A man appeared at the Bark-Criswell Ranch in December of 1891 with a burro and a puppy. The burro he called “Chase” and the puppy he called “Yelp.” He informed Jim Bark that the Silver King Mine had shut down again. He asked about securing employment on the ranch. The owner asked him if he could repair water holes and maintain them for cattle. The man said he could and would, as long as he could periodically prospect. The man’s name was John Chuning.
Chuning later told Jim Bark about a gold mine he knew of in the Superstitions. Bark listened attentively and soon remarked, “It wouldn’t be difficult to find a mine if someone had already found it.”
|Jim Bark was a very successful business man, with interest including ranching, meat packing business, and gold prospecting. Bark owned what is now known as the Quarter Circle U Ranch, pictured above about 1934.
Bark listened carefully as Chuning told how he had worked with Joe Deering at the Silver King and how tragic Joe Deering’s death had been in 1884. Chuning told Bark how Deering had told him about the mine.
|Jim Bark, inset photo taken around 1920.
Deering reportedly had said the mine was located high up on a wall in an isolated and rugged canyon. He told about how Deering had tracked two soldiers and then used pure logic to figure out where they worked their mine.
Chuning went on to explain how Deering said he had found the mine.
“I headed for Silver King to get a job,” Deering had told him. “I had camped in a big canyon at a spring, near some willow and sycamore trees. I had breakfast, took my canteen and went looking for my burro. I finally saw him halfway up the side of a mountain, and above my camp.
“As I started up after him I saw a deep worn trail. The trail was so much larger and worn so much deeper in the rocks than any other trail I had seen in those mountains that it excited my curiosity. I left the burro to follow the trail. I must have walked two or three miles and came to the worst place I have ever seen in these mountains.
“There was a tunnel and it had been walled up. The wall had settled about eight inches and had partly fallen down. I don’t know how deep the tunnel was. Above the tunnel it looked as though there had been two big shafts, but they were almost filled in.”
Chuning said Deering returned to his camp over the same trail. He noticed a large willow tree growing just at the lower edge of the trail He rested under it and took out his little hand ax and cut a cross in the tree.
A prospector named Wright found a hand ax which had been pounded out of shape, as though it was used to crush or pound rock. This same trail was monumented by small piles of rocks until it left Javelina Canyon and dropped over into the Horse Mesa country. Chuning further claimed Deering had said the country was kind of ghostly looking and there were many queer-shaped rocks in the region. Some of them looked like stone statues.
Deering said, according to Chuning, “after closely examining the area I built four rock monuments of long slender stones with four or five smaller stones that were laid around to support them. I paid little attention to directions or distances in the area. I avoided placing markers near the mine.”
Chuning said after Deering had found the mine’s location he went to Silver King to secure a grubstake and ended up taking a job. This job underground proved to be fatal for Deering and he never returned to his find.
John Chuning, Bark’s friend, had met Joe Deering at the Silver King Mine a few weeks before he was killed in an accident. Deering had told Chuning he had found a mine, a very rich mine in the Superstitions south of the Salt River.
He had told Chuning about the “trick in the trail.” He explained you had to go down before you could negotiate the “trick in the trail.” Deering said he had worked the mine only twice and he never traveled through the mountains to it, but through the desert.
Deering showed Chuning about four pounds of rich gold ore from the mine while they were in Jesse Brown’s Saloon in Pinal. Chuning later told Bark the gold was quite rich. If the ore had been broken up the gold would have been the size of peas or kernels of corn. Some years later Jesse Brown verified Chuning’s story to Jim Bark in Nogales, Arizona.
Chuning hunted for Joe Deering’s lost mine for several years after Deering’s death at the Silver King Mine. Chuning worked for Bark off and on until Bark sold his ranch to Frank L. Criswell in 1907. After the sale of the ranch Chuning moved his base of operation to Tortilla Flat.
Chuning prospected around Tortilla Flat for about three years. John Chuning kept a base camp up La Barge Canyon in a cave just below the Lower Box of La Barge Canyon. The site today is known as Chuning’s Cave.
Sometime in October of 1910 Chuning became quite ill and passed away on November 11, 1910.
Ironically, Dr. Ralph Palmer signed Chuning’s death certificate. Palmer owned and operated the Palmer Mine (Boulder-Buckhorn) on the western-side of Superstition Mountain.