Reminiscence

by Richard A. Robinson


From time to time one stops to review and evaluate one’s life from different perspectives. My experience has lead me to come to the conclusion (for healthy individuals not physically, mentally, or emotionally scared) that when one is young that perspective is generally present or forward looking, moving to a more balanced two directional outlook in middle age and then in the twilight years to a backward or present perspective.


From these different vantage points, the significance assigned to one’s action or lack of action (present, future or past) also changes. This is particularly so in reminiscence in one’s twilight years. The retrieval of mental impressions sometimes highlights events, which at the time they were experienced did not seem extraordinary, but in hindsight take on a value in the richness of the memory that could not or was not measured at the time.


I believe that Sims Ely shared such an experience with his readers in his book “The Lost Dutchman Mine” (William Morrow & Co.). Sims Ely wrote the book in 1953 a little over a year before his death in 1954 at an age 91 or 92.


While Mr. Ely shares a number of memorable episodes regarding his and Jim Bark’s search for the Lost Dutchman mine and divulges priceless facts that they garnered during their 25 year search, it is of just one single adventure that Mr. Ely says:


“We never put in a more interesting day on any Dutchman hunt.”

(Lost Dutchman Mine, Page 157)

 

It’s not just the statement and the sharing of the incident that has led me to the above conclusion about Mr. Ely’s assessment of its value. From what I have been able to deduce from the book about Mr. Ely’s personality, the above statement would be a “wild emotional outburst”; however, the placement of the episode within the structure of the book is also an important and significant clue. Sims Ely’s book contains 14 chapters and this scene is at the close of chapter 12. Now, one might ask, why is this of relevance? In my judgment, this is a critical point because chapter 13 is what I would describe as a “final overview” chapter as it reviews and summarizes the facts about the Lost Dutchman mine as known by Mr. Ely after his years of research and chapter 14 is what could be described as a “final warning” chapter which parallels chapter 1 which is the “initial warning” chapter - both of which describe and warn of the dangerous nature of hunting for the Lost Dutchman mine.


So, in essence, this event with this particular placement is the climax to Sims Ely’s book!


The chronology of the experience is also of paramount importance. Mr. Ely, interestingly, does not relate discoveries and explorations in a time ordered sequence and, in fact, he seldom relates dates of events. One is able to determine the date of this climatic revelation only indirectly because of his comment about a cave that they observed from the mountain:

 

“ ... but in the same year the cave was discovered by Jeff Adams, who was later sheriff at Phoenix ... “

(Lost Dutchman Mine, Page 158)


The cave being referenced is a Salt River cave (Skull cave on the topographical map) which was found by Jeff Adams in 1906. This cave was the site of a bloody battle between U.S. soldiers and Apache Indians in late 1872 (see: “The Conquest of Apacheria” by Dan L. Thrapp,1967, University of Oklahoma Press for more details on the battle).


Mr. Ely settled in Phoenix in 1895 and soon after struck up a friendship with Jim Bark with whom he searched for 25 years for the Lost Dutchman mine. If one uses the earliest date possible for the start of this search of 1895 (which is probably to early - 1897 or 1898 would be a better estimate), then 1906 would be, at a maximum, about 10 years into the search and Sims Ely would be 44 years old and Jim Bark would be 46. So the question which begs to be asked is “Why nearly 50 years after the event does this single day of exploration take on such significance?” and an auxiliary question “Was this experience unique to Sims Ely?”.


But before addressing these questions, let me describe the condition under which this statement was made. Sims Ely and Jim Bark were standing on the summit of a flat topped mountain which “covered an area some four miles in length by two miles or so in width at its broadest point - shaped somewhat like a wedge”. They are there because they had enlisted the aid of a prospector friend, Mr. E. E. Wright, to locate a mountain that met the conditions of a mountain that (1) had practically unscalable walls, (2) had an ancient trail to the top that could serve for animals as well as Indians, (3) showed evidence of permanent occupation, (4) availability of a permanent water supply, and finally (4) there was evidence that mules had been slaughtered and eaten. This was the description which they had received from several sources of the mountain where the Indians had taken the mules retrieved from a running battle with the Mexican miners who were exiting the Superstition Mountain on the way back to their home in Sonora.


Mr. Wright was successful in his assignment and had found a mountain which met all the stated conditions and had even found numerous mule bones that were so old that they crumbled to dust on touching them - although the mountain was much farther north than expected - and had brought Sims and Jim to this location.


