Monday, February 29, 2016

The Coke Ovens of the Gila River

February 22, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Recently I interviewed Mr. James Copeman, owner of the historic Coke Oven Ranch near Florence. The Coke Ovens are on private property that includes some 189 acres of land. Many people and visitors believe the Coke Ovens are open to the public to view. Mr. Copeman advised me the Coke Ovens and the 189 acres around the area are closed to the public, no exceptions.  

Citations will be issued for criminal trespass by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, the Arizona Fish and Game Department, or Ranch property patrols from now on. During the past ten years the ranch house has been destroyed and hauled off. The Coke Ovens are slowly being hauled away piece by piece. Also stones are being hauled away for souvenirs and to be cut up and used for bookends. My friends and readers—this is malicious and willful destruction of a historic landmark that appears on the National Registry of Historic Places as the Butte-Cochran Charcoal Ovens.

The “beehives,” as many old timers call them, present a very special visual to the Arizona backcountry. The search for gold and treasure in the Superstition Mountain area has guided many a treasure hunter down to the area on Gila River near Twin Buttes appropriately named North Butte and South Butte. The Gila River flows between the two buttes. Many treasure hunters believe the buttes are the starting point on the Peralta Stone Maps. However, the stone maps are phony and were created by a man named Travis E. Tumlinson. Many people believe these stone maps will lead them to treasure. There are those who disagree with this explanation that the stone maps are somehow connected with the area.

The surrounding mountains still harbor evidence of by-gone days. The coke ovens are among the historical remnants. They are located on a site which overlooks the Gila River, approximately 15 miles east of Florence. There are five ovens, wonderfully preserved, surviving in an area so remote and inaccessible that the lack of disturbance is easily understood. 
The Coke Ovens and the historic Coke Oven Ranch is located across the river one and a quarter miles west of the old Cochran town site along the Gila River and the Southern Pacific Railroad.

The Coke Ovens were constructed sometime during the 1870s to fire mesquite and to make coke for smelting ore.

Mr. Copeman said he believes the Coke Ovens were actually used to make coke for smelting gold ore from the area. There is a slag dump in the proximity of the Coke Ovens. The research I have seen stated the ovens were never actually used, however, all research is subject to debate.

Cochran was a small mining camp located about fifteen miles east of Florence along the Gila River. The town was established in 1905 and John S. Cochran was appointed postmaster January 3, 1905. The post office was discontinued on January 15, 1915. The town at its peak had an approximate population of one hundred residents. The town included a general store and boarding house.

Ironically, the old Coke Ovens are a historic landmark east of Florence, Arizona along the Gila River and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Again the Coke Ovens and the 189 acres around them are privately owned land and are closed to the public. Criminal trespass is a serious offense in Arizona and destruction of a historic landmark on the National Registry could be a federal offense.

The ovens were used to reduce mesquite wood to coke, a hotter burning fuel, for use in smelting gold and silver ore taken from surrounding mines. The beehive-shaped stone coke ovens are each about 25 feet in diameter and 30 feet in height. Each has a ground level entry and a few upper level vents. The mesquite wood, burned slowly in the ovens for days, yielded the coke. The new fuel was then transported directly across the Gila River to the community of Cochran (now a ghost town) and the smelters there.
I am certain most people will respect private property. Hopefully, all my readers do. We must work together to protect historical places and the Sonoran Desert from vandals, thieves, taggers and those who use off road vehicles. The public lands are for us to enjoy if we take care of them. Abuse and vandalism will only lead to more closures and restrictions on public lands in Arizona. Remember—historic things we preserve today will be here for our children and grand children and great grand children to enjoy in the future.

It is amazing the Coke Ovens have survived more than a hundred years and only now are in danger of being destroyed by inconsiderate visitors who are trespassing on private property.

If the Coke Ovens are to survive into the future they need to be continuously monitored somehow. The entire area is posted so there is no excuse for trespassing and willful destruction of this historical landmark on the National Registry.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Cravey's Dream

February 8, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Jim Cravey woke up one May morning in 1947 from a dream he had about a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. He was convinced it was the Lost Dutchman Mine. He believed from his dream he could find the mine.

One of his friends, C. W. Vanderflute, tried to convince Cravey he was not able to go into the Superstition Mountains on such an adventure. After all he was 62 years old and crippled. One arm was almost useless and he had a leg that troubled him from an affliction that forced him to retire early from his career as a photographer.

