Monday, December 29, 2014

Unforgettable Christmas

December 22, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

After 50 years, Tom and Sharon Kollenborn still
decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus
skeleton for Christmas along with their traditional tree.
The spirit of Christmas was in the air in late December of 1955. The first snows had fallen in Arizona’s high country and winter had announced its arrival in the Superstition Wilderness. Low stratus clouds engulfed the towering spires of Superstition Mountain and a slow, drizzling rain fell, meeting with the approval of local cattlemen. 

Deep in the Superstition Wilderness there lived an angry, bitter and lonely old man who had chosen isolation rather than the kindness of friends. “Old Ben” had been prospecting the mountains for more than a decade. He believed the old Dutchman’s lost mine existed and he wanted to find it. His search for the Dutchman’s gold had become as strong for “Old Ben” as anyone’s devotion to Jesus Christ.

My father and I visited Ben over the years because he and Dad had something in common besides the gold of Superstition Mountain. They were both veterans and had served with General John Pershing, the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, during World War I. Both men had witnessed the slaughter in the trenches along the Western Front and had survived the horror of the war in Europe. 

Each year Dad and I tried to visit Ben’s Camp a couple weeks before Christmas to say hello. Ben functioned well in the mountains, but within society he was a misfit. His experiences, no less than that of my father’s during the war, had left his heart laden with hate for those who were associated with the production, distribution and application of war materials designed to destroy thousands and thousands of lives during that terrible time etched in Ben’s mind.

Ben chose to live apart from society because he couldn’t forget the rattle of machine guns, exploding artillery shells, fumes of poison gas, and the screaming agony of the wounded and dying soldiers. The war had been over for almost forty years, but Ben still lived in the shadow of its horror and terror. His mind was scarred for eternity.

Dad had also survived the battlefield of that war and for that reason he understood Ben and was his friend. Ben and my father spent many hours in idle conversation discussing the Dutchman’s lost mine, each being careful not to reveal any important information about its possible location. We often sat under a large boulder in Petrasch’s old camp in La Barge Canyon talking about the Dutchman, Jacob Waltz. Sometimes Dad and Ben would hike up to Petrasch’s old camp on Tortilla Mountain and spend the day. 

Christmas was once again coming to Ben’s Camp in the Superstition Wilderness, but he never celebrated Christmas because he didn’t see any real value in it. He said there was no God or Jesus Christ at Meuse-Argonne, Verdun, or the other battlefields of Europe.

Once again we bid our farewell to Ben and began our hike out of the mountains, leaving the lonely old man to cope with his misery. As we drove home that day I thought of old Ben and his lonely existence.

Arriving home we found Mother had decorated a beautiful tree for our house. The spirit of Christmas filled our home as friends dropped by with a friendly “Merry Christmas.” My mother was always full of the Christmas spirit and she wanted to share it with everyone who would listen or sing carols with her.

On Christmas Eve morning I got up early and talked to Dad about our friend Ben. I kept thinking about Ben and finally suggested to Dad that I wanted to hike back into the mountains and spend Christmas Eve and Day with the old man. I was young and very impressionable at the time. My father’s first concern was my mother and our traditional family Christmas get together.

“What is Christmas, if it is not about sharing one’s friendship, didn’t you teach me this dad,” I inquired?

Mom and Dad decided to allow me to share my Christmas spirit of friendship and giving with Ben on Christmas Day. Mom provided me with a couple of quickly wrapped Christmas presents for Ben and I grabbed a colorful ornament from the tree. I prepared my hiking gear and I was on my way to First Water Trailhead with dad driving and advising.

I arrived at First Water about noon and began my hike. A light drizzle fell as I hiked along the trail toward La Barge Canyon. By the time I reached Ben’s Camp near Charlebois the daylight was rapidly disappearing. I called out for Ben as I arrived in his camp, wishing him a Merry Christmas. He called back inviting me into his camp. He immediately scolded me for leaving my parents on Christmas Eve and coming into the mountains. I handed him the two small packages mother had wrapped for him. The delicate glass Christmas ornament had survived the hike in my backpack. I handed him the ornament and then suggested we needed a Christmas tree.  Ben laughed and said, “Your not going to find many pine trees in this desert.”

At that moment I could see that Ben enjoyed having my company. He ended his comment with, “The only trees around here are those devilish Cholla.”

Near Ben’s camp, in the dark, using a small flashlight, I found a Cholla cactus skeleton that would serve as our Christmas tree. The Cholla skeleton made a fitting desert Christmas tree. I piled some large rocks around the base of our tree to hold it in place. Once the Cholla was secure Ben and I went about decorating it. 

We placed the Christmas bulb from my mother’s tree on top of the Cholla. We added a few pieces of tinfoil here and there. We then made some ornaments out of empty Sardine and bean can lids. Ben had a plentiful supply because he loved Sardines and beans. We made a simple garland out of bits of colored string we found in camp.

The tree was not an ordinary one, but then Ben was by no means an ordinary man. This was also no ordinary occasion for Ben. The meaning of Christmas had found its way back into Ben’s heart in that odd appearing Christmas tree. We laughed together of our effort to create a Christmas tree. We had found the spirit of Christmas together.

We sat admiring our handy work when Ben reached into his bag and removed a very old Bible, then placed it under our tree. He looked at me with a tear in his eye, and said, “Isn’t this what Christmas is really about?”

Yes, we were celebrating Jesus Christ’s birthday in the simplest manner. I will never forget the happiness of sharing our friendship on that Christmas Eve.

This lonely old man taught me that it is not how much you have, but the sharing of your friendship with others that is so important.

Since that time many Christmases have come and gone, but few of them are remembered as this one.

My father eventually talked Ben into returning to society and being a friend to others. Ben returned to the world of the living and each Christmas for many years, until his death, we received a card from him addressed to “My Desert Christmas Friends,” and simply signed “Ben”.

After fifty years, Sharon and I still decorate and enjoy a Cholla cactus skeleton in our home for Christmas along with our traditional tree.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Golden Ghost

December 15, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

“The Golden Ghost” Stewart Adams (l) and his friend John P. Cunningham at a camp site at the Peralta Trail head area shortly before Adams’ death in 1934. Photo by Christensen, c. 1934.
Stories of lost gold continue to haunt the minds of men who trespass in the domain of the Thunder Gods. Superstition Mountain is like a magnet for dreamers. Eight decades ago Frank Dobie, an early American author, wrote about the Spanish conquistadors and hidden gold in the Southwestern deserts. Those who searched for the gold were called Coronado’s Children by the author.

Adventurers searching for gold in the Superstition Wilderness today are few and far between. These searchers were called Dutch Hunters, and it was their stories that became the history and legends of Superstition Mountain. These stories are told and retold today around campfires and in local coffee shops.

One might say Jacob Waltz and his legendary Dutchman’s Lost Mine is the Golden Ghost of Superstition Mountain. Since the time of Waltz’s death in 1891 the legacy of his mine has grown to almost unbelievable proportions, and the story is filled with more fiction than fact.  The true Golden Ghosts are the tales and stories passed on from generation to generation. No one can really legislate dreams, according to former Arizona Attorney General Robert K. Corbin. As long as there are dreamers there will be searchers and chroniclers of this infamous story of adventure, death, tragedy, lost gold and glory.

It has been eighty years since Adam Stewart died in his camp deep in the Superstition Mountain range. Stewart came to America from Scotland long before the turn of the 20th Century. He first prospected the mountains of California and then moved to Arizona about 1915. He established his base camp near what is known as the Don’s Camp, located near the Peralta Trailhead. 

It was here Adam Stewart met Dr. Rolf Alexander and John P. Cunningham. Dr. Alexander was a dentist who had aspirations of becoming a geologist. John P. Cunningham was a multi-millionaire ice cream manufacturer from Chicago. Alexander introduced Stewart to Cunningham as his partner in the mining operation near the Peralta Trailhead. 

Steward and Cunningham became good friends. The Chicago millionaire ice cream maker invested money in Adam Stewart’s dream to strike it rich in the Superstition Mountains.

Stewart was an honest and humble man who Cunningham respected and wanted to help. The old prospector was convinced the Lost Dutchman Mine was on his claims in Willow Canyon (Peralta Canyon). Stewart had spent almost twenty years searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine, but never succeeded in finding it.

It wasn’t really the gold that brought Cunningham and Steward together.

