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.
The Ruth story is one of the most compelling stories of 20th Century about the missing in the Superstition Mountains. Just who was Adolph Ruth? He was an Easterner from Washington D.C. who had a treasure map and believed he could find the Dutchman’s Lost Mine or the Peralta mines in the rugged interior of the Superstition Wilderness Area known then as the Superstition Primitive Area or basically Tonto National Forest. He arrived in Mesa, Arizona in early May of 1931. A previous friendship with an Arizona family named Morse provided him some names of individuals who could help him find his way into the mountains. He drove out to the Barkley Ranch at the Three R’s, the area known today as Gold Canyon. He talked to William A. “Gus” Barkley about a trip into the Superstition Mountains. Gus advised him to wait until at least November before going into the mountains to camp. Ruth insisted he had to make his trip immediately into the area. Barkley refused to take him for two main reasons. One, he had business in Phoenix and secondly he didn’t think Ruth was capable of making such a trip. After his first meeting with Barkley, Ruth returned to the Morse home in East Mesa asking who could pack him into the mountains. Morse recommended Purnell and Kennan, two local prospector-cowboys who lived in the area off and on.
On May 14, 1931, Purnell and Kennan packed Ruth into West Boulder Canyon from the Barkley Camp (First Water Ranch). The trip was very difficult for Ruth and wore out him entirely. It was a long trip over very rough trails from the First Water Ranch to Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon. The up and down travel was particularly hard on Ruth because of the metal plate in his hip. He suffered immensely making the trip to Willow Springs. Shortly after arriving at Willow Springs Purnell and Kennan quickly unloaded his supplies, helped him set up camp and immediately left Ruth to his fate. Ruth did pen a letter to his wife Clara and sent it out with Purnell and Kennan. Even while suffering from all the pain Ruth was still enthusiastic about his search for the mine. Why he chose West Boulder Canyon for a base camp is still confusing to historians today. What compelling reason did Ruth have to camp at Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon if he believed Weaver’s Needle was the South Sima on the Peralta Profile Map. A closer look at the material Ruth had may answer some of those questions.
According to several sources Ruth had an old Mexican or Spanish map.
This map was known as the Profile Map. He allegedly obtained it from his son Erwin, who in turn had obtained it from a Mexican officer that he had saved during the revolution in Mexico. Ruth also possessed a U.S.G.S. Topographic Map of the region. Ruth also had a compass, a thermos, and a .44 caliber SW Russian Revolver. William A. Barkley and Deputy Jeff Addams found all these items with Ruth’s remains in January of 1932. Ruth’s skull had been found earlier on December 10, 1931 near Needle Canyon by the Phoenix Archaeological Commission’s Expedition led by Odds Halseth and Harvey Mott. Their guides were Richie Lewis and George “Brownie” Holmes.
Prior to Ruth’s ride into Willow Canyon he spent a couple of nights at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County. It was here he met Kennan and Purnell. According to a couple of sources after Ruth left the Quarter Circle U Ranch a group of men were allegedly overheard talking about killing Ruth for his treasure map. This story is extremely far fetched. However, it still circulates in some circles. After the recovery of Ruth’s skeletal remains in late January 1932, it was determined Ruth died of exposure and exhaustion as a result of his trip into the mountains. It was believed by the medical doctors who examined his remains that he died in this manner, not from a bullet to the skull as claimed by many. A forensic pathologist later examined the skull and agreed with the two medical doctors. They said the holes in the skull were caused by animals not a bullet therefore it was concluded he died from natural causes. Two modern forensic pathologist today, Dr. Thomas B. Jarvis and Dr. Jerry Lutes both agreed with the early ruling in Phoenix in 1932. However, with this evidence people still wanted to believe Ruth died from some sinister plot arranged by people who allegedly knew the mine he was looking for was authentic. It was Erwin Ruth who believed his father was murder for his map, however the Arizona Republic published this map shortly after Ruth’s death in their paper.
There are always those who believe in conspiracies and nothing can be done to change their opinions. Adolph Ruth was a crippled and fragile old man who undertook a search he was not capable of doing. He died following a dream in one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the United States in late spring when temperatures could soar up into the 100’s. This was a sad tragedy of an old man trying to follow a dream.
Pictured above: Ruth’s skull was found by the City of Phoenix Archaeological Expedition on December 10, 1931. This photo shows George “Brownie” Holmes, Music, and the Ruth’s skull. This photo was taken by Newcomer