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