After meeting Stewart, Cunningham realized he had gone to school with Stewart in Scotland and they had even dated the same girl. This interesting story became part of Cunningham’s love for the Superstition Mountains in 1917. 

Cunningham made a special trip to Arizona in 1934 to visit Adam Stewart and reminisce about the past. It was Cunningham and a photographer who filmed Adam Stewart, his mine, the Superstition Mountains on 16 mm film in 1934, providing historians with some of the earliest films ever shot in the Superstition Mountain area around the Peralta Canyon.

Adam Stewart died in November of 1934 leaving behind many years of hard work on his Superstition Mountain claims. His tenacity to search for gold in the Superstitions provided this humble man with credibility among his peers and friends. His white handled-bar mustache was his trademark and many of his friends remembered him as a honest, hard working man.

Rolf Alexander had the “pipes” played in the memory of Adam Stewart at a site just under the Dacite Cliffs three days after Stewart’s death. The Golden Ghost of Superstition Mountain has impacted the lives of many men and women.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Going Home to the Reavis

December 8, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Kollenborn going home to Reavis, circa 1956.
A flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and the threat of rain made the old Reavis Ranch house a haven to weary hikers, horsemen and cattlemen that rode or walked the trails of the eastern portion of the Superstition Mountains for more than a half of a century. This old skeleton of a ranch house survived almost thirty years alone in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness Area with little or no maintenance.  Many friends of the old Reavis Ranch house tried desperately to help the old ranch house limp into the Twenty-First Century.

The Friends of the Reavis Ranch cleaned, cleared, hauled trash off and repaired the old ranch house for more than a decade.  Their effort was a labor of love, nothing more. We all understood the character and spirit of this old house after spending a few days in it. The roar from the fireplace, the clanging of the tin roof, the wind blowing through the breezeway and the attic, the squeaking of a door hinge were all familiar sounds. The house had plenty of mice and even an occasional family of raccoons. The beauty and solitude of this valley has made it a popular destination for hikers and horsemen. 

Since 1956, I have traveled to and from the Reavis Ranch on foot, horseback and by vehicle on many different occasions. I can recall the old road and how rough it was between Castle Dome Corral, through Windy Gap and on to Plow Saddle. I can remember the friendly smile of Alice Stone and the strong handshake of Floyd Stone when welcomed to their mountain ranch. I can recall the closing of the road and Mary Leonard’s article in the Arizona Republic about the old ranch in 1967. Only those who have spent time at the old ranch in Reavis Valley know what we have lost.

The Reavis Valley is a pristine ecological niche of the Upper Sonoran Desert with the old ranch serving as a window for humanity. The Reavis Ranch house burned down November 30, 1991. The old ranch house has been gone for more than twenty-three years.

The Reavis ranch house was constructed about 1937. William J. Clemans Company patented the ranch in 1919. Clemans purchased the ranch from John J. Fraser in 1909, and Fraser acquired the ranch shortly after the death of the old hermit, “Elisha Marcus Reavis” in 1896.

Clemans and his two sons, Earl and Mark Twain ran the ranch from 1910-1946. Billy Martin Sr. served as foreman of the Clemans Cattle Company from 1915-1946.  Prior to Martin, William “Billy” Knight served as foreman from 1891-1915. To this day there are old catch pens deep in the forest made entirely of wood, not one nail or a piece of wire was used in their construction.  The range was so brushy the Clemans’ cowboys had to trap a lot of their cattle.

The Reavis Ranch road was started in 1910 by a group of Mesa promoters who wanted to sell lots in the pines south of the Reavis Ranch. They never completed the road. Bacon and Upton purchased the ranch from the Clemans Cattle Company around 1946. Bacon and Upton completed the road into the Reavis Ranch in 1948. Floyd Stone, Bacon’s son-in-law, and Kenneth Lockwood purchased the ranch in 1955 from John A. Bacon and Upton. Stone and Lockwood sold the ranch to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1966 for $80,000 and twenty acres of patented land near the Apache Trail.

Shortly after the government purchased the Reavis Ranch they closed the access corridor. The reason for the closure of the road was the extreme maintenance cost and the danger to vehicular travel. After the road was closed in 1967 only hikers and horsemen were able to access the Reavis Valley and the ranch.

A sort of sadness prevailed when news of the Reavis Ranch fire spread among those who had visited the old ranch over the years. I suppose many of the wilderness purist believed the fire was a blessing to the wilderness concept, but many hikers and backpackers were disappointed to find their severe weather haven destroyed by fire. Now outfitters and packers will have to carry more gear and take more animals to provide adequate service to their customers. Many will just miss the old ranch house because of the nostalgia associated with it. I must admit I really enjoyed being a part of this history. The destruction of the old Reavis Ranch house ended an era in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Settlers and cattlemen have lived in the valley since 1874, and the Reavis Valley had served as the first Camp Geronimo for the Boy Scouts in 1920 before the Spade Ranch north of Payson became their permanent home. Arizona’s Governor Campbell rode horseback to the Reavis Ranch in 1920’s to visit with the Boy Scouts at Camp Geronimo and tell them stories around a campfire. Even post cards told the story of the idyllic Reavis Valley.

I visited the Reavis Valley in 1994, not for the last time, but to see the old ranch house once more. Only the walls were still standing and the chimney towered above the old house like a monument to the past.

I returned to the site of the old Reavis Ranch in October of 2000. None of the walls of the old ranch were standing. All that remained was the concrete slab the old ranch house was constructed on. I was amazed how obliterated the site was. All human history had just about been eradicated and the valley had almost returned to its pure natural state.

My most memorable visit to the Reavis Ranch was on Christmas Eve in 1989. We rode up to the ranch two days before Christmas. It was a cold December night and we had a roaring fire in the fireplace that kept the room warm. I found a poem written by an Apache Junction fireman called “The Night Before Christmas At The Reavis Ranch.” The poem was dedicated to the old Reavis Ranch and its unique character that charmed so many people who visited it. The poem mentioned the mice, the raccoons in the roof, the creakiness and moans of the old building and sound of trickling water in Reavis Creek. The poem was near a small Christmas Tree that was still standing and told the story “the night before Christmas at the old Reavis Ranch.”

This poem brought back so many memories of this old ranch and its inhabitants from the bygone days, the cowboys, cooks, and visitors who were a part of this history. This old ranch meant a lot to those who experienced it. It’s now gone, but its memory is still fresh in our minds. I didn’t have a pen to copy down the poem, and I also didn’t have the heart to take the poem away from others. I left it to be shared by those who might have visited the old ranch that particular Christmas week end.

The ranch was to be destroyed like all man-made things in a wilderness and was only a temporary fixture on the landscape. Those who knew the old house undoubtedly had a better understanding of man’s mark on the wilderness and the value of this place. The old ranch is now only a memory in the minds of those that once lived or visited there.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Apache Trail Circle Route, Part 3 of 3

December 1, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Apache Trail, or AZ. 88 as it is officially known, links Apache Junction with Globe via Theodore Roosevelt Lake, through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest; 40 miles of steep, winding and mostly unpaved road past magnificent scenery of twisted mountains with dense saguaro forests and several deep blue lakes.
Once you clear the divide and continue the drive, your next spectacular view is the blue water of Apache Lake, shimmering below the towering cliffs of Goat Mountain and Four Peaks.  Goat Mountain has become a sanctuary for transplanted Desert Bighorn Sheep.

When Apache Lake was filled in 1927, it permanently closed a portion of the Apache Trail. The “Trail” was closed for six months until a new road could be constructed.  A tugboat and barge were used to move traffic up and down Apache Lake until the new road was completed.  Apache Lake has a fine resort and restaurant.

Fourteen miles from Apache Lake turnoff you can see the spectacular new look of Roosevelt Dam completed in 1996.  Beneath this facade of slip-form concrete is the original masonry dam constructed between 1906-1911.  President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated this dam on March 18, 1911.  The dam was refitted and reconstructed between 1993-1996.  The original dam was raised seventy-seven feet.  This new facelift has changed the appearance of Roosevelt Dam forever.  A towering blue suspension bridge now dominates the view toward Roosevelt Lake from the dam.

