By Tom Kollenborn
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 arm was almost useless, and he had a leg that troubled him from an affliction that forced him to retire early from his career as a photographer.
Vanderflute lived in Cravey’s neighborhood near west Polk Street in Phoenix. Cravey insisted on hiking into the rugged wilderness and then hiking out to Highway 60 between Apache Junction and Superior during the month of June.
James A. Cravey went about planning for his trip into the mountains. He purchased a backpack, bedroll, some tools, fifty foot of rope, food supplies, cooking utensils and a large canteen. He also carried a pistol and compass.
As he thought about his impending adventure to find the gold mine of his dreams, he decided he needed some help. He had read a lot about modern helicopters. He soon contacted Edwin G. Montgomery of Arizona Helicopter Services in Phoenix. Cravey explained his needs to Montgomery and Montgomery recommended that one of his pilots could fly him into the Superstition Mountains.
Montgomery introduced Cravey to Charles Marthens, an experienced helicopter pilot. Marthens explained to Cravey they could trailer the helicopter to an area near the Quarter Circle U Ranch and fly from there to his destination in the mountains. The distance was less than four miles, figured Marthens.
Charles Marthens flew Cravey and his supplies into the mountain on June 21, 1947. Cravey’s supplies included food, five gallons of water, fifty feet of rope, digging tools, a bedroll and a canteen. As Cravey stepped from the helicopter with part of his supplies Marthens could not help but wonder how this adventure would end.
Marthens returned to his landing zone near the U Ranch and picked up the rest of Cravey’s supplies and returned. After flying James Cravey into the mountains, Marthens loaded up his helicopter and drove back to Phoenix.
W. Vanderflute reported his concern for James A. Cravey to Sheriff Cal Boise when Cravey was overdue on July 1, 1947. Stanley Kimball, Captain of Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputies turned the missing person case over to Pinal County, because he learned Cravey left the helicopter just beyond the Maricopa County line in the La Barge drainage. When Charles Marthens was located, he reported he let Cravey out of his helicopter on a small mesa near La Barge Canyon, just beyond the county line, with eight days of provisions.
Pinal County Sheriff Lynn Early had not ruled out using an airplane or helicopter to search for Cravey; however, because of the extreme heat and rough terrain, the aerial search was postponed. Sheriff Early also said violent thunderstorm conditions had discouraged the use of airplanes or helicopters in the search. The Sheriff ask Marthens if bloodhounds could be transported in the helicopter. Marthens discouraged the use of the small helicopter to transport bloodhounds, therefore the idea was abandoned.
Sheriff Early had the exact location where Cravey departed from the helicopter, and on July 5, 1947, Jack Ashinhurst, MCSO Deputy and Arizona National Guard pilot 1st Lt. Clifford Gibson spent four hours on an aerial search of the area by plane. They did not find any trace of Cravey.
On July 8, 1947, Charles Marthens and Edwin J. Montgomery landed on the mesa near La Barge Canyon and located Cravey’s first night camp. Around an abandoned campfire site, they found a bedroll, five-gallon can of water and most of Cravey’s provisions for his eight-day adventure. The camp was located about eight miles southeast of Canyon Lake up La Barge Canyon, just inside the Pinal County Line. Cravey’s gun, mining tools, backpack, rope and canteen were missing. The landing site of Marthen’s helicopter was a small mesa between La Barge Canyon and Bluff Springs Canyon near La Barge Springs. This was about four miles from the landing site near the Quarter Circle U Ranch.
Then on July 9, 1947, an experienced cowboy guide, Deputy Travis Wall, and a search posse took off at daybreak to search for Cravey in the drainage of La Barge Canyon. Cravey had been missing for three weeks by this time. Another friend of Cravey’s said he carried a fifty foot piece of rope hoping to use it to enter the mine’s shaft he had dreamed about. His crippled arm and legs would have prevented him from doing this, said his friend Chris L. Adair, 2008 W. Tonto Lane, Phoenix, Arizona.
The search for Cravey ended on July 14, 1947, but it wasn’t until February 22, 1948, that hikers found human remains (bones). Captain R. F. Perrin, U.S. Army Ret. and Lt. Commander Welton W. Clemans of Chicago, guest at the Sunset Trail Ranch on East Main in Mesa, reported finding a man’s skeleton minus the skull about one mile southeast of Weaver’s Needle. The two retired hikers brought back the man’s wallet that identified the remains as that of James A. Cravey.
Sheriff Lynn Early took in a search party to the site on February 24, 1948. Early reported the skull was found in a Hackberry bush about 25 feet from the rest of the skeleton. There was no evidence of foul play. A rope and shoe apparently belonging to Cravey attracted the finders of the skeleton.
James A. Cravey’s dream of finding a lost gold mine lead to this man’s demise in a rugged, hostile and unforgiving mountain range. Cravey was a total novice prospector and in extremely poor physical condition. He met the same fate as Adolph Ruth did, his predecessor in the summer of 1931. Both men died of natural causes brought on by their very poor health. Neither of them had any business going into this mountain range at any time, let alone during the heat of summer. The combination of poor health and heat is often fatal. These kinds of tragedies continue to happen as gold fever sometimes overwhelms the innocent, the inexperienced and the naïve.
Photo above: Arizona Helicopter Services of Phoenix flew Jim Cravey and his supplies into the Superstition Mountains in June, 1947. Cravey was never seen again.