Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Eve at the Reavis Ranch

December 21, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

One of the most beautiful areas of the Superstition Wilderness Area at Christmas time is the Reavis Valley.

Going home for Christmas to the old Reavis Ranch.
The old Cleman’s ranch house beckoned to weary travelers to rest their aching feet and sore shoulders. After 1967 the only way to visit the old Reavis Valley was by hiking or riding horseback some nine miles from the Reavis Ranch trailhead three miles from the Apache Trail.

Several years ago around Christmas time a group of us decided we would visit the ranch on Christmas Eve. This visit I will never forget.  Tom Johnson, the principal of Superstition Mountain Elementary School (SMES), and I rode up to the Reavis on December 23 spending the night and riding out on Christmas Eve December 24.

Another group had spent the night in the ranch house and rode out that morning. We had the place to ourselves. We knew it would be quite cold before morning, probably below freezing.        

As soon as we unsaddled the horses, fed them and put them in the corral, we went about gathering firewood for the night. We gathered wood far and near because so many campers were using the Reavis Valley. To be honest firewood was extremely scarce in the immediate area. Eventually we gathered enough firewood for the night. The scarcity of wood for campfires was what eventually led to the downfall and destruction of the old ranch. Lazy campers started burning the ranch house itself. They burned the old ranch piece by piece until it was nothing more than a skeleton of what it once was.

Then sometime during November of 1991 somebody built a fire in the attic and caught the roof on fire. If the ranch house was full of people on a real cold night, campers would take a sheet of tin into the attic and build a fire on it.

Once the sun went down we moved inside. We built a fire in the old fireplace and turned on our lantern. As our eyes became accustomed to the light we could still see the old brands in the fireplace mantel and on the side rails.

I could envision the room from an earlier visit when Floyd Stone and his wife Alice lived here. My wife and I had sat several times in this room filled with Native American pottery, Navajo rugs, and Papago baskets.

I remembered the Western leather furniture Stone had hauled some 12 miles over the Reavis Ranch road from the Apache Trail. This certainly was a trip of reminiscence for me as I describe what this room had looked like when Floyd Stone and his wife lived there in the 1950s and early 1960s.

As Tom and I sat around the giant hearth with a roaring fire I began to recall some of the stories about the Reavis. I told him the story about old Elisha M. Reavis, the first settler in this valley. I told him about the fifteen-acre truck garden he put in and then sold his vegetables throughout the Central Mountain region of central Arizona Territory. He became known as the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain.”

Reavis settled in the valley about 1874 and died about four miles south of the Reavis Ranch in April of 1896.

There are many stories about Reavis and what he did before moving to the valley. He served as a Deputy United States Marshal in the McDowell Precinct. He raised and trained pack animals up on the Verde River above Fort McDowell and he assisted the Army occasionally as a packer. Hopefully someday, somebody will write a book about this very interesting citizen of Arizona.

He was born in Beardstown, Illinois, in 1829. He attended college and upon graduation he moved to California and taught school. Gold prospecting interested him more than teaching so he became a prospector and a miner. He was married and had a daughter before he left for Arizona Territory the last time in 1869.

Tom and I sat around and talked about the old Reavis and the many people who had lived in this beautiful isolated valley. These people included Elisha Reavis and John J. Fraser, a Canadian.  Fraser sold the homestead to William J. Clemens and his two sons Mark and Twain. Floyd Stone was John A. “Hooley” Bacon’s son-in-law. Stone married “Hooley’s” daughter Alice. After several stories Tom had  his history lesson for night.

As we prepared for sleep we found a poem written by an Apache Junction Firefighter entitled “The Night Before Christmas At The Old Reavis Ranch.”  The poem mentioned the fireplace, the brands on the mantle, the raccoons in the attic, and several other localized events and things associate with the old isolated mountain ranch.

We read that poem several times before turning in. The poem became one of the most memorable things to ever occur for me in this mountain wilderness. I didn’t have a pen and could not copy the poem down. Also I didn’t have the heart to remove it from the old Reavis Ranch.  We have always hoped the fireman who wrote it would come forward with it because I would love to print it in the paper and share it with the world. This poem was so special to us on that night. The next day we packed up and headed home. We both needed to get home to our families by Christmas Eve.

In closing I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  God bless and thank the service men, policeman and fireman who are keeping us safe and secure this holiday season.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Curious & the Old

December 14, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Old cowboys on several occasions have mentioned some odd things that occurred on Superstition Mountain’s eastern slope.

Aerial view of the Dacite Cliffs, SSE of portion of Superstition Mountain. The crevice, according to the stories, is located NNE of the cliffs near Don’s Camp.
An old Barkley cowboy, named Joe Bailey, who had basically retired from the cattle business after some fifty to sixty years in the saddle, lived near the Apache Trail. He and his wife had an old Airstream trailer parked near what is the Mining Camp Road in the late 1950s. This was long before the Mining Camp Restaurant or any other houses were in the area—except for Barney Barnard’s place and a couple other old stone houses.

I was visiting Joe and his wife one afternoon after working on the well motor at the old Palmer Mine and checking the concrete tank below.

I told Joe in our conversation that Superstition Mountain was nothing but a large old extinct volcano. Just that comment started Joe talking about how active of a volcano Superstition Mountain is.

I told him the mountain was at least seventeen million years old and no longer active. He then said, “listen here Slim, I have witnessed this old mountain blowing smoke over on the east slope.”

I didn’t really consider Joe Bailey a man of untruths. He went on to say, “I was working some of Barkley’s cattle up and out of West Boulder Canyon on the eastern slope of the mountain early one morning when I notice vapor or smoke coming out of a crack in the rock just above me. I decided to go take a look. I step off of my horse and put on the hobbles. I walked toward the site about two hundred yards away. From the spot I was standing I could almost see Fremont Saddle. I could see the tip of Weaver’s Needle through the saddle in Burbridge Ridge. Arriving at the site of the crack (crevice) I could see vapor rising. The smoke or vapor smelled a bit like rotten eggs and I could feel heat rising. I found a clear spot and looked down into the crevice and some two hundred or so feet below I could see molten rock flowing.

“Now Slim, I know what I saw whether you believe me or not. After this incident I had an entirely different respect for the huge mountain east of Apache Junction, Arizona,” said Joe Bailey.

Joe told me he felt he was living on a slope of an active volcano, like the one that covered the Roman city of Pompeii in ancient time. I ask him if he was afraid of it erupting. He always replied “No” because he was eighty-three at the time and really didn’t matter whether the mountain exploded or not.

This was really an interesting story about Superstition Mountain. Over the years I have had others tell me about this mysterious crack in the Earth. I have ridden and hiked the area, but I have never witness anything described by Joe Bailey or anyone else. I can assure you Superstition Mountain is not an active volcano or caldera.

Yes, there was a lot of eruptive activity in this area 17-25 million years ago during the Tertiary Period of Geologic Time. Yes, Superstition Mountain was born of fire and has played a role in many legends, myths and tall tales.

Ironically, Joe is not the only person that has suggested volcanic activity of this nature associated with Superstition Mountain and the area on the eastern slope of the mountain. Over the years a variety of prospectors have mentioned this crevice, the rotten-egg gas smell, smoke and even liquid magma flowing hundreds of feet below the surface. I suppose it is remotely possible the magma from the core has found a conduit to the surface in the Earth. If so, I am certain satellite imaging would have detected it by now.

Again I have been told many stories. Many years ago a lady told me she was hiking in the area and also witnessed the activity around this crevice. She vividly remembered the flowing magma a couple hundred feet below the surface and the amount of heat it reflected upward.

She was one of the many students in my Central Arizona College class titled “Prospecting the Superstitions.” She offered to guide me to the site and I refused the opportunity because of other commitments.

She still lives in the community and I really regretted not accepting her offer. My doubt overwhelmed my curiosity for this mountain wilderness.

The possibility of an exposed magmatic flow on Superstition Mountain is highly unlikely. However, when it comes to geological phenomenon anything can happen. Superstition Mountain suffers numerous tremors each day, but they are so minute only a sensitive seismograph can register them.

Tremors of this nature signal magma flow, but not too likely in our area. The volcanic action in this area has been silent for more than seventeen million years. The only action we witness today is erosion and mass wasting.

Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, known for its eruption in AD 79. 
When I think back to Joe Bailey, the various prospectors and the lady in my college class, I have to be curious and just wonder about the possibility this phenomenon in our area, even though we know Superstition Mountain is not an active volcanic area.

Caption: Aerial view of the Dacite Cliffs, SSE of portion of Superstition Mountain. The crevice, according to the stories, is located NNE of the cliffs near Don’s Camp. Below, Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, known for its eruption in AD 79.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Blue Cow Dog

November 30, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The first time Rob met Hope he knew he had one of the best damn cow dogs in all of Arizona. Hope had a personality somewhere between a critter full of hate and a love for life. This was sometimes typical of a “blue” dog; it was hard to explain. He would guard Rob’s truck and possessions with his life, but at the same time become a friend to a dying child. Actually that is how Hope really became known.