As you continue your drive you will soon be looking out over one of the largest man-made reservoirs in America.  This is Roosevelt Lake. On April 8, 1927, one month prior to Charles Linbergh’s solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean, an Italian aviator and his crew landed at Roosevelt Lake in a seaplane named the Santa Maria. Commander Francesco de Pinedo had planned to fly around the world.  He and his crew had just flown across the Atlantic Ocean from Italy to Roosevelt Lake.  It was here at Roosevelt Lake tragedy struck.  A carelessly tossed cigarette ignited gasoline that destroyed De Pinedo’s seaplane at Hotel Point on Roosevelt Lake.

Just up the road is the entrance to Tonto National Monument. This national monument has an excellent interpretive center on the ancient Salado culture.  A visit to the monument is well worth your time.

It is twenty-five miles from Tonto National Monument to U.S. Highway 60-70 between Globe and Miami.  The scenery along this portion of State Route 88 is typical Sonoran Desert. As you drive along Pinal Creek you will see a typical riparian setting that includes large Cottonwood, Sycamore and Arizona Willow trees.  The mountains to the southwest contain a tremendous amount of low- grade copper ore.  This ore supports several mining operations east of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Driving west along U.S. 60-70 toward Miami, there is a towering bank of mill tailings on the right side of the road.  These tailings are the result of milling (crushing) thousands and thousands of tons of copper ore from the mines in the area. There is also a towering black bank that is composed of solid slag from the smelting process that reduces copper ore to copper.  When the smelter was still in operation it was quite a light show when they dumped the molten slag off at night. The glow would radiate for miles around as slag flowed down the almost vertical walls. 

Miami is an interesting old copper mining town. Many of the buildings date to about 1915. It is worth turning around and driving east toward Globe to visit the Clara Woody Museum (Gila County Museum) on the right side of the  highway between Miami and Globe.

Driving west on U.S. Highway 60-70 toward Superior, the towering pine-covered mountains on the left are the Pinal Mountains. The highest peak in the group is Signal Peak, 7,812 feet above sea level. The U.S. Army used this peak   as a heliograph station during the Indian Wars from 1871-1886.

As you cross Pinto Creek Bridge, on your right you can see a massive open pit operation at the Pinto Valley Mines.  Eight miles west of Miami you will arrive at a divide known as Sutton’s Summit between Miami and Superior.  A short distance west of this divide is the old Craig Ranch (Pinal Ranch), sometimes incorrectly called the “Top of the World.” 

The “Top of the World” was a dance hall started in the 1920’s during prohibition along a portion of the old highway. The Pinal Ranch was originally settled by Robert A. Irion in 1878.  His stepson, Dudley Craig, continued the ranching tradition after his stepfather’s death.

Next you’ll descent into Devil’s Canyon, a beautiful region filled with rock formations that would please anyone’s imagination.  As you emerge from Devil’s Canyon you will see the Oak Flats Campground on your left. This road also leads to the Magma Nine Mine hoist house. The shaft below the Magma Nine mine hoist is approximately 4,000 feet deep.

Descending from Oak Flats through Queen Creek Canyon is one of the most spectacular drives in Arizona. It was here in Queen Creek Canyon that the highway department had such a difficult time building a road. 

Look carefully for portions of the old road as you drive through the canyon. As you leave the mouth of the canyon you enter Superior, Arizona, another mining town. Superior is an old copper mining town whose origins date back to the turn of the century. The mill and smelter on your right was built in 1915. A narrow gauge railroad was constructed between Superior and Webster on the Southern Pacific line some thirty-two miles away. The narrow gauge was replaced by a standard gauge in 1921.

Two miles west of Superior is the world famous Boyce Thompson Southwest Arboretum. This botanical garden exhibits arid land plants from around the world. The arboretum bookstore has one of the finest selections of books on the Southwest and they also sell many varieties of desert flora.

The big mountain with towering cliffs located immediately south of the arboretum is known as Picket Post Mountain.  This mountain also served as a heliograph station during the territorial Indian Wars.

At Gonzales Pass, a few miles west of the arboretum, we leave Tonto National Forest again. While descending Gonzales Pass, keep an eye out to the north, and you will spot a pointed peak on the northern horizon. This pointed peak is known as Weaver’s Needle. The needle was named after Paulino Weaver, prospector, guide and mountain man who frequented this area in the 1830’s.

This same landmark serves today as the focal point of the legendary Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Also, the “needle” named in 1853, served an an important landmark along the Gila Trail.

Once you are down on the desert floor you will soon cross the tracks of the Arizona Magma Railroad. The Arizona Magma Railroad ended all regular steam engine revenue runs in 1965. One of the railroad’s steam engines was used in the spectacular Hollywood motion picture titled “How the West was Won.”

You can no longer stop at Florence Junction.  J.W. Willoughby opened the Sun Kist Service Station at Florence Junction on June 14, 1923. George Cleveland Curtis opened Apache Junction for business some sixteen miles up the road on February 2, 1923. Curtis opened Arizona’s first zoo in Apache Junction in July of 1923.

As you motor toward Apache Junction on your right is Superstition Mountain.  This giant monolith dominates the eastern fringe of the Salt River Valley and Apache Junction is the gateway to the central mountains of Arizona.

When you complete this final leg of the trip you join an alumni of thousands who have motored this great “Apache Trail Circle Route” and have been mesmerized by the spectacular beauty and adventure of this trip.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Apache Trail Circle Route, Part 2 of 3

November 24, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Fish Creek Hill struck fear into the hearts of teamsters and tourists as they began their descent of this notorious grade.
Driving along the shores of Canyon Lake (formed in 1925, by the completion of Mormon Flat Dam) is a real contrast compared to the desert along much of the road.  Visitors seldom expect to see such a large body of water in the middle of such an arid region. 

At Canyon Lake you will find a restaurant, marina and a variety of services. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at the beautiful lakeside restaurant. If you have time take a cruise on the Dolly.  Tourists have been visiting the beautiful waters of Canyon Lake since October 4, 1925, when the S.S. Geronimo was launched. You might consider camping for a night on the grassy private beach owned and operated by the Canyon Lake Marina.

Two miles from Canyon Lake is the famous old stage stop of Tortilla Flat. This stage stop was constructed in 1904, and served as a staging area for the construction of the Mesa-Roosevelt Road from this point to the bottom of Fish Creek Hill. At Tortilla Flat you can enjoy fine food, drinks or just do a little tourist shopping if you want.

There are several interesting points along the Apache Trail between Tortilla Flat and Apache Lake. As you leave Tortilla Flat you cross Tortilla Creek, which drains a large portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area.  Some old timers claim the legendary Dutchman Lost Mine is located in the drainage of Tortilla Creek somewhere.

The pavement ends about six miles east of Tortilla Flat.  The Arizona Department of Transportation maintains the road from this point to Roosevelt Dam. Recently the state department of transportation has been experimenting with a variety of sub-surface treatments of the roadway. These treatments have provided a much smoother ride over the Apache Trail from Tortilla Ranch corrals to Reavis Ranch road turnoff. Today these road surface treatments have all eroded away.

From Mesquite Creek, the second crossing after Tortilla Creek, you begin to climb.  Seven miles from Tortilla Flat you will see a sign marked ‘Fish Creek Hill.’  There is a beautiful rest area recently constructed at this site.

It was Fish Creek Hill that struck fear into the hearts of teamsters and tourists as they began their descent of this notorious grade. The roadway down Fish Creek Hill is a 10% grade. The road is still narrow, single lane and with sheer cliffs. Since 1906 automobiles have been tested on Fish Creek Hill for power.  Professional filmmakers and photographers still find Fish Creek spectacular for filming.

Once you descend the hill, about eight-tenths of a mile from Fish Creek Bridge, on the right side of the road you will see the site of the old Fish Creek Lodge. All that remains today are a few concrete footings and a stone cistern.

The lodge burned on January 6, 1929, ending an era on the Apache Trail.  The lodge has served as a halfway station for tourist since the construction of Roosevelt Dam.  Beyond the lodge site you will cross another steel bridge then you will travel along the course of Lewis and Pranty Creek until you arrive at the Arizona State Highway Yard and the IV Ranch. 

At the top of the divide, on the right side of the road, is a sign directing your attention to the Reavis Ranch Trail Head. This trail leads to a beautiful high mountain valley deep in the Superstition Wilderness. Elisha Marcus Reavis once occupied this valley. He was known better as the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain.”  Reavis lived in the valley from 1874 until his death in 1896. He grew vegetables and packed them to the many mining towns around the area.  After Reavis died John J. Fraser moved into the valley and ran cattle.  Fraser sold out to William J. Clemans in 1909. Clemans and his sons operated the ranch until 1946.

