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Kollenborn’s Chronicles: Christmas Eve at the Reavis Ranch

Going home to Reavis Ranch for Christmas.
Photo by Nyle Leatham

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 Christmastime, a group of us decided we would visit the ranch on Christmas Eve. This visit I will never forget. Tom Johnson, the principal of Superstition Mountain Elementary School, and I rode up to the Reavis on December 23, spent the night and rode out on Christmas Eve, December 24. Another group had spent the night in the ranch house and rode out that morning. We had the place to ourselves. We knew it would be quite cold before morning; probably below freezing.

As soon as we unsaddled the horses, fed them and put them in the corral, we went about gathering firewood for the night. We gathered wood far and near, because so many campers were using the Reavis Valley. To be honest, firewood was extremely scarce in the immediate area. Eventually we gathered enough firewood for the night. The scarcity of wood for campfires was what eventually led to the downfall and destruction of the old ranch. Lazy campers started burning the ranch house itself. They burned the old ranch piece by piece until it was nothing more than a skeleton of what it once was. Then, sometime during November of 1991, somebody built a fire in the attic and caught the roof on fire. Campers would take the sheet of tin into the attic and build a fire on it if the ranch house was full of people on a real cold night.

Once the sun went down, we moved inside. We built a fire in the old fireplace and turned on our lantern. As our eyes became accustomed to the light we could still see the old brands in the fireplace mantel and on the side rails. I could visualize the room from an earlier visit when Floyd Stone and his wife, Alice, lived here. My wife and I had sat several times in this room filled with Native American pottery, Navajo rugs and Papago baskets. I remember the Western leather furniture Stone had hauled over the Reavis Ranch road from the Apache Trail, some twelve miles. This certainly was a trip of reminiscence for me, as I described what this room had looked like when Floyd Stone and his wife lived here in the 1950s and early 1960s.

As Tom and I sat around the giant hearth with a roaring fire in it, I began to recall some of the stories about the Reavis. I told Tom the story about old Elisha M. Reavis, the first settler in this valley. I told him about the fifteen-acre truck-garden he put in and then sold his vegetables throughout the Central Mountain region of central Arizona Territory. He became known as the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain.” He settled in the valley about 1874 and died about four miles south of the Reavis in April of 1896. There are many stories about Reavis and what he did before moving to the valley. He served as a Deputy United States Marshal in the McDowell Precinct, he raised and trained pack animals up on the Verde River above Fort McDowell, and he assisted the Army occasionally as a packer. Hopefully, someday, somebody will write a book about this very interesting citizen of Arizona. He was born in Beardstown, Illinois, in 1829. He attended college, and, upon graduation, he moved to California and taught school. Gold prospecting interested him more than teaching, so he became a prospector and miner. He was married and had a daughter before he left for Arizona Territory the last time in 1869.

Tom and I sat around and talked about the old Reavis and the many people who had lived in this beautiful, isolated valley. These people included Elisha Reavis and John J. Fraser, a Canadian. Fraser sold the homestead to William J. Clemens and his two sons Mark and Twain. Floyd Stone was John A. “Hooley” Bacon’s son-in-law. Stone married “Hooley’s” daughter Alice. After several stories, Tom had had his history lesson for the night.

As we prepared to go to bed, we found a poem written by an Apache Junction Firefighter titled, “The Night Before Christmas At The Old Reavis Ranch.” The poem mentioned the fireplace, the brands on the mantle, the raccoons in the attic of the ranch house and several other events and things associated with the old, isolated mountain ranch. We read that poem several times before turning in. The poem became one of the most memorable things for me in this mountain wilderness. I didn’t have a pen and could not copy the poem down. Also, I didn’t have the heart to remove it from the old Reavis Ranch. We have always hoped the fireman who wrote it would come forward with it, because I would love to print it in the paper and share it with the world. This poem was so special to us on that night. The next day, we packed up and headed home. We both needed to get home to our families by Christmas Eve.

In closing, I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. God bless, and thank the servicemen, policemen and firemen who are keeping us safe and secure all year long.

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