of this unique structure. This proclamation finally brings the City of Apache Junction and the Dons of Arizona together in the preservation and protection of this unique heritage landmark.

What does its meaning hold for the future? We have been fortunate. Progress is rapidly changing this rural community into a metropolitan city. The old monument has been replaced in many ways by the symbolic rhetoric of our modern and progressive society. We all know horses and cities don’t mix, just like prospectors and urbanization. Ironically, the old prospector and his burro have once again found a home in Apache Junction with the stroke of Mayor Insalaco’s pen. Their future is in our hands. I would hope this monument has a little deeper meaning to all us now.
The monument as it stands today
August 12, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Trip To Twin Buttes

The search for lost gold and treasure in the Superstition Mountains has guided many treasure hunters down to an area along the Gila River near the Twin Buttes, appropriately named North Butte and South Butte. The Gila River flows between the two buttes. The Southern Pacific Railroad also has a line that runs along the course of the Gila River in this area. Many treasure hunters believe the Twin Butte area is the starting point for the Peralta Stone Maps. Of course, others totally disagree. Another interesting historical site is located east of the buttes—the Coke Ovens. They are located across the river one and a quarter miles west of the old Cochran town site along the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Coke Ovens were constructed sometime during the 1870’s to fire mesquite and make coke out of it for smelting ore. However, the ovens were never used for this purpose.

Cochran was a small mining camp located fifteen miles east of Florence, Arizona along the Gila River. The town was established in 1905. John S. Cochran was appointed postmaster on January 3, 1905. The post office was discontinued on January 15, 1915. The town at its peak had an approximate population of one hundred residents. The town included a general store and boarding house.

Treasure hunters and authors have written books about the possibilities of the area connecting with the Peralta Stone Maps and lost gold in the Superstition Mountains. These individuals are convinced there are Spanish markings on or near Twin Buttes that prove that this is the beginning area of the Peralta Stone Map Trail. The intriguing marker is the "heart" on South Butte. This marker has been known for many years and has been considered a fake by most historians. Probably more gold was mined along the Gila River than from the Superstition Mountains.

Over the years I have made many trips down to the Coke Ovens and the surrounding area along the Gila River. This past weekend end we departed from Price Road and Highway 79 about 8 a.m. for a trip to the Coke Ovens. We had three jeeps and two ATVs. Roger Barrientos, SSAR, led this trip. Driving through Box Canyon was a delightful experience of beauty and four wheeling. We soon arrived at the intersection of the Cottonwood Canyon Road and the Martinez Canyon Road. At this point you turn right. Suddenly the quality of the road deteriorates considerably. Just beyond the Martinez Canyon Trail turnoff we passed a stock tank and climbed over a very rough section of rock. This rock step was probably a three or four foot climb of 45 degrees or more. This particular portion of the road required some skill and caution. Around the bend and through a saddle we came across a 2000 White Jeep Wrangler that had rolled down the mountainside. Whoever lost this vehicle had tried to retrieve it. Four or five Saguaro cactus were knocked down trying to get the Jeep up a steep slope or were lost when the jeep rolled down into the canyon. It is going to be a major retrieval problem before that Jeep Wrangler is removed from this site. We continued our trip one rock ledge after another until, some three hours later, we arrived at the Coke Ovens. I believe we covered twelve miles in those three hours.

We enjoyed looking at the Coke Ovens and then planned our return trip to Highway 79 and Price Road. The Coke Ovens are a very interesting place to visit, but I must advise you the road is in extremely bad condition. However, for the experienced four-wheeler with lockers and a lift kit it is just a fun trip. Experienced four-wheelers will take recovery equipment in case they become high centered or stuck. Personally I don’t recommend this trip for the novice or inexperienced. Secondly, I wouldn’t make this trip without the company of other vehicles. Finally, I would plan carefully on taking the necessary supplies if you are caught out over night.

For more information on the Coke Oven trip check Google on the Internet. Type in Cochran, Pinal Co., Arizona and you should get additional information about the trip to the Coke Ovens. The Coke Ovens are privately owned. James Copeman of Apache Junction purchased the Coke Ovens many years ago and planned to make a destination resort out of the site. Access to the area denied him the opportunity to succeed at the project he had planned. I am not sure who owns the Coke Ovens presently.

The road to the Coke Ovens on the Gila River is never maintained, and each year the road becomes more inaccessible. The trip the Coke Ovens is a unique Arizona backcountry experience that requires some planning. I would recommend making this trip with somebody that knows the route and conditions.
The search for the Dutchman’s gold has taken prospectors and treasure hunters to many other parts of the state. Clues continue to be found and another "wild goose" chase begins.

