Monday, February 24, 2014

Lost Dutchman Days 2014

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

The old prospector of lost mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left quite a legacy for the State of Arizona when he died in Phoenix on Sunday, October 25, 1891. His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, myth and cryptic clues about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. Today some believe Waltz had a rich gold mine and others claimed it to be just a fable.

As we celebrate this, the 50th Lost Dutchman Days, we should think about all the stories these old-timers left behind. Most are fiction, but some are true. Our state is unique with its many stories of lost mines, cowboys, gunfighters, miners, prospectors, lawman, ministers, farmers, ranchers, jurist, and politicians. These were the men and women who helped Arizona make the transition from territorial status to the modern state it is today.

Stories such as the Dutchman’s mine compels some to search the deep canyons and towering spires of the Superstition Wilderness for the lost gold. Prospectors, treasure hunters and the curious come from far and near for a look at the Superstition Mountains and to try their luck at searching for gold. However most come to enjoy the climate, scenery, tranquility and solitude of the mountains.

The first major group to take advantage of this international interest was the Phoenix Dons Club now known as The Dons of Arizona. Their first annual Superstition Mountain Trek was held in 1934. The Dons Club, in an attempt to further commemorate the history and lore of the Lost Dutchman Mine and Superstition Mountain, constructed the Lost Dutchman Monument in Apache Junction in 1938. The monument was rededicated after standing for fifty years. Almost 400 dignitaries and citizens from around Arizona rededicated the monument on February 28, 1988. The governor of Arizona was the keynote speaker for the occasion.

Thousands of families have stopped to admire the monument over the years. Many have their photograph taken with the monument in the background. Sam Lowe, columnist for the Arizona Republic wrote about the historical significance of the monument in the lives of many prominent Arizonians including Arizona governors, legislators and historians. Recently the City of Apache Junction dedicated a bronze statue of the prospector and burro at the City Hall complex on October 4, 2011. The prospector and burro have become the motif of Apache Junction, unique to our community.

The Apache Junction Lions Club so valued the legacy of the Lost Dutchman Mine story and the Dons monument they implemented the Apache Junction Burro Derby in 1958. The Burro Derby drew thousands to Apache Junction and Hollywood movie stars often became involved with the Burro Derby when they were in town filming at Apache Land.

As I recall, St. George’s Catholic Church started a Mardi Gras parade. Lost Dutchman Days evolved in 1965 under the guidance and support of Colonel Rodgers. Lulu Luebben named the event "Lost Dutchman Days." Lulu’s husband Roy became the first officially elected Lost Dutchman. If I recalled correctly, the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce organized the event each year after 1964. This year’s event will be the 50th Annual Lost Dutchman Days.

Missing from Lost Dutchman Days after more than two decades of dedication and devotion is Gary Mulholland. He was the man who probably saved Lost Dutchman Days through forming the Superstition Mountain Promotional Corporation. Gary passed away in 2011, and Lost Dutchman Day 2012 was dedicated in the memory of Mr. Gary Mulholland who’s motto was "putting smiles on kid’s faces." Today the motto of Lost Dutchman Days remains "putting smiles on kid’s faces."

The new chairman is Denny Walters, and Lost Dutchman Days is known around the world because of the notoriety of Jacob Waltz and his lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. Each year this celebration draws thousands people to Apache Junction for fun and to share in our history, and the event requires a tremendous amount of volunteer energy and ingenuity to pull it off each year.

Lost Dutchman Days is marked by volunteer dedication everywhere you look. If it were not for community volunteers, there would be no Lost Dutchman Days. It is through their efforts our community puts its best foot forward, and we need to recognize the businesses and sponsors who so strongly support this event. It is also important we recognized the resources and support committed by the City of Apache Junction since 1978, when the city was first incorporated.

Recently I had to explain to an old timer how to find the burro and prospector monument in downtown Apache Junction because of our recent growth. He recalled having his picture taken there in 1939. He said, "When I had that picture taken, there was nothing between the monument and Superstition Mountain."
I then mentioned Lost Dutchman Days to him. His reply was simple, "You mean the old prospector and burro has an event named after them? It sure pays to hunt gold in these hills friend."