This mountain is known today as Horse Mesa. According to Will C. Barnes “Arizona, Place Names” Horse Mesa was “so called because when sheep were trailed down this way [Apache Trial road] the herders took their saddle and pack horses where feed was always good.” The trail they used, according to Greg Davis, leaves the Apache Trail at the following location which he marked on my topographical map (penciled comment is: just past mm 225 (looking west) 2 pwr pole past bridge):


           hmesa1.gifFigure 1 Trail up Horse mesa

 

However, from Sims Ely’s description, E. E. Wright found a trail which “was a long diagonal that originated near the mouth of Fish Creek and then ran along the floor of a wide, dry canyon that was roughly parallel to the Salt River”. They parked their car in Fish Creek about where the Apache Trail crosses it and walked down to the start of the trail which “was a comparatively easy walk of a few miles” as shown in the following image:


                     trailup1.gifFigure 2 Fish Creek to start of trail  


In November 1989, myself, Bill Steila, Howard Bakken and Steve Radcliff explored the area of Fish Creek where the trail starts and located what we feel is the remains of the start of the trail but we did not have the time to trace the trail to the top of Horse Mesa (in part because I fell part way down a mountain slope and was in a little discomfort). At the time we were researching part of the Robinson/Reyes theory of the Superstition Tablets which seemed to indicate the same trail which Sims Ely mentioned and the theory indicated that the trail should start from the Salt River. The trail which we found and which is highlighted in the following image appears to support this aspect of the Robinson/Reyes theory:

           trailhighlight1.gifFigure 3 Highlighted trail

 


The trail we found admirably attests to the description given by Mr. Ely and because it traverses the berm from the west side as shown in the image instead of starting on the east side of the berm (which would indicate that the trail originated from further up Fish Creek) it supported our contention that the trail originated at the Salt River and if or when the basic hypotheses of the Robinson/Reyes theory of the Superstition Tablets are demonstrated then the importance of Horse Mesa to the infrastructure of the Spanish or Mexican involvement in the area can be further explored.


Continuing with the analysis of Mr. Ely’s remark, it is the paragraphs before the statement that provide the spices that flavor the statement. The essential content of chapter 12 is a collection of stories garnered from Indian sources (either directly or indirectly) relating accounts that they have supplied regarding the Lost Dutchman mine and other activities (e.g. battles). I think that it was on this wedge shaped mountain that Sims Ely and Jim Bark realized - an epiphany, if you will - that their Indian informants had been more than honest with them and were trying as best they could to share their information but more importantly I think that on that wedge shaped mountain with its substantial trail they realized that the essence which they called the Lost Dutchman Mine was more than a location. Prior to this incident, they had become acutely aware of the extensive activity within the Superstition Mountain but noting the remoteness of this site relative to the known areas of activity would certainly have aroused in them a picture of a much greater endeavor than working one mine. The questions regarding logistics, communications and defense would have been raised as well as the political relationship of the Spanish or Mexican to the Indians of the area. It would be a moment in time where they would realize that the “whole” was greater than the “sum of the parts” - at least as was knowable to them.


Mr. Ely uses the personal pronoun “We” not “I” in the statement so he must have felt that he was describing a sentiment that was shared by Mr. Bark. When one reviews “The Bark Notes” by James E. Bark which was edited and annotated by Thomas Probert, one does not find any mention of this incident. So was Mr. Ely mistaken in his judgment or is my proposed theory faithful to the meaning of the declaration and Mr. Bark also thought that the time spent on the wedge shaped mountain was a very personal moment in his life and was reluctant to share it.


Sims (and also Jim’s) passion for the Lost Dutchman never wavered although he gave up the physical hunt in the 1920's. This is attested to by the remarks of Northcutt Ely in a speech given at the Fortnightly Club of Redlands California on March 3, 1988. Northcutt relates how his father asked him to contact Erwin Ruth and find out more information regarding the Adolph Ruth incident in the Superstition Mountain in 1931 and also Sims detailed investigation into the James A. Cravey disappearance in 1947 and later gruesome discovery of his remains in the Superstition in 1948. Remember that Mr. Ely was 85 or 86 years old in 1948!


Among Mr. Ely’s vocational endeavors he was at one time editor and owner of the Phoenix Arizona Republican Newspaper, now the Arizona Republic. [Northcutt speech]. He certainly possessed the talents and had enough information to have written his book much earlier in his life and as a reporter he knew that any good story must answer the five questions “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, “Where?” and “Why?” and he would not have failed to attempt to answer all these questions. Surely his “We never put in a more interesting day on any Dutchman hunt.” was meant to answer the “Why?” question.

 

I personally feel that Sims Ely’s book is, to use a legal term, Sims and Jim’s “last will and testament” regarding the Lost Dutchman mine - one that Sims was willing to take to his grave except for the loving encouragement of his family and friends.


But who is the beneficiary of this will? Certainly the most immediate would be his family since they would have received the royalties from the book. But who did he really write the book for? That would have to be any one who would open the covers of the book and who is willing to listen to the stories which through Mr. Ely and Jim Bark's actions in their lifetime talk about a universal truth that goes beyond their search for a particular object that glitters in the sun.