Monday, January 26, 2015

A Visit to Needle Canyon

January 19, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I was sitting around the other day picking my guitar when I got to thinking about the many wonderful trips I’ve made back into the Superstition Wilderness during the past sixty years. For a moment I wondered if the time had been wasted. I assured myself it certainly had not been. I thought of men like Al Morrow, Ed Buckwitz, Chuck Aylor and many others. Their stories and life histories had established a foundation for the legacy I would eventually write. I visited Al’s camp on many occasions and was comfortable in a conversation with Al and he wasn’t a bit dominating or demanding.

One Friday in April, about 3 p.m., I started my journey to Al Morrow Camp in Needle Canyon. It usually took me about three hours and fifteen minutes to walk from First Water. It was almost dark when I called into his camp from Needle Canyon. He answered and invited me in. At fir

I greeted Al and asked him about spending the night around his fire. He welcomed me. At that point I started unpacking my tarp, bedroll, blanket and food. As I busied myself preparing for the night’s stay, Al sat quietly and watched. As soon as I had my site for the night prepared our conversation began.
Al Morrow at his mine in Needle Canyon.

 His oil lantern lit the campsite area and his fire felt good against the cool air moving down Needle Canyon that night. He asked me what I was doing back in the mountains. I told him I had to get away from the city. I further told him I had to slow my pace a little and smell the flowers. 

“Yeah,” he said, “I know what you mean Slim. People come into these mountains to rinse the city out of their souls, if you know what I mean. Besides digging, I spend time counting ants going from one place to another for an hour each evening. You would be surprised how many busy ants are in my camp these days.”

Al related the ants to people in the city walking the sidewalks from one place to another.

“There are not many people out here to talk to. Sometimes I don’t see anyone for a week, and then some hiker comes walking through my camp, lost, looking for the trail. I usually send them on their way with some friendly caution and directions. Yes, Slim, I have been counting ants for years just to occupy my time. I use to count people in San Francisco. Now in my spare time I have been recopying the Bible and keeping my journal up to date. I suppose I am doing all the talking,” Al finally remarked.

I heated a can of chili beans on Al’s fire and commenced to have dinner. Finally Al asked about my father and how he was doing.  I told him not very well and that he was on oxygen twenty-four hours a day at home. He still drives, but carries a small bottle of oxygen with him.

All of a sudden the wind came up and it looked like we were in for a storm. I didn’t check the weather before I left home so I had no idea what the conditions were going to be for the night. Usually it doesn’t rain or storm much in April or May. As the wind continued to blow a little we huddle around the fire and I listened to Al.

“As you already know I am still digging in my mine across the canyon. I haven’t found any thing that looks like pay dirt. I am not sure anymore if I am in the correct location, but I am not moving. This is the best campsite I have ever had.  All my information puts me in this location. You know, Slim, I have been working this site for more than ten years. I am convinced the Spanish gold is buried here someplace.”

What was Al Morrow’s work day really like? He would go over to his mine across Needle Canyon a short distance from his camp. He would dig in his (tunnel) straight back into the side of a hill through unconsolidated regolith. I looked into that tunnel and it appeared extremely dangerous. Al used no timbering at all to support the roof of the tunnel. I warned Al that mine would someday cave in on him. He only spent a couple of hours digging each day. He then returned to camp for lunch. At that time he would eat and then sit and count the ants marching from one location to another and record the number in his notes.

After lunch he then became very quiet and worked on copying the Bible. Al did take some time to write a pamphlet about the Spanish Mines of the Superstition Mountains he believed existed. Copies of his booklet still exist in the Apache Junction area. I believe you can find a copy of it in the Apache Junction Library. If not, try the Superstition Mountain Museum up on the Apache Trail.

Actually my night at Al Morrow Camp was quite uneventful. Al told me a couple of good stories about the area and life in the Superstitions. It did sprinkle a little and I enjoyed the pungent smell of Creosote down canyon from his camp. The gentle movement of air flowing down the canyon carried a variety of desert odors. The deafening silence was occasionally interrupted by a Great Horned Owl or the call of a Coyote. When the clouds finally passed over, the moon was shining bright in Needle Canyon lighting up rocks and Saguaros.