Please come out and celebrate Lost Dutchman Days with the fine people of Apache Junction on February 21, 22 and 23, 2014. This celebration includes a parade, a rousing Rodeo Dance, a carnival, Polka contest, gold panning, a Senior Pro Rodeo, and lots of good food and entertainment.

Community events have sustained Arizona through good times and bad times and have been important to Arizona’s sustained growth and prosperity. These events bring people together to enjoy the best of Arizona, its climate, culture, scenery, and people.

If you need information about Lost Dutchman Days call (480)982-3141.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Miller Mine

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

The legend of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine continues to haunt the history of the Superstition Mountain region. The word "legend" is derived from the Latin word legenda: a participial form from the Latin verb legere meaning to read. In Medieval Latin legenda was used to mean "something to be read." During the 14th Century, it is likely the utterly incredible exploits and events recounted in some legends led to the present English definition of the word’s meaning, "unverified popular tale, myth, etc." It is by this definition I recommend we should read and learn more about the history and lore of Superstition Mountain area.

One of the stone cabins near the Miller Mine, supposedly where Jacob Waltz lived while working the mine.

Mr. Lewis A. Weise came upon an interesting story in July 1920. Weise heard that George Miller had found the Lost Dutchman Mine east of Phoenix and agreed to accompany a party of two to the site of the mine. The party consisted of Dr. Robert A. Aiton and James G. Simpson. The party left Phoenix on Sunday, July 11, 1920, and drove fifty-five miles on the road to Roosevelt Dam. At that point along the Apache Trail the three men left the car and hiked along a burro trail eastward for about four miles. The trail brought them to the head of a very deep ravine. The mining camp was finally located on a ridge beside a burro trail.

Dr. Robert A. Aiton, promoter of the Miller Mine and
 Lost Dutchman Mine Corporation in 1920’s.
The mine was being worked by a crew of five men under the supervision of an old time prospector-miner named George Miller. The mine was equipped
with a six-horsepower gasoline engine that operated a bucket and air fan. The main shaft was 100 feet deep and two incline shafts were sixty and fifty feet respectively. According to Weise, the specimen chipped off the vein assayed at $40 per ton in gold.

The mine was located, according to Weise, by George Miller, who started working the area in 1913. Miller had worked many locations in the vicinity, but had not found any specimens that yielded gold. Miller claimed he didn’t find the present bonanza until 1915. According to Miller, an old Native American had told him about the old "Dutchman" Jacob Waltz, and his diggings there. Miller also said the mine fit all the clues associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine. There was an old stone cabin that stood near the mine. It was a stone cabin, according to Miller, that Jacob Waltz used while working his mine.

As George Miller told Lewis Weise his story, he was convinced he had found the Lost Dutchman Mine in the mountains sixty miles east of Phoenix. Weise stated it appeared Miller had an unlimited supply of rich gold ore to process.

Now, history will tell us the Miller Mine (Lost Dutchman Mine) never amounted to anything. Lots of money was invested through the efforts of Dr. Aiton but no gold was ever produced. Dr. Aiton died in Superior, Arizona, on Monday, February 17, 1928, and George (Dracluvich) Miller died on April 6, 1936, and was buried on his claim near his mine.

Mr. Lewis Weise’s newspaper article recorded for all time the legend of George Miller and his Lost Dutchman Mine. Isn’t the difference between history and legend a thin line after all? The Miller Mine (Lost Dutchman Mine) story was followed up with stories in the Arizona Gazette, Arizona Republican, Arizona State Miner and the Florence Blade-Tribune during the month of August 1920. This was the beginning of the legacy of George Miller’s Lost Dutchman Mine and Dr. Robert A. Aiton’s corporation the Lost Dutchman Mine, Inc.

This area today is accessible by a very rough four wheel drive trail from the Tortilla Ranch access corridor off the Apache Trail about twenty miles east of Apache Junction. From the end of the four-wheel drive trail it is still a half-mile walk to the site of the old Miller Mine (Lost Dutchman Mine). One should be very careful exploring the area because of prospect holes and depressions. There is no evidence of gold ore in this area.

