November 20, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
Many of you have read articles I have written about tragedies in Superstition Wilderness Area over the years. Probably the worst tragedy was the three Utah prospectors that died in the summer of 2010. They were attracted to the mountain by stories of gold bullion buried near Yellow Peak. Their ignorance of conditions in these mountains during the summer months led to their deaths.
I can excuse somebody for going into the mountains under these conditions, believing they would return with sacks of bullion gold. Now I would like to tell you another story of incident that could have led to the same tragic end. Ironically, I was involved in this search.
Working on the Quarter U Ranch in the late fifties certainly familiarized me with the summer conditions in this mountain. When we had range work to do in the summer months we were horseback by 4:00 a.m. and would return to the ranch before noon, knowing how bad the heat could get in the afternoon. It is not any fun riding back to the ranch after a morning of hard work in the desert sun during the month of June or July. Cowboys, in general, loved the raining season on the lower desert and always looked forward to it.
Back in the late 1970s I was ask to help on a pack trip into the Superstition Wilderness Area on June 10. This particular year, the temperatures were ranging between 95° and 110°F for twenty-four hours a day. I knew the idea was a bit insane, however I was still young and in love with the history of these mountains and its people. It was summer time and I had plenty of time.
I got three horses from “Arkie” Johnston and packed this Dutch Hunter named Ernest into the mountains. He wanted to stay at least four days. I told him we would have stay where there was water. During the heat of summer this didn’t allow very many options. We could stay at, or near, Hackberry Springs, Second Water, Bluff Springs, or Charlebois. Ernest was interested in a spot on Peter’s Mesa. I couldn’t believe he wanted to go in this time of the year. He explained to me nobody would be out there in this heat and his knowledge would be better protected of golden treasure in a cave. We left First Water at 4:00 a.m. and it was still a little warm. It hadn’t cooled off much that night. We arrived at Charlebois Spring about 8:00 a.m. and set up camp. There was plenty of water for the horses, but sometimes difficult to water them. Ernest got his pack ready and strapped on his revolver. He started up the trail to the top of Peter Mesa. I stayed in camp with the horses. It was a hot, miserable day at Charlebois because of the gnats and bugs. I am sure the temperature got up to 110°F. At sundown there was no sign of Ernest. I soon became worried; after all, he was in his early sixties. Soon my concern was replaced with anguish.
Sometime after dark I heard a call for “help” coming from the trail to the top of Peter’s Mesa. I grabbed a shoulder canteen and a flashlight and started up the trail to Peter’s Mesa. I knew I would find Ernest somewhere along the trail. The climb up the trail caused me to perspire heavily. About a mile up the trail I found Ernest lying beside the trail. It looked like he might have broken his ankle or something. He was in severe pain. A simple pack trip was becoming an emergency for me. I told Ernest I was going back to get a couple of horses and it would be a couple of hours before I would be back. He kept trying to tell me about finding the cave full of gold bars. The truth was I didn’t care. We had an emergency at hand. I scrambled back down the trail to Charlebois Spring and picked up two saddle horses. I rode back up to the site where Ernest was lying. His leg really looked bad just above the ankle. At this point we couldn’t get his boot back on. I loaded him on the horse and put his injured foot in the stirrup. We then started the downhill ride back to Charlebois Spring. I told him I would have to ride out and get ahold of the Sheriff’s Office so we could get a helicopter in to take him out. Ernest said he was going to ride out. No helicopter for him. We made it back to camp. Closer examination of his foot revealed it was not broken, or at least not a compound fracture of any kind.
About 3:30 a.m. I corraled the horses and began to pack up camp. We were on the trail by sunup. Our ride out to First Water was basically uneventful other than Ernest talking about finding the “Cave full of gold bars.” I had several letters from Ernest in my files, but I never heard from him again. Many years later a relative of Ernest contacted me. He wanted to know if Ernest found anything in the mountains worthwhile. He seriously injured his foot. I told them I did not see anything worthwhile that he found, but he sure suffered gold fever and summer hell.