Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Eve at the Reavis Ranch

December 21, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

One of the most beautiful areas of the Superstition Wilderness Area at Christmas time is the Reavis Valley.

Going home for Christmas to the old Reavis Ranch.
The old Cleman’s ranch house beckoned to weary travelers to rest their aching feet and sore shoulders. After 1967 the only way to visit the old Reavis Valley was by hiking or riding horseback some nine miles from the Reavis Ranch trailhead three miles from the Apache Trail.

Several years ago around Christmas time a group of us decided we would visit the ranch on Christmas Eve. This visit I will never forget.  Tom Johnson, the principal of Superstition Mountain Elementary School (SMES), and I rode up to the Reavis on December 23 spending the night and riding out on Christmas Eve December 24.

Another group had spent the night in the ranch house and rode out that morning. We had the place to ourselves. We knew it would be quite cold before morning, probably below freezing.        

As soon as we unsaddled the horses, fed them and put them in the corral, we went about gathering firewood for the night. We gathered wood far and near because so many campers were using the Reavis Valley. To be honest firewood was extremely scarce in the immediate area. Eventually we gathered enough firewood for the night. The scarcity of wood for campfires was what eventually led to the downfall and destruction of the old ranch. Lazy campers started burning the ranch house itself. They burned the old ranch piece by piece until it was nothing more than a skeleton of what it once was.

Then sometime during November of 1991 somebody built a fire in the attic and caught the roof on fire. If the ranch house was full of people on a real cold night, campers would take a sheet of tin into the attic and build a fire on it.

Once the sun went down we moved inside. We built a fire in the old fireplace and turned on our lantern. As our eyes became accustomed to the light we could still see the old brands in the fireplace mantel and on the side rails.

I could envision the room from an earlier visit when Floyd Stone and his wife Alice lived here. My wife and I had sat several times in this room filled with Native American pottery, Navajo rugs, and Papago baskets.

I remembered the Western leather furniture Stone had hauled some 12 miles over the Reavis Ranch road from the Apache Trail. This certainly was a trip of reminiscence for me as I describe what this room had looked like when Floyd Stone and his wife lived there in the 1950s and early 1960s.

As Tom and I sat around the giant hearth with a roaring fire I began to recall some of the stories about the Reavis. I told him the story about old Elisha M. Reavis, the first settler in this valley. I told him about the fifteen-acre truck garden he put in and then sold his vegetables throughout the Central Mountain region of central Arizona Territory. He became known as the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain.”

Reavis settled in the valley about 1874 and died about four miles south of the Reavis Ranch in April of 1896.

There are many stories about Reavis and what he did before moving to the valley. He served as a Deputy United States Marshal in the McDowell Precinct. He raised and trained pack animals up on the Verde River above Fort McDowell and he assisted the Army occasionally as a packer. Hopefully someday, somebody will write a book about this very interesting citizen of Arizona.

He was born in Beardstown, Illinois, in 1829. He attended college and upon graduation he moved to California and taught school. Gold prospecting interested him more than teaching so he became a prospector and a miner. He was married and had a daughter before he left for Arizona Territory the last time in 1869.

Tom and I sat around and talked about the old Reavis and the many people who had lived in this beautiful isolated valley. These people included Elisha Reavis and John J. Fraser, a Canadian.  Fraser sold the homestead to William J. Clemens and his two sons Mark and Twain. Floyd Stone was John A. “Hooley” Bacon’s son-in-law. Stone married “Hooley’s” daughter Alice. After several stories Tom had  his history lesson for night.

As we prepared for sleep we found a poem written by an Apache Junction Firefighter entitled “The Night Before Christmas At The Old Reavis Ranch.”  The poem mentioned the fireplace, the brands on the mantle, the raccoons in the attic, and several other localized events and things associate with the old isolated mountain ranch.

We read that poem several times before turning in. The poem became one of the most memorable things to ever occur for me in this mountain wilderness. I didn’t have a pen and could not copy the poem down. Also I didn’t have the heart to remove it from the old Reavis Ranch.  We have always hoped the fireman who wrote it would come forward with it because I would love to print it in the paper and share it with the world. This poem was so special to us on that night. The next day we packed up and headed home. We both needed to get home to our families by Christmas Eve.

In closing I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  God bless and thank the service men, policeman and fireman who are keeping us safe and secure this holiday season.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Curious & the Old

December 14, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Old cowboys on several occasions have mentioned some odd things that occurred on Superstition Mountain’s eastern slope.

Aerial view of the Dacite Cliffs, SSE of portion of Superstition Mountain. The crevice, according to the stories, is located NNE of the cliffs near Don’s Camp.
An old Barkley cowboy, named Joe Bailey, who had basically retired from the cattle business after some fifty to sixty years in the saddle, lived near the Apache Trail. He and his wife had an old Airstream trailer parked near what is the Mining Camp Road in the late 1950s. This was long before the Mining Camp Restaurant or any other houses were in the area—except for Barney Barnard’s place and a couple other old stone houses.

I was visiting Joe and his wife one afternoon after working on the well motor at the old Palmer Mine and checking the concrete tank below.

I told Joe in our conversation that Superstition Mountain was nothing but a large old extinct volcano. Just that comment started Joe talking about how active of a volcano Superstition Mountain is.

I told him the mountain was at least seventeen million years old and no longer active. He then said, “listen here Slim, I have witnessed this old mountain blowing smoke over on the east slope.”