George Miller and his two partners are buried near their mine. Miller’s grave is no longer marked as it once was. The erosion of time has erased the cultural marks on the land except for the old diggings.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Apache Land I Remember

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

During the last months I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in May of 1959, I heard lots of rumors about the Barkley Ranch being sold and a movie studio being built on the old Quarter Circle W Ranch (or Three R’s) property. The story was that Gertrude (Gertie) Barkley had sold two sections of land to a developer and there were plans to build a large planned community around Dinosaur Mountain. Another developer had tried to develop a small planned community called Crystal Springs just off of the King’s Ranch Road about a half of a mile south of Julian and Lucille King’s place known as "King’s Ranch Resort." These rumors and stories didn’t concern me that much. I had left the ranch in May of 1959 just before roundup due to a serious injury.

In early August of 1959, I heard rumors that Hollywood production companies were building another "Old Tucson" type movie set near Superstition Mountain. News circulated that major movie companies and movie stars from Hollywood would be working on the set of this new movie ranch in Arizona. It was said stars like Glenn Ford, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and many more big names in the movie industry. The new movie set was going to be called Apache Land. The holding company for the movie set was Superstition Mountain Enterprises. The first thing the company did was build a large resort type hotel in the center of Apache Junction and named it the Superstition Ho. It was some time before construction started on the hotel in Apache Junction that promoters were already calling the "Hotel of the Stars."

I met my future wife in November of 1959. We spent almost every weekend together until we were married on June 23, 1962. It was on these weekends we would go out to the Quarter U Ranch and eventually down to Apache Land. We watched the movie set being born. We attended the first opening day and as we walked down main street, we could feel the old West. We watched the gunfights and other acts that were put on for an excited and gloating public. During one of our many visits I ran into my old friend Julian King. He was involved with Apache Land and selling stock for the company. Sharon and I decided purchasing stock in this company would be a good future investment for us. Sharon purchased 100 shares. We were both excited about the affair even though her name was the only name on the stock certificate. After all she was the one that had the money. This was her introduction to Apache Junction in 1960.

Flames leaped three hundred feet into the night sky near King’s Ranch about 6:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, 2004. Some twenty-five patrons in the Apache Land restaurant escaped the fire unharmed. Once again a devastating fire had become a part of this movie set’s history.

Apache Land burned to the ground for the second time in its forty-four year history on Saturday, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2004. The fire only left a few buildings standing. Ironically, the little white chapel used in Elvis Presley’s film Charro survived for the second time. Other buildings survived the fire at the west end of the movie set. The fire reportedly began somewhere near the restaurant in an electrical box. The Apache Junction Fire District was still putting out hot spots on Sunday morning when I arrived. I secured permission from Ed and Sue Birmingham to photograph the devastation at Apache Land Movie Set.

The fire was devastating to the Birminghams and their employees. They always prided themselves so much in preserving the movie history of the area. Apache Land was a special place to many people. It was a place were memories of our silver screen cowboy heroes came alive and reminded us of how important their impact was on our lives. Television series such as Wyatt Earp with Hugh O’Brien, Wanted: Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen, Have Gun, Will Travel with Richard Boone, The Virginian, Rawhide, and several episodes of Little House on the Prairie produced television heroes for many us. Audey Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Kenny Rogers, Elvis Presley and Jason Robards were just some of the silver screen feature length stars who performed for the cameras at Apache Land.

Apache Land was first planned to be an amusement park and film studio late in 1959. Original construction on the set began on February 12, 1960, and the ground- breaking ceremony was held on March 19, 1960, with Will Rogers Jr. on hand. William W. Creighton was the man behind the dream when he came to Apache Junction in the late 1950’s. Spencer D. Stewart helped make this dream come true by providing some of the financial backing for Apache Land. The movie set was originally constructed for Dick Powell’s Death Valley Days and originally starred Robert Taylor, rather than Ronald Reagan. A large sound studio was constructed on the western end of the lot. The walls of this studio were about forty feet high. Winds have since toppled this massive sound stage.

Early construction at Apache Land circa 1960. 
My first involvement with Apache Land was when my wife, Sharon and her friend purchased a hundred shares each of the first stock options offered for sale to the public by Superstition Mountain Enterprises Inc. in July of 1960. We all sat in the Cowboy Steak House at Apache Land and signed the papers for the Superstition Mountain Enterprises Inc. stock. We walked the streets of Apache land and admired our investment in the future. Superstition Mountain Enterprises Inc. once more offered stock for sale on August 4, 1961. The Federal Securities Exchange Commission authorized the sale of two million shares at two dollars and fifty cents a share. I have found no figures on how much of this stock actually sold in the early 1960’s. William W. Creighton had dreams of a large hotel for the stars in Apache Junction. This idea became a reality when the Superstition Ho Hotel was completed in 1960. Creighton also brought the Houston Colt 45’s (now the Astros) baseball team to Apache Junction for spring training at Geronimo Park in 1961 and 1962. An economic slump in 1964 brought the development of Apache Junction and Apache Land to a halt.