You see, one day Hope and Rob were working cattle along the old Big Sandy trail when they met this young lady and her son out walking. The lady admired Rob’s horse and her son kept his eyes fixed on Hope. After a few moments conversation with a handsome cowboy the young boy’s mother told Rob how much her son wanted to have a dog, but couldn’t because he was going on a long journey to heaven.
Hope was a great cow dog. He knew how to handle cattle and horses, but more important, he brought smiles to a little boy’s face.
The boy said to Rob, “Mister you sure are lucky to have a Blue dog, I would do anything for a dog like that.”

His mother walked a little closer toward Rob’s horse. Rob then stepped down and began to talk with her. She told Rob about the brain tumor that was eating away at Kevin’s life. It was difficult for Rob to believe this strong blue- eyed, blond headed child was near death. She apologized for bothering Rob on a working day, but said Kevin had begged so hard just to say hello. As Rob stood talking, Hope quickly made friends with Kevin. The dog nuzzled him acknowledging an immediate friendship. It was as if Blue knew the young boy was special.

You see Rob always knew Hope was special. He had been the runt of the litter and nobody wanted him. Yes, and Rob had a soft spot in his heart for those who were special.

Rob invited Kevin and his mother to visit the ranch. It certainly was a wonderful day for Kevin when he extended that invitation. The cows could wait for another day, he thought. The smiles that dog brought to that boy’s face still flash across Rob’s mind.

The other day when I visited with Kevin’s mom and Rob they both talked about her son and Blue. Now you know why Rob thought so much of that dog and why he was so special. Rob would never forget Kevin, his mother, or Hope. Two of them are gone now, but there are two people who are still together forever.

Hope was a great cow dog. He knew how to handle cattle and horses, but most important of all he brought smiles to a little boy’s face before he made that long trip to heaven and changed Rob’s life forever.

Rob now sits on the veranda of his ranch talking to Kevin’s mother about what could have been, but didn’t happen. Kevin’s mother looks Rob in the eyes and says, “Kevin has Hope now and I have you. Rob, you have eased my pain and Blue eased Kevin’s pain. My friend it was met to be.”

I believe this story should be told. It’s a short story based on fact and occurred more than forty years ago. I knew all of the participants including Blue, and young Kevin was one of my students many years ago. The names and places have been changed to protect to true identity of those mentioned in this story. The family did not want their names revealed to the public.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Lost Spanish Missions

November 23, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are many stories among storytellers about lost Spanish Jesuit Missions in the Apacheria.  The Apacheria included lands above and below the Gila River. The Jesuits establish many missions and vistas in the Pimeria Alta. The church missions were permanent settlement sites and were assigned a padre or priest. The vistas were temporary sites where priest could conduct marriages, baptisms and other religious ceremonies among their congregants.

Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino arrived on the “Rim of Christendom” on March 13, 1687 when he entered Cucurpe in the San Miguel Valley of Sonora. He established his first mission at Cosari northeast of Arizpe, Sonora. The Jesuits are credited with the mission building in northern Sonora and in the lands south of the Gila River.

San Xavier del Bac (9 miles south of Tucson) is the oldest Catholic church in the United States still serving the community for which it was built, San Xavier was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who established 22 missions in northern Mexico and southern Arizona. But, contrary to some legends, they never built a mission north of the Gila River.
 The Pimeria Alta included the northern portion of the Mexican state of Sonora and the lands south of the Gila River that later became part of the Gadsden Purchase after the Mexican-American War of 1848. The Jesuits had no missions or visitas north of the Gila River.

Many Mexican and Pima families lived along the San Pedro and Santa Cruz in the early 1800s and  there were several small farming communities along the San Pedro, Santa Cruz, and Gila Rivers by 1825. Mexican families did some prospecting and limited mining in the mountains and valleys north of the Gila River, but historical records indicate no missions were created or established north of the Gila River until after 1853 and those were not Spanish in origin.

Since childhood I have heard stories about an old Spanish mission near Superstition Mountain. The storytellers claim the mission was located near the old Burns Ranch just off Peralta Road seven miles east of Highway 60. Some claimed old Henry Burns found the mission treasure and buried it near his place. He and his wife, Helen, had squatted on this land just off Peralta Road for many years.

Old Henry claimed the mission existed and the priest had a very rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. Henry and his wife were also friends of UFO aliens that often visited them and offered to take them to another world anytime they were willing to go. Henry eventually died, however Helen remained on the property.

Sometime in the late 1960s Robert “Crazy Jake” Jacobs showed up on the scene claiming there was a church mission located near the Burns Ranch property. Crazy Jake drove out to the property to visit Helen and to pick up some of his stuff. While there, Helen decided to commit suicide. She shot herself in the head. Ironic as it may seem, my wife’s uncle was the medical examiner that did the autopsy on Helen Burns and cleared Jake of any wrong-doing.

Robert L. “Bob” Ward was a friend of the Burns. He told the story of how he examined much of Henry Burns’ Jesuit church treasure. He said all the gold was authentic and he estimated Henry had about ninety pounds of gold bullion, crosses and artifacts all stamped with the Jesuit cross. Ward often talked about the nearby Jesuit church and the site where the church bell was found on Queen Creek. He said the bell was marked with the name of the church, but could never recall what it was. Ironically old Bob Garman took me out to the old church site about a mile southwest of the Burns Ranch and also over to Queen Creek to see the site where the church bell was found. Bob had an old yellowish Jeep Station Wagon and had transported Bob Ward on many excursions into the area.

The church bell was found about one thousand yards from where the so-called stone maps where dug up around 1949.

The next occupant of the Burns Ranch was Charles M. Crawford. He was convinced the old church was a large gold mining operation and he knew exactly where the Spaniards dug their gold. He said he had staked out claims on the spot and his mine would soon be paying big dividends for his investors. He and Bob Ward both pointed out the gold molds near Borrego Mountain (Black Mountain) south of the mission site about four miles along the West Fence Line road.

Ward took me down to examine the grind holes. They were nothing but grind holes used by the early Native Americans to crush beans and seeds from the desert for food. These holes were far too big to cast gold ingots in. The holes were ten inches in diameter and twelve inches deep. An ingot from one of these holes would weight between 600 – 1000 lbs. I have seen these grind holes all over the Southwest. Gold is usually cast in sand molds, not molds out of solid rock. These men linked together many sites that fit the stories they told. There are few treasure hunters who believed the Jesuits had a mission and a gold mine in the Superstition Mountains.

All of these sites are used to promote belief in the Jesuit treasure story in this area. There is the mission church site, gold ingot casting site, the bell site on Queen Creek, and nearby the site where the Peralta Stone Maps were. The “Believers” point to these sites claiming they prove the Jesuits priest where here mining gold and processing gold and silver for the church. Their imagination has run off with their minds and common sense no longer prevails.

I have here presented the very subjective evidence storytellers use to support the story of a Jesuit mission located near Superstition Mountain were the priests had Native Americans working eight gold mines in the area. The alleged gold was buried near the mission when the Jesuit priests were expulsed from the new world in 1757.

Many people believe this story and totally ignore the history and the facts associated the Jesuits in the Southwest. Several years ago I took a photo of two Jesuit priests at First Water. I asked them what they were doing and they said they took a group of young people from their church on a hike into Brush Corral. The hard-core church treasure believing crew immediately started a story that claimed the Jesuits were using the children to pack out the church treasure buried in the Superstition Mountains.

Well readers, this story goes on and on. Don’t invest your hard earned dollars in Jesuit treasures in the Superstition Mountains because you have lost them if you do.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Walk Into Destiny

November 16, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Sharon with her pack burro hiking in the foothills of Superstition Mountain near Massacre Grounds circa 1993.
Sometime near the end of my cowboy days at the Quarter Circle U Ranch I met this young lady named Sharon. We were so much alike that I couldn’t believe it. She loved the outdoors, the desert, hiking, horseback riding, and most of all she loved me. I had never met a person who was genuinely enthralled with me.

 We met for the first time in October of 1959. I was recovering from a severe injury while working as a cowboy on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Shortly after our first date we spent more time hiking in the mountains and visiting old mines in the area than anything else.

I told her about running in the Apache Junction Lion’s Club Burro Derby in 1959, and she encouraged me to do it again in 1961 Burro Derby. Well I wasn’t much better in that race either. As a matter of fact the burro led me most of time in the 1961 race.

Our friendship was a very strong relationship that continued to blossom based on our love for the desert, Superstition Mountain and each other.

We hiked to Fremont Saddle to enjoy the spectacular view of Weaver’s Needle. It took all my energy to keep up with my new hiking partner.

We continued to search out new things to see in the Superstition Wilderness. Our hike to the Flat Iron up Siphon Draw was a challenge, but it was also one our most interesting outings.

We were finally married on June 23, 1961. I had a job and so did Sharon. However, as a young married couple we had very little money. Neither of our parents had much money so there was no big wedding with a paid Honeymoon. We both tried to think of something we could do for our honeymoon that wouldn’t break our meager savings account. Finally we decided to hike from Peralta Trailhead to Canyon Lake on July 4, 1961.