It was 1910 when a group of Mesa entrepreneurs thought they could promote the qualities of the Reavis Valley to residents of the Salt River Valley.

This group started selling lots in the pines south of the Reavis Ranch to provide valley residents a relief from the hot summers. They promised to build a road from the Apache Trail to the Reavis Valley, a distance of 12 miles.  They named their resort Pineair.  The resort failed and the road was finally completed in 1947, for another reason. The road serviced a cattle operation not a resort in the pines. This service road was closed in 1967.

The Reavis Valley’s greatest claim to fame has to be when it was selected as the site of the first Roosevelt Council Boy Scouts’ Camp Geronimo in 1921. Arizona’s Governor Campbell visited Camp Geronimo the first year at the Reavis Ranch.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Apache Trail Circle Route, Part 1 of 3

November 17, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There were many important stage stops in the early days for teamsters and their animals while traveling the Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Apache Trail). These stations included Desert Wells, Weeks Station, Hall’s Station, Government Well, Mormon Flat, Tortilla Flat, Fish Creek Lodge and Snell’s Station. 

 Since 1906, tourists have traveled the Apache Trail and marveled at the spectacular beauty along the way. The original Apache Trail began at a Mesa railhead and terminated sixty-two miles away at the Tonto (Roosevelt) Dam site on the Salt River.

The construction of the Apache Trail (Mesa Roosevelt Road) began in November of 1903 and was completed in September of 1905. This sixty-two miles of roadway cost approximately $551,000 to complete and was used as a haul and service road during the construction of Roosevelt Dam. 

After the construction of the dam the road served as a maintenance road. There were several change stations along the road used by teamsters.  These stations included Desert Wells, Weeks Station, Hall’s Station, Government Well, Mormon Flat, Tortilla Flat, Fish Creek Lodge and Snell’s Station. 

The State of Arizona, under the leadership of Governor George P. Hunt, decided in 1919 to build a new transportation link between the cities of Phoenix and Globe.  Hunt considered the Apache Trail a very treacherous route for commerce.

The Apache Trail was narrow, rough and was often closed due to flooding and landslides.  Governor Hunt wanted to open the Globe-Miami copper industry to the Phoenix market.

The only road linking the area in 1919 was the Apache Trail.  Hunt knew the Apache Trail was not an efficient or dependable roadway for commerce.

The completion of the Phoenix-Globe Highway through Superior in May of 1922, opened commercial trade between the developing Salt River Valley and the copper rich central Arizona mountains.  This new highway completed the famous “Circle Route” that allowed drivers of automobiles to circumnavigate the entire Superstition Mountain region, a road-free region of some three to five hundred square miles.

If you want to take a trip over the famous “Circle Route” today, start in Apache Junction at the old “Dutchman’s Monument.” Drive northeast along State Route 88 (Apache Trail) about 4.1 miles and on the right side of the road you will find a stone entrance marker constructed on masonry rock from Roosevelt Dam. This 12.9-acre site is the home of the Superstition Mountain Museum.

About 4.5 miles up the trail on the left side of the road is Goldfield Ghost Town, Inc.  This is a modern recreation of the old gold mining boomtown of Goldfield (1893-1897).  Goldfield Ghost Town, Inc. has an excellent mine tour, train ride, a museum, great food and all kinds of specialty shops. 

As you continue up the Apache Trail the Bluebird Mine and Curio Shop is on the right side of the roadway.  This curio shop and pop stand has been operated continually since 1948, when “Red” Monigan first opened it.  Both the Bluebird and Goldfield are located in the Superstition Mining District.  A hundred years ago this was a booming gold mining district on the desert 23 miles east of Mesa, Arizona. The Mammoth Mine and Mill produced about three million dollars in gold bullion over a four-year period 1893-1897

A short distance up the road from the Bluebird is located the entrance to the Lost Dutchman State Park. This area was established in 1967 by the BLM and then turned over the State of Arizona in 1972. This became the Lost Dutchman State Park because of the extreme popularity of Superstition Mountain. The giant Superstition Mountain monolith towers above Lost Dutchman State Park some 3,000 feet with its cliffs and spires. The State park provides fee camping and there are miles of beautiful hiking trails.            

Shortly after leaving Lost Dutchman State Park you will enter Tonto National Forest.  This national forest encompasses more than 3,000,000 acres of public multiuse land.  As you travel along the Apache Trail in the national forest you will notice a complete absence of billboards and advertising signs.  No commercial signing is permitted along the historic Apache Trail for the next forty miles.  The Apache Trail was designated Arizona’s first historic highway in 1988.

Some two and a half miles down the road from the Lost Dutchman State Park is the site of Government Well. This site was an important stage stop in the early days (1903-1917) for teamsters and their animals while traveling the Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Apache Trail). 

The first automobile to travel the Apache Trail was on August 25, 1905. This car was a 1905 Knox built in Springfield, Mass. The car could carry seven passengers and had a twenty horsepower gasoline engine for power.  The automobile was used to carry passengers from Government Wells to Mesa, a distance of twenty-three miles. Holdren Brothers Stage Line was the first business to use motorized vehicles on the Apache Trail.

The drive from Government Wells to Canyon Lake is ten miles over a good asphalt road today. The volcanic rock formations along this portion of the route are spectacular. Most of the rocks are either ash or basalt in origin and were formed during the Tertiary Period of geologic time some 15-29 million years ago.  This is how most of the rocks in the western portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area were formed.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monument in the Sky

November 10, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Breaking ground for the original site for the monument on Apache Trail at Saguaro Drive in 1965 are (l-r) Albert Rather, Roy Hudson, Jack Weaver, and Harry Caldwalder.
An Air Force T-33 Jet plane at its new home on South Meridian Drive.
The Apache Junction area does not have many distinct monuments dedicated to the past. One monument, dedicated to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, lies some eight miles east of Apache Junction on Highway 60. This particular monument was erected in 1943. 

Another local monument is the Dutchman Monument,  dedicated to Jacob Waltz and the Dutchman’s Lost Mine in April of 1938 by the Phoenix Don’s Club. It was built to commemorate the history of the prospector, burro, and Superstition Mountain. This monument is located at the intersection of the Old West Highway (old Highway 60) and the Apache Trail in Apache Junction.

Another monument in Apache Junction is the Veteran Memorial Park and Gazebo at Idaho Road and Superstition Blvd.

There is another monument in Apache Junction, far more significant in many respects because of its longevity in our community. This monument is dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces who served their country in peace and war, and has stood by the American Legion Post 27 since 1965. It was the very familiar T-33 jet trainer setting atop a steel tower on Apache Trail at Saguaro Drive until the year 2000. The American Legion Post moved to its new location on South Meridian Drive, and the monument was moved as well. This column is to recognize the effort and dedication that went into the construction of this community icon.

Apache Junction is a melting pot and new residents often become involved in a variety of community activities. This was true of a man named Ken Gardiner, an American Legionnaire who thought that Apache Junction’s American Legion Post could acquire an Air Force T-33 jet trainer and install it on a steel post beside the American Legion.

Gardiner believed such an addition to Post 27 would bring attention to the men and women who served in the armed forces. The Legion committee responsible for the request of the aircraft and its installation was headed by Gardiner. Other members included Al Kennedy, Glen “Hap” Hawkins, Harry Cadwalder, Roy Kelchner, Joe Yanson and Roy Hudson.

Roy Hudson was the post commander at the time. He later became the first mayor of Apache Junction. He also later served as our State Representative and for eight years was our Pinal County Supervisor. Hudson, like many other Apache Junction Legionnaires, dedicated much of their lives to their community.

The project got started late in 1964 when a request for a surplus T-33 was forwarded to the officials of the Air Force Logistics Command headquarters at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. A T-33 slated for retirement was located and flown here from March AFB, California in June 1965.

Air Force personnel of the 3525th Field Maintenance Squadron at Williams AFB demilitarized the aircraft for the American Legion Post, and the men of the squadron volunteered to take the jet to a final resting place atop a steel tower on Apache Trail.

Under the direction of SMSgt. John Hancharik, a group of the field maintenance men loaded the plane on a tractor-trailer before dawn and proceeded toward Apache Junction from Williams AFB. The trip took two hours over a pre-planned route. The convoy was led by a legionnaire’s truck with a large sign reading, “Slow – Airplane Following.” The convoy was also escorted by two Pinal County Sheriff’s cars.

