When I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company in the late 1950s, there were two armed groups occupying the area along the western side of Weaver’s Needle. These armed camps needed water to survive and maintain their operations in the mountains. Edgar Piper and Celeste Maria Jones had camps within a mile of each other, and there was only one good year-round spring in the area.
Gold and treasure have attracted men and women to the Superstition Mountain region for more than a century, and their quest for lost treasure has often turned tragic. Searching for treasure in the summer months with little or no experience in the region can result in deadly consequences. The vision of riches has led many to their final resting place among the rocks and cacti of the unforgiving Superstition Wilderness.
Old-timers who are familiar with the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine will recognize the names of Richard “Dick” Holmes, Julia Thomas, the Petrasch brothers, Guidon Roberts, James A. Bark and Sims Ely as important figures associated with the never ending drama about lost gold in the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona. Additional names, such as Joseph Deering, John Chuning and Aaron Mason will also be recalled.
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, bighorn sheep and the desert antelope could be found in and around the Superstition Mountain region. The bighorn sheep were recently reintroduced to the wilderness, but the desert antelope are now extinct. It is not difficult to visualize giant rams bounding up and down the rugged cliff faces of Superstition Mountain and desert antelope running in the flatlands south and west of the mountain. The native bighorn sheep became extinct in the 1930s, with the last bighorns being poached near Apache Springs.
There are many stories that have circulated around camps and among treasure hunters. These stories often involve cached or hidden gold; sometimes a lost mine story was included. Thirty or forty years ago, I met a man named Poole. He asked me if I had ever heard of the mountain in the Superstition Wilderness that was sacred to the Apache Nation. I told him most mountains were sacred to the Apache. His story went something like this—He said he had an Apache guide and helper named Billy Stevens.
A man appeared at the Bark-Criswell Ranch in December of 1891, with a burro and a puppy. The burro he called “Chase” and the puppy he called “Yelp.” He informed Jim Bark that the Silver King Mine had shut down again. He asked about securing employment on the ranch. The owner asked him if he could repair water holes and maintain them for cattle. The man said he could and would, as long as he could periodically prospect. The man’s name was John Chuning. Chuning later told Jim Bark about a gold mine he knew of in the Superstitions.
The old prospector of lost mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left the state of Arizona quite a legacy when he died in Phoenix on Sunday, October 25, 1891. His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, myth and cryptic clues about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. Today, some believe Waltz had a rich gold mine, and others claimed it to be just a fable.
Goldfield and the famous Mammoth Mine have long ceased to be the booming mining camp they were at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The inhabitants have left and little remains today of its glorious past. Remnants of this era can be found on the base of a large alluvial fan. This alluvia fan protrudes into the desert far below the towering cliffs of Superstition Mountain.
The following story is certainly filled with much speculation, but still has some interesting and valid historical points. One of Arizona’s most infamous characters was a madam by the name of “Big Nose” Kate. She was born Mary Katherine Harnoy, in Budapest, Hungary, on November 7, 1850. Her father was Michael Harnoy, a physician, and her mother was Katherina Boldizer Harnoy.
Several years ago I was helping a friend who worked for the Page Land and Cattle Company gather a few cows on the old Weeks’ cow outfit west of the Apache Trail in the Goldfield Mountains. We were working near the old Government Well Highway Yard on the west side of the road. I was moving four or five cows along an old abandoned section of the Apache Trail when I spotted an old concrete pillar in a thicket of Broombush.
Time has a strange way of eroding away one’s memory of events that occurred five decades ago. A few days ago I was perusing some old periodicals about the last publicized great search for the famous Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. The story that caught my eye revealed interesting events that happen here some fifty years ago.
This story will hopefully provide you with a little insight into the fraternity of treasure and lost mine hunters. This is a unique group, coming from all walks of life. Their faith in their story or tale of lost gold is usually unshakeable. Here is a story based on a letter I received from Glenn Magill, dated May 11, 1989.
In 2016, we experienced an extremely warm February, and rattlesnakes were out and moving about. Several sightings were reported. The snakes were basking in the warm rays of the morning sun. Reptiles, meaning most cold-blooded animals, become very active when temperatures rise into the eighties. In the spring, reptiles come out of hibernation and begin their search for food.
Recently, I interviewed Mr. James Copeman, owner of the historic Coke Oven Ranch near Florence. The Coke Ovens are on private property that includes some 189 acres of land. Many people and visitors believe the Coke Ovens are open to the public to view. Mr. Copeman advised me the Coke Ovens and the 189 acres around the area are closed to the public, no exceptions.