The trip is approximately fifteen miles, however the average daytime temperature for July was about 105°F. The idea sounded insane at first, but we decided to follow the course of La Barge Canyon all the way to the Canyon Lake. We departed PeraltaTrailhead at 4:30 a.m.

We hiked up over to Bark’s Draw and took an old trail up to Linesbee’s Camp at the base of Bluff Springs Mountain. Due to recent summer rains we found an abundance of water. Sharon and I stopped at Bluff Springs cabin and found plenty of water at Bluff Spring’s tank.

We then hiked down Bluff Spring Canyon to La Barge Canyon and La Barge Spring.  As we hiked down La Barge Canyon we found shade quite often and plenty of water. Yes, my friends it was hot, but we were young and full of energy. We were in Marsh Valley by noon. We stopped and ate lunch by a large pool of water just above the Lower La Barge Box. Our hike through the box was slow and difficult because of the big boulders, however when we exited the box we found a wonderful pool of water to sit in and cool off.

We continued our hike down La Barge Canyon past old Chuck and Peggy Aylor’s old stone cabin on the west side of the canyon. The hardest part of the hike was the climb out of La Barge Canyon to the crest of the hill that looked down on Canyon Lake Marina and Canyon Lake.

Sharon led the way to the top of the hill. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but she continued to encourage me. This was the first time I really thought I was going to give up and sit down. What an enduring hike up that hill it was. I will never forget it as long as I live. I watched Sharon go over the crest as I lingered to rest a moment. Finally I made it to the top. I think I was dehydrated and I was out of water. Walking down hill I finally caught up with Sharon and she shared some water with me. We made it to the Boulder Creek Bridge and the end of our hike. What a matrimonial test this was.  At the end of the trip we were convinced we would be lifetime partners. We will have been married fifty-five years on June 23, 2016.

Sharon’s philosophy has always been “never give up.” The first of October, 2015 my wife was diagnosed with Bilateral Carcinoma. There for a while I thought I would loose her, but she fought a valiant battle against all odds. She survived 10 days in ICU fighting Pneumonia.

She survived chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Her health and strength has once again returned. She told me recovery was ninety percent attitude.

Last Sunday, November 8, 2015, we started a hike from Lost Dutchman State Park’s Cholla area and hiked a round trip of 1.5 miles on the Treasure Loop Trail. Once again she is happy to be hiking and walking in the desert.          

This outdoor partnership has lasted more than fifty-five years if you count it from the time we met. My partner loved my cowboy persona, but encouraged and supported my desire to attend the university. After graduation I remained in my profession as an educator for thirty-five years. I loved teaching science and teaching the history of the area with my partner always assisting and at my side. All my success in life I must give to her because without her none of this would have been possible.

Yes, I have made mistakes in my life, but I have recovered from them and continued down that straight and narrow road. And that hike from Peralta Trailhead to Canyon Lake in 1961 was “my walk into destiny.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

Going Home to the Reavis

November 9, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A clap of thunder, a flash of lightning and the threat of rain made the old Reavis Ranch house a haven to weary hikers, horsemen and cattlemen who rode or walked the trails of the eastern portion of the Superstition Mountains for more than half of a century. This old skeleton of a ranch house survived almost thirty years alone in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness Area with little or no maintenance.  Many friends of the old Reavis Ranch house tried desperately to help the old house limp into the Twenty-first Century.

Bud Lane leading a pack train and riders into the old Reavis Ranch c. 1975.

The Friends of the Reavis Ranch cleaned, cleared, hauled off trash and repaired the old ranch house for more than a decade. Their effort was a labor of love, nothing more.

We all understood the character and spirit of this old house after spending a few days in it. The roar of the fireplace, the clanging of the tin roof, the wind blowing through the breeze way and the attic, the squeaking of a door hinge were familiar sounds. The house had plenty of mice and even an occasional family of raccoons. The beauty and solitude of this valley has made it a popular destination for hikers and horseman.

Since 1956, I have traveled to and from the Reavis Ranch on foot, horseback and by vehicle on many different occasions. I can recall the old road and how rough it was between Castle Dome Corral, through Windy Gap and on to Plow Saddle. I can remember the friendly smile of Alice Stone and the strong handshake of Floyd Stone when welcomed to their mountain ranch.

I can recall the closing of the road and Mary Leonard’s article in the Arizona Republic about the old ranch in 1967. Only those who have spent time at the old ranch in Reavis Valley know what we have lost. The Reavis Valley is a pristine ecological niche of the Upper Sonoran Desert with the old ranch serving as a window for humanity.

The Reavis Ranch house has been gone for more than twenty-three years. It burned down November 30, 1991.

The old house was constructed about 1937. William J. Clemans Company patented the ranch in 1919. Clemans purchased the ranch from John J. Fraser in 1909. Fraser had acquired the ranch shortly after the death of the old hermit, “Elisha Marcus Reavis” in 1896.

Clemans and his two sons, Earl and Mark Twain ran the ranch from 1910-1946. Billy Martin, Sr. served as foreman of the Clemans Cattle Company from 1915-1946.  Prior to Martin, William “Billy” Knight served as foreman from 1891-1915.  Still to this day there are old catch pens deep in the forest made entirely of wood, not one nail or a piece of wire was used in their construction. The range was so brushy the Clemans’ cowboys had to trap a lot of their cattle.

The Reavis Ranch road was started in 1910 by a group of Mesa promoters who wanted to sell lots in the pines south of the Reavis Ranch. They never completed the road.  Bacon and Upton purchased the ranch from the Clemans Cattle Company around 1946. Bacon and Upton completed the road into the Reavis Ranch in 1948.  Floyd Stone, Bacon’s son-in-law, and Kenneth Lockwood purchased the ranch in 1955 from John A. Bacon and Upton. Stone and Lockwood sold the ranch to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1966 for $80,000 and twenty acres of patented land near the Apache Trail.

Shortly after the government purchased the Reavis Ranch they closed the access corridor. The reason for the closure of the road was the extreme maintenance cost and the danger to vehicular travel. After the road was closed in 1967 only hikers and horseman were able to access the Reavis Valley and the ranch.

When news of the Reavis Ranch fire spread among those who had visited the old ranch over the years a sort of sadness prevailed.  I suppose many of the wilderness purist believed the fire was a blessing to the wilderness concept. Many hikers and backpackers were disappointed to find their severe weather haven destroyed by fire. Now outfitters and packers will have to carry more gear and take more animals to provide adequate service to their customers. Many will just miss the old ranch house because of the nostalgia associated with it. I must admit I really enjoyed being a part of this history. The destruction of the old Reavis Ranch house ended an era in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Settlers and cattlemen have lived in the valley since 1874.

The Reavis Valley had served as the first ‘Camp Geronimo’ for the Boy Scouts in 1920, before the Spade Ranch north of Payson became their permanent home. Arizona’s Governor Campbell rode horseback to the Reavis Ranch in 1920’s to visit with the Boy Scouts at Camp Geronimo (Reavis Ranch) and tell them stories around a campfire. Even post cards told the story of the idyllic Reavis Valley.

I visited the Reavis Valley in 1994, not for the last time, but to see the old ranch house once more. Only the walls were still standing and the chimney towered above the old house like a monument to the past.

I returned to the site of the old Reavis Ranch in October of 2000. None of the walls of the old ranch were standing. All that remained was the concrete slab the old ranch house was constructed on. I was amazed how obliterated the site was. All human history had just about been eradicated and the valley had been returned almost to its pure natural state.      

My most memorable visit to the Reavis Ranch was on Christmas Eve in 1989. We rode up to the ranch two days before Christmas. It was a cold December night and we had a roaring fire in the fireplace to kept the room warm. I found a poem written by an Apache Junction fireman call “The Night Before Christmas At The Reavis Ranch.”

The poem was dedicated to the old Reavis Ranch and its unique character that charmed so many people who visited it. The poem mentioned the mice, the raccoons in the roof, the creakiness and moans of the old building and sound of trickling water in Reavis Creek. The poem was near a small Christmas Tree that was still standing and told the story “the night before Christmas at the old Reavis Ranch.”

This poem brought back so many memories of this old ranch and its inhabitants from the by gone days of yesteryear, the cowboys, cooks, and visitors who were a part of this history. This old ranch meant a lot to those who experienced it.

The old ranch is gone, but its memory is still fresh in our minds. I didn’t have a pen to copy down the poem, but also I didn’t have the heart to take the poem away from others. I left it to be shared with others who might have visited the old ranch this particular Christmas weekend. You may have read that Christmas poem yourself.

The ranch was to be destroyed like all man-made things in a wilderness. The ranch was only a temporary fixture on the landscape. Those who knew the old house undoubtedly had a better understanding of man’s mark on the wilderness and the value of this place. The old ranch is now only a memory in the minds of those who once lived or visited there.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Pot of Beans

November 2, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

When I first hired on at the Quarter Circle U Ranch I had no idea what to expect. All I wanted was to be a cowboy. It wasn’t long before I learned that being a cowboy didn’t necessarily mean sitting on a horse and rounding up little doggies.

