Monday, October 24, 2016

Murder Conspiracy At The U Ranch

October 17, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Recently I read on the internet about a local cattle family’s ranch being used to hatch a murder conspiracy. The murder conspiracy supposedly included Abe Reid, George “Brownie” Holmes, Milton Rose, Jack Keenan and Leroy Purnell. The ranch was the Quarter Circle U in Pinal County and the man to be murdered was Adolph Ruth, a Washington D.C. gold prospector. The year was 1931. 

The story goes something like this. Dr. Adolph Ruth arrived in Arizona in mid-May of 1931. He was searching for a pointed peak in the Superstition Mountains based on a map his son acquired in Mexico in 1914, which he believed would lead him to buried gold in the Superstitions. The old man was convinced he would be successful in these mountains because he had failed in California.

Ruth had searched in the southern California desert previously with another map he had acquired from his son. This trip was in December of 1919. Ruth was severely injured during this experience and almost lost his life. His limited success in the Anza-Borrego Desert of California convinced Ruth he would have better success in Arizona.

Ruth arrived in Arizona in May 1931 and went about trying to find somebody to take him into the Superstition Mountains. He eventually ended up at the old Bark Ranch or what Barkley called the Quarter Circle U Ranch. It was there he met William Augustus “Gus” Barkley.

Dr. Adolph Ruth was last seen on the morning on June 18, 1931, by a man he met near the old brush corral south of West Boulder Canyon.

On June 11, 1931, Ruth tried to persuade Barkley to take him into the region around Weaver’s Needle. Barkley refused because of Ruth’s physical condition and the summer heat. Barkley made every effort to point out the hazards of going into the mountains this time of the year. But Ruth was a man that could not be discouraged easily after his previous adventure in the Anza-Borrego Desert near Warner Hot Springs in 1919. Finally, Barkley agreed to pack Ruth into the mountains but told Ruth to wait three days for Barkley’s return from a trip to Phoenix.

Barkley left the ranch on June 12, 1931, and returned three days later to find Ruth had already departed for the mountains. Ruth had become impatient during Barkley’s absence and asked two local cowboy-prospectors to pack him into the mountains. These two men were Jack Keenan and Leroy Purnell.

Ruth was packed into the mountains through First Water to a site near Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon. His campsite was just west of Weaver’s Needle.  Ruth’s camp was comfortable, he had water and the temperatures were only up around 94 degrees at midday. Considering the time of the year these temperatures were very moderate.

When Barkley returned to the Quarter Circle U Ranch he found the elderly Ruth had been packed into the mountains. Barkley rode into Ruth’s camp at Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon on June 20, 1931. After examining the camp he determined Ruth had not used the site for at least twenty-four hours. When Barkley realized the old man was missing he immediately notified the authorities. 

A search was mounted and it continued for forty-five days without a trace of Adolph Ruth being found. The search conditions for Ruth were terrible with temperatures reaching the 115-degree mark and the search was finally abandoned around the first of August 1931.

It was later reported that early on the morning on June 18, 1931, Ruth had met a man near the old brush corral south of West Boulder Canyon. This man claimed Ruth was in good shape when he saw him but walked with a limp and appeared a little exhausted. They talked about the weather and the black gnats. Ruth asked the man for directions to Needle Canyon. The man told him how to find the trail over Black Top Mesa Pass and into Needle Canyon. He also noted Ruth was carrying a small side pack, like a military gasbag, and a thermos jug. The man also noted Ruth was carrying a side arm of some kind. This fateful meeting was recorded in the man’s prospecting journal.

This individual never stepped forward during the investigation because by the time he heard about Ruth missing, the search had turned into a murder investigation. It is my contention this was the last human to ever see Adolph Ruth alive. He reported Ruth in good condition, although he thought he was unprepared for such rugged country at this time of the year. When Ruth told him he had a base camp the man wasn’t as concerned.

Ruth’s skull was discovered a few months later on December 10, 1931, by the Phoenix Archaeological Commission’s expedition. Richie Lewis and “Brownie” Holmes led this group. William A. Barkley and Jeff Adams found the skeletal remains of Ruth on the eastern slope of Black Top Mesa on January 8, 1932, about a quarter of a mile from the location of the skull.

There was no final agreement as to exactly how Ruth died, but there was a consensus that he died of natural causes and did not die from some foul deed perpetrated by some evil contriving individual. The periodicals of the period conjured up all kinds of murder and conspiracy theories. These stories were the source of the many tales that survive today. Ruth’s son, Erwin, was convinced his father was murdered for an old Spanish treasure map he possessed. Erwin Ruth was a very melodramatic individual.

It is pure fantasy to believe a person or parties known or unknown conspired at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in 1931 to murder Adolph Ruth for a treasure map he carried. If the cause of Ruth’s death was not murder then there could have been no conspiracy at the U Ranch. Again, all evidence suggests Ruth died of natural causes. Doubt was only raised when Ruth’s son, Erwin, made claims his father was murdered for a map he carried.

This conspiracy story was dreamed up to malign a lot of honest Arizona pioneers because of conflicting beliefs and interest involving lost gold and treasure in the Superstition Wilderness. The Arizona Republic printed the map found on Ruth’s body. One of these individuals was Quentin T. Cox. He had a very fiery pen and often attacked people and their ideas in writing.

Hundreds of his letters exist today and these letters continue to keep this murder conspiracy going. Milton Rose, according to Cox, was one of the conspirators in the Ruth case. Rose also had a fiery pen and countered any story that implied Ruth was murdered.

I met Quentin Cox on several occasions while employed on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the 1950’s. He often came up to the old U Ranch and visited. His tongue was as fiery as his pen when it came to talking about certain people associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine. I would listen to his rhetoric then go about my chores. Quentin Cox had some interesting stories and he adjusted them according to his theories. It is people like Quentin Cox, Milton Rose and others who keep the tales of the Superstition Wilderness alive and going today.

The Barkleys were true Arizona pioneers who worked hard to eke a living out of this desert and the Superstition Mountains. The Barkley’s never felt guilty or haunted about the Ruth incident or anything to do with it. Old Gus had made every effort to find Adolph Ruth and help his family. No such murder conspiracy ever occurred at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. However, each decade the story changes and some people claim other preposterous statements about the incident that occurred eighty-five years ago.