The fifty-four acre western town Apache Land was sold at a sheriff’s auction on January 29, 1965, to satisfy a loan held against the movie set by Home Savings and Loan. The Superstition Mountain Enterprise had finally failed. Apache Land had gone into receivership. John Porter Manufacturing Co. took over Apache Land after purchasing it at the sheriff’s auction. Spencer D. Stewart owned the John Porter Manufacturing Company.

On July 13, 1977, Vernon Piehl purchased the studio according to local newspapers. Piehl supposedly purchased the movie set from Spencer D. Stewart. At this time Apache Land was renamed Superstition Studios. Ted DeGrazia was involved with the studio for a short time, but later opted to do his own gallery near the base of Superstition Mountain east of Apache Junction. On Labor Day 1977, Vernon Piehl planned a big new grand opening for the Superstition Studios. Piehl could never make Apache Land go as Superstition Studio so the property remained in the hands of Spencer’s daughter, Sue Schilleman. In January of 1981 the old movie set was put up for auction. Four hundred thousand dollars was turned down for the movie set. During the spring of 1981, Larry Hedrick and his 7th Confederate States Cavalry did a reenactment of the "Battle of Gettysburg" at Apache Land. A large area was needed for this reenactment.
Ed and Sue Birmingham (Schilleman) closed Apache Land in 1984. There was another attempt to open Apache Land on January 3, 1990 by a group called Apache Land Tours and Chuck Wagon Dinners. Charlie Graves came down from Colorado looking for a new place for his chuck wagon dinners and theater. This venture failed after a season or so.

Sadly enough, a lot of historical artifacts and materials were lost in these two fires. The first fire, in 1969, claimed Levis Brown’s collection of early medical instruments that belonged to Dr. L. M. Tompkins of Gilbert. Many of the instruments dated back to 1910. Many photographs autographed by Hollywood stars were lost in both fires. Ben Cole, Apache Land’s official Dutchman for several years, possessed one of the finest collections of photographs autographed by Hollywood stars.

The film Charro starring Elvis Presley was made at Apache Land when he was at the peak of his career in 1968. The small white church that still stood after the two fires was actually blown up by canon fire in the film Charro. Actually it was only the steeple that was destroyed in the movie.

The following spring after the filming of Charro the first fire occurred. Jack McGill and Don Hunt discovered the first fire at Apache Land about 11 p.m. on May 25, 1969. This fire burned into the morning of May 26, 1969. Howard Jones, the Apache Junction Volunteer Fire Department’s chief at the time took the call at 12 p.m. Cliff Russell, chief engineer, helped fight the fire. Cliff said he had a truck on the scene within twenty minutes of the call.

The "Elvis" Chapel in the background is a survivor among the ashes of the Valentine’s Day fire at Apache Land in February, 2004.
After this devastating fire, Apache Land was rebuilt in time to start shooting Death Valley Days on July 25, 1969. Also, Dallas Adair had moved his riding stable down to Apache Land from Lake City, Colorado to help out during the filming of Death Valley Days. Dallas told me one day he had moved down just in time for the fire.

Early in 1993, Ed Birmingham and Sue Schilleman began to restore Apache Land to its original movie set condition. Hard work, sweat and tears helped to build the movie set again. They opened a restaurant and saloon on April 16, 1994 that became very popular in the Apache Junction-Gold Canyon area. Ed Birmingham revitalized an old movie set and found filming companies interested in it. HBO filmed Blind Justice starring Armand Assante.

The Birminghams worked closely with the Arizona Film Commission and the Apache Junction Film Commission to promote the film industry in Arizona. It was at this time I chaired the Apache Junction Film Commission and Ed and Sue helped sponsor the "Elvis Lives" festival with the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce for two years in row. The restaurant and streets of Apache Land once again attracted people from around the country and the world. Ed and Sue Birmingham were involved in many charitable community events at Apache Land, and did everything with class. Apache Land had found new stars.