When the convoy arrived at the post, a large mobile crane was waiting to hoist the jet to the top of the steel tower where airmen bolted it into place. After the installation was completed the legionnaire committee of Post 27 was really proud of their achievement.

The T-33 jet trainer served the American Legion as important community icon for thirty years before it was moved in 2000.

On December 31, 1999 American Legion Post 27 moved to their new home on South Meridian Road.  Now the T-33 would be moved again.

Bud Hansing, a past Commander of Post 27, had chaired the building committee for the new American Legion Post 27, and also chaired the committee to move the airplane from its original home on Apache Trail to its new home on Meridian.

The moving of the aircraft was a genuine community effort supported by the veterans of American Legion Post 27 and the entire community of Apache Junction. Without the community support the moving of the plane would have been impossible.

For five decades the monument has honored the men and women of Post 27 who served their country. It is a constant reminder of those who sacrificed so much for the freedom we enjoy today. The plane is a very noticeable and noted landmark in Apache Junction, and has called attention to the community work of the American Legionnaires of Post 27. 

If you haven’t driven down Meridian south from Broadway and looked at the old plane... you should. This monument represents a very important part of our local history and expresses what a group of determined individuals can accomplish; not once, but twice.

We would like to remind you that Veteran’s Day was set aside to honor those who paid the ultimate price and can’t be here for the freedom we enjoy today in America. Our nation’s greatest resource is our young people who serve in the armed forces of the United States today insuring our freedom will bepreserved.

Take a moment and say thanks to a veteran this Veterans Day.

Editor’s note: Tom Kollenborn is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Pot of Beans

November 3, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

When I first hired on at the Quarter Circle U Ranch I had no idea what to expect. All I wanted was to be a cowboy. It wasn’t long before I learned that being a cowboy didn’t necessarily mean sitting on a horse and rounding up little doggies.

I had envisioned the more romantic things I had observed on the silver screen at the old Rex Theater in Hayden, Arizona. Each Friday night my father had taken me to the Rex. We lived in Christmas, Ariz. and it was a ten-mile drive to Hayden on a rough and dangerous road.

My cowboy heroes on the silver screen developed my knowledge of cowboys in general. To this day I don’t know why William Thomas Barkley hired me to take care of the Quarter Circle U Ranch in those days.

Barkley was always short on patience with new employees. He told me to feed the cattle and horses and to repair the corrals and gates. He provided me with a hand-drill, some stove bolts and some rough 2”X 6” X 10’ planks. He told me there was food in the cabinets and the Serval gas refrigerator. He never once said what kind of food there was to prepare or who would prepare it. I soon realized I was the new ranch cook and ranch hand. As Barkley drove away I still wasn’t that concerned about my survival on this isolated cow ranch some eighteen miles from Apache Junction.

Barkley pulled out about 10 a.m. after driving me out to the ranch and giving me some instructions. He told me he would pay me $75.00 per month. This would include my room and board. There I stood in the dust of his truck wondering what my future might be. At first I was thrilled that I had finally found a job on a cow ranch. Then reality sank in.

First, I examined the planks and bolts and wondered how I was going to built a gate ten feet long that would hang properly. I laid out my work on the ground and then decided I had better survey the kitchen at the bunkhouse and see what I had in the way of food.

Looking in the kitchen cabinets I found some pinto beans, dried chili, and some rice. I checked out the fridge and found lots of beef. I knew I wouldn’t starve, but I also didn’t know much about cooking food from scratch. I knew beans required a considerable amount of time to cook. So I decided my first dinner would consist of fried eggs. We had about eight laying hens down at the barn and a couple of roosters.

After dinner that evening I began to prepare the beans for the next day. I remember my mother cooking Pinto beans when she made chili. I poured out a pound or so of beans on the big boarding house table at the ranch. I spread the beans out and carefully sorted through them looking for stones and debris. I then crumbled up some of the chili. I mixed the chili and beans in a large pot of water and let them soak for the night.

The next morning I turned on the propane stove and put the pot of beans on the stove. I planned on checking the pot of beans periodically to see if they needed water added. I carefully placed a strong lid on top of the beans and then put a large rock on the bean pot lid. I knew beans were gassy, but gassy enough to blow the lid off the pot while they cooked? No, the rock on the bean pot lid was the keep the rats out of our beans. My boss, Bill Barkley told me never to leave anything in the way of food out or the rats would get into it. Bill said, once as a youngster he left the rock off the lid on the pot of beans and that evening when he lifted the bean pot lid to get a bowl of beans he was staring a dead rat in the eye. There are two ways of looking at that situation. You can go hungry or eat the protein-enriched pot of beans. Bill never told us which he did.

Every other day or so that summer I prepared a pot of beans with chili, beef, garlic, and ranch seasoning in it. Each time I cooked a pot of beans the taste would improve. I wasn’t certain if I was improving as a cook or just preventing starvation.  Yes, my diet did vary a little while I worked on the Quarter Circle U. Barkley occasionally would bring me café prepared food such as Chicken.  In those days there were no fast food places in Apache Junction so when Barkley was at Bostwick’s for lunch he would bring me a basket of chicken. This was quite a change from my regular diet on the ranch. An old friend of mine named Manuel Zapeda down in La Paloma, Sonora told me beans and chili were the best food for longevity. He said his grandfather lived to be 110 eating chili and beans almost every day of his life.  The Zapeda family has been ranching in Northern Sonora for almost 150 years. As each year passes I think of what Manuel told me about beans and chili so many years ago.

You might say a pot of beans and chili became my legacy at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Yes, I learned to rope, use a horse properly, brand, dehorn, cut young bull calves, move cattle from pasture to pasture, check and work on windmills, maintain water holes, pack salt and feed, and many other jobs. I even learned how to maintain leather gear such as my saddle, bridle, headstall, chaps, and many other items essential to a cowboy’s life.

For a few years I had found my utopia, then I realized that not owning a ranch didn’t have much of future. Fate guided me on to another profession after I married the love of my life.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Truth from Fiction

October 27, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Prospector ‘Superstition Joe’ (Cecil Vernon, circa 1960) is part of Apache Junction’s legendary past.
Prospector ‘Superstition Joe’ (Cecil Vernon, circa 1960)
is part of Apache Junction’s legendary past.
Most historians accept the story that an old prospector named Jacob Waltz created one of the most popular legends in American Southwestern history. Storytellers will tell you he spun yarns and gave clues to a rich lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains.

However, historians will claim Waltz was a very quiet and secluded individual preferring his privacy. These clues and stories attributed to Waltz continue to attract men and women from around the world to search for gold. The search for gold in these mountains is pure fantasy to many, however others believe this legendary mine is as real as the precious metal itself.

Who was this man who left this lingering story of lost gold in these mountains? The story of this mine remains the legacy of this old German prospector.

Jacob Waltz was born somewhere near Oberschwandorf, Wurttenburg, Germany sometime between 1808 and 1810. The exact date and place of his birth is still controversial. The precise date of his birth has not been documented with baptismal records or any other type of documentation. To further confuse the issue here, there was more than one Jacob Waltz born during this period of time.

His childhood was quite obscure because few records remain about his early life in Germany. There are no documents or records that Jacob Waltz had any formal education. There are certainly no records that prove he was a graduated mining engineer as claimed by some writers.

I have a very close friend who lives near Baden-Baden, Germany named Hemut Schmidtpeter. He has researched Jacob Waltz for the past twenty years or so.

The name Jacob Waltz is quite common in Germany and this fact alone confuses research on the topic.

Ironically, some of the most damaging information about Jacob Waltz was passed on to Helen Corbin when she wrote her book titled the Bible On The Lost Dutchman Mine and Jacob Waltz.

Lost Dutchman Monument on N. Apache Trail
Lost Dutchman Monument on N. Apache Trail
This information was passed on to her by a researcher named Kraig Roberts. Experts in documentation studied these records and found them to be altered. Did Roberts alter them or somebody else? Nobody knows for sure.

Since the Olbler transit records have been “proved to be altered,” it appears in all probability Waltz may have entered the United States through the port of New York or Baltimore as originally proposed by Jerry Hamrick. The Obler ship passenger’s manifest was definitely altered with the addition of Waltz’s name and others.

Now we can only rely on the existing facts. Waltz did sign his “letter of intent” in Natchez, Mississippi on November 12, 1848, to become a citizen of the United States.

Waltz filed for his naturalization papers in Los Angles, California and became a citizen of the United States on July 19, 1861.

