Monday, April 21, 2014

A Special Band of Heroes

April 14, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Over the years I have met many interesting men who called themselves “Dutch Hunters.” This term is used to describe the men and women who search for the Dutchman’s lost mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area east of Apache Junction, Arizona. There were none more interesting than Monte Edwards, an international command pilot for Delta Air Lines. Edwards was a graduate of Eastern Colorado State College at Gunnison. He served as a combat pilot during the Korean conflict flying F-86 Sabre jets. He was a major in the United States Marine Corps.

I always enjoyed Monte’s company in the mountains. I met him in 1977 and we were friends for many years. Monte would never go into the mountains with me, however he would meet me at a pre-arranged site.

Monte Edwards on horseback.
One cold week in January he wanted me to pack some supplies into West Boulder Canyon. The weather looked bad with ominous black clouds heavy with moisture hanging low in the sky. I arrived at our pre-arranged site at 10 a.m. and there was no sign of Monte. I had almost decided to return to the trailhead when I heard Monte’s distant voice call out, “Hey Tom, I made it.”

We talked briefly and then I started unloading his supplies from Don Shade’s mule. I was packing mining equipment for Monte. After the mule was unloaded I unsaddled Crow and prepared to stay the night (against my better judgment). Monte was convinced we could plan on a really wet night so we prepared our camp for heavy rainfall. We secured my saddles and equipment with plastic. Then we set about making our sleeping quarters waterproof from the impending storm. We briefly listened to Monte’s weather radio and the forecast said to expect severe and heavy rain for the next ten to twelve hours.

By 3 p.m. the rain was falling and there was nothing to do but go to bed or get in our tents. It didn’t stop raining until the next morning about 8 a.m. West Boulder Canyon was at full flood stage and I wasn’t going anywhere until the flooding subsided.

I had survived the night with out getting wet, but the water flowed by my tent all night long. Crossing West Boulder would be impossible for man or beast. Monte spent an hour getting a fire started once it quit raining. Even our protected wood supply was wet. Our situation was a bit dismal at best.

Three hours after the rain ceased I was packing my mule and preparing to ride out. The sun was finally shinning and it was warming up a bit. By 11:30 a.m. I was ready to bid Monte Edwards farewell. He appeared pleased that I was finally leaving so he could search in privacy. Monte had learned to trust no one or depend on no one in these rugged mountains. Dutch Hunters in general are a friendly lot, but they usually don’t trust anyone with their secrets about these mountains and are fiercely independent. In other words they don’t share their secrets with others and always protect what they know.

Monte had another interesting habit and that was photographing and accurately mapping each and every marking or petroglyph he found in the mountains. He had a collection that included more than five hundred.

Over the years he showed me much of his work. He evaluated each stone marking for its historic significance and relationship to other markings in the area. Many of the markings were contemporary, but most of them were ancient Native American petroglyphs. I found his collection of markings extremely interesting and historical in nature. His collection of markings and petroglyphs defined Monte as a perfectionist of the highest order.

As I rode away that morning Monte Edwards struck me as a somewhat lonely figure standing in the wilderness alone facing the elements. He was a confidant man who feared nothing the Superstition Wilderness had to offer. In his heart he wasn’t lonely, he loved what he was doing. After all he had been a United States Marine officer who had fought in the skies over Korea. I had always respected Major Monte Edwards, U.S. Marine Corps., for his service to our country. I waved farewell as I rode over a small divide with my pack mule in tow.

Briefly, I thought of Monte in this inclement weather, however I knew he took care of himself under the worst conditions in Korea as a combat pilot flying F-86’s against tremendous odds. I know so many stories about men who found peace, solitude, and tranquility in these mountains searching for a dream while suppressing the demons of war that haunted them.

Yes, this philosophy probably explains the souls of men like Edwin Buckwitz, Greg Pearce, Monte Edwards, Don Shade, Ron “Eagle” de Andre, Wayne Richardson, Bud Lane, Ludwig G. Rosencrans, and many, many more whose names we don’t know. Yes, Monte Edwards was with a very special “Band of Heroes.” 

The next time you see a veteran please tell him or her thanks for their service to our country. And also, God bless you for doing so.