I had envisioned the more romantic things I had observed on the silver screen at the old Rex Theater in Hayden, Arizona. Each Friday night my father had taken me to the Rex. We lived in Christmas, Ariz. and it was a ten-mile drive to Hayden on a rough and dangerous road.

My cowboy heroes on the silver screen developed my knowledge of cowboys in general. To this day I don’t know why William Thomas Barkley hired me to take care of the Quarter Circle U Ranch in those days.

Barkley was always short on patience with new employees. He told me to feed the cattle and horses and to repair the corrals and gates. He provided me with a hand-drill, some stove bolts and some rough 2”X 6” X 10’ planks. He told me there was food in the cabinets and the Serval gas refrigerator. He never once said what kind of food there was to prepare or who would prepare it. I soon realized I was the new ranch cook and ranch hand. As Barkley drove away I still wasn’t that concerned about my survival on this isolated cow ranch some eighteen miles from Apache Junction.

Barkley pulled out about 10 a.m. after driving me out to the ranch and giving me some instructions. He told me he would pay me $75.00 per month. This would include my room and board. There I stood in the dust of his truck wondering what my future might be. At first I was thrilled that I had finally found a job on a cow ranch. Then reality sank in.

First, I examined the planks and bolts and wondered how I was going to built a gate ten feet long that would hang properly. I laid out my work on the ground and then decided I had better survey the kitchen at the bunkhouse and see what I had in the way of food.

Looking in the kitchen cabinets I found some pinto beans, dried chili, and some rice. I checked out the fridge and found lots of beef. I knew I wouldn’t starve, but I also didn’t know much about cooking food from scratch. I knew beans required a considerable amount of time to cook. So I decided my first dinner would consist of fried eggs. We had about eight laying hens down at the barn and a couple of roosters.

After dinner that evening I began to prepare the beans for the next day. I remember my mother cooking Pinto beans when she made chili. I poured out a pound or so of beans on the big boarding house table at the ranch. I spread the beans out and carefully sorted through them looking for stones and debris. I then crumbled up some of the chili. I mixed the chili and beans in a large pot of water and let them soak for the night.

The next morning I turned on the propane stove and put the pot of beans on the stove. I planned on checking the pot of beans periodically to see if they needed water added. I carefully placed a strong lid on top of the beans and then put a large rock on the bean pot lid. I knew beans were gassy, but gassy enough to blow the lid off the pot while they cooked? No, the rock on the bean pot lid was the keep the rats out of our beans. My boss, Bill Barkley told me never to leave anything in the way of food out or the rats would get into it. Bill said, once as a youngster he left the rock off the lid on the pot of beans and that evening when he lifted the bean pot lid to get a bowl of beans he was staring a dead rat in the eye. There are two ways of looking at that situation. You can go hungry or eat the protein-enriched pot of beans. Bill never told us which he did.

Every other day or so that summer I prepared a pot of beans with chili, beef, garlic, and ranch seasoning in it. Each time I cooked a pot of beans the taste would improve. I wasn’t certain if I was improving as a cook or just preventing starvation.  Yes, my diet did vary a little while I worked on the Quarter Circle U. Barkley occasionally would bring me café prepared food such as Chicken.  In those days there were no fast food places in Apache Junction so when Barkley was at Bostwick’s for lunch he would bring me a basket of chicken. This was quite a change from my regular diet on the ranch. An old friend of mine named Manuel Zapeda down in La Paloma, Sonora told me beans and chili were the best food for longevity. He said his grandfather lived to be 110 eating chili and beans almost every day of his life.  The Zapeda family has been ranching in Northern Sonora for almost 150 years. As each year passes I think of what Manuel told me about beans and chili so many years ago.

You might say a pot of beans and chili became my legacy at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Yes, I learned to rope, use a horse properly, brand, dehorn, cut young bull calves, move cattle from pasture to pasture, check and work on windmills, maintain water holes, pack salt and feed, and many other jobs. I even learned how to maintain leather gear such as my saddle, bridle, headstall, chaps, and many other items essential to a cowboy’s life.

For a few years I had found my utopia, then I realized that not owning a ranch didn’t have much of future. Fate guided me on to another profession after I married the love of my life.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Celeste Maria Arva Jones

October 12, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Maria Jones (center) and two of her employes near her claim near Weasvers Needle c. 1958
My recollection of Maria Jones dates back to 1959. The first time I saw her she had been in the mountains near Weaver’s Needle for approximately twelve years. She first staked a claim on Weaver’s Needle around 1949. 

Some say Maria was originally from Houston, Texas. Some say she was an opera singer. However, when she first entered the Superstition Mountains she was living in Los Angeles, California. She had become involved with a church in Los Angeles and promised to help them by discovering a lost gold mine in Arizona. Several members of the church donated toward her effort.

She arrived in Phoenix in late 1949 and immediately proceeded to Willow Canyon (Peralta Canyon today) with a couple of friends to examine the area around Weaver’s Needle. On December 2, 1949 she staked out the Peralta Mining Claim.

She once told of the difficult climb up Willow Canyon to Fremont Saddle and then the climb down into East Boulder Canyon immediately west of Weaver’s Needle. As she stood on the ridge above the trail she was convinced she had found the site of her golden treasure. This happened five years before her antagonist, Ed Piper, arrived on the scene.

Maria staked the Peralta claim on Weaver’s Needle and decided to return with a crew to search for the gold. Maria soon returned to Los Angeles with a goal of raising enough money to search the area around Weaver’s Needle for one winter season. She didn’t get back to the Needle country until the fall of 1950. Her first goal was to have her men access the top of Weaver’s Needle; not an easy task under any conditions.

Maria was well established on the Needle by the time Edgar Piper moved into the area. Piper established his first permanent camp in East Boulder Canyon directly below Weaver’s Needle on February 9, 1956. Piper’s claim was known as the “Thing.” Maria had been in the area many years by this time. At first the two groups worked in the area with little difficulty, then things began to happen.

Piper claimed somebody was stealing from his camp. One of Piper’s men claimed it was one of Maria’s men stealing from their camp. The situation continued to escalate until shots were fired in the shadow of Weaver’s Needle one early morning in 1958. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Department sent Range Deputy Amos Hawkins into the mountains and removed all long-range weapons from the warring parties. The officers hoped this would ease the confrontation between the two feuding parties. Shortly after this incident Maria filed the Black Mesa claim on November 28, 1958. Maria filed this claim to solidify her claim on the area where she thought the gold of Superstition Mountain was buried.

My first experience with Maria Jones was early in the spring of 1959. Some time around the 10th of April. I was packing salt up Peralta Canyon to Pinon Camp on the other side of Fremont Saddle. Near Fremont Saddle I ran into Maria Jones and two of her workers. They were packing a case of dynamite up to their claims. I stopped and chatted with them for awhile. They knew I worked for Barkley on the Quarter Circle U Ranch.

Maria offered me fifteen dollars to pack her case of dynamite to the top of the saddle. Considering I only made seventy-five dollars a month as a cowboy for Barkley this was a great offer. I accepted and slightly overloaded my pack mule and packed her case of dynamite to Fremont Saddle. She paid me for my effort over the protest of one of her workers. I rode on and dropped my salt off at Pinon Camp and started back to the Quarter Circle U Ranch. I met up with Maria and her workers about half way between Fremont Saddle and Pinon Camp. She spent fifteen minutes telling me about the solid core of gold in Weaver’s Needle. She tried to convince me to quit working for Barkley and go to work for her. “Not in a thousand years,” I thought!

The feuding between Jones and Piper continued through out the spring, summer and early fall of 1959.

An employee of Maria, Robert St Marie, came across Ed Piper on the slopes of Weaver’s Needle. He told Piper he was going to kill him. He had a pistol in his hand. Piper pulled his handgun and fired once killing Robert St. Marie. Evidently St Marie pulled the trigger and his pistol misfired. Piper immediately hiked out of the mountains and reported the incident to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. Ed Piper was exonerated of all charges on November 18, 1959.

The courts could never find sufficient evidence to prove Maria sent Robert St Marie to kill Ed Piper. St Marie had taken the job with Maria Jones to help support his young wife and child. The death of Robert St Marie was a tragedy that never should have happened.

The feud between Jones and Piper continued for a couple of more years. The Weaver’s Needle area was eventually withdrawn from mineral entry by the forest service because of all the incidents that occurred in the area.

Robert Corbin, Assistant Maricopa County Attorney at the time, was enthralled by the Lost Dutchman Mine story. He and a friend spent many weekends packing supplies into Maria’s camp in East Boulder Canyon. In fact Bob’s friend Robles even had a tent set up in Maria’s Camp. All this activity occurred before Robert St Marie was hired by Maria Jones. Bob said he had a great time listening to all the stories that Maria would tell. She had the mine located in the bottom of Canyon Lake and the “Needle” had a core of solid gold.