He soon traveled to the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott. Waltz staked three mining claims there between 1863-1868. Waltz also signed a petition for Arizona Territorial Governor Goodwin to form a militia to stop the predatory raid of the local Native Americans on miners and prospectors in the area.

It is highly unlikely Waltz spent any time around the Vulture Mine or Wickenburg. He did settle on a homestead on the north bank of the Salt River. He filed papers on the homestead in March of 1868.

Waltz farmed a little and raised a few chickens. He was known for selling eggs in Phoenix. He prospected the mountains around the Salt River Valley.

Did he have a rich gold mine? It is not very likely he did. After his death in 1891 his legacy began to build with the many stories written by newspapermen and authors. Many had a story to tell and didn’t care how they told it.

Fiction replaces fact and we have the story today that is told around campfires and in cafes around Apache Junction. Wherever there is a gathering of individuals interested in lost gold mines you will find the story of the Lost Dutchman mine.

This story is still alive and doing well some one hundred and twenty-five years later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Thomas F. Weedin

October 20, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Thomas F. Weedin was a newspaperman
and the owner of the Florence Blade-Tribune.
Thomas F. Weedin was a charismatic and dynamic individual who had a fascination for tales about lost mines and treasures for most of his life. Ironically, he would not be remembered for his interest in Arizona history and legend, but for his knowledge of ink and paper. Tom Weedin was a newspaperman. 

He became a very important citizen of Florence, Arizona, as a journalist and businessman. You might say Tom Weedin changed the face of Arizona history and was fondly remembered in the Florence area for his accomplishments.

Weedin was born in Cooper County, Missouri, on December 15, 1854 (Arizona Republic, 10/1/1916, p. 1 col.3). He had identified with journalism and newspapers since he was nine years old, starting as a newsboy with the Kansas City Times.  

Weedin worked his way through all of the paper’s departments and attended school at night. He became the editor of the Daily Herald in Fremont, Nebraska, in 1875. The following year he became city editor for the Omaha Herald. After two years in Omaha, he was hired as editor of the Daily Prospect in Silver Cliff, Colorado.

Weedin then abandoned newspaper work temporarily while in Colorado, choosing to explore prospecting and mining. His travels led him to Silver City, New Mexico, and then on to Tombstone in 1880.

Weedin picked up the editor’s pen once again in 1881 and established the Florence Enterprise on March 28 of that year. He ran the newspaper until President Grover Cleveland appointed him Clerk of the United States Territorial Court in his district.

Weedin returned to the newspaper business in 1900, establishing the Florence Blade. He bought the Florence Tribune that same year and consolidated the newspapers under the name Florence Blade-Tribune

Early in President Woodrow Wilson’s term he appointed Tom Weedin the Registrar of the U.S. Land Office in Phoenix. 

Weedin was a powerful writer whose editorial comments were thoughtful and interesting and were read eagerly and accepted by the public. He made the Florence Blade-Tribune the voice of the democratic party in Florence and developed a wide circulation with an outstanding advertising patronage. This support made the newspaper a powerful political tool in Pinal County and the rest of the state. He was a member of the 18th, 24th, and 25th Territorial Legislative Councils, serving as the floor leader of his party during all sessions on the side of right, reform and progress. 

Weedin also served as the first mayor of Florence, Arizona Territory. He became an icon of the Florence political scene prior to the turn of the century.

Weedin had varied interests and was always fascinated with lost mines. He wrote stories about them and he grubstaked old prospectors. Weedin made many trips to Goldfield and the surrounding area and, according to one account, he spent time in the mountains looking for good mining property.

He listened to the stories about the Dutchman’s Lost Mine and carefully read P.C. Bicknell’s San Francisco Chronicle article on the Lost Mine that appeared in newspapers on January 13, 1895. Weedin never denied the existence of the Dutchman Lost Mine and added a special interest to this story through his newspaper.

Weedin probably will not be remembered for his many journalistic and political accomplishments. He will likely be remembered more for saving Arizonians from the fraudulent schemes of the Peralta Land Grant hoax perpetrated by James Addison Reavis, the infamous “Baron of Arizona”.

James Addison Reavis produced Spanish documents over several years (1880-1893) that gave him the rights to much of Arizona and New Mexico Territories.

Tom Weedin closely examined the ink and paper of these so-called Spanish Land Grant documents and determined that the documents were not as old as Reavis claimed because the ink used on them was modern.

Reavis was convicted of fraud in the U.S. Territorial Court in 1893 and eventually sent to prison. It was through the efforts of Tom Weedin and others that Reavis’ reign of economic terror over the Arizona Territory was ended in late 1880s.

Thomas F. Weedin passed away in his Phoenix home at 322 East Culver Street on October 6, 1916.

As you drive through Florence today, drive over to McFarland State Park in Florence and then stop by the old 1891 Victorian Pinal County courthouse. Think for just a moment... this old courthouse was a contemporary of Thomas F. Weedin. He walked its halls many times after it was constructed more than 100 years ago.

The Pinal County Courthouse (1891) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Dutchman's 2014 Rendezvous

October 13, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

About eighty to a hundred people attended last year’s “Dutchman’s Rendezvous” at the Don’s Camp.
We are now well into the twenty-first century and the intense interest in lost gold in the Superstition Mountain area still prevails. Men and women continue to come to Arizona hoping to find their fortunes. Most find nothing and others are lucky to get away without the loss of their lives. Sadly, some make poor choices and eventually end up dead.

Death or injury is no stranger to the unprepared and inexperienced in this rugged mountain range east of Apache Junction. Prospectors have died from extreme weather conditions, from gunshot wounds, from falls, drowned in flash floods, and from natural causes.

Since the early 1880s men and women have searched these rugged mountains for gold and lost mines. The most significant lost mine stories centers around an old German immigrant name Jacob Waltz. His mine was allegedly located near a prominent landmark called Weaver’s Needle just east of Superstition Mountain.

Maintaining a camp in these mountains can be difficult at best. The trails are rough and steep making it difficult to deliver supplies. Also pack trains (horses or mules) are a very expensive method in which to move needed items into the wilderness. Also, all camps are limited to fifteen days by forest service regulations.

Camps cannot be established within a quarter-of-a-mile of a water source. This can make camping very difficult in the dry season when water is scarce. One can easily get disoriented in these mountains if they don’t have map reading experience. The lost have died trying to find their way out of the mountains as recent as 2012. No one is immune to the dangers that exist in these mountains, however, caution and common sense will protect most from serious injury or death.

Each year I am amazed at the people who become involved in the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. There is a continuous list of new prospectors who are searching the mountains for clues. 

Many years ago a businessman and prospector named Joe Ribaudo (who lives in Lake Havasu City) decided he wanted to see the Dutchman legend carried on by some kind of annual gathering. He came up with the idea of the “Dutchman’s Rendezvous.” He held the first gathering just west of Twin Buttes and the coke ovens along the Gila River east of Florence. The first gathering was small with thirteen attending in October of 2005, however there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. The next year, the rendezvous was moved to Don’s Camp. This was accomplished with the help of Don’s member Greg Davis. The camp is located at the base of Superstition Mountain near the Peralta Trailhead. Each year the activity is held toward the end of October and has grown. It is a gathering of individuals that are extremely interested in the Superstition Mountains and its many tales and stories. This event has attracted old timers as well as younger folks anxious to learn the stories of Superstition Mountain.

The third year Joe handed over the organizing of the “Dutchman’s Rendezvous” to Wayne Tuttle and Randy Wright. Greg Davis continued to make the arrangements for the Don’s Camp for the rendezvous. Joe and his wife, Carolyn, remained camp hosts and provided some shade and cold water. The scheduled activities include a variety of options. Friday night includes sitting around a campfire and entertaining each other by telling stories about the mountains. There is usually a guided hike on Saturday. After dark on Saturday everyone gathers around the large Ramada to listen to a couple of guest speakers.

I have attended for last three years and I think it was an excellent opportunity to meet a variety of people from all over the United States who were interested in our history. As I look back I should have made an effort to attend and report on all of these events. Please don’t get this event confused with Lost Dutchman Days in Apache Junction. This has nothing to do with that particular event or the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce.

Last year there were three days of events. The interested, the curious and the very serious showed up last year. Some individuals drove from Texas, California, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and several other distant locations. The organizers should be proud of their accomplishment. I didn’t personally count each and everyone in attendance, but I would estimate there were about eighty to a hundred people who attended last year’s “Dutchman’s Rendezvous” at Don’s Camp.

