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.”