Vanderflute lived in Cravey’s neighborhood near west Polk Street in Phoenix. Cravey insisted on hiking into the rugged wilderness and then hiking out to the Highway 60 between Apache Junction and Superior during the month of June.

James A. Cravey went about planning for his trip into the mountains. He purchased a backpack, bedroll, some tools, fifty foot of rope, food supplies, cooking utensils, and a large canteen. He also carried a pistol and compass.

As he thought about his impending adventure to find the gold mine of his dreams he decided he needed some help. He had read a lot about modern helicopters. He soon contacted Edwin G. Montgomery of Arizona Helicopter Services in Phoenix. Cravey explained his needs to Montgomery and Montgomery recommended that one of his pilots could fly him into the Superstition Mountains.

Montgomery introduced Cravey to Charles Marthens, an experienced helicopter pilot. Marthens explained to Cravey they could trailer the helicopter to an area near the Quarter Circle U Ranch and fly from there to his destination in the mountains. The distance was less than four miles, figured Marthens.

Charles Marthens flew Cravey and his supplies into the mountain on June 21, 1947. Cravey’s supplies included food, five gallons of water, fifty feet of rope, digging tools, a bedroll, and a canteen. As Cravey stepped from the helicopter with part of his supplies Marthens could not help but wonder how this adventure would end.

Marthens returned to his landing zone near the U Ranch and picked up the rest of Cravey’s supplies and returned. After flying James Cravey into the mountains Marthens loaded up his helicopter and drove back to Phoenix.

C. W. Vanderflute reported his concern for James A. Cravey to Sheriff Cal Boise when Cravey was overdue on July 1, 1947. Stanley Kimball, Captain of Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputies turned the missing person case over to Pinal County because he learned Cravey left the helicopter just beyond the Maricopa County line in the La Barge drainage.  When Charles Marthens was located he reported he let Cravey out of his helicopter on a small mesa near La Barge Canyon just beyond the county line with eight days of provisions.

Arizona Helicopter Services of Phoenix flew Jim Cravey and his supplies into the Superstition Mountains in June, 1947. Cravey was never seen again.
Pinal County Sheriff Lynn Early had not ruled out using an airplane or helicopter to search for Cravey. However, because of the extreme heat and rough terrain the aerial search was postponed. Sheriff Early also said violent thunderstorm conditions had discouraged the use of airplanes or helicopters in the search. The Sheriff ask Marthens if bloodhounds could be transported in the helicopter. Marthens discouraged the use of the small helicopter to transport bloodhounds therefore the idea was abandoned.

Sheriff Early had the exact location where Cravey departed from the helicopter, and on July 5, 1947, Jack Ashinhurst, MCSO Deputy and Arizona National Guard pilot 1st Lt. Clifford Gibson spent four hours on an aerial search of the area by plane. They did not find any trace of Cravey.

On July 8, 1947, Charles Marthens and Edwin J. Montgomery landed on the mesa near La Barge Canyon and located Cravey’s first night camp. Around an abandoned campfire site they found a bedroll, five-gallon can of water, and most of Cravey’s provisions for his eight-day adventure. The camp was located about eight miles southeast of Canyon Lake up La Barge Canyon, just inside the Pinal County Line. Cravey’s gun, mining tools, backpack, rope and canteen were missing. The landing site of Marthen’s helicopter was a small mesa between La Barge Canyon and Bluff Springs Canyon near La Barge Springs. This was about four miles from the landing site near the Quarter Circle U Ranch.  

Then on July 9, 1947, an experienced cowboy guide, Deputy Travis Wall, and a search posse took off at daybreak to search for Cravey in the drainage of La Barge Canyon. Cravey had been missing for three weeks by this time. Another friend of Cravey’s said he carried a fifty foot piece of rope hoping to use it to enter the mine’s shaft he had dreamed about. His crippled arm and legs would have prevented him from doing this said his friend Chris L. Adair, 2008 W. Tonto Lane, Phoenix, Arizona.

The search for Cravey ended on July 14, 1947, but it wasn’t until February 22, 1948 that hikers found human remains (bones). Captain R. F. Perrin, U.S. Army Ret. And Lt. Commander Welton W. Clemans of Chicago, guest at the Sunset Trail Ranch on East Main in Mesa, reported finding a man’s skeleton minus the skull about one mile southeast of Weaver’s Needle. The two retired hikers brought back the man’s wallet that identified the remains as that of James A. Cravey.