Those who have enjoyed working and visiting at Apache Land know how important the values of our silver screen cowboy heroes have always been to us. Apache Land films reminded us that the good guys always won and the bad guys always lost. This was part of the moral value of this wonderful place called Apache Land.

A view of Main Street of Apache Land, circa 2002.
As a footnote, the Superstition Mountain Inn (Grand Hotel) was razed in 2007 ending the physical legacy of motion picture industry in the Apache Junction area. Apache Land created a lot of dreams in the minds of men. Today, both museums along the Apache Trail are making an effort to preserve this film history in our community. Visit them and enjoy the film history of the Superstition Mountain region and old Apache Land.

The Superstition Mountain Museum celebrated Heritage Days and Apache Land January 18-19, 2014, with one of the largest crowds on record. The Heritage Days at the museum were outstanding. Visit the Apache Land church and barn at the Superstition Mountain Museum and learn about the filming history in the Apache Junction area.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Boy Scouts of America: Camp Geronimo

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

The Boy Scouts of America was a fledging organization in Arizona shortly after World War I and the Salt River Valley had several scout troops representing cities such as Phoenix, Glendale, Tempe, Buckeye, Lehi and Mesa.

On May 4, 1921, a committee met in Phoenix to consider the selection of a site for the summer encampment of the Boy Scouts. The committee consisted of H. D. Ross, Jr., Edgar Hunsaker and Edwin M. LeBaron. This committee met with another committee consisting of J.E. Thompson, H.B. Wilkinson, E.S. Clark, Leroy Show and Joe Prochaska, the State Game Warden.

Several possible sites were suggested, including Seven Springs on Camp Creek, Pine Air and Fish Creek. The committee carefully considered the three sites and decided another committee would be appointed to inspect the three sites before a final decision was made.

The committee inspected the sites for the 1921 encampment and decided against them. Instead, the encampment site chosen was located eight miles north of Payson on the East Verde River and was called Camp Apache.

The pond immediately south of the Reavis Ranch house served as the swimming, canoeing, and water safety training area.
The Boy Scout Councils soon found that travel over the primitive roads to Payson, which included the Apache Trail, was extremely difficult and not cost effective. On April 7, 1922, the Boy Scout camp committee of District No. 2, the old Apache Council, met in the Mesa Chamber of Commerce rooms. The purpose of the meeting was to propose summer campsites.

Tom Murray, scout executive for the Roosevelt Council (Frank Cervney), Old Apache Council (Joe Pomeroy) and State Game Warden Joe Prochaska, met and discussed campsites for the upcoming Boy Scout Encampment. The committee members agreed they would visit and inspect the Pine Air camp at the Reavis Ranch on April 15-16, 1922.

Reavis Falls was also known as
Maiden’s Prayer Glen.

Pine Air had the distinct advantage of being much closer to the Salt River Valley than the East Verde River north of Payson. William J. Clemans owned the Reavis Ranch and welcomed the Boy Scouts to the area. At this time the only way to visit the Reavis was on foot or horseback. The committee used twelve horses to ride up to Pine Air to inspect the site for the scout camp. The Scout Committee approved Pine Air for the Boy Scout Camp for 1922.

By May 13, 1922, the Boy Scouts were asked to register early for the Pine Air encampment. The camp was planned for three sessions of one hundred boys each. The first encampment was from June 16 – 26, the second from July 6-26 and the final encampment began on July 26.

Each scout needed $9.50 for two weeks of camping at Pine Air. The fee covered all expenses. The scouts had to bring their individual clothes, toilet articles and bedding. The scouts had a variety of instructors trained in biology, geology, swimming, camping, and other topics. The camp consisted of fourteen high-wall tents, each tent 16 feet by 16 feet. Each tent housed a patrol of eight boys. There was a large cook tent for meal preparation and of course a big campfire area.

Ray Stewart, Tonto National Forest district ranger, Dwight B. Heard and Governor Thomas Campbell all planned on visiting the scouts while they were in camp at Pine Air. On May 18, 1922, the Mesa Daily Tribune reported for the first time that the camp committee of District No. 2, Boy Scouts of America, Roosevelt Council had named the campsite "Camp Geronimo".