Monday, February 9, 2015

John D. Wilburn: A Legacy

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

John Wilburn explaining the amalgam retort to a friend at the Bluebird Curio Shop in 2014.
 Many visitors and prospectors found John D. Wilburn to be an authority on gold mining and prospecting in the Goldfield area. The Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar veranda became known far and wide as John D. Wilburn’s home base of operation. Interested parties soon learned Wilburn was usually available ar

 As a young man of eighteen, John left home and joined the Army. He was raised in Kansas, but born in Oklahoma on February 12, 1945. There were several children in the family. John spent three years in the military and most of the time was in Germany.

Germany was cold like Kansas and John did not like it. His plans were simple.  When he was discharged from the Army he planned on going to the Southwest and look for gold. He had no intentions of living where it was cold, especially a place like in Kansas. Wilburn arrived in Apache Junction early in 1967. He loved the mild weather of the winter months, but when summer came, John grew to hate the extreme heat of summer with temperatures sometimes exceeding 112°F. It was then he decided to summer in the cool country where he could search for gold. First it was the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott, then the American River in Northern California near Downyville and finally in Nevada near Carson City and the legendary Comstock Lode.

John became a “snowbird” following mild climate wherever it led him.

Wilburn showed up on the porch of the Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar in 1967. Ray and Lou Alice Ruiz had just purchased the property. Ray and Lou planned on building a business out of this stop along the Apache Trail.

John became a common fixture “so to speak” around the place. He helped to earn his room and board during the winter months doing odd jobs at the Bluebird. Shortly after arriving he met Sharon and Tom Kollenborn who often spent time looking for gold specimens over at the old Black Queen and Mammoth mine sites.

John was curious about the area and asked to be shown were the Kollenborns were finding their little gold specimens.  It wasn’t long before John staked out claims near the old Black Queen and began to promote its supposedly rich nature. Wilburn eventually sold his claims and bought gold with the money and put it in the bank.

It wasn’t long before John was working gold claims in the Bradshaw Mountains. He then turned his attention to Northern California during the summer months. It was in Downyville he made a large gold strike. His discovery was featured in the National Geographic Magazine. Wilburn’s name became a “buzz word” among gold prospectors after his discovery at Downyville along the American River.

Wilburn published his first book on the Lost Dutchman Mine in 1975 titled “The Riddle of the Lost Dutchman Mine.” This book was followed by several other publications on mining and the geology of the Goldfields. 

From 1998-2009 Wilburn migrated north to Reno, Nevada, near the old Comstock Lode area to run a gold panning operation for tourists.

John never married or had a family. He was a loner and bachelor. Prospectors and the curious came from around the country to talk to John about his gold discovery in California that appeared in the National Geographic. Also John made a presentation in my “Prospecting Class” at Central Arizona College and the students loved his presentation.

John was very knowledgeable when it came to Geology. He told me he studied geology in college for a couple of years in Kansas. He understood geology and could explain it quite well. His only problem was trying to make it fit what he believed to be the geological history of a given area. This was the area where he and I would often clash.

John even challenged Dr. Michael Sheridan, a professor of geology at Arizona State University, about the origin of the Superstition Mountains and its basic geology. Sheridan had worked on the geologic history for many years doing mineral surveys in the area. He had carefully studied the geology of the Mammoth Mines and the Superstition eruptive fields through research and land surveys. Dr. Sheridan was an internationally recognized Geologist with impressive credentials.

John Wilburn was basically a self-educated geologist and very knowledgeable about the mining district where Goldfield was located. He had his own opinions about the geological sequences of the Superstition Mountain area and didn’t mind telling you so.

Again, John never talked to people about geology; he talked at them about only his opinion and research. He cared little about their knowledge or opinion. This went on for years and he enjoyed the position he was in. He immensely enjoyed people coming to him to talk about the geology of the area. Over the years he became a somewhat iconic figure at the old Bluebird Curio Shop and Snack Bar.

John began suffering from dementia around 2010 and it become quite severe by 2013. In the end he had a very difficult time with his short-term memory.

He remained at the Bluebird until late December of 2014 when his brothers Dan and Tim Wilburn came to Arizona to take him back to Kansas to be cared for.

John’s legacy will be his knowledge and opinions about the mining district that encompassed the many gold mines in the Goldfield area. He will become legendary in the future because of his knowledge about this historic gold mining district and the several books he wrote.

His pulpit on this Southwestern historical stage was the veranda of the Bluebird Mine, Curio and Snack Shop for more than forty-five years. He was also a guest several times in college classrooms.

John D. Wilburn was a man of his time and fit a very special mold different then most of us. He was somewhat paranoid about somebody taking what was his. However, he was never threatening to anyone in any matter. He just might have marched to a different drummer. 

John’s final days where spent trying to convince his circle of friends that he had invented a special retort for reducing amalgam to mercury and gold.
ound the area throughout the winter months. As soon the weather warmed, John was gone for the mountains.