Bob tried to argue with her, but he never had any success in convincing her differently.

Maria Jones continued working the Superstition Wilderness Area near Weaver’s Needle for another two or three years before finally abandoning the area. Some say she was committed to the mental institution in Phoenix and other claim she returned to California. After December of 1963 nobody recalls seeing Maria in the mountains. She had finally ended her reign on the rock throne near her camp. 

Maria had lived and searched the mountains for gold for more than thirteen years without any success. Even when she testified at Ed Piper’s hearing in Judge Norman Teason’s Justice of the Peace Court in Apache Junction, she was still talking about the elusive gold of Superstition Mountain that she believed Piper was trying to steal from her.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Superstition Mountain and Apache Gold

October 5, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Kollenborn and “Chico” in the Massacre Ground area looking toward the Apache Trail.
 Have any of you ever wondered about the source of the place named Massacre Ground? There are many stories about this site on the northwestern end of Superstition Mountain. The story begins in the early settlement of Phoenix more than a hundred and thirty-six years ago.

Phoenix wasn’t much of a town in 1879. Maricopa County was formed in 1871. The town site consisted of a few frame houses and several adobe houses above the flood zone of the Salt River.  Today this is Jackson Street through downtown Phoenix.

Anglo-Americans began moving into the area in the early 1860s. Farmers grew hay and sold it to the Army at Fort McDowell on the Verde River. There was also a large population of Hispanics living in the valley in traditional adobe and stone houses. These thick-walled homes insulated the inhabitants from the extreme summer heat and cold winters. A well-constructed adobe home with small windows and doors maintained a year around temperature of about 74 degrees F. The Anglo population often suffered during the summer heat.

Even in the late 1860s there was a lot of talk about gold after the discovery of the Vulture Mine and Rich Hill. There was a lot of talk about gold among the farmers who grew hay for the army and the Mexican laborers who harvested it by hand. Among the laborers there was a family named Peralta. This family of farmers also spent winter months looking for gold in the surrounding mountains. The father was Juan Jose Marin Peralta. Juan had two older sons named Manuel and Ramon. The father and sons often talked about discovering a rich vein of gold in the mountains, however it was difficult to leave the hay cutting long enough to prospect for gold. During late November and early December, 1879, the area had an extremely cold period of freezing weather in the Salt River Valley. This was the opportunity the two young brothers were waiting for.

Their father had heard stories from an old Pima describing yellow flakes in whitish looking rock west of the cliffs on Sierra Supersticiones (or what is known as Superstition Mountain today).

The family of the two Mexican brothers knew it was dangerous to travel east away from the populated areas because of the Apaches. Manuel and Ramon, with a minimal amount of supplies, traveled eastward toward the mountains they could see from upon the side of Salt River Butte near modern day Tempe— a walking distance of about thirty-four miles.

They departed the family adobe on November 21, 1879, walking eastward toward Sierra Superstiticiones. The trip required almost two days of walking and looking for water. They arrived at a site that looked quite mineralized. They discovered an eighteen-inch vein that had considerable amount of gold in it. They felt they had struck in rich, but wanted to explore down a little deeper. They continued to dig and as they dug the outcrop became richer.

At this point, the reader must realize, none of the early Mormon prospectors had yet been working this area because of the notorious Apaches. The Peralta brothers had risked everything going into Apache country to search for gold.

The brothers worked the vein for about five days when supplies were becoming very low. They had only one weapon among themselves for defense in case they were attacked by Apaches. On the day of their departure at sunrise, the Apache struck. The date was December 5, 1879.

Manuel was killed and Ramon escaped, even though he was wounded.

Ramon made it back to a Mormon settlement near what is Mesa today and they cared for him. Also they saw the rich gold ore he had. When the Mormon settlers learned of the gold discovery they headed east toward Superstition Mountain to search for gold.     

Ironically, the attack and the gold was the only reason this story was newsworthy in 1879. Because the Peraltas were involved is the only reason so many people believe there was a massacre along the northwest slopes of the Superstition Mountain. This area today is known as the “Massacre Grounds.” Without a doubt this story would have never been news worthy if Ramon Peralta had not had rich gold samples. It was determined years later Ramon and his brothers had located the rich Bull Dog vein.

The real so-called massacre occurred near the Bull Dog mine. There was only one Peralta brother killed by the Apache. Not two hundred as reported in stories on the slopes of Superstition Mountain. Could you imagine supplying two hundred workers in this desert with food, water and equipment in 1879?

The first Mormon claims were staked as early as October 29, 1881. These first claims were known as the Lucky Boy Claim. Ironically, the Bull Dog Mine was not discovered until June 16, 1893, some fourteen years after Ramon and his brother had discovered the gold. Ramon never returned because so many Anglos moved into the area.

Author’s note: Superstition Mountain was first named in Military sketch notes in 1864. The United States Army called it Sierra Supersticiones. The mountain has been called Salt River Mountain and also Coronado Mountain on early maps.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Aztec Crystal Skull

September 24, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Probably one the most bizarre searches I have ever been involved with occurred in the summer of 1980. Like my friend Bob Corbin, I had sworn to stay out of the Superstition Mountains in the summer time. The extreme heat was dangerous, rattlesnakes were quite common—not to mention water was at a premium.

On July 2, 1980, a man named Joe Mays contacted me and wanted me to help him hunt for a crystal skull on an alter in a buried ancient city in the Superstition Mountains. I tried to laugh off his request, but I had a curious desire to hear his story out.

Joe Mays, the leader of the 1980 search for the Aztec Crystal Skull in La Barge Canyon.
At first he sounded somewhat reasonable, but when he said he wanted to pack into the Superstition Mountain on July 6th I certainly had second thoughts. The temperatures were hovering around 110 degrees that July and the monsoons were late. So there had been no relief from the heat.

I met with Joe Mays, Everett Johnston and three of Mays’ men at Cobb’s Restaurant in Apache Junction on July 5th. Joe explained to me that he had contracted Johnston, owner and operator of Peralta Stables on South Meridian Road, to pack him into the mountains for three weeks. Joe looked at me and said he wanted to hire me as a consultant in the mountains. He said I would only need to go into the mountain for a couple of days. Again I thought he was joking, but when he offered me six crisp new one hundred dollar bills to help him I soon changed my mind. Summers were always a lean period for me because I only worked nine months a year as a teacher in those days; This was one job I lived to regret.

At 4:30 a.m. on July 6th we loaded up the horses and gear at Peralta Stables on Meridian Road and drove out to First Water Trail Head. The rays of the sun were shining on us before we were saddled and packed up ready for our trip into a burning hell. As we rode along the trail down toward Garden Valley and Second Water it started getting warm. We rode up East Boulder Canyon and then picked up the trail over to La Barge Canyon. Johnston was sure we would find water in La Barge Canyon above the Lower Box. Riding down La Barge about 11 a.m. again I realized I had made a big mistake. It was too late to turn back at this point.

Arkie Johnston (foreground) was the outfitter on this expedition and I talked Howard Logsdon (background) into going. I am sure Logsdon had an interesting time on this trip.
We found good water for the stock and ourselves in La Barge Canyon. We packed in all of our drinking water. Johnston planned on somebody going to town every day and hauling ice and drinks back to camp. Once at the site, the wranglers set up a large fly for a shade to eat and rest under. We had plenty of good food and lots of cold drinks. Once camp was set up I didn’t think it was going to be so bad after all even with temperatures above 109 degrees.

That evening when it cooled down a little we hiked down La Barge Canyon toward the Upper Box looking for the site where the crystal skull was supposedly hidden. Joe wandered up and down several small side canyons until he came to a spot where there was a very deep vertical crack in the rock. He peered into the crack a hundred feet or so and declared this was the spot. He immediately put his crew of three guys to work trying to break the rock. What an effort in futility! These guys must have believed there was a ton of gold buried behind the crack the way they were trying to break the rock.

Within thirty minutes or so Joe Mays determined we would need an explosive expert. I informed Joe it was against the law to blast in the wilderness without a federal permit. This permit soon became a point of contention between Joe Mays and me. After a couple of really hot days of digging and scraping Joe Mays abandoned the site and said he had been wrong. We started looking for another site.

It wasn’t long before Joe came up with another site. This was the day before my birthday, July 9th. I absolutely refused to leave camp on my birthday and ride or walk in the blazing hot sun. I planned to sit under the shade all day and drink Pepsi to celebrate my birthday. On the evening of my birthday it was decided early the next morning I would go out with the packhorse and send Auggie, a wrangler, back in with ice and supplies. My time in the mountain was over I thought.

