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.

Monday, September 8, 2014

White Stallion of the Superstitions

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

I must confess I had never observed the white stallion of Superstition Mountain, but I had seen signs of him.
Several years ago an old friend, Dan Hopper, told me a story about a white stallion he and his father often observed in the Superstition Mountains during the 1960s. Dan talked about one particular trip he and his father had made down into Second Water Canyon.

As they hiked through Black Gap at the northeast end of Garden Valley they saw a beautiful white stallion on the skyline to the south.  Dan’s father took a picture of the stallion as it stood cautiously and watched them pass by. 

Dan quizzed me as to the origin of this beautiful stallion. I found his story extremely difficult to believe for several reasons. However, I knew Dan did not just make up stories. I respected his opinion and story about the white stallion in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

I decided to investigate the story by talking to several people I knew who had spent a lot of time in the Superstition Mountains between 1965-1995, a period of thirty years. On a cool December morning I rode into Needle Canyon to visit with Edwin Buckwitz. I asked Edwin if he had ever observed a white horse in the Superstition Mountains. He looked at me in an inquisitive manner and said, “Of course I have seen that great white stallion.”

Edwin had searched for the Peralta gold off and on since 1965. He was a very honest individual and never really lied to me about anything over the years. If he said he saw the white stallion, I could believe him. I continued to pursue the story of the white stallion. 

I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company in the late 1950s and I knew Barkley would have never allowed wild horses on his range. Any livestock other than the units allotted on his grazing permit cost him money. Barkley may have allowed a few of his own horses on his range, but never a stallion. Most of the horses owned by Barkley were geldings and I don’t recall him owning a mare. Gelding’s are less problems on a cattle ranch.

Another possible source of the white stallion was the Indian Reservation across the Salt River. Indian horses were known to cross the Salt River near the confluence of the Verde and then make their way up the Salt then into the Goldfield Mountains and across the Apache Trail into the Superstition Wilderness Area. The Indians had a lot of broomtail stallions on the reservation, and this could explain a white stallion in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

As I continued to search for possible answers, Dan finally produced the picture his father had taken of the white stallion standing on a ridge near Garden Valley. There was no question the horse was a stallion. I had not doubted Dan’s story, but I did want to corroborate it. I talked to another old friend—Chuck Aylor. He had also observed the stallion in the Second Water-Garden Valley area. Al Reser, an old timer prospector, also told me about seeing the stallion on several occasions. I was now convinced the white stallion existed.

I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company until June of 1959, and did not know of any horses that had been turned out on to the Barkley range. When William Thomas Barkley was no longer capable of managing the ranch because of health problems, I wondered if he might have turned his old horse out on the ranch. “Champ” wasn’t a true white, but a gray. Monte Edwards, a prospector and airline pilot, told me he saw the horse several times the winter of 1966-67. I must confess I had never observed the white stallion of Superstition Mountain, but I had seen signs of him. 

Several years ago I found out the truth about the White stallion near Second Water.  This beautiful animal had belonged to an old cowboy who lived in the eastern part of the Salt River Valley. He was diagnosed with a terminal disease and decided to release his horse in the wild. I just can’t imagine an old cowboy releasing a horse in the Superstition Wilderness Area knowing the rules and regulations the forest service has pertaining to unassigned livestock on Taylor graze. Secondly, it is difficult to believe the horse survived for almost two decades and evaded capture. The man who told me this story would not reveal the name of the man who released the horse.

From what I have been told the horse roamed the Superstition Wilderness Area for almost two decades. The white stallion had been observed from one end of the wilderness to the other. I was told the horse died of natural causes near Tortilla Ranch in 1984. This wild, white stallion could be the source of the name Whispering Horse Canyon near the Apache Trail about three miles east of Tortilla Flat.

The spirit of that white stallion still roams the rugged Superstition Wilderness Area in the minds of those who love to wander this endless and pristine region thinking about its’ legend and lore.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Sage of the Superstitions

August 25, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Doc Rosecrans when he first arrived to build his cabin along the Apache Trail and search for the Lost Dutchman mine.
There are not to many of us around anymore who recalled the old “Sage of Superstition Mountain” who lived along the Apache Trail northeast of Apache Junction. Many of us referred to him as “Doc” Rosecrans.

I first met Ludwig Grath Rosenkrantz in the spring of 1949. Father had stopped by to purchase Doc’s new book on the Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman Mine. Our visit was short and interesting as “Doc” told stories about the Lost Dutchman Mine. At this time in his life Doc expressed a real interest in finding the Dutchman’s lost mine.  Rosecrans’ cabin was located along the Apache Trail northeast of Apache Junction about seven miles. One of his notable quotes when talking about the Lost Dutchman Mine was, “the only mine is in the mind of the believer.”

Rosecrans moved to the Superstition Mountain area in 1946, settling on a claim belonging to Mrs. Sina Lewis, an old woman he befriended. Doc had spent a couple of years around Amboy Crater in California searching for the Lost Peg Leg Mine. He made a trip over to Apache Junction and met Sina Lewis in the fall of 1945. He decided he liked the area and remained. It was at Sina Lewis’ suggestion Rosecrans built a cabin and filed on the Lazy Doc claim. He liked the geology of the claim and believed it had potential.

Rosecrans made several trips into the Superstition Mountains over the next forty years. He spent time around Black Top Mesa, Lewis Ridge, and East Boulder Canyon. People arrived at his doorstep from all over the world seeking information about the Lost Dutchman Mine. Rosecrans was more than happy to oblige them, but would always caution them about the mountains. “As for the mine,” he would say, “a lot of interest, but no substance.” His experience, information and philosophy led to his being called the “Sage of Superstition Mountain.” He became a legend within his own lifetime.

