Monday, June 9, 2014

The Bark Notes

June 2, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Old newspaper photo of James E. Bark
taken in Phoenix, c. 1900.
James E. Bark was born in New York in 1860 and became a prominent rancher and businessmen in Arizona Territory between 1890-1930. He first learned the printing business before he got involved in the cattle business. He arrived in Arizona around 1879 and soon became partners with Frank Criswell. He became the president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association. Bark also was on the ballot for Sheriff of Maricopa County.

Jim Bark, as he was best known, was a man interested in lost gold mines and stories about them. He had gold mining claims up the Salt River near Box Canyon. This area was known as the Volcanic Mining District, and Bark and his partner found a little placer gold in the area, but nothing that proved significant. He also made a trip to Nome, Alaska searching for gold and ended up selling cattle to the Alaskans. Probably Bark’s greatest legacy were the “Bark Notes.”

Bark and Criswell acquired the old Marlar Ranch in Pinal County in the 1890s. He became friends with a man named Sims Ely shortly after, and Ely knew a lot of important people in those days and he introduced Jim Bark around. Ely actually thought a lot of Jim Bark and they became close friends. Both men prospected the Superstition Mountain together from his ranch in Pinal County just off the southeast end of Superstition Mountain near Willow Canyon. Today his old ranch is known as the Quarter Circle U Ranch and is owned and operated by Charles and Judy Backus.

When Jim Bark choose to talk about the Lost Dutchman gold mine people would listen. Bark was never convinced Jacob Waltz had a mine in the Superstition Mountains. He believed Waltz might have found a rich cache. Bark was a terrific storyteller. As late as 1936 he was still giving talks about the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. He gave his last public talk about the Lost Dutchman mine on December 9, 1936, for the Arizona Historical Society at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He was seventy-seven years old.

Bark moved to Pasadena, California in 1928, claiming his wife couldn’t take the heat in the valley. However, Jim Bark continued to return to Arizona to search for the elusive Lost Dutchman mine. His nephew, John Spangler, often accompanied him on these Arizona expeditions. Bark always had a story to tell those who were willing to listen.

Bark’s best-known story was the one about Jacob Waltz going into the Superstition Mountains and finding a cache of rich gold ore. Bark never believed Waltz had a gold mine. Bark was a contemporary of Jacob Waltz and many people have said he knew Jacob Waltz quite well. He always believed Waltz had found a rich Mexican cache hidden before 1847.

Bark was convinced the Mexicans had worked a rich gold deposit in the Goldfield area. When the Apaches struck and killed most of the mining party they packed up their high-grade ore and took it back into the mountains and hid it in a cave on the side of a cliff where the cache would be safe from detection. Bark searched a lot in Needle Canyon because he believed the cave was located on the west face of Bluff Springs Mountain. As a matter of fact, Bark was given credit for naming Bluff Spring Mountain. There has always been a discussion as to whether or not the mountain is named because of its bluffs or because of the buff color. Bark always said it should have been known as Buff Springs Mountain.

Bark spent several weeks of the later years of life with his nephew John Spangler searching for the cache. After Jim Bark’s death on November 8, 1938, Spangler returned to the Superstition Mountains many times to continue the search. It was at Charlebois Spring that Chuck Aylor allegedly copied the “Bark Notes” in secret from John Spangler after Bark’s death.

Spangler did not know Aylor copied the notes. Bark kept notes on all his exploration trips and always stated what he believed to be true and supporting information. Whether you agreed with Bark or not, his notes are one of the best examples of pioneer notes on the Lost Dutchman mine. Today these notes have been interpreted and re-written by different people for various reasons. Many of these pseudo-notes look nothing like the original “Bark Notes.”

Today it is difficult or maybe impossible to find an original set of the “Bark Notes”. I have in my collection four different versions of the Bark Notes, and I know where there are other versions. I am not convinced I have an original set of the “Bark Notes.”

Again, like many things associated with the Lost Dutchman mine, the “Bark Notes” are an enigma to many who have examined them.