I learned a lot on this trip. First of all, I couldn’t believe the money Joe was spending on this adventure in the Superstition Mountains. It wasn’t long before I found out Joe was spending investor’s money on this whole operation. Furthermore I couldn’t believe anyone would invest money in such a wild scheme as a crystal skull in a buried ancient city hidden in the Superstition Mountains by the Aztecs five hundred years ago. I later found out Joe was using an ancient book as collateral for his adventure. When Joe’s stories began not to prove out, his investors told him stories about guys who were thrown in the Atlantic Ocean with concrete shoes on. It was at this point he convinced his investors they should make a video documentary of this entire adventure. Believe it or not the investors thought this was a great idea. Joe almost begged me to accompany them and help with technical information for the documentary. He told me if I didn’t he might end up in the Atlantic Ocean. I guess I took pity on his soul and continued with them until they completed the project at the end of July. Like so many things about the Superstition Mountains there was no Crystal Skull. I really think it was a figment of Joe’s imagination that he had transposed from another story or legend.

Johnston and his crew ended up packing Joe and his group over most of the Superstition Wilderness Area while filming a documentary that was never produced. They spent a week at the Reavis Ranch were it was much cooler. I rented a high quality video camera from Troxell Communications for this project. Some twelve hours of tape was shot on the Superstition Wilderness Area. Before this operation was over Joe had spent more than $35,000 of his investor’s money. To this day, I don’t know what happen to the tape, but I did make a VHS copy of it and it is still in my files.

I swore at the end of July I would never work in these mountains during the summer months again. Basically I have adhered to that rule for obvious reasons.  Over the years many people have succumbed to the heat of the desert. This still remains as one of the most interesting and bizarre expedition I have ever joined.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Bear Tanks Incident

September 14, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The following incident is somewhat strange by modern standards. The Arizona Citizen, on December 7, 1877, reported a case of accidental poisoning at Bear Tanks north of Picket Post Mountain. The story goes something like this.

Elisha Marcus Reavis c. 1870. 
Two men, one named Reavis and the other Lewis were camped at the Tanks and had just completed cooking their dinner. The men then made some tea from water they had carried in small oak kegs from Florence. Soon after drinking their tea both men became very ill. Lewis became violently ill and went into convulsions.

Reavis saddled up and rode to Hewitt’s Station for assistance and a team. When he returned with help, Lewis was found across the fire with his stomach burned to a cinder.

Elisha M. Reavis later testified he purchased two one-gallon water kegs in Florence. The Florence store clerk testified the kegs had contained a little dirt, water and a dark red liquid resembling port wine. The contents of the kegs were rinsed out at the store.

Reavis further testified he and Lewis began a cattle-driving expedition, camping that evening at the residence of Mr. Stilles on the Gila River. The kegs were filled with water at Stilles for the long journey across the desert to Hewitt’s Station.

The two men had used the kegs crossing the twenty-two miles desert. They filled the kegs once again at Hewitt’s Station and decided to camp at Bear Tanks four miles away. Both men preferred Bear Tanks because it was easier to picket their horses. Once in camp at Bear Tanks Lewis took the kegs to refill with water while Reavis built a fire and prepared supper.

After supper both men drank tea made from water taken from the kegs. Shortly afterward both men became violently ill. Reavis recovered enough to saddle up and go for help. He returned with a party of citizens and found Lewis dead.

This is what people would have imagined Reavis looking like as he rode from the Sitles Ranch north across the desert some 24 miles to Bear Tank just north of Queen Creek in the early 1870’s.
Judge Blakely impaneled a corner’s jury and proceeded to the spot. The body was found in the fire. The water kegs were opened, showing a dense white precipitate, which was believed to be a lead compound. After examining the evidence at the site, the jury was taken to Picket Post and reconvened.

A coroner’s inquest into the strange death of James Lewis was held in Picket Post on December 9, 1877, with Judge Blakely acting as coroner. Judge Blakely asked Professor DeGroat to make an analysis of the sediment in the kegs. DeGroat announced the sediments were arsenic. Judge Blakely then requested Dr. Bluett to make a post mortem of the victim.  It was soon concluded the victim, James Lewis, had died of arsenic poisoning.

The corner’s jury was reconvened several days later when all results were back. It was decided the poisoning and death of James Lewis at Bear Tanks was a tragic accident. Elisha M. Reavis’ survival of the incident was extreme luck. He was also poisoned, but not as severely as Lewis. Reavis was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The records involving the Lewis death did not reveal if Reavis was living at his mountain retreat at this time. There was a lot of mining and milling activity in the area during the late 1870s. The Silver King Mine was in full production and the mill town of Pinal was in full operation.

This was another incident in the life of the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain,” Elisha M. Reavis (1829-1896).  Reavis lived in his mountain valley about eight miles north of the Silver King Mine for almost twenty years while becoming an Arizona frontier legend.

Tom Kollenborn is a noted author and historian and a leading expert on the Superstition Mountains and the legend of Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Tom shares his experience with the public each week in “Kollenborn Chronicles” in the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon News and on a website available online at “Kollenborn’s Chronicles”.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Bank Robbers and Cowboys

August 31, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The late 1950s found me working on a cattle ranch known as the old “Quarter Circle U” in the Superstition Mountains.  I was following a dream to be a cowboy. My education about cowboys had been derived from the Western movies at the old Rex Theater in Hayden, Arizona, and my dream to be a cowboy had finally been fulfilled.

At the time I was certain all cowboys were honest and were men of their word. I had a lot to learn about real cowboys and my silver screen heroes.

The Superstition Mountain area has experienced several unusual cases associated with bank robbery, a federal crime. One bank robber decided to be a cowboy and another was a decent cabinet maker here in Apache Junction many, many years ago.

Apache Junction was a quiet, sleepy community with only one deputy most of the time in the mid 1950s. Phoenix was the nearest office of the FBI that handled bank robbery cases. Back in the 1950s there were few people interested in living in Apache Junction other than the visitors who came down for the winter.

I recall the first bank robbery arrest handled by the FBI was the arrest of my partner “Keith” at the ranch. He had been a cowboy for almost a year before the law caught up with him. He had robbed a bank in Oklahoma two years prior. Keith’s arrest was not made on the ranch. The FBI Agent Lynn Bedford, DPS and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office arrested Keith on the highway between Apache Junction and Mesa.

After Keith’s arrest, I was alone at the ranch for almost six months before anyone else was hired. However, in the meantime I met a man called John Dark. He claimed to be a cabinet builder. He came out to the ranch a couple of times and said he could build some cabinets for us. He eventually talked Bill Barkley into building new cabinets in the ranch house.

Barkley put John to work on the cabinets. To make a long story short, I found out many years later (about ten) that John had served time for bank robbery and bank fraud, etc. Both of these incidents completely shocked me. I was a naïve individual in those days and I took a man at his word. I soon learned that a man’s word might not be his bond. My cowboy heroes from the silver screen were fading into the sunset.

Now, for one of the strangest cases I had ever heard. In 1999 a horseman was riding in the Superstition Wilderness Area on the southeastern edge of Hackberry Mesa near Cholla Tank. The tank is about three quarters of a mile west of Boulder Canyon in a flat filled with Chain Cholla cactus. It was here near the rock dam the rider found skeletal remains. The rider made the discovery on December 3, 1999.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies collected about fifteen pounds of bones at the site, including a man’s skull. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner was able to trace the dental work down and identify the man. The sheriff’s office confirmed the remains belonged to a Richard Pietras, 58, a known bank robber. I rode through this area two weeks prior to Thanksgiving in 1999, with a group of riders and I didn’t see any sign of a skeleton in the area. As a matter of fact we ate lunch nearby because the tank was full of water. During the summer months this tank usually has no water in it at all.

Our ride and lunch stop at Cholla Tank on Hackberry Mesa, c. November, 1999.
The authorities figure Pietras died sometime after his release from prison in August of 1998, after serving time for Bank Robbery. His cause of death still remains unknown. Pietras was wanted for bank robbery again shortly after his release from prison. Federal Marshals and the FBI were after him for robbing a Chicago Bank of an undisclosed amount of cash.

I was told several years later that the money from the bank robbery was found near Pietras’ remains at Cholla Tank. Here was a man who probably read about how rugged these mountains were and headed into the Superstitions believing he could evade capture. However, he was not prepared. He carried his loot but ignored the essentials for survival, like water. My guess is he walked into these mountains when it was hot and very dry. He probably died from exposure or dehydration. He sure didn’t follow any of the basic rules for survival in the desert.

He carried his bank loot to his final resting place in the Superstition Mountains. The law didn’t capture him, but the heat of summer in the Superstition Wilderness did.

I have never figured out why I am so fortunate to meet such people in the middle of nowhere. I actually associated with John Dark and Keith for a while, but I knew nothing about their criminal backgrounds.

My friend, FBI Agent Lynn Bedford, opened my eyes to reality about men on the lam. As I matured, I became very careful with whom I associated with. Some of you old-timers around Apache Junction may remember John Dark as the cabinet builder and he drove a 1957 Blue Plymouth Fury. His mother and dad lived up on the Apache Trail.

