Monday, December 16, 2013

The Merrick Expedition

December 9, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A group of University of Arizona students decided to form an expedition to search for the Lost Dutchman Mine during spring break of 1949. Their leader was an energetic and well-to-do student named Merrick Lewis. Prior to their expedition into the Superstition Mountains they had a banquet at the Camelback Inn with Governor Dan E. Garvey as the guest of honor April 9, 1949.

The lesson to learn from this old story is not to pick up Native American artifacts on public lands.
When Merrick had an opportunity to speak at the banquet he announced the expedition would have twelve pack animals, four riding animals and a guide. Old John DeGraffenreid was the only person in the area that could have put such and expedition together for these students at the time. Mules were ten dollars day and a guide would received anywhere between ten and fifteen dollars a day.

Merrick Lewis must have been from a very important family in Tucson to have enough influence to convince and invite Governor Dan E. Garvey to speak at a banquet at the Camelback Inn. It is also quite remarkable the Governor attended this banquet as the guest of honor.

Some research indicates Governor Dan E. Garvey had an interest in lost mines. It was at this banquet Merrick Lewis announced the expedition into the Superstition Primitive Area for the purpose of searching for the Dutchman’s lost mine.

Merrick Lewis led his party through the Superstition Mountains or Superstition Primitive Area camping at various sites. They stopped at Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwellings and other well-known Native American sites at the time. In the beginning, Merrick was looking for gold, but probably didn’t find anything worthwhile so the group began looking at old Native American sites. As they used their supplies they replaced the pack space with artifacts. According to one source their artifacts included some ceramic bowls, arrowheads, pottery shards, and flint knives. Their guide told them the removal of artifacts could lead to trouble for them.

The Merrick Expedition traveled from Roger’s Canyon to the old Tortilla Ranch and then west to Peter’s Mesa. Once on top of Peter’s Mesa the group set camp near a good supply of water in a man-made tank. From this point they spent three full days searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Merrick allegedly had some important clues.

The group was looking for smelting pits on Peter’s Mesa. Merrick believed the Spanish, the Mexicans and Waltz used the mesa to reduce their ore and then packed it back to what they considered civilization. Merrick claimed they found several smelter pits on Peter’s Mesa. One pit even contained reduced ore in it. Merrick was convinced they were close to the mine on Peter’s Mesa. By the time they found the pits they were just about out of time and would have to return to trailhead to be picked up. The pits that Merrick was so convinced were smelting pits were actually nothing but depressions the Native Americans used to cook Agave bases in for food.

As the group made their way off Peter Mesa down in La Barge Canyon Merrick could only talk about the smelting pits and how close they were to the mine. I am sure if he believed this he would have returned another day and searched for the mine somewhere around Peter’s Mesa. Many people have searched for gold on Peter’s Mesa before and after the Merrick Expedition.

On April 29, 1949, the forest rangers confiscated all the artifacts the expedition had taken out of the mountain. Actually the whole group was lucky they were not charged with trafficking in Native American artifacts.

The lesson to learn from this old story is not to pick up Native American artifacts on public lands.

Editor’s note: The Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction has a prehistoric Indian exhibit with displays of Hohokam and Salado artifacts, including bowls, awls, arrowheads, stone hammers, axe heads, metates, manos, pitchers, turquoise and shell pendants, on display.

The Salado culture occupied the Superstition Mountain area about AD 1450. Neither their origins nor their ultimate fate is known. They farmed in the area for 300 years and then disappeared leaving no clues to where they went. 

Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and is located at 4087 N Apache Trail, Hwy 88, 3.5 miles NE of Apache Junction. 480-983-4888