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.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Star of the Desert

July 13, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Sharon enjoying the desert along the Honeymoon Trail near the Grand Falls of the Little Colorado River. We have wandered the deserts for more than 50 years.
There are times in our lives we all face very compelling challenges. My wife and I are no exception to the diseases that plague this planet we call Earth. Until recently our world was a retirement wonder and we had a great time for five years. In late September of 2014 Sharon was diagnosed with Bilateral Carcinoma. This was a real shock. I always thought cancer was something somebody else had. I knew a little about the disease, but not a lot. She started Chemotherapy in October. 

The doctors had caught the cancer at a very early stage before it spread. Annual mammograms saved her life as far as we are concerned.

She continues to battle cancer with a smile always on her face. Her attitude is so positive she is an inspiration to many of the nurses and personal at the MD Anderson Cancer Clinic where she has received Chemo since October. Sharon always has a smile on her face and greets everyone positively at the center. She also greets everyone else the same way, “I am fine,” even though sometimes she is in pain and very tired from the therapy. The last thing on Sharon’s agenda is the desire for sympathy from anyone. Sharon is an inspiration to everyone that knows her. She survived a severe case of pneumonia in early April that most people would have succumbed to. She was in ICU for ten days.

Sharon’s goal is to live to be 100 and run the rapids of the Colorado River through the mighty Grand Canyon for the fourth time when she is cured. She positively plans on being cured and returning to a normal life. For this reason I call her my “Star of the Desert.”

I recently had a custom piece of jewelry made for her. It is a Saguaro cactus of Turquoise on a 14K gold background with a diamond on top of the cactus that represents the “Star of the Desert.” This “star” has been my guiding light for sixty years.
 A Saguaro cactus of Turquoise on a
14K gold background with a diamond
on top of the cactus
that represents the “Star of the Desert.”

Sharon has lived her entire life except for her childhood here in Apache Junction and East Mesa. She has hiked and rode her horse through the mountains for more than fifty years. She has been my companion on many trips into the mountains on foot and on horseback. For those of you who know how much I love the mountains you certainly understand how important this is to me. This June 23rd we were married for fifty-five years. On our 50th wedding anniversary, June 23, 2011, at Lost Dutchman State Park the temperature hit 114 degrees. We had more than a hundred guests attend our anniversary party and some of them were well over ninety years old. I am certain most came because of Sharon. I offered my refrigerated trailer to the elderly 85 and over for comfort. All of them refused my hospitality and remained outside to chat with Sharon.

This story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Jerry Sanstead, owner of The Jewelry Menders in Apache Junction. I’ve known Jerry for many, many years. About three years ago he showed me a Saguaro cactus made out of turquoise on a 14K gold backing. I really liked it, but I wasn’t sure Sharon would. I told Jerry I would let him know. Well three years later I went into his store to order something else and he said he still had that cactus I wanted, but he had added a large diamond to the top of it.

Then he said he didn’t know where it was but when he found it he would let me know. I stopped by a few weeks later and picked up my order and Jerry said, “Tom, I found the Turquoise Saguaro cactus with the diamond on it.” I looked at it and told him I would take it. Yes, it was the “Star of the Desert.” It would be something Sharon would cherish, and certainly represent her determination and tenacity to defeat Cancer.

I am not sure Jerry absorbed the total importance this piece of jewelry had on our lives at the time. However, we certainly consider him a gentleman and a man of his word. 

Apache Junction has many fine citizens and we are proud to have lived in Apache Junction and continue to be nearby neighbors. Apache Junction has been home for me since 1948 and continues to mean the same.

I found my “Star in the Desert” in Apache Junction in November of 1959 while I was recovering from a severe injury I received while working on the Barkley Cattle Ranch at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Sharon became my friend and helped me in some very desperate hours of my life. Her philosophy was “never, never give up and always smile.” She had far more to offer than I when we met. She encouraged me to continue my education and she sacrificed so much so I could graduate from Arizona State University.

The Cancer Ward at MD Anderson is not a cheerful place but Sharon’s smile has brought new life to the ward. Everyone knows her for her smile and cheerful attitude. They know the “Star of the Desert” has arrived and hopefully will improve the setting in someway.

Some know her as the “lady from Apache Junction”. My friends I ask you to support the pink banner to beat breast cancer. It is a worthwhile project all over this great nation of ours.

There are so many dedicated and devoted nurses, nurse’s aides, doctors, and other personal at the MD Anderson Clinic to Cure Cancer who tend to everyone’s needs. I am proud to have met many them and witnessed their dedication and devotion first hand. 

Sharon always has said “win or lose I have given this fight my best with a smile and a kind word for those who helped and cared for me. I ask for no sympathy nor do I want any. Sympathy is for others, not me.”

We sincerely believe cancer will be cured in our lifetimes. These are the words from my  “Star of the Desert.”

Monday, July 6, 2015

Legacy of Jack Flint

June 29, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Circa 2004- Sharon Kollenborn is leading with Jack Flint behind her on “Ringo,” a very gentle and good trail horse. Neighbor Keith Ferlalnd is bringing up the rear. Jack was 85 when this photo was taken.
We often meet people who make quite an impression on us. This was the case when I met an Englishmen named Jack Flint in April of 1998 on the porch of the Bluebird Mine. Jack had just purchased a copy of our book Superstition Mountain: A Ride Through Time. Louis Ruiz told Jack I was sitting on the veranda of the Bluebird having a soft drink and that I would probably sign it for him. Jack walked over, introduced himself and asked me if I would be so kind to sign his copy of my book. I told him I would be pleased to do so. This simple gesture began a friendship that would span almost two decades. At the time Jack was seventy-nine years old and in excellent health. He was a tall man, 6’4” and weighted about 195 pounds. His skin lacked any tanning because he had lived most of his life in England in a town called Camberly. I soon found out Jack’s favorite sports were rugby and soccer. Jack was a very athletic individual. I visited with Jack for a couple of hours and soon learned he loved America. Jack had spent considerable time here when he was in the military. I also found out Jack Flint was retired from the Queen’s Royal Artillery. He joined the English Army when he was seventeen in 1939 when England was at war with Germany.

