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.