Monday, April 16, 2018

Jeff Adams 1861-1934

April 9, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Jeff Adams
The death of Adolph Ruth in 1931 involved Jeff Adams’ name with the history and lore of Superstition Mountain forever. Jeff Adams was born in Lampasas, Texas in 1861. He was seventeen years old when he moved to Phoenix with his father in 1878. Jeff and his father, shortly after moving to the area, established a ranch in the Tonto Basin area when the country was still wild with Apaches. As a teenager, young Jeff carried dispatches between Camp Reno and Fort McDowell for the Army. He worked as a foreman on a ranch in Pleasant Valley during the feud between the Grahams and Tewksburys. He married his wife at Grapevine Springs on the Salt River, which is now covered with Roosevelt Lake.

Jeff Adams served as a deputy sheriff for Senator Carl Hayden when he was Sheriff of Maricopa County. Jeff Adams served as Sheriff of Maricopa County two terms and was appointed Sheriff when Maricopa County Sheriff Sullivan died in office.

Jeff Adams was a Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff when Adolph Ruth was reported missing in the Superstition Mountains on June 15, 1931. Adams was seventy years old when Sheriff McFadden assigned him to the Ruth search in the summer of 1931. This Arizona pioneer was a remarkable senior citizen. Maricopa County Sheriff J.R. McFadden knew what he was doing when he directed Jeff Adams to lead the search for Ruth. Adams had known W.A. Barkley for a score of years. He and Barkley knew the Superstitions as well as any two men alive.

The temperatures in mid June were well above 108 degrees every day as the search began. Adams and Barkley rode into Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon to check out the campsite where Purnell and Kennan had left Ruth. It was from this location Adams and Barkley tried to track Ruth as he searched for the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Barkley had mountain-wise horses, and Adams trusted Barkley’s knowledge of the area and his animals.

Barkley once told me Jeff Adams was one of the finest men he had ever worked with and probably the best tracker in the country at the time. He told me Adams could have tracked a water-skater across a pond. Barkley told me Adams was in unbelievable condition, considering his age, at the time of the Ruth search. Adams and Barkley searched every possible crook and cranny for a sign of Ruth, but they found nothing. Adams would not give up the search for Ruth. The heat was unbearable, and water was in short supply, creating a major problem for man and beast.

Sheriff McFadden ordered Adams to abandon the search for Ruth in early July. The heat was unbearable, and the sheriff didn’t want to further risk any lives. Veteran searchers and trackers knew there was no hope of finding Ruth alive if he was still in the mountains. This wasn’t enough for Adolph Ruth’s son Erwin. Ruth’s son started another search by offering a substantial reward to all takers. Aviators, cowboys, prospectors and a variety of misfits joined in on this search, hoping to collect the reward. Adams was convinced they would end up searching for the searchers. After a couple of weeks, Erwin Ruth could no longer find any takers for his reward.

It was December when a trace of Ruth was finally found.  George “Brownie” Holmes and Richie Lewis were leading an archaeological expedition into the Superstition Mountain from First Water. It was on the second day of this expedition, while they were riding just north of Bluff Springs Mountain along the old First Water-Charlebois Trail, a hound began to bay. Holmes rode over to investigate and found a skull beneath a Palo Verde tree. The skull turned out to be that of Adolph Ruth.

The search for Adolph Ruth was renewed on December 16, 1931. Jeff Adams and W.A. Barkley once again returned to the mountains leading the search. The search for Ruth had been renewed, once again, by the finding of a skull. Adams and Barkley spent five days scouring the area where the skull had been found, to no avail. The two men were trying to locate the skeletal remains of Ruth. Both the Pinal and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Offices had men searching for more than two weeks during the torrid summer temperatures of June and July to no avail.

Barkley told me the newspaper report of  “not a trace was found of Adolph Ruth” was not exactly true. He said Jeff Adams had picked Ruth’s trail up going down West Boulder Canyon and around the point of the ridge and back toward Black Top Mesa.  He lost the trail near Black Top. Neither he nor Adams believed Ruth was capable of making it over the divide between Weaver’s Needle and East Boulder Canyons. Adams never reported this to the press or the family at the time. Adams knew Ruth was in real trouble when he first picked up his trail. He had stumbled and fell several times walking down East Boulder Canyon. Adams, after finding out Ruth had a silver plate mending his hip together, knew there was little chance of finding him alive. Adams made this determination after the first few days of the search.

Adams and Barkley found nothing on their December search of the mountainous area. Adam proclaimed he was going to bring in some Native American trackers from San Carlos and see what they could do. Adams and Barkley both knew the heavy rain had destroyed any sign that might lead them to Ruth’s remains.

It was on December 21, 1931, the search for Ruth’s remains came to a sudden halt with the illness of Deputy Sheriff Jeff Adams. He was stricken with ptomaine poisoning. Jeff Adams was rushed to a Phoenix hospital from First Water by Deputies W.V. Tullous and Cal Boies. After a couple of days Adams was much improved.

On January 4, 1932, Jeff Adams was back on the job. After Sheriff Walter Laveen, Pinal County, and Sheriff J.R. McFadden met in Florence, they decided Deputy Jeff Adams and W.A. Barkley were the two best men to conduct the last search for Adolph Ruth’s remains.

Adams and Barkley returned to the mountain, making daily searches from the First Water Ranch. Both men were convinced Ruth’s skeletal remains were located near the area were the skull was found. The searchers were finally rewarded for all their hard work on the morning of January 7, 1932. Adams and Ruth had rode out of the First Water Ranch to search the tributaries of Needle Canyon along the eastern side of Black Top Mesa.  It was about 10:30 a.m. when Barkley spotted something in a clearing along a tributary flowing from the eastern side of Black Top.  Adams rode over and checked it out. It was the skeletal remains of Adolph Ruth and what remained of his camp.  The search for Adolph Ruth finally came to an end.

Jeff Adams was an active and a vigorous deputy sheriff until the last two months of his life. Senator Carl Hayden had appointed him deputy sheriff when he was sheriff of Maricopa County in1910.  Adams died from blood poisoning on November 14, 1934 in Phoenix, Arizona.  This seventy-three year old lawman had become a legend in his life- time.  His honesty and integrity was of highest order and he was respected by all of his peers. Sadly  there people out here today who try to build of the lost gold fantasy of a area and try to convince people to questioned in honesty and integrity of these early Arizona pioneers.