The Superstition Mountain range has attracted the interest of humans for more than a millennium. First it was the Native American who did hunting and gathering on the slopes of these rugged mountains. Petroglyphs, such as those in Hieroglyphic Canyon, reveal the success of their hunts for mountain sheep and deer along the slopes of these mountains.
Jim Cravey woke up one May morning in 1947 from a dream he had about a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. He was convinced it was the Lost Dutchman Mine. He believed from his dream he could find the mine. One of his friends, C. W. Vanderflute, tried to convince Cravey he was not able to go into the Superstition Mountains on such an adventure. After all, he was 62 years old and crippled.
One of the most beautiful areas of the Superstition Wilderness Area at Christmas time is the Reavis Valley. The old Cleman’s ranch house beckoned to weary travelers to rest their aching feet and sore shoulders. After 1967, the only way to visit the old Reavis Valley was by hiking or riding horseback some nine miles from the Reavis Ranch trailhead, three miles from the Apache Trail. Several years ago, around Christmas time, a group of us decided we would visit the ranch on Christmas Eve.
The nautical history of Canyon Lake has been an interesting one. When Canyon Lake was first filled in 1925, several valley entrepreneurs were convinced they could operate a profitable business enterprise by transporting visitors by bus up the Apache Trail and then place them on a tour boat for a cruise up Canyon Lake. The S.S. Geronimo was the first cruise boat used on Canyon Lake. The thirty-five foot boat was launched on October 3, 1925, and Canyon Lake soon became a popular boating destination for the Valley of the Sun.
Many years ago, I was riding in the Horse Camp Ridge area, when I came upon an interesting trail. The trail had been carved out of solid stone by animals carrying heavy loads. There were places were the hooves of the beast of burden had worn deep into the volcanic tufa. This trail may have been made by a pack train of mules carrying gold back to Mexico.
Arizona’s first zoo was located in Apache Junction, some forty miles east of the Phoenix Zoo or the old Maytag Zoo in Phoenix, Arizona. George Cleveland Curtis, the founder of Apache Junction, immediately recognized the need for an attraction at his newly emerging business at the crossroads of the Apache Trail (SR 88) and the Globe-Phoenix Highway (Old West Highway or U.S. Highway 60) in 1923.
High on the west slope of Superstition Mountain, up above where the Mining Camp Restaurant once stood, is the waste dump of the old Palmer Mine. This silent dump denotes a bygone era of copper and gold mining history long since forgotten. The site is still quite conspicuous from many points around the Apache Junction area.
Superstition Mountain history has provided many good stories and numerous characters, some good and some bad. I have met “the good, the bad and the ugly,” taking a cliché from Clint Eastwood’s movie, as all of these characters have fallen into one of those categories.
Wow, I would have never believed it, but bull riding has come to Apache Junction. Not a bull riding machine, but professional rodeo bulls and bull riding cowboys on a weekly basis. This Apache Junction event occurs every Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. at the Hitching Post on the Apache Trail and Lost Dutchman Blvd.
Around 1990, I began to hear stories about a meteor that impacted east of the First Water Trail Head. One witness told me he heard the explosion when the meteor hit the earth. He claimed to be near the impact zone. Also, he said he saw the flash from the impact. I trusted this man’s story, but he didn’t want to share the story publicly or reveal the exact location.
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.
Colonel Francesco De Pinedo, an Italian aviator, carefully planned for his flight around the world during the winter of 1926-27. He would be flying a plane called the Santa Maria, named after Christopher Columbus’ ship. The Santa Maria was a mono-wing seaplane with two engines, one a pusher and the other a puller. The Franchini engines were water-cooled.
This is a reminder of what can happen when proposing ideas about how to make destination locations an exciting place to attract visitors to an area. During all the speculation associated with how to bring visitors to the desert area known as Apache Junction in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a great many ideas were suggested. The idea of an aerial tram from the “Superstition Ho Hotel” to the Flat Iron peak on Superstition Mountain was one of the more interesting.
Several years ago, I heard a couple talking about witnessing an American Civil War skirmish in the Superstition Wilderness between the Union and Confederate soldiers. As I listened, it sounded quite bizarre. The couple said they were hiking between Peralta Trail Head and First Water Trail Head when they came across two Civil War military detachments near Brush Corral.
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.
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.