I am certain John Dark took advantage of our friendship. I did learn the hard way growing up, not to trust people on their word. Of course my dreams about my silver screen cowboys had been shattered.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Arizona's First Zoo

August 24, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona’s first zoo was located in Apache Junction some forty miles east of the current Phoenix Zoo (or the old Maytag Zoo in Phoenix). George Cleveland Curtis, the founder of Apache Junction, immediately recognized the need for an attraction at his newly emerging business at the crossroads of the Apache Trail (SR 88) and the Globe-Phoenix Highway (The Old West Highway or U.S. Highway 60) in 1923.

Curtis started his zoo with a chimpanzee named Jimmie. Curtis continued adding animals to the zoo until he had a considerable collection of animals. His collecting was primarily limited to animals of Arizona, but he did have some exotic animals. The Arizona Game and Fish Department issued George Curtis a permit to operate a zoo in the early 1930s. This permit was the first such permit issued in Arizona. The permit made Curtis’ Apache Junction Zoo the first official zoo in Arizona.

The zoo was located with a gas station, which is now
part of  the shopping plaza located at Apache Trail
 and Plaza Drive. The photo  is circa 1960 and was taken
 facing west on Apache Trail. 
The Apache Junction Zoo was located immediately east and north of the Apache Junction Inn. Today this approximate location is along the western side of the old Bayless Plaza parking lot (at the location of the city electronic messaging sign) and slightly to the north. For several years the zoo was free to the traveling public. Curtis started charging a dime admission to the zoo to help maintain the facility. Some years later Jack and Beverly Anderson took over the junction and they continued this nominal admission fee to help defray the cost of food for the animals and maintenance.

At this time the zoo contained a variety of animals indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, but not exclusively. Anderson had a Mountain lion, Mule deer, Sonoran White-Tail deer, Peccary, Desert Bighorn sheep, Black bear, Bobcat, Gray fox, Kit fox, Coyote, Ring Tail Cat, Coati Mundi, Badger, Skunk, Mexican Raccoon and a variety of small animals native to the Arizona desert.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department issued George Curtis a
permit to operate a zoo in the early 1930’s.
This permit was the first such permit issued in Arizona. 
Curtis once had a Mountain lion that gave birth to triplets. It was a very rare event for a Mountain lion. The births were reported by numerous newspapers of the era. The collection of animals also included rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and some non-poisonous snakes. Anderson added exotic animals such as the African lion, Emu, Ostrich and a variety of snakes, including cobras.

In the late 1970s several Arizona historians were not aware of the existence of the Apache Junction Zoo, therefore they all believed the old Phoenix Maytag Zoo was the first zoo in Arizona. This reasoning was based on the fact that they thought the Apache Junction Zoo was nothing but a roadside attraction. The Maytag Zoo later became know as the Phoenix Zoo and today is the finest zoo in Arizona.

Mrs. Anderson told me several years ago that the Apache Junction Zoo was the first zoo licensed in Arizona. Tommy Jones, a pioneer resident of Apache Junction, worked as the caretaker of the Apache Junction Zoo for more than a decade. Jones worked for Cliff “Pappy” Russell as an all-around handyman at his automotive garage on Ocotillo Street for more than a decade after being the caretaker at the zoo.

Jones had also worked as a cowboy on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch for the Barkley Cattle Company during roundup each spring and fall. Somebody once told the story that Tommy Jones learned his riding skills and how to care for animals as a Buffalo soldier with the 10th U.S. Army Cavalry on the Mexican –US border.

George Cleveland Curtis did indeed establish Arizona’s first public zoo, even if some zoo professionals do not want to recognize the Curtis-Anderson zoo as only a roadside attraction. I have many fond memories of the zoo as a child. My first visit was in 1944 when my father paid my admission and took me through the zoo. My mother and father first visited the zoo in 1937 shortly after being married in Phoenix. I was living in Globe at the time of my first visit and attending Hill Street Elementary School.

The Apache Junction Zoo operated for thirty-two years from 1923-1955. The zoo closed in the summer of 1955 because of a devastating flash flood. The Zoo was destroyed and many of the animals escaped into the desert. The zoo never was really re-established after the flash flood of 1955.

Today, all that remains of the old Apache Junction Zoo are a few old ancient photographs. These images preserve the history of an interesting aspect of Apache Junction’s history, hopefully that will never be forgotten.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Somewhat Stranger than Fiction

August 3, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

You can’t imagine the surprising and unbelievable stories I have heard over the past three scores of years. The tales of gold and treasure lost among the deep canyons and towering spires within the wilderness of Superstition Mountain are numerous. These tales would stir the souls of young men as well as old.

Searching in extremely rugged terrain. Karl Duess leading a pack horse through some bad terrain off of Tortilla Mountain.
The search for adventure has filled the hearts of many who have followed in the footsteps of “Coronado’s Children” as told by Frank J. Dobie. When Dobie penned his book in 1941 he never could have imagined the impact his words would have on a generation of young men who pursued the treasure trail.

I choose not to follow each and every one of these stories, however some are stranger than fiction itself. The following story is buried in the pages of a journal written forty years ago about an event that occurred in the Superstition Mountains. Since the first Anglo-Americans laid their eyes upon the rugged façade of Superstition Mountain there were stories about lost gold in those mountains. Those who believe these stories can’t be deterred with facts or even common sense. They will continue their search until they can no longer walk or ride the trails of these rugged mountains.  There are but a few people who understand this devotion and dedication to a belief and a dream.

Over the years I have had many friends who were devoted believers in this lost gold in the Superstition Mountains. I had one particular friend whom I wanted to believe his story so badly, but I just couldn’t accept the facts he had gathered to support his theory. I would never discourage, but I never really encouraged him either until I realized his life hung in the balance. His dream of riches kept him alive. He would swear me to secrecy and then tell me things he actually saw in the mountains.

“Tom,” he said. “I was hiking up this narrow canyon when I saw a cave in a side canyon. I climbed over large boulders and made my way to the entrance of the cave. I could see the cave had been use many years before. I had a decent flashlight so I started exploring the cave. Near the rear of the cave was a small shaft that dropped down about five feet. The cave then opened into a large chamber filled massive crystalline rock. In one corner of the chamber there was more gold bullion and artifacts than the mind could imagine. There were hundreds of pounds of gold in bars, statues and even nuggets as big as chicken eggs. I was so excited and disoriented I didn’t realize my flashlight batteries were about to die. All of a sudden I was in total darkness with no light. I was not sure which direction it was to the entrance. Finally I gained enough composure I remembered have some matches. I struck a match and saw the tunnel I followed down into this chamber.

“I immediately headed for what I believed was the exit. The only specimen I kept was a nugget about the size of a small chicken egg. Striking one match at a time I finally made my way out of the tunnel. Once I reached the entrance the sun had set and it was dark. I picked up my pack and walking stick and made my way down the canyon and back to the trail.

“I found a place along the trail to pitch camp for the rest of the night. The next morning at sunrise I thought I would try to retrace my steps back to the cave and the treasure I had found.

“Tom, I never could find the treasure cave again. As I sat under an old Mesquite in Needle Canyon I thought maybe I had dreamed this story and it wasn’t real. Then, when I reached into my pocket and felt the nugget the size of a chicken egg I was convinced it was not a dream. For past decade I have tried to find that treasure cave in the Superstition Wilderness Area.”

Twenty years ago old Joe showed me that chicken egg size nugget of quartz and gold. I would say there was about five ounces or more of gold in the nugget.

Even as I looked at the nugget Joe was showing me I still really didn’t believe his story, but then again “truth can be stranger than fiction.”

Monday, August 3, 2015

Occupation Cowboy

July 27, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are all kinds of cowboys but there are only a few real ones. Cowboy skills are developed from years of experience with ranch life, stock and the range. A cowboy must know how ride, pack, gather cattle, doctor animals, repair tack, shoe, brand, dehorn, be a mechanic, be a welder, and the lists go on and on.

Howard Horinek, the ranch manager at the Quarter Circle U Ranch, is a good example of a real cowboy with many of these extra skills. Cowboys like Howard are far and few between these days. Old Arizona cattle ranches are rapidly becoming something of the past and obsolete. Feeder pens have replaced these old family ranches throughout much of Arizona, making real cowboys quite rare.

Howard lives a somewhat isolated life on the Quarter Circle U Ranch eight miles east of Highway 60 adjacent to the Superstition Mountains. He lives on this ranch just at the edge of modern society and urbanization. He lives his life in surroundings he is familiar with and well adjusted to.

When he is riding, working cattle, mending fence, working on water holes or packing salt he feels at home. His two stock dogs are always his companions. He knows, like any real cowboy knows, a good cow dog is better then a half of a dozen cowboys in the brush. Howard’s dogs work cattle at his command.

Howard was born in Stratton, Nebraska, on July 8, 1948. His dream as a youngster was to become a cowboy. Howard has worked with horses and stock since his high school days in Atwood, Kansas, where he trained colts. Howard’s father owned a farm in Atwood. He was a veterinarian as well as a farmer. Howard grew up caring and working with animals. His father taught him many skills needed to train horses and deal with sick or injured animals.

