Monday, September 5, 2016

Trail of Tears

August 29, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area and Superstition Mountain in particular have been an attraction to human kind for more than a millennium. First came the Native Americans who found the region conducive to their way of living. Hunting and gathering was their main means of survival. The region offered numerous caves for shelter. Their ruins today are a mute testimony to their early occupancy of this rugged mountain region in Central Arizona.

Death was no stranger to these early inhabitants of this rugged mountain wilderness. Many lost their lives to accidents, animal attacks and other warring groups that mounted raids into their homelands. Of course all these deaths were pre-historical without documentation. The excavation of a couple of sites adjacent to the wilderness area suggests some of these early Native Americans died from wounds caused by an adversary. 

An Apache Junction resident was excavating for a pool in his yard when he came across a burial site on his property. The skull that was found in the grave had severe damage from blunt force trauma. The ulna and radius bones of the arm and clavicle bone of the shoulder had sharp knife-like marks indicating an attack that was defended with the individual’s arms. These injuries were probably the results of a battle with a raiding party that ended in the demise of this individual several thousand years ago.  This Native American was probably one the earliest people to die in this vast mountain wilderness we call the Superstitions today.

The Superstition Mountain region has a long history of missing people, homicides, accidental deaths, and injuries. The earliest recorded history of these events occurred when the infantry companies were sent out of Camp McDowell to quell the raids of the Apache-Yavapai who lived in the Superstition Mountains (Salt River Mountains) and Pinaleno (Pinal) Mountains in the 1860’s.

The Army effectively used the Pima Scouts against the Apache-Yavapai during this era. Several hundred Apache-Yavapai were slain in their Rancherias or villages throughout the Superstition Mountain area at places such as Pinon Camp (near Weaver’s Needle) May 11, 1867, Dismal Valley (Tortilla Ranch area), March 14, 1868, and Tortilla Creek near Tortilla Flat later in that year.

Also several smaller villages were destroyed and the males were killed. The Pimas took the captured Apache-Yavapai women and children into slavery. The Pima Scouts clubbed the Apache-Yavapai old and young males to death. Armed Pima Scouts and soldiers shot those who tried to escape. 

The Tortilla Ranch area of the Superstition Wilderness was known as Dismal Valley. It served as a large Native American village in the 1870’s. 
This was the beginning of death in the Superstition Mountain region that was accurately documented by the United States military. Sadly enough, deaths continue to occur today. However, in a far different way.

Major John Brown led the 5th and 10th United States Cavalry Units on campaigns against the Apache-Yavapai in both the Superstition Mountains and the Pinal Mountains from 1872-1874. Many of the skirmishes were fought around the Reavis Valley.

One battle was fought from March 8 – 17, 1874, with men of the 10th U.S. Cavalry. Many Native Americans died during these campaigns. You might say Native Americans suffered more deaths in the region then anyone else.  They considered the Superstition Mountains (Sierra Supersticiones) their home. It was from this base they raided the Salt River Valley and surrounding ranches and sometimes the mining communities.
The first white man was reported murdered on February 15, 1878 near the base of Superstition Mountain’s western facade near what is called Siphon Draw today.  The body of white man mutilated, cutup, and burned was found by two German prospectors. Some historians believe the two Germans who found this poor soul was Jacob Waltz and his partner. The murder was attributed to the Apaches.
As you can see, very little information was reported at this time about this murdered white man. This was the beginning of deaths in the Superstition area over the next one hundred and forty-two years. But prior to this man’s death many Native Americans were killed by the Army as described above.