Alfred Erland Morrow was a very slender but stout man. He stood about 5’ 8” tall, he couldn’t have weighed more than 160 lbs., his skin was tanned and tough as leather from years of exposure to the desert sun. He always wore a ball cap, Khaki shirts and trousers. His hair was turning gray, but you could still tell he was a dignified individual and maintained his appearance accordingly.  To many, Al was known as the “Good Samaritan of Superstition Mountain” because he always welcomed strangers into his camp. Without a doubt Alfred Erland Morrow was content with his life in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

He lived in these mountains for almost two decades, July 8, 1950 until September 9, 1970, when he was crushed to death by a boulder he was sitting under to get out of a sudden rainstorm.

He lived a life of peace and had many friends who made the rigorous trip to Needle Canyon to visit with him. Like so many other mountain prospectors, Al Morrow stepped to different drummer.
st he didn’t remember, then he recalled my “cowboy” hat. “Oh” he said, “your Slim, one of Barkley’s cowboys. I didn’t recognize you without a horse.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thunder God's White Lightning

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

Moonshiners worked stills through out the Superstition Mountain region during Prohibition, including  small stills at Hackberry Springs, Brad’s Water, Dripping Springs, Whiskey Springs, Fraser Springs, and Tule Springs (file photo).
The Superstition Mountain region has very rugged terrain and many hiding places. Some of the area’s hidden canyons had sufficient water to support illegal whiskey distilling during Prohibition.

Sometime during the late 1970s I recall artist Ted DeGrazia telling me a story about the time he worked for some moonshiners in the Superstitions. He was going to college at the time and jobs were hard to come by. He said he was about twenty-one or so when he took a job hauling wood to a still in a place near La Barge Canyon just down below the Upper Box. I am certain the spot where Ted worked was Whiskey Springs. This would have been around 1924.

Recently, I was looking through some old newspaper articles and I found the headline, “Dry Agents Capture Three Stills In Remote Part Of Superstitions.”

A little research led me to some very interesting facts about the period. The Volstead Act wasn’t passed until January 1, 1920. However, Arizona passed Prohibition January 1, 1915, although it was not seriously enforced until the 1920s when federal agents became involved in the enforcement of the Volstead Act. 

Moonshiners went “underground” at this point. They were looking for remote locations with a sufficient water supply. Such sites were difficult to find in the mountains surrounding the Salt River Valley.

The story reported in the Arizona Republican on May 25, 1924, reported a still located in the picturesque Superstition Mountain east of Phoenix. The still that was captured had a capacity of 100 gallons and was one of the most elaborate setups found to that date.

The Moonshiners had a market of 200 gallons of illegal liquor every five days at ten dollars a gallon. To capture this still, the agents operated strictly at night over rough terrain including deep canyons and cactus studded ridges. The Moonshiners had an ideal spot for a still with plenty of clear spring water. The still was located four miles from the nearest road a vehicle could navigate.

Moonshiners worked stills throughout the Superstition Mountain region during Prohibition 1920-1933. Stories told by old timers identify several locations of stills in the region. There were small stills at Hackberry Springs, Brad’s Water, Dripping Springs, Whiskey Springs, Fraser Springs, and Tule Springs. The springs in the Superstition Mountain region produced much more fresh water in the 1920s than they do today because of the modern practice of pumping ground water in the Salt River Valley.

During the 1920s most of the Moonshiners in the Superstition Mountains operated out of Superior and Mesa. Any place that was remote and difficult to get to with a good supply of water could be used as a still site. Burros were the common animals of burden used by the Moonshiners in the region.

Yes, making illegal whiskey was common in this region. Louis Ruiz, at Bluebird Curio Shop and Mine on North Apache Trail, has what is left of a still that was used at Whiskey Springs. Glen Hamaker hauled the still out of the mountains. The Barkley’s referred to Whiskey Springs in Whiskey Springs Canyon as “Airplane Springs” because of the World War II airplane crash near the springs. There is another Whiskey Springs in the Superstition Mountain region near the Reavis Ranch.