Howard joined the United States Marine Corps in 1967. He had been in Viet Nam just nine days before he reached his nineteenth birthday. He spent most of his time driving a truck which was no easy task. He spent two tours of duty in Viet Nam. He returned to the United States and entered his first rodeo.

Howard attended Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas. He participated with the College Rodeo Club. He also attended classes to learn how to make boots and saddles, and he is an accomplished saddle maker and boot cobbler.

After college he thought he would try to be a feed salesman, but found no real future in sales. He then decided in 1973 to try his luck at being a feed lot cowboy in Yates, Kansas. He worked for the Flint Hills Beef Feeders for about six months when he decided it was just too cold working outdoors in the winter for him. Howard hired out in the summer months to the Cross Mill Iron Guest & Cattle Ranch in Wyoming. He worked eight years wrangling dudes and breaking horses in the summer months in Wyoming. He broke over 600 head of horses in seven summers while working for Lonnie Mantle. He guided dudes in his spare time taking them into the Wind River Mountains.

In 1983 Howard moved to Arizona and found employment on the Hat Ranch, working for Mick Holder north of Globe, Arizona. In August of that year he was working for Lee Woods near Chama, New Mexico when he broke his hip while on horseback. While recuperating from his broken hip Howard started thinking seriously about what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

He was offered a job managing the JH6 Ranch (Old Horrell Ranch) west of Globe. The ranch belonged to L.R. Layton. He put his life on hold again because being a cowboy was his calling.

Howard worked on this ranch from 1985-1996. He spent eleven years gaining more valuable knowledge about cattle ranching in the desert environment of Arizona. After working for Layton for eleven years Howard finally decided he needed to settle down. He bought a house in Superior, Arizona and started a horse shoeing business. He shod horses from 1992-1999 for ranchers and horse owners in the Superior area.

The call of the range brought Howard back to a cattle ranch in 1999. Judy and Chuck Backus were looking for someone to manage their Quarter Circle U Ranch. Howard had finally found an ideal ranch to work on. Chuck and Judy were really happy to find Howard; especially a man of his expertise with stock.

Howard Horinek is still working cattle, shoeing horses, doctoring cows, making boots,  building saddles, packing salt, repairing water holes and windmills. Howard has found his niche in life because he is a real American cowboy. He is doing what he loves most.

Howard doesn’t have the pressures of modern society to deal with and enjoys Chuck Backus’ environmental methods of cattle ranching. Occasionally he may have an arrogant cow or horse to deal with but those days are for the most part over. Most of the cattle on the U Ranch are gentle compared to average old time range cattle.

There was a day when Apache Junction was known for its cowboys, prospectors and miners. If we look hard enough we can still find a few real cowboys living near Apache Junction.

Howard certainly epitomizes the spirit of the American West and the cowboy.  You can find Howard attending mass just about every Sunday at St. George’s in Apache Junction.

Here is a poem that Howard might enjoy….

My Horse
Riding my horse till the sun goes down
In deep canyons and over rough ground
Far from cars, trucks, planes
And those noisy trains
Until my heart becomes free
Now with this you may see
Why riding my horse is so dear to me.
© Tom Kollenborn 1963

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cherokee Mangus

July 20, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Who was Cherokee Mangus? She was born March 23, 1950, on her Grandfather’s farm in Wayne County, West Virginia. She was of Irish and Native American heritage.
Vel “Cherokee” Mangus, artist, musician, songwriter, historian,
editor, publisher and a unique part of the
 rich legacy of the Superstition Mountain Area.

As a young woman she excelled in art and music. Her teachers thought she was a natural born artist and musician. In high school her art teacher showcased all of her drawings at the main entrance and she was chosen as “Artist of the Month” receiving much publicity, especially in her high school newspaper.

She soon realized that there was little opportunity in Wayne County for her talent in art and music. Yes, she could have played in a “Hillbilly Band,” but she chose not to. Her dream was to go to Nashville with a successful song that would lead to a career in music.

One of Cherokee’s original quotes was, “You have to accept what life throws at you and shape it into a work of art.” She was very gifted, had confidence, and started her journey with imagination. She wrote a challenging poem: “Naive, I played by all the rules, thinking surely I can win. It was nature laughing at my back and time staring with a grin.” This was a quote from that poem.

She was born Vel Adkins and spent her childhood in Wayne County. After high school she moved to Ohio searching for a better opportunity in life. Later she met and married Howard Mangus, the father of her two daughters Marijane and Amee. Cherokee learned about military life when she moved to Ramstein, Germany with her husband. She once commented, “she was off the farm on a plane with a ‘hillbilly drawl’”. Returning to the United States in the late 1970s she decided to divorce her husband and after another failed marriage she ended up in Gilbert with her two daughters in 1983.

She eventually found a job as a caretaker on an old movie set near Apache Junction in 1985. This old movie set became a paradise for an artist like herself. She painted murals, portraits, signs, and while living on the property she began a campaign to preserve the old movie set. It was here she created a miniature scale model of the old movie set some four feet by eleven feet. This model was replica of a set Ronald Reagan, Jason Robards, Kenny Rogers, Elvis Presley, Audie Murphy and many other legendary stars had performed for the cameras on. These stars made the movie set legendary.

Cherokee’s dream was the model would stay in Apache Junction forever. She always believed the model was built for the fans of the Apache-land Movie Ranch. She eventually became caretaker and manager of Apacheland from 1985-1988. Her daughter Amee said she had a dream to create a museum and history society devoted the history and legacy of Apacheland in Gold Canyon or nearby.

Early in 1990 she decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee, and try her luck at Country-Western song writing and singing. She was never really successful with her song writing and singing in Nashville. However, she got involved with Native American dancers and for nine years promoted very successful shows at the Ryman Theater in Nashville. During her stay in Nashville she also edited and published a newspaper about Native Americans. Vel Cherokee Mangus moved back to Gilbert, Arizona in 2003.

Once again she spearheaded an effort to create an Apacheland Historical Society and museum devoted to the history of this movie ranch east of Apache Junction in the heart of Gold Canyon. Originally she started her historical society out of the Adobe Meeting Hall in Gold Canyon.

Her attempt to create a historical society and museum in Gold Canyon was not  popular with the plans of Wayne Richardson’s Longhorn Ranch. Wayne’s partner was enraged by her efforts to form an Apacheland Historical Society in Gold Canyon.

Everything changed on Valentine’s Day 2004 when the famed Apacheland movie set burned to the ground except for five buildings. The so-called “Elvis Church” and the “Rifleman’s Barn” survived along with two or three other buildings at the front of the movie set lot.

Ed and Sue Birmingham made a deal with the Superstition Mountain Museum to donate the two buildings to them for preservation. I am certain Cherokee believed the surviving buildings would remain on the land of the legendary movie set. Of course, this didn’t happen and the remaining buildings were razed and Apacheland ceased to exist in Gold Canyon off of Don Donnelly Blvd.

The disagreement between some parties and Cherokee Mangus continued. It is apparent they tried to destroy her creditability and reputation. They were totally against her website of a virtual museum on Apacheland. I am certain I don’t have every detail of this disagreement precisely correct because it depends on whom you talk to.

Larry Hedrick and others assisted Cherokee on occasion with donations to maintain her website about Apacheland. Cherokee was always convinced an Apacheland museum needed to be founded and built in Gold Canyon. She never found enough support in Gold Canyon to help build that dream. Even I must agree a museum for Apacheland history should have evolved in Gold Canyon. However, I fully understand the revenue generating value of the Apacheland status for the Superstition Mountain Museum.

She worked closely with the Superstition Mountain Museum to help preserve Apacheland between 2010-2013. I interviewed Jim Swanson who played music at the museum and said he enjoyed working with Cherokee. She played in their three-piece band to entertain museum guests during the winter months. Jim said Cherokee was a very talented musician and vocalist.

Cherokee’s model set in the museum for many years before it was replaced with a small diorama. The pros and cons associated with this change saddened Cherokee because so much work had been put in the four by eight foot diorama she had loaned the museum.

There was nothing but good in Cherokee’s heart for others. However, if someone agitated her she could be verbally aggressive toward that person. Amee and Marijane, her daughters, both loved their mother and spoke highly of her and her desire to preserve history in the area.

One of Cherokee’s proudest accomplishments was being named to the “Rosa Parks Wall of Tolerance” for her work at the Ryman Theater in Nashville for the Native American Dance Theater. She was also very proud of the Apacheland scale model that sat in the Superstition Mountain Museum for several years. She was proud of the fact she and Larry Hedrick helped organize the museum’s first Apacheland Days that was so successful for the museum. Yes, in her own way Cherokee Mangus contribute to her community in many ways.

Cherokee continued to work on various preservation projects plus keep up with her job at the Unified School District bus barn. It was sometime in November, 2014, Cherokee’s daughter noticed something wrong with her mom. By the time her problem was diagnosed it was too late to help her. Vel “Cherokee” Mangus passed away on December 5, 2014, from a malignant brain tumor.