By Tom Kollenborn
A legendary newspaperwoman named Mitzi Zipf wrote the obituary and a story about William A. Barkley, cowman. She started the story with, “Another chapter in the saga of Superstition Mountain ended yesterday with the death of William Augustus Barkley… Tex to his host of friends.”
Tex Barkley, for more than fifty years, was a synonymous name associated with the Superstition Mountains. He was not involved with its gold, lost mines or the Lost Dutchman Mine, but with cattle and rich lore he wove around himself and the mountains.
He was lean, tanned, straight as an arrow and as rugged as the mountains of which he was a symbolic part. At the peak of his cattle operation, his ranch covered more than one hundred and seventeen sections of land. That translates into one hundred and seventeen square miles, or approximately 74,880 acres of the most rugged cattle range in Arizona or the American Southwest.
Tex, for the most part, had nothing to do with dudes or gold seekers. He was a rugged individualist who was a cattleman first and nothing else. He was beholden to no man and only gave in to the elements of the mountains during the worst of drought or famine. Drought and famine spelled death to the cattle and ruin for a cowman.
Tex Barkley was not even a Texan. He was born in Tennessee on August 11, 1879. He was only a lad when he moved to the Gilbert area with his family. As a young man, he was the foreman of the Diamond Ranch near Sunflower on the old Beeline Highway. He helped drive 8,000 head of cattle to Phoenix to be shipped in 1897.
Several motion pictures were made on the Barkley Ranches. Tex doubled for Jack Holt in one of the motion pictures. He was once offered a job as a character actor, but he told the director he had to turn him down. He said, “I got a cow over the mountain that needs to be taken care of.” This statement summed up the character of William Augustus Barkley.
He married Gertrude Anderson, an Arizona pioneer, and lived on his ranch near Superstition Mountain for fifty years. William and Gertrude had two daughters and one son. The Barkleys had three ranches. There was the First Water Ranch, Three R’s and Quarter Circle U Ranch. For many years, the Quarter Circle U Ranch (old Bark Ranch) was their home ranch.
The Three R’s Ranch eventually became the Barkley’s main home ranch. When I first met Tex & Gertrude, they lived in the stone ranch house at the 3R’s near the old site of Apache Land. The only thing that survives today of the old ranch is the old stone corral. Tex always preferred living outdoors, because he felt living inside was just too confining.
Tex Barkley was a true cattleman. He was always first to improve his herd. However, he did not enjoy modern means of transportation. There is a story about him driving a vehicle out to the Quarter Circle U Ranch from the Three R’s. When the tires went flat from rocks and cactus, he just threw them away and drove back to the ranch on the rims. Another mentions he would not ride in a car or truck unless he kept the door open so he could jump out if something went wrong. He was truly, “the man of the horse.”
Tex loved to tell stories about the mountains, but they were not gold stories. On occasion, my dad visited with him in the late forties. Tex talked about anything, but the treasure stories of the mountains. He always told my dad all those stories were hogwash. Barkley claimed the only gold in the Superstitions was on four legs.
Barkley was a cowman, because he loved every one of his cows. He ran a mother cow operation. Many friends said he would have been a millionaire if he hadn’t loved his cattle so much. Often, he refused to take certain cattle to market, because he liked them. He knew the history of each of his cows, calves and bulls. He knew where they were branded, when and how many offspring they had.
Barkley contended all his life with the lack of water on his ranches. Tex loved to tell stories. Tex had a joke about two windmills that were close together. One was blown over by a severe thunderstorm. A dude noticed one of the windmills was missing. He asked Barkley what happened. He told him, “Well I’ll tell you. There just wasn’t enough wind for two, so I took one of them down.”
Life on the Arizona desert was really rough for these early pioneers. Humor often carried them over the bad and rough times. William Augustus Barkley was a hard working Arizona Territorial pioneer who cared nothing about lost mines or treasure. His only concerns were his family and his cattle.
If you live in the Gold Canyon area today, you are probably living on some portion of the old Barkley Ranch. Harold Christ, the founder of Gold Canyon, acquired two sections of the Barkley Cattle Company after William Augustus Barkley’s death in September of 1955. William Thomas Barkley, Gus’s son and Gertrude Barkley, his wife, ran the Barkley Cattle Company until about 1961. Ken and Nancy McCollough ran the ranch until 1965 when it was eventually sold.
Some recent storytellers and writers have tried to place William A. Barkley into the search for gold in the Superstition Mountains and even the bizarre death of Adolph Ruth. Only fools and people who really know nothing about these Arizona pioneers or the history of the area would write such words. There are always those who want to make something out of nothing, especially the “Johnny come lately’s” associated with lost gold mines and treasure in the Superstition Mountain range. Both Nancy and Ken McCollugh helped me with this story years ago. Gus Barkley never talked about gold mines or lost treasure, because he was far more concerned with his cattle, water and taking care of his ranches.
I would like to thank Nancy and Ken McCollough and the written word of Mitzi Zipf, pioneer Arizona Newspaperwoman.—TK
Pictured above: William A. Barkley, on the right, with Deputy Sheriff Jeff Adams during the search for Adolph Ruth.