A number of old time Dutch Hunters attended, and of course they are legends in their own right. Many authors, who have published books about the Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine attended.

The Dutch Hunter’s (Dutchman’s) Rendezvous is an open event, so everyone is welcome. This year’s event is scheduled for October 24, 25 and 26, 2014. There will be guest speakers at the Saturday night campfire gathering (October 25). I promised Wayne Tuttle I would also say a few words. The camp is primitive, so bring what you need to be comfortable— including water, food, and bedding if you are spending the night. For more information you may email Joe at 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ghost of Dutchman's Gold

October 6, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Stalactites form from dripping liquids and cling to the
ceilings of a cave while stalagmites build up from
the drippings on the floor of caves.
Phoenix was the center of a mystery that entwined the apparent prosaic present with one of the most well-known, exciting legends of early mining in Arizona territory near the turn of the century. Arizona abounds in tales and legends—wild and fanciful—told by storytellers at many campfires (and in many barrooms) of fabulous wealth and lost mines. The tale of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine is probably more familiar to Arizonans than any other.

The tale of the Dutchman has been told in one form or another from one end of the state to the other. One tale places the mine in the Mazatzal Range, near Four Peaks, another credits it to the Harquahalas, while other stories assert that the lost gold mine is located in the Superstition Mountains. Some men claim there were three mysterious “Dutchmen” connected to the legend, while others tell of a lone miner and his burro. All agree, however, that the mine was of fabulous richness, a true bonanza deposit.

Some claim the Dutchman had a mulatto wife, who resided in Phoenix and that she had a map to the location of his mine. Again, others claim he had a Native American wife, who led him to his rich mine in the Superstitions. Documents indicate Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman, was never married. It is this mine that so many men have searched for and yet the mine remains lost today. An appropriate question would be: Did the mine ever exist? The following is an interesting tale.

Jose Perez (Periz) was prospecting in the eastern portion of the Superstition Mountains in 1913 when he discovered a deep canyon. One day while riding down the rocky bottom of this rugged canyon, whose sheer walls towered far above him, Perez noticed a slight indentation in a stratum of limestone rock that appeared to be an entrance to a small cavern. Curiosity overcame him and he decided to investigate. 

Perez found a small opening about two feet in diameter far above the canyon floor. The opening led directly into the mountain. He crawled into the opening for a distance of about twenty feet when the cave suddenly opened into an immense chamber. This enormous chamber, in which a man could walk upright, led directly into the heart of the mountain. 

Perez used matches and a number of Agave torches to light his way into the cavern. Deep in the cavern Perez found a large flat rock. On this rock Perez found several nuggets of high-grade gold placed in the form of a dagger or stiletto and above this on the rocky walls of the cavern were some crudely drawn Cabalistic signs.

Perez left the cave and quickly returned to Miami, the nearest town for a man onhorseback.

He told his tale to Ray Thomas, Gila County Engineer, at the time. Thomas believed Perez and wanted to return to the cavern with him.

Perez, Thomas and a newspaperman returned to the site for a complete examination. When the three men reached the site they proceeded to investigate what Perez had reported. 

Thomas later reported the cavern did lead back into the mountain for about two hundred yards however there was no visible sign of mineralization.

Thomas further reported there were signs of previous occupancy in the cavern. The mouth of the cave was so small and situated at such an angle that only by the greatest accident could it have been discovered from the canyon below. Thomas and the reporter returned to Miami and Perez went his lonesome way.

Ray Thomas, several years later, discussed his trip to the cave with Perez. Thomas recapped the expedition to the cave in the following way.
Newspaper clipping from
the Mesa Tribune, March 22, 1935.
“The entrance to the cavern was about 250 feet above the canyon floor in a thicket of Manzanita that would discourage a mother cow looking for her calf.  How Jose found this cavern is beyond my imagination. Nobody would have climbed this cliff just to search for a cave.  The actual entrance to the cave is so small it is dangerous to enter it. As we made our way into the cavern, we found several large chambers, one measuring more than forty feet in height with stalagmites of nine to fifteen feet and stalactites of 10 feet or more.

In one chamber, there was a massive flow of travertine drapery of some forty or more feet. Near this travertine flow were masses of calcite crystals that looked like a wall of diamonds in our subdued light source. The cavern, or at least that portion we explored, extended back into the mountain some seven hundred feet. By no means had we found the end of this limestone solution cave. Poor health had prevented me from returning to the cave for further exploration. The cavern will undoubtedly become another wonder of this central mountain region of Arizona.”

Twenty years later an old prospector by the name of Joe Modock stumbled across this cave in 1935 and claimed he found a diamond mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. His diamonds turned out to be calcite crystals.

This large cavern in the Superstition Wilderness Area will probably be explored one day and turn out to be another Arizona natural wonder. This could be the same cavern some call the “Cave of a Thousand Eyes.” The secrecy of its location helps protects the cavern from profiteers and vandals.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Mission Bell

September 29, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Mountain Jesuit Mission story has a lot of believers, and storytellers love to expand on the tale. Again, I would like to emphasize the fact the Jesuit Order had no church mission above the Gila River, contrary to all the stories and tales told by local storytellers. The first stories about Jesuits Missions with gold treasures began popping up in the mid-1920s and possibly even earlier.

My previous column was about an alleged mission or visita located near Peralta Road and the old Burns Ranch. There were also stories about eight gold mines in the area that the Jesuits supposedly had the Native Americans working in. Like all gold stories these tales had no credibility. However, people wanted to believe them and searched for the Jesuit gold buried in the area. The expulsion of the Jesuits from Mexico occurred in 1757 and created many of these gold tales.

Now, the story of the ancient bronze church bell allegedly found along the north bank of Queen Creek was not too far from the old concrete bridge on old U.S. Highway 60. I heard the first mention of this bell in 1961. I was out at Apacheland shortly after Sharon had purchased some stock in the Superstition Mountain Enterprises. You might say, as a young couple, we were checking out our investment.

We were impressed at what we saw and figured someday this would be another “Old Tucson.” It was to be a “land of make believe” about the old West. It was here in the Cowboy Steakhouse that we heard our first story about a Jesuit church bell found along the banks of Queen Creek.

Julian King, our Apache-land stockbroker (so to speak) introduced us to a young, good-looking man with sharp facial features, tall, and a somewhat gaunt gunfighter-actor. His name was Robert Lee Ward. We were thrilled to meet one of the actors at Apacheland. When Julian departed our company, Mr. Ward sat down and started treating us like important Apacheland investors. I am sure he thought we had a little money.

He talked about the Superstition Mountains and many different treasure stories. I never mentioned to him at the time that I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch just three years prior to our conversation. Ward was a temporary gunfighter-actor they hired on weekends to entertain the tourists who visited Apacheland. It wasn’t long before this gunfighter-actor began to tell us about the Spanish Mission near the old Burns Ranch and how he had searched for the church treasure in the area. He informed us the church bronze bell was found on the north bank of Queen Creek. The finding of the mission bell convinced Ward the church site near the Burns Ranch was authentic. It was from this point on we continued to meet various people that talked about this old mission bell and a mission near Superstition Mountain.

At the time we didn’t think much of it because we had just gotten married and we were busy trying to establish a household and finding a decent place to live. Several years later, I stopped at a local Apache Junction eatery called the Lost Dutchman Café. I ordered a hamburger and inquired about a place to rent. We wanted to move back to Apache Junction. The man behind the counter didn’t know of any places for rent. As I was eating my hamburger an elderly gentleman came up and ask me if he could sit down. He knew I had worked for Bill Barkley out at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. We started talking and I soon found out he was a prospector. His name was Robert L. Garman. He started talking about prospecting the mountains around the area. I ask if he had ever heard of a Spanish mission in the area. He said “yes” there were several stories about one between Queen Creek and Superstition Mountain. All of a sudden this Spanish Mission thing was not just one man’s story. Garman was a strong believer in the Peralta Stone Maps that were found near Black Point just north of Queen Creek.

Many years later I was told the old church bell still existed and was sort of on display at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior. Several local treasure hunters and prospector swore this was the mission bell that was found on the north bank of Queen Creek.

