Cactus Thorns and Tall Tales

Wayne Ellsworth “Barney” Barnard was an old salty pioneer of the Arizona desert who lived at the base of Superstition Mountain since the late 1930’s. He came here with a vision to build a guest ranch for dudes. Through hard work and sweat, sometimes not his own, he constructed the once famous B – B Guest Ranch on the slopes of Superstition Mountain. He was one of Apache Junction’s earliest pioneers belonging to an honor roll of those who suffered the hot summers before the advent of cooling or air conditioning. Could you imagine living through summer months in this desert without any kind of cooling?

Barney was a man known for his tall tales. Some people will say he was the biggest windbag in all of Arizona. Others will tell you he was one of the great pioneer storytellers of the Southwest and a noted authority on the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. He or his heirs published a booklet on the subject of Jacob Waltz and his mine for some twenty-one editions from 1954-1977.

Wayne Ellsworth Barnard was born August 8, 1886, in Manchester, Delaware County, Iowa. Stories have it he left the sanctuary of his strict Presbyterian home at the age of 16 to begin his wanderlust way of life. He wanted to wander the West and find his final niche in life. Sometime around 1906, Barnard arrived in Mesa, Arizona Territory looking for a job. He then walked toward Goldfield, searching for a cow outfit where, he had been told, he might find work. According to Barnard’s own story, he became lost in the desert and after wandering for several hours, he found a water seep near the base of Superstition Mountain. Liquid gold, as he called it, saved him from perishing from thirst on the desert.

Barnard joined the United States Army in September of 1917 at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. He served with the “Fighting 77th Army Division” during World War I. He was thirty-one years old when he shipped overseas. He saw combat action at Verdun and was wounded. Barnard returned to Arizona permanently in 1933. He first squatted on five acres of land just south of Lost Dutchman Blvd. and then homesteaded it in the 1940s.

Barney established the B-B Guest Ranch and Resort in the late 1930’s and entertained service men from Williams Army Air Base in the 1940’s. He would strum his guitar, sing and tell stories. A veteran of World War I himself, he enjoyed entertaining service men during World War II. When Barney had a couple of coins to rub together, he was off on a journey chasing his family genealogy. You might say Barney Barnard was a pioneer in the travel trailer vacations. He had his trailer, painted with a logo and signs advertising the B-B Guest Ranch and Superstition Mountain. He also promoted Apache Junction with its clean air and mild winter climate. He was Apache Junction’s national ambassador of goodwill for many years during the 1950’s. He traveled from Maine to Washington promoting the region.

Barney Barnard was a charismatic individualist who liked people to gravitate toward him, but he always wanted to be able to distance himself when it was desirable. When his visitors and friends listened to his stories and tales they soon realized here was a man who had found his niche in life. He cherished these opportunities to tell stories and tales about the mountains. He personified the American West and the cowboy. Barney, his life and love for the West, placed him in an immortal hall of fame, not one you can visit, but one you can visualize each time you look at Superstition Mountain. His memory and pioneering spirit will never be forgotten. Remembering Barney Barnard is recalling the nostalgic western past of Apache Junction’s lifestyle when cowboys and miners visited the old Apache Junction Inn and bar.

Barney was also a community minded individual. He provided the resources for the Apache Junction Volunteer Fire Department to buy their first pump truck from Williams Air Force Base. He was active with the volunteer fire department for several years. He also was active with the Apache Junction Business Club in 1960, which eventually became the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce. Barney also owned, maintained and operated a water company for several years. He married in his later years and had a son he proudly named Barney Barnard Jr.

Barney’s final days were spent thinking about and recording his life story. He died at the Phoenix Veteran’s Hospital on April 17, 1963, at the age of 77. Barney will be remembered as one our first and earliest storytellers. He dared to be different and strike out on his own searching for his own private niche in life. Success in life he found beneath the facade of Superstition Mountain and in the shadows of the old Dutchman’s haunts.

Photo: Barney went in search of his roots and traveled around the country, pulling a trailer and visiting distant relatives.

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