The road to the Coke Ovens can be unforgiving if you make a mistake.

The Coke Ovens with the North Butte on the north side of the Gila River in the background. It was the South Butte that allegedly had the Spanish markings on it.
August 5, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Storytelling Is A Tradition

The Historian, 1902 by E. Irving Couse
Storytelling is probably the oldest method of conveying information from one generation to another. What kind of information does storytelling convey and how significant is it? The Native American’s survival was dependent on storytelling handed down generation after generation.

The storytelling included methods of survival for the tribe or clan under the most severe conditions. Survival was dependent on this method of preserving information from one generation to another. Religion was followed by survival as the next significant part of storytelling in the lives of Native Americans. Native Americans had no written language prior to the advent of the Europeans in the Western hemisphere; therefore storytelling was their only method of preserving the past and protecting the future.

The oral tradition of storytelling as a method of preserving cultures and their religions has been practiced since modern man evolved. To this day we all continue to tell stories about events, people, and places. Our methodology has changed little over the centuries, however, in the past five decades, the method of recording information has change dramatically. We are now living in the middle of the information age. Computers and other sophisticated recording equipment have changed the word-of-mouth way of storytelling. Television and home movies have had a tremendous impact on oral storytelling. Families still tell stories about family members and these stories are kept alive for generations without necessarily being recorded.

Another early method of storytelling was the keeping of a personal diary or journal. Many historians will vouch for the significant importance of the written word in diaries and journals. The written word can be studied and determined as to its accuracy when compared with other accounts found by more research. The introduction of personal tape recorders in the 1940s provided a method of making voice recordings of storytelling. These early recordings of significant historical events, and even accounts about lost gold are highly sought after today. A classic recording is the description of the German airship Hindenburg exploding in Newark, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. There are many other recordings that come to mind including those of Will Rogers and other personalities of the 1930s. However, the traditional method of oral storytelling remains the most popular among treasure hunters and lost gold mine searchers.

The difference between storytelling and history is often in the eyes of the beholder. Actually, there is a very thin, grey line between fact and fiction when it comes to storytelling or the written word. I have been writing stories about the Superstition Wilderness Area for more than thirty years. I often find readers who want each and every word documented. The truth is, not every word can be documented because much of my information is hearsay or oral history. Stories passed down from one generation to another generation. The accuracy of a story is always dependent on its source. During the past fifty or sixty years while following in my father’s footsteps I have tried to retain many of the stories I have heard around the campfires from old timers, especially those old prospectors and treasure hunters of the late forties and early fifties. Let’s face it, there are not many of us around anymore who took the time to listen to this early oral history about lost gold mines and treasure some forty to sixty years ago.

Why do those who like to search for lost treasure prefer to hear their stories orally from some knowledgeable historian on the topic, some one closely associated with the story or somebody they trust completely? This preference could be answered in the following way. Stories about lost gold mines and treasure require the opportunity for the listener to judge the storyteller’s information directly. Often the listener wants to interrogate or interview their storyteller as to his honesty, veracity and story’s accuracy. Usually the listener makes the determination as to the accuracy and facts contained within a story.

The story of the Lost Dutchman Mine, the Peralta Mines, the Peralta Stone Maps, and many other stories associated with the Superstition Mountains have traditionally been a part of oral storytelling until the first books were published in the 1930s about the topic. Even with the arrival of the first books on the topic storytelling continued to be a strong advocate of lost gold mine and treasure tales.

To this day one can find great storytelling in restaurants’ and lounges around Apache Junction about the Dutchman Lost Mine, Peralta mines, or the Peralta Stone Maps. I don’t want to confuse you with useless rhetoric, however, there is a very thin line that we all walk. This line includes establishing a sound and dependable source for our stories and stating what is fact and what is fiction. It is for this reason there are so many tall tales and confusing facts intertwined in our history of the Southwest when this simple rule is not followed. I must admit, I write to interest and intrigue my readers. I want them to share the same adventure I enjoyed gathering the information and writing it down. Not everything I write is pure fact and it is often not well documented. Some of the stories are just stories and tall tales.

Therefore, we as storytellers are actually telling other people’s stories and we can only be judged by our actions and deeds, not the story that is being told. I must admit I am proud of this long historical tradition of preserving the past, both true stories and tall tales.. We know these stories can sometimes be inaccurate. The final responsibility is up to the listener or the reader to separate the fact from the fiction.

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