Our community’s local historian and real-deal cowboy, Tom Kollenborn, passed away on Thursday, September 27 at age 80. Tom was the author of the weekly column, “Kollenborn’s Chronicles” in this newspaper and has been a friend to all who have gathered in wonder of the majesty and mystery of the Superstition Mountains.
We’ve all enjoyed the Kollenborn Chronicles over the years. Always interesting, they were normally based on Superstition Mountain Region history and the characters that shaped that history. Whether new to the area or a native, the Chronicles struck a chord with all of us. With the straight forward delivery of the tales from a time long gone, it was like being told a story by an old friend.
Most historians accept the story that an old prospector named Jacob Waltz created one of the most popular legends in American Southwestern history. Storytellers will tell you he spun yarns and gave clues to a rich lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. However, historians will claim Waltz was a very quiet and secluded individual preferring his privacy.
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.
Several years ago, Joe Clary introduced me to the military records of the Rancheria Campaign in the Superstition Mountain area. It was among these field reports and maps that several new names for various landmarks within the Superstition Wilderness Area were discovered.
Apache Junction as we know it today didn’t exist when the first prospectors searched for gold near the base of Superstition Mountain in the late 1860’s. The United States Army called the Superstition Mountains the Sierra de Supersticiones and were still pursuing hostile Apaches in the mountain’s interior.
How many of you remember a very special teacher in your school experience? Almost everyone has had that special teacher who reached out and helped you in such a way you thought you were special. This assistance helped you succeed in school, in life or both. Most of us have read about history and legends in my column, but for 32 years, I have been involved in education. I taught Jr. High School classes for 15 years.
According to legend and myth, the great “Thunder God” roars during the summer months. Many of us do not find this hard to believe, if we have experienced a violent thunderstorm in the Apache Junction area during the summer months. There are basically two types of storms that occur in our area. The first storm type we experience brings the central mountain area of Arizona its winter rains. These winter storms result from the general cyclonic patterns that move across the United States every ten days or so during the winter months.
The recent headlines that illustrated the danger of being a correspondent, columnist or employee of a newspaper were really a reminder and struck home for me. I have never really considered myself a correspondent, but maybe a storyteller of history and legend. When I read the news about the massacre at The Capital in Annapolis, Maryland, I couldn’t help but have part of my heart and soul torn from my body.
The first time I ever heard the story about the lynching of Starr Daley, it was from George “Brownie” Holmes. Holmes was a pioneer Arizonian. His father was born at Fort Whipple and his grandfather traveled along the Gila Trail in the late 1840’s. “Brownie” Holmes was a good friend of Nancy McCollough and Clay Worst. I am sure both of them heard the “Brownie’s” version of the hanging of Starr Daley along the old Roosevelt Road.
I have spent nearly seventy years in the Superstition Mountain area. I first arrived here with my dad in 1946-47. My dad was always fascinated with the area, because of his best friend Bill Cage. Cage worked at the Christmas Copper Company as a blacksmith. He’d been a blacksmith all his life, and he loved to tell stories about his experiences looking for gold in the Superstition Mountains.
As I rode northeastward toward Miner’s Needle Summit from the old Quarter Circle U Ranch, the furthest thing from my mind was a flash flood. I had ridden these draws and canyons of the wilderness for many years. I knew heavy rain could produce dangerous flooding conditions.
Since 1946, many individuals have played a significant role in the Superstition Mountain drama. One such person was Don Shade. Not everyone was close to Don and understood his love for the mountains. However, a casual conversation with him would definitely convince you of his love affair with the Superstition Wilderness and its many stories.
Summer storms in the desert are often known as the Monsoons. These storms bring massive thunderstorms with severe wind, heavy showers, lightning, dust storms and sometimes devastating winds called “microbursts.” During the summer months, most of the storms over central Arizona and the Superstition Wilderness Area result from warm, moist air flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California).
Summer is almost here, and temperatures will soon be soaring above 100*F, and a review of some summer survival techniques might be appropriate at this time. Each summer we read or hear about a tragic death or deaths resulting from dehydration, exhaustion or sunstroke occurring during the hot summer months on the Sonoran Desert.
Last year a sixty-seven year old man from California was visiting the Mirage area and while inspecting his RV, he was bitten by a Western Diamond Back rattlesnake. He had heard a strange noise under it. He crawled under the RV to inspect it and try to find the noise. A five-year-old girl was bitten by a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in a dry wash along I-17 Highway north of Phoenix.
There is an old Indian story about Haunted Canyon. It is a tale about where the sun introduces the sky to the wind. When the sun hides and the sky becomes dark, the wind blows through Haunted Canyon calling to the dead. My friends, that is enough of a ghost story told to me by an old Apache many years ago while he was gathering Jojoba nuts in Haunted Canyon.
Tales can still be heard along the Apache Trail about the adventures of the legendary desperado called “Hacksaw Tom.” It was after the turn of the century this highwayman burned his name into the legends and lore of Superstition Mountain region. He preyed on the travelers of the Mesa-Roosevelt Road from his remote hiding place near Fish Creek Canyon.
Prior to the turn of the century, desert bighorn sheep and the desert antelope could be found in plentiful numbers around the base of Superstition Mountain. Today the antelope has disappeared. The desert bighorn sheep have been reintroduced to the Superstition Mountain area.
Many writers have been compelled to address the so-called unsolved mystery of a man’s death in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona in the summer of 1931. These writers have placed the discovery of Adolph Ruth’s remains in several locations in the region from Needle Canyon to Peter’s Mesa.