Sheriff Lynn Early took in a search party to the site on February 24, 1948. Early reported the skull was found in a Hackberry bush about 25 feet from the rest of the skeleton. There was no evidence of foul play. A rope and shoe apparently belonging to Cravey attracted the finders of the skeleton.

James A. Cravey’s dream of finding a lost gold mine lead to this man’s demise in a rugged, hostile and unforgiving mountain range for the inexperienced. Cravey was a total novice prospector and in extremely poor physical condition. He met the same fate as Adolph Ruth did, his predecessor in the summer of 1931. Both men died of natural causes brought on by their very poor health. Neither of them had any business going into this mountain range at any time, let alone during the heat of summer.  The combination of poor health and heat is often fatal. These kinds of tragedies continue to happen as gold fever sometimes overwhelms the innocent, the inexperienced and the naïve.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Apache Junction - A History

February 1, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Apache Junction as we know it today didn’t exist when the first prospectors searched for gold near the base of Superstition Mountain in the late 1860s. The U.S. Army called the Superstition Mountains the ‘Sierra de Supersticiones’ and was still pursuing hostile Apaches in the mountain’s interior.

Peace came to the Apacheria in 1886, when the infamous Apache war Chief and Medicine man Geronimo surrendered to the United States Army at Skeleton Canyon near the Mexican border. Shortly afterward, prospectors and cattlemen poured into the mountains and deserts of the Territory in great numbers. The cattlemen were looking for grazing lands and the prospectors were searching for gold and silver. The small mining towns that dotted the landscape provided a market for the cattlemen.

Gold from the area was first mentioned in 1864, however no samples were produced until 1879 when two Mexican prospectors were attacked by Apaches. One of the prospectors survived and returned to Phoenix and reported finding gold west of Superstition Mountain. The attack on these two prospectors may have been the source of the legendary Peralta Massacre in the Superstition Mountains. The brothers were named Peralta.

Prospectors worked small gold outcrops as early as the 1880s in and around Goldfield Wash. The Lucky Boy claim was staked in 1881 and William A. Kimball staked out the Boulder-Buckhorn in 1886. A rich deposit of gold ore was discovered at the Black Queen claim in November of 1892, but the richest discovery of all wasn’t made until April 14, 1893.

The Mammoth Mine discovery was located after a sudden downpour and flash flood along Goldfield Wash. The Mammoth produced more than three million dollars worth of gold bullion from 1893-1897. This was equal to about 12,000 pounds of gold bullion.

Goldfield boomed and died within a five-year period like many other mining towns of the era. This mining camp, located beneath the towering facade of Superstition Mountain, introduced the first church, school, hotel, saloon, livery stable, stage line, mercantile store, butcher shop, restaurant and barber shop to the area. The pounding of a twenty stamp gold mill created a towering cloud of dust visible for miles. The dust and sounds of the stamp mill soon ebbed when the gold vein disappeared and the desert once again fell silent.

The area near the base of Superstition Mountain had returned to desert again by 1900. However, that wouldn’t last for long. It was the Newland Arid Lands Act of 1903 that brought life back to the area. The construction of the Tonto Wagon Road and a telephone line from Mesa to the Tonto Dam site changed the region forever.

The Tonto Wagon road opened a very remote area to development. These construction projects produced hundreds of jobs shortly after the turn of the century.  Workers from all over the nation came to work on the Tonto Wagon Road and the great Tonto Dam, later known as the Apache Trail and Theodore Roosevelt Dam. This was an economic boom that is still felt today.

The Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Tonto Wagon Road) provided the shortest means of travel for a wagon or an automobile loaded with goods from the copper capitol of the world (Globe-Miami) to Phoenix, the capitol of Arizona.

The road was renamed the “Apache Trail” by E. E. Watson. He was a public relations man for the Southern Pacific Railroad’s concession on the Apache Trail.

Governor George P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor after statehood, envisioned a shorter highway route between the Globe-Miami areas to Phoenix via Superior. Hunt had arrived in Globe in 1879, and was the community’s most adamant spokesperson. Hunt wanted to develop a shorter transportation link between these two important economic centers rather than over the rugged and undependable Apache Trail.  Hunt’s vision came true on May 13, 1921, when the first cars made a run over the Globe-Superior-Phoenix Highway, known today as U.S. Highway 60.  The highway didn’t open to two-way traffic until April 29, 1922.