I didn’t really consider Joe Bailey a man of untruths. He went on to say, “I was working some of Barkley’s cattle up and out of West Boulder Canyon on the eastern slope of the mountain early one morning when I notice vapor or smoke coming out of a crack in the rock just above me. I decided to go take a look. I step off of my horse and put on the hobbles. I walked toward the site about two hundred yards away. From the spot I was standing I could almost see Fremont Saddle. I could see the tip of Weaver’s Needle through the saddle in Burbridge Ridge. Arriving at the site of the crack (crevice) I could see vapor rising. The smoke or vapor smelled a bit like rotten eggs and I could feel heat rising. I found a clear spot and looked down into the crevice and some two hundred or so feet below I could see molten rock flowing.

“Now Slim, I know what I saw whether you believe me or not. After this incident I had an entirely different respect for the huge mountain east of Apache Junction, Arizona,” said Joe Bailey.

Joe told me he felt he was living on a slope of an active volcano, like the one that covered the Roman city of Pompeii in ancient time. I ask him if he was afraid of it erupting. He always replied “No” because he was eighty-three at the time and really didn’t matter whether the mountain exploded or not.

This was really an interesting story about Superstition Mountain. Over the years I have had others tell me about this mysterious crack in the Earth. I have ridden and hiked the area, but I have never witness anything described by Joe Bailey or anyone else. I can assure you Superstition Mountain is not an active volcano or caldera.

Yes, there was a lot of eruptive activity in this area 17-25 million years ago during the Tertiary Period of Geologic Time. Yes, Superstition Mountain was born of fire and has played a role in many legends, myths and tall tales.

Ironically, Joe is not the only person that has suggested volcanic activity of this nature associated with Superstition Mountain and the area on the eastern slope of the mountain. Over the years a variety of prospectors have mentioned this crevice, the rotten-egg gas smell, smoke and even liquid magma flowing hundreds of feet below the surface. I suppose it is remotely possible the magma from the core has found a conduit to the surface in the Earth. If so, I am certain satellite imaging would have detected it by now.

Again I have been told many stories. Many years ago a lady told me she was hiking in the area and also witnessed the activity around this crevice. She vividly remembered the flowing magma a couple hundred feet below the surface and the amount of heat it reflected upward.

She was one of the many students in my Central Arizona College class titled “Prospecting the Superstitions.” She offered to guide me to the site and I refused the opportunity because of other commitments.

She still lives in the community and I really regretted not accepting her offer. My doubt overwhelmed my curiosity for this mountain wilderness.

The possibility of an exposed magmatic flow on Superstition Mountain is highly unlikely. However, when it comes to geological phenomenon anything can happen. Superstition Mountain suffers numerous tremors each day, but they are so minute only a sensitive seismograph can register them.

Tremors of this nature signal magma flow, but not too likely in our area. The volcanic action in this area has been silent for more than seventeen million years. The only action we witness today is erosion and mass wasting.

Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, known for its eruption in AD 79. 
When I think back to Joe Bailey, the various prospectors and the lady in my college class, I have to be curious and just wonder about the possibility this phenomenon in our area, even though we know Superstition Mountain is not an active volcanic area.

Caption: Aerial view of the Dacite Cliffs, SSE of portion of Superstition Mountain. The crevice, according to the stories, is located NNE of the cliffs near Don’s Camp. Below, Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, known for its eruption in AD 79.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Blue Cow Dog

November 30, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The first time Rob met Hope he knew he had one of the best damn cow dogs in all of Arizona. Hope had a personality somewhere between a critter full of hate and a love for life. This was sometimes typical of a “blue” dog; it was hard to explain. He would guard Rob’s truck and possessions with his life, but at the same time become a friend to a dying child. Actually that is how Hope really became known.

You see, one day Hope and Rob were working cattle along the old Big Sandy trail when they met this young lady and her son out walking. The lady admired Rob’s horse and her son kept his eyes fixed on Hope. After a few moments conversation with a handsome cowboy the young boy’s mother told Rob how much her son wanted to have a dog, but couldn’t because he was going on a long journey to heaven.
Hope was a great cow dog. He knew how to handle cattle and horses, but more important, he brought smiles to a little boy’s face.
The boy said to Rob, “Mister you sure are lucky to have a Blue dog, I would do anything for a dog like that.”

His mother walked a little closer toward Rob’s horse. Rob then stepped down and began to talk with her. She told Rob about the brain tumor that was eating away at Kevin’s life. It was difficult for Rob to believe this strong blue- eyed, blond headed child was near death. She apologized for bothering Rob on a working day, but said Kevin had begged so hard just to say hello. As Rob stood talking, Hope quickly made friends with Kevin. The dog nuzzled him acknowledging an immediate friendship. It was as if Blue knew the young boy was special.

You see Rob always knew Hope was special. He had been the runt of the litter and nobody wanted him. Yes, and Rob had a soft spot in his heart for those who were special.

Rob invited Kevin and his mother to visit the ranch. It certainly was a wonderful day for Kevin when he extended that invitation. The cows could wait for another day, he thought. The smiles that dog brought to that boy’s face still flash across Rob’s mind.

The other day when I visited with Kevin’s mom and Rob they both talked about her son and Blue. Now you know why Rob thought so much of that dog and why he was so special. Rob would never forget Kevin, his mother, or Hope. Two of them are gone now, but there are two people who are still together forever.

Hope was a great cow dog. He knew how to handle cattle and horses, but most important of all he brought smiles to a little boy’s face before he made that long trip to heaven and changed Rob’s life forever.

Rob now sits on the veranda of his ranch talking to Kevin’s mother about what could have been, but didn’t happen. Kevin’s mother looks Rob in the eyes and says, “Kevin has Hope now and I have you. Rob, you have eased my pain and Blue eased Kevin’s pain. My friend it was met to be.”

I believe this story should be told. It’s a short story based on fact and occurred more than forty years ago. I knew all of the participants including Blue, and young Kevin was one of my students many years ago. The names and places have been changed to protect to true identity of those mentioned in this story. The family did not want their names revealed to the public.