Some years ago I was told about a large Moonshining operation that had successfully operated during prohibition and was never busted by revenuers. This still was located somewhere in the area of Upper Rough Canyon. The still had a hundred gallon capacity and was only operated eight months out of each year. The story is it produced the best “Thunder God’s White Lightning” ever distilled. Some claimed it was the smoothest whiskey they had ever consumed. Now that is something legends are made of.

Moonshining went the way of the Dodo bird when the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. Arizona became “wet” again in 1933.

For those who are interested in how Prohibition impacted Arizona there is an interesting study you can read online titled “Prohibition In Arizona” by Thomas K. Marshall. This booklet provides economic data on the impact of prohibition on Arizona culture.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tribute to a Legend

December 29, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The “Lost Dutchman Monument” on North Apache Trail, just north of the City Focal Point.
The legend still brings prospectors
to the Superstitions.
The legend and lore of Superstition Mountain has prompted a continuous search for hidden gold or lost treasure within the towering spires and deep canyons of this nationally known landmark for the past century. Men and women from all walks of life come to bid their luck against the elements and dangers of a mountain some call “evil.”

A German immigrant named Jacob Waltz supposedly started this contemporary search with clues about a rich gold mine that he allegedly found within the realm of this mountain. These clues, after his demise on October 25,1891, fired the imagination of the citizens of Phoenix and the surrounding countryside. The story of lost gold in these mountains led many on a dangerous and wild search. These stories are a century old now and they still tantalize the imagination of contemporary adventurers. A century of searching has passed since Waltz’s death, yet no rich gold mine has been discovered.

Only one other man has created such an interest and lust for lost gold since Waltz’s death. This was Adolph Ruth. He did it by dying in the summer of 1931, alone in the heart of the Superstitions. 

Ruth’s sudden and violent death in mountains quickly replaced the headlines of “depression” in major newspapers across the nation.

Across this nation newspaper headlines echoed the story of Ruth’s mysterious death in the Superstition Mountains while searching for gold. Soon after these stories appeared authors and journalists capitalized on the story of Superstition Mountain and the infamous Lost Dutchman’s mine.

The story caused temptation on the part of readers to pack their bags and head for the Superstition Mountains in Arizona and begin the search for gold.

The list is endless of those men and women who have searched and died in this barren and rugged wasteland known as the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some threw their fortunes away just for an opportunity to search for this hidden wealth.  All of them believed they would find that single solitary clue that would lead them to the golden cache, riches beyond the dreams of kings.

The Lost Dutchman mine is one of the most often found mines in the world and yet still remains lost. Since 1895, the mine has been found at least 150 times by a variety of individuals from all walks of life. The annual winter migrations of prospectors descending on the Superstition Wilderness Area only proves the interest still exists in the mine’s story today. This story is still America’s most popular lost mine story and continues to captivate the imagination of dreamers.  This fanatic search for lost gold has driven some men to the brink of insanity and some even to suicide.

Some of these individuals have even organized complex corporations and implemented sophisticated electronic equipment to aid in their quest for the gold they believe is contained within the rocks of Superstition Mountain or its wilderness.  Even with the advent of modern technology and the advancement of electronic metal detection equipment the legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine continues to elude the prospector’s pick or shovel.

The hunting of lost mines, in particular the legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine, is like chasing a rainbow, “so close yet so far away.” 

The search itself is a solo avocation among the most ethical and honest lost mine hunters. These men and women share no information and ask nobody for assistance. Maybe it is not the finding that is so important to them, but the searching. It is a documented fact many an old timer found pay dirt, only to sell it or lose it so he could return to his wanderlust way of life prospecting in the hills. The source gold and legends are where you find them, “out in the hills.”

The true Dutchman aficionados are definitely blessed with a certain amount of happiness and the rewards of adventure in the great outdoors.  They spend countless hours, days, months and years around campfires speculating about the location of Superstition Mountain’s hidden wealth. 

As long as there are those who dream there will be Dutch Hunters and treasure hunters probing the towering spires and deep canyons of the Superstition Wilderness Area searching for lost gold and treasure. This is the story of those who search for gold in the Superstition Mountain region.