Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't Blame The Thunder God

December 16, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The Apaches are not known for their stories about Superstition Mountain. Few Apaches have actually ever entered the area. It was the Yavapai that had villages within the area we call the Superstition Wilderness today. It was the Yavapais that were pursued by the Army and had their camps destroyed in the area.
The alleged habitat of the Apache "Thunder God."
 In legend, according to local storytellers, the mountains are known as "Wee-kit-sour-ah" meaning "the rocks standing up" to the Apache. It is said Superstition Mountain and all mountains are believed to be a kind of purgatory where all Apaches must pass before or after death, depending on the storyteller. Some say this mountain is called "Ghan" (sic). According to some storytellers only those warriors who achieve martyrdom were buried in a sacred area deep within the confines of the Superstitions. The stories are all according to storytellers of tall tales. Historically, burials were not significant to the Apaches until Christianity was introduced to them after the 1850s.

Contemporary writers made up most of the foregoing information used in books and periodicals. The Superstition Wilderness Area and Superstition Mountain in particular are known to have very violent thunderstorms during the summer months. When intruders broke the peace and solitude of the mountains the Native Americans believed these were omens of the "Thunder Gods." Research does not prove this out. It is because of this climatic phenomenon, some claim the Apaches called the Superstition Mountains the home of the "Thunder God." The story goes like this. The Apache, as legend claims, believes the "Thunder God" dwells inside of Superstition Mountain and only makes it known during the hot summer months on the desert. It is alleged it is the Thunder God who places the "curse of death" on those who violate this scared domain.

The "curse of the Thunder God" supposedly has been responsible for many of the unexplained deaths in this rugged mountain wilderness. This "curse" has struck fear into the hearts of most intruders, but only because of other circumstances. As long as there are gold-crazed treasure hunters seeking the Lost Dutchman and Peralta mines with guns slung on their hips there will probably be unexplained deaths in these mountains. And of course the misery and deaths will be blamed on the "Thunder God."

Book titles such as Thunder God’s Gold and Killer Mountain appear to go hand in hand with some of the trigger-happy fools running around the Superstition Wilderness Area. Those days were gone when the government withdrew the area from mineral entry. This might be a slight exaggeration of the situation that prevailed in the mountains between 1952-1983. The history of accidents and deaths in the wilderness was quite common during this period.

Vivid book and periodical titles have helped sensationalize the need to carry a firearm in one’s own defense. However, most shootings in the Superstition Wilderness have been caused by the careless and reckless misuse of firearms usually by untrained individuals. Since 1920 more than a hundred individuals have died in the Superstition Wilderness from accidents, and many of those accidents included firearms.

There have been unexplained cases where individuals have lost their lives and to this day these cases remain unsolved and a mystery. The most celebrated and notorious of these cases was the death of Adolph Ruth in the summer of 1931. Ruth, a Washington D.C. treasure hunter disappeared in the Superstition Mountains during the hot and dry summer of 1931. It wasn’t until December 10, 1931, that Ruth’s skull was discovered near the north end of Bluff Springs Mountain and just east of Needle Canyon in an area known as the "old Spanish Racetrack."

During January of 1932, Adolph Ruth’s remains were found near Needle Canyon on the east slope of Black Top Mesa three-fourths of a mile from where the skull was found. There is still controversy as to how Ruth met his demise. This particular case was chalked up to the "Thunder Gods" by the pamphleteers of the day. This was the first case where the "Thunder Gods" roared in the various periodicals of the period.

Pulp writers such as Barry Storm and Barney Barnard accredited the "Thunder God" with the death of Adolph Ruth. They both claimed it was the revenge of Superstition Mountain’s "Thunder God."

So many writers have credited the Apache with the tale of the "Thunder God." Actually there is no proof to substantiate this statement. So let’s not blame the "Thunder God" or the Apache for the unexplained phenomenon that has occurred in these mountains. The Superstition Mountain’s "Thunder God" is where great tall tales come from.