This bell can be seen in the Smith Building at the Arboretum. This bell is not the old mission bell and has nothing to do with the Spanish mission period in the Southwest. However, a lot of old time treasure hunters believe it is part of the Spanish mission period in this region. Those who really believe in missions, stone maps, bells, and buried gold only see the facts they want to see. Usually, all other facts are discarded.

If you drive out to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, don’t be looking for treasure unless you enjoy the beauty of arid desert plants from around the world. You can spend a day enjoying the Arboretum and say, “Well, I saw that bell and it is not a mission bell.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Magnificent Burro

September 15, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A very young Tom Kollenborn with his “trusty steed”
in Apache Junction’s burro race.
Photo from January 1958 or 1959.
Nostalgia is an interesting thing. When one begins to reminisce about the past they usually think of those things that have fascinated or enlightened them in some way. Since childhood I have had a special place in my heart for animals, Burros in particular. My first real home was in Christmas, Arizona.

I arrived there in April of 1944, before Christmas I had lived in Globe, Tonto Basin and Payson. This small, rough looking mining camp, clinging to the side of the Dripping Springs Mountains, was quite a site for a six-year old boy filled with dreams of adventure. The drive up Christmas Hill to the heart of the old mining camp was an exciting ride for me. The road was steep and rough. I wasn’t sure Mrs. Lewis’ old car would make it up the hill.

To the left of the road was a large ore-crushing mill, still covered with its gray, tarnished and rusting tin, and to the right side was a large yellow-looking tailings dump. Up the road a short distance from the old mill was the community store. Its old porch appeared creaky and run down, but there was activity near its doors. The steps were worn from decades of use by miners and their families. Miners stood on the porch drinking cold beer. Cars parked below the steps leading to the front door of the store appeared frozen in time.

The store was the center of community activity. Giant green-leaved Cottonwood trees grew everywhere water was available. Their shade was a welcome umbrella to all on this warm spring morning. The spores of the Broom brush gently floated on the breeze.

You could hear the hum of the Black gnats. Bees and Yellow Jacket wasps worked the flowers and drank from leaking old water pipes. The water pipes wandered about the old mining town on the surface of the ground like giant rusty old snakes. The ground was far too rocky to dig trenches and their old leaking joints provided a temporary oasis for plants and animals.

Burros wandered about the town’s abandoned rustic buildings that were in various stages of degradation. The burros were into this and into that searching for a meal, often making a nuisance with their presence. The town’s population accepted the burros, because the people who lived in Christmas were primarily Hispanics in origin. The Burro was a significant part of their culture south of the border in Mexico.

Christmas was a mining town. Like all mines in those days they were being worked primarily by Hispanics from Mexico. The language spoken around the cap lamp room and at Peterson’s store was Spanish.

Most Americans had been drafted to fight the war in Europe and the South Pacific. My father had served in France during World War I and was too old for World War II. He was the mine foreman at Christmas. His main job was to hire timber men, miners, and powder men out of Mexico. Father was a man with a varied background and desire for adventure.  My future looked very promising as I rode into Christmas that day with Mrs. Lewis’ in her somewhat vintage 1931 Ford Coupe.

It wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the local town burros.  I would watch the Mexican boys ride the burros with no problem.  Finally one day I caught one of the burros by offering greens from my dad’s garden.  I soon fashioned a rope halter and I was riding a burro.  It wasn’t long before the burro got tired of my antics and gave me a little crow-hop and I was on my backsides. I ran home with skinned elbows and knees crying to my mother who was quite upset about the burros being in town now. She considered them a danger to her small son.

I continued to ride the burros for some time, but several months later all the burros were rounded up and hauled off to Hayden and given to the Mexicans around San Pedro. I am sure my mother was behind the “great burro roundup.”  I was six years old when I first got acquainted with these burros, but I have never forgotten the animals since. Their ability to recognize a person is comparable to that of a dog. One burro that had befriended me would come to me anytime I uttered a whistle, expecting something from my father’s garden.

My mother constantly tried to discourage my interest in burros. She told me the Mexicans kept burros because they made a sandwich out their meat called a “Burrito”. She also told me I could catch worms, ticks and lice from burros. I was almost convinced of these tall tales, until one of my Mexican friends named Rudy Valencia told me it wasn’t true. Even my dad agreed with Rudy.

There were a couple smart burros that survived the infamous Christmas roundup and hid out along the Gila River.  I found these burros one day and continue my burro riding days.

When I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch they had several burros. Barkley used burros for a variety of tasks on the ranch. He actually had used them for packing salt into the backcountry of his ranch. I still had a lot of respect for Burros. Barkley told me thousands of burros were used at the Silver King Mine to pack wood to the mills. He also said many hundreds of burros were used during the construction of Roosevelt Dam. Several years later when I was looking over some photographs taken of the Roosevelt Dam site by Walter J. Lubkin, I found burros in many of the photographs. The burro played an important role in early Arizona history.

One of the most interesting experiences I had while working at the Quarter Circle U Ranch was entering the burro race in Apache Junction. I believe it was in February of 1958 or 59.

I represented Chic Jones’ Lucky Nugget Tavern in Apache Junction’s first Burro Derby. I will never forget that first day. We were all lined up and everyone was taking photographs. I even got my picture taken with a Burro representing Chic Jones’ business. Chic figured I would win the Burro Derby because of my long legs and cowboy experience. I forgot to tell Chic most cowboys knew very little about burros. 

The race was seven miles long. I completed the race, but my feet were covered with blisters. Ironically, I had worn a pair of cowboy boots and ran seven miles in them. Oh yes, I will explain the running of the burros. 

When the gun sounded the beginning of the race my burro was in no hurry to go anywhere. I chatted with him for a while, than got behind him and he finally took off and I chased him for the rest of the race. I spent almost two hours running and jogging to keep up with my burro that wanted to catch the leader of the herd for some reason.

Later I discovered the lead burro was my burro’s mother. Also it is important to know burros are herd animals. Chic bought me a steak dinner at the close of the race. Reward enough for my ignorance about racing burros. I believe we came in about seventh.  

After my experience at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County and the Burro Derby in Apache Junction, the next time I came across burros they were in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I made my first trip down the Colorado River in the late 1960’s with Tour West.

Above Diamond Creek there were a lot of wild burros on the shore. The jack’s would challenge anyone who tried to land on the beaches.  These burros were the descendents of the burros released by prospectors in the Grand Canyon almost a hundred years ago. These small herds had survived almost a century in this hostile and remote environment.

Eventually the National Park Service had the burros removed from the “canyon” by helicopter. Ironically the average age of the burros was ten years.  These burros had adapted their species to the rugged environs of the Grand Canyon where temperatures soared to 120 *F in the summer months. Their forage was limited to minimal plants of the Sonoran Desert, but yet they survived a century in the Grand Canyon before being removed.

Our nation, our way of life is slowly being changed, but the burro somehow has managed to survive. The burro has become an icon of the American Southwest and the prospector, and the burro and prospector was the icon of Apache Junction for many years.

Today we can still see this iconic symbol outside the City Council offices in Apache Junction and behind the Focal Point at the junction of Apache Trail and the Old West Highway.

Burros were used for prospecting throughout the Superstition Mountain region from 1870 until the late 1950’s.

The Walter Lubkin, USRS photographer, recorded burros at work in the Superstition Mountain’s along First Water Trail in 1908 and through out the Salt River area during the construction of Roosevelt Dam. 

Cecil Stewart “Superstition Joe” and his brother Vernon Stewart prospected the Superstition Mountains for almost three decades and used only burros for their packing and riding. During the 1970’s and 1980’s Superstition Joe was often seen at Mining Camp Road and the Apache Trail with his wagon and team of burros. Many of the early ranchers used burros for packing on the rugged trails of the Superstition Mountain region. 

The burro is an animal that is smarter than a horse or a mule. The burro will survive in the worst of conditions. He can drop thirty per cent of his body weight due to dehydration and can still survive. Horses or mules will perish when they lose fifteen per cent of their body weight due to dehydration.

Today we still find a few small herds of burros scattered around Arizona. The most notable herd is in Oatman, on old Highway 66 near Kingman. Other herds can be found in Southern Arizona. 

Few burros roam public lands in Arizona anymore. Hopefully the burro will survive because of a few people who love these adorable animals and will accept the challenge to care for them and hopefully insure their future existence. Given the chance, a burro makes an adorable pet and caring for them teaches children responsibility. 

 Burros were used for prospecting throughout the Superstition Mountain region from 1870 until the late 1950’s.