The junction of U.S. Hwy. 60 and the Apache Trail (photo circa 1932)
Soon after Hunt’s vision came true, another visionary arrived at the foot of Superstition Mountain where the new highway and the Apache Trail intersected. This man was George Cleveland Curtis, a traveling salesman from Logan, Utah, who had a dream and very little money.

It wasn’t easy for Curtis, his wife Aurora and their three young daughters to make a living on undeveloped desert land west of Superstition Mountain. Curtis and his family settled down to living in a tent at first, selling water and making sandwiches for travelers who came through the junction area.

The junction of the Apache Trail and the Globe-Phoenix Highway was still being called Youngsberg Junction after George U. Young, the  ex-mayor of Phoenix. Young owned and operated the Mammoth Mine at Youngsberg, four miles northeast of Youngsberg Junction. Young had a vision of the great Goldfield mines opening once again to full production.

George Curtis started his business on August 21, 1922, shortly after the realignment of the Mesa-Goldfield section of the Apache Trail was completed on May 17, 1922. This finally and officially formed the junction we know today.

George C. Curtis, founder of Apache Junction, (circa 1920’s).
Curtis was offended by the fact  that Young had his mine and the old junction named after himself. Curtis started an immediate campaign to change the name of Youngsberg Junction to Apache Junction. Curtis was adamant about the change because he did not think Youngsberg Junction had any character, color or charm. Curtis was enthralled with the stories about the infamous Apache warriors that supposedly lived in the Superstition Mountains.

George and Aurora Curtis believed so strongly in their convictions about their business in the desert twenty miles east of Mesa they filed a homestead on the parcel of land, NE ¼, Sec. 20, T1N, R8E, on February 23, 1923.

George Curtis made a deal with the Don’s of Arizona, once known as the Phoenix Don’s Club, to build a monument dedicated to Jacob Waltz and the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine. This monument was completed on February 25, 1938 and rededicated in 1988 with more than five hundred dignitaries attending from around Arizona.

This monument served as the icon of this community for more than fifty years. Apache Junction is one of those communities that grew up around a monument. Today the old monument takes a secondary position as the focal point of the community after serving in this setting for more then fifty years. Visitors who remember Apache Junction’s early days always inquire about the old monument.

Another significant historical monument in Apache Junction is the old T-33 jet trainer erected by the American Legion Post 27 and dedicated to the men and women of American Armed Forces who served this country in the time of peace and war. Members of the American Legion Post 27 erected the monument. They were supported by many Apache Junction community organizations. The monument now stands at the new American Legion Post on South Meridian Road just north of Southern Avenue.

Moving the T-33 jet trainer from its perch outside the old American Legion Post 27 on Apache Trail in 2000. The airplane now resides at the new Post 27 on S. Meridian Dr.
The community struggled with incorporation for three decades before finally incorporating in November of 1978.  Since incorporation many changes have occurred, most for the betterment of the community. This small rural community, setting in the shadows of Superstition Mountain, has become a rapidly growing urban city. Open space continues to be an important asset of this community and sometimes a controversial topic.

Several economic endeavors have taken place in Apache Junction since it origin in 1922.  Apache Junction once had a sawmill, and at one time even fields of corn, alfalfa, and other crops. Once development started, this segment of agriculture vanished. The first sub-division of land along Ocotillo and Ironwood in the mid 1940’s escalated the modern growth of Apache Junction even though it required thirty years or more.

Recently it has been suggested the name of Apache Junction be changed. Some believe Apache Junction has an image problem, but a name change would never solve an image problem. Yes, there are those who associate the less fortunate or poor of our community who live in mobile homes with a negative stereotype. But, a lot of our heroes of the “Greatest Generation” live in our mobile homes parks and in mobile homes. They fought at far away places such as Normandy, Casserine Pass, The Bulge, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other battles. What about those who served in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other far off places?  Some of the finest people I have ever known live in mobile homes. We must always remember it is not what some one has, but what is in their heart that counts. The less fortunate today have dreams of something better for tomorrow. Let’s not change their dreams or the name of Apache Junction. Let’s build a better tomorrow around our community’s name and its citizens.

All of us who love Apache Junction, its beauty, its charm, its uniqueness, its special place in our hearts and its heritage owe a debt of gratitude to George and Aurora Curtis, the founders of this community’s name sake and location. After all, this could have be Youngsberg Junction on the Youngsberg Highway or Trail.