Jack was eventually sent to North Africa with the Royal Artillery and fought against the German Africa Corps under General Rommel. General Bernard Montgomery was the allied commander in North Africa. Jack emerged from the two Battles of El Alamein, one on July 1, 1942 and the other October 23, 1942, as a Sargent. He eventually earned a battlefield commission and rose to the rank of Major in British Royal Artillery. When the war ended he was rifted down to a Sargent Major. He had taught artillery classes at Sandhurst. Sandhurst is Britain’s West Point for its army. Jack was also an outstanding soccer player in the British Army. He was also a very talented musician. He played both the organ and the piano. He could hold a crowd in awe with his version of “Amazing Grace” on the piano or organ. Eventually he traveled often to the United States as a liaison to the U. S. Army from the British Army. Jack was very intelligent and extremely resourceful. He had an unusual interest in the history and lore of the Superstition Mountain region.

Our friendship and trust grew very rapidly. We invited him to spend his three-week vacations in America with us. We offered him one of our vacant bedrooms and he accepted. We never took payment for the room from him because we considered him our guest. Also we felt we were honoring his service to his country and ours as well. Jack was a walking history book on European, British, Roman and Middle East history. Jack was never boring to listen to. He had a good command of the English language and was an excellent conversationalist. His conversations about European and Middle East history were fantastic. He presented the history as if you were actually there.

His first visit in our home was quite short and soon over. He returned to England and I wasn’t sure we would see him again. Some of his peculiar habits included eating only bananas and a cup of tea for breakfast. He wasn’t a big eater, but often joined us for meals. Jack was very health conscious. I took Jack on Jeep trip into the old Tortilla Ranch. He was thrilled with the excursion into the Superstition Mountains. I told him when he returned I would take him horseback riding into the Superstition Mountains. He told me he would return. He made friends with my neighbor Keith Ferland and went on several hikes with Keith from First Water Trail Head. When Jack left for England I doubted we would ever see him again because of his advanced age. Upon departure he gave my wife a beautiful gold butterfly and necklace.

Sure enough in April of 1999 Jack Flint returned to America and Apache Junction. He contacted us by phone and wondered if our bedroom was still available and of course we told him yes. During his 1999 visit we took him to the legendary JF Ranch deep in the mountainous area of the central portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area. He loved this trip with my friends Nancy and Trish. Jack was an absolute gentleman. The girls did some sun bathing while Jack and I rode the mountain trails out of the JF Ranch. Jack said nobody in England would believe he spent a day at an isolated ranch with two such beautiful ladies. To top this trip off, Jack lost his wallet when we stopped at Florence Junction for refreshments. The wallet contained all his money and documents. A call to the Florence Junction establishment did not produce any information about his lost wallet. We drove back from Apache Junction to look for his wallet.  Nancy and Trish found  Jack’s wallet. When Jack returned to England he wired those girls the largest bouquet of roses I have ever seen.

Jack retuned again in 2000 and we visited other areas of the mountains an did some more horseback riding into Second Water, Boulder Canyon, La Barge Canyon and other interesting areas. Jack was mesmerized by the beauty and ruggedness of these mountains. We also visited the Indian Paint Mine between Boulder and La Barge Canyons. Jack was fascinated with this old mining site in the Superstition Wilderness Area. I was learning history of the world and Jack was learning about the Superstition Wilderness Area. What a wonderful trade off in our friendship.

The Al Queda terrorist attacked the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 killing almost three thousand people. This tragic event changed Jack’s schedule. Jack Flint returned to America in early November 2001 so he could attend the Armistice Day Parade in Apache Junction and be with the Americans that he loved so much and cared about in a moment of need. Jack was really emotional about this horrible crime against America, a land he also loved. We attended several events in November of 2001 devoted to the 9-11 tragedy.

Jack arrived every April from 2002 on, prepared to learn more about the Superstition Mountains and its history. He never told me he was searching for anything in particular. He said he was fascinated with the history and stories. Every year he bought something to do with the Superstition Mountains before he returned to his home in Camberly, Sussex, England. He lived near Sandhurst, the British “West Point.” These trips to America continued through 2009 every year. Jack had made eleven trips to America and spent time wandering around the Superstition Mountain area for eleven years in a row. Keith Ferland or I guided Jack around the mountains. Jack rode the horses up to the time he was 87 and continued hiking until his last trip to America. This was a man who fought in two of the biggest battles in North Africa and survived. Jack would always say, “We stopped General Rommel at El Almein.”

Sharon and I received a letter in 2011 from Jack advising us that he wasn’t returning to America because of health problems. He said he would never forget us and hoped someday his daughter would visit us. Jack had converted one of the rooms in his home to a museum on the Superstition Mountains, its people and history. Jack Flint is a name we will always remember in our home. He was a true gentleman, scholar and loved America, however he was still loyal to his Queen and his country. I will never forget at the Veteran’s Day Parade in Apache Junction how he stood erect and saluted the American Flag every time it passed by. Sometimes my own countrymen embarrass me for their lack of respect for our flag by not even standing up. Veteran’s Day is not a holiday it is a day of remembrance for those who gave so much for our great nation.