Who was Doc Rosecrans? Ludwig G. Rosenkrantz (his birth name) was born in Latah, Washington, on July 9, 1914. His father was a Veteran’s Administration doctor and was constantly on the move from one place to another. Rosecrans remembered as a child living on the Hoopa Indian Reservation. Growing up, he also lived at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, then in Chicago, and finally in Memphis. Rosecrans attended Southwestern College in Memphis, but soon gave up a college education and moved to California in 1935.

When Doc arrived in California he planned on striking it rich. He even tried Hollywood for a while, playing the part of a Burgundy soldier in the film If I Were King. The film starred Ronald Coleman and Claire Trevor and was released in 1938. Doc always said, “I didn’t hit Hollywood by storm, as a matter of fact Hollywood hit me by storm. I was in, and then I was out.”

In California Doc became acquainted with billiards. His only means of support was hustling pool, primarily at a pool hall located at 6th and Union Streets in Los Angeles. His pool shooting expertise soon earned him the name of “Sixth and Union Street Doc.” He actually played exhibition games against the great “tuxedo players” such as Harry Oswald.

“It was a romantic way of life,” Rosecrans would often say. “You were always looking for a big sucker, the one hundred thousand dollar hustle. Of course those games never came. It was much like looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine or Lost Peg Leg Mine, but somewhat less vigorous.”

Doc remembered December 7, 1941. He recalled leaving for the pool hall that morning, wondering where the money to pay for breakfast was going to come from. He passed some workers on the street who informed him of the events surrounding the “day that would live in infamy.”

Doc was drafted into the United States Army Air Corps on March 5, 1942. He had basic training at Shepherd Field, Texas, and then was sent to radio school at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. He was assigned to the 17th Bomber Group, General Jimmy Doolittle’s group, as a radioman. A short while later Doc was reassigned as a writer to the Army Public Relations Department. He wrote for the Stars and Stripes.

While in the military during World War Two, Doc became a public relations writer. In this position he sent many interviews of enlisted men and officers to hometown newspapers across our country for printing. As a public information writer he toured the Austrian concentration camps of Gusen and Mauthausen. He told the stories of Hitler’s Nazi Party atrocities against humanity. His vivid descriptions of these horrible death camps were printed in newspapers in Memphis and other communities across America. Doc carried this horror with him for the rest of his life. What he saw at Gusen and Mauthausen had soured him on the human race.

Rosecrans was discharged from the United States Army in 1945 at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. After a brief visit with his family he returned to California, but he had lost his interest in pool halls and billiards. He decided to search for gold.

Prior to his move to Arizona in 1947, he searched for gold in northern California. He then moved his search to the Mohave Desert near Barstow. Doc was convinced he could locate the Lost Peg Leg mine if he had a dirigible. A dirigible captain suggested he give up his “wild idea” of searching for gold with a dirigible and move to Arizona and search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. This was always the story Doc told about how he decided to move to Arizona.

Lost gold mine hunting was certainly a solo way of life and he needed the isolation. He read John D. Mitchell’s book, Lost Mines Of The Great Southwest. It fired his imagination and eventually led to his decision to search for the Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona.

Once settled in his cabin along the Apache Trail he turned to prospecting and writing. His first small book was titled Spanish Gold and the Lost Dutchman Mine.  The first edition was published in 1949 and the second was published in 1953. His book so enraged a pious contemporary expert on the Lost Dutchman Mine that Doc was sued for copyright infringement. This lawsuit was frivolous and never mounted too much, however it discouraged Doc from publishing any other books.

Not all of Doc’s writing was serious. His notebooks were filled with quips of witticism, and satirical statements. His final manuscript was written about life itself and what eventually happens to the soul. Rosecrans penned a manuscript titled The Kingdom of Reality. This manuscript was a very complicated and analytical look at life based on reality as understood by Rosecrans. The manuscript attempts to explain the unknown about life itself and it also projects the philosophical being of the author and the impact his war year experiences.

Another interesting aspect of Doc Rosecrans’ life was his attempt to make a claim to the James Kidd estate. This estate belonged to a very eccentric old prospector who disappeared on the eastern edge of the Superstition Mountains in the late 1940’s. Kidd left a handwritten will which basely stated, anyone who could prove the existence of a soul would be the sole heir to his estate. His estate was worth over five hundred thousand dollars. This just goes to prove Doc tried every avenue to accomplish his life goal of getting rich without much effort, but he even failed at this endeavor. See The Great Soul Trial by John G. Fuller, 1969 for more information about Rosecrans.

Visitors and friends from all walks of life visited with Doc and exchanged their ideas and life experiences. These people carried his stories and wit about life across America and around the world. Doc was a sounding board to many people who needed just to talk. They came to sit in his “old shack” to talk about the Lost Dutchman mine, Superstition Mountain, politics, religion, and life in general. The “old shack” had a certain amount of nostalgia and magnetism that attracted people and Doc always had the welcome mat out. Visitors included movie stars, Olympians, politicians, musicians, schoolteachers, police officers and members of the worldwide press. Doc had an amazing talent for wit that often dazzled his friends and visitors.

Ludwig G. “Doc” Rosecrans is gone. He passed away on April 7, 1986, in the Phoenix Veteran’s Hospital. He was buried with full military honors. He had a little bit of everything in his life and certainly he was a small part of history. Doc deserved the title of “Sage of Superstition Mountain.”