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.