Myths Of The Mountains

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When you live in a place as majestic and mysterious as the Rim country, there are bound to be small events that spawn gigantic myths. The mountains around the Payson basin have their share of just such mythology.

For example, there is the fabulous lost gold mine in the Mazatzal Mountains.

It got started during the short life of Camp Reno, that military outpost of Fort McDowell, situated at the foot of Mount Ord and not far from today's Punkin Center. From 1868 to 1870, the outpost was the base from which the army waged its war against the Apaches and Yavapai.

During that time, Tonto chief Delshay (Del-che-ae) and other leaders with their family bands periodically surrendered and were allowed to camp along Reno Creek. This gave them the advantage of U.S. Army food rations and a time to rest up before breaking out again on the trail to freedom.

During those quiet times, the Apaches needed to trade, but having no money they brought in gold nuggets. Needless to say, the wide-eyed soldiers tried to pray knowledge from them about the source of the gold. Gold had no real value for the Apache people, but they knew how the white men craved to obtain it. Some of those gold nuggets found their way to Phoenix, where the myth began about the lost Apache mine in the Mazatzals. With the telling, the nuggets began to grow immensely in size.

On one occasion, two of the soldiers tried to follow the Apaches to see where they got their gold. It was impossible to out-stealth an Indian, and the soldiers never returned. In fact, they vanished until five years or so later when two sheep herders came upon their skeletons on the north slope of Mount Ord. Remnants of blue uniforms and some army buttons at the site made it clear whose bones these were. Among the macabre array was a piece of quartz that glittered with gold. Pioneer settler of the Tonto Basin, Henry Hardt actually saw the piece and reported, "It was about three inches long, two inches broad and at least one-third gold."

It was enough to keep the story alive, and since then, many have tried without success to find the lost gold mine of the Apaches.

Another myth involving a skull brings us much closer to home on the time line. The myth began on May 28, 1995, when a long-distance truck driver named Devin Williams claimed to have been accosted by aliens on the Mogollon Rim near Payson.

For reasons no one will ever know, Williams was on his way to Kansas City, yet drove his 18-wheeler off Highway 87 and found his way to Buck Springs near Myrtle Point. After becoming stuck, he left the truck and met some campers. They reported later that he seemed dazed. When they asked him why he drove that big truck in there, he pointed toward the truck and said, "I didn't do it. They did it." That was on Sunday.

Other witnesses reported seeing him the next day, Monday, not far from the truck but this time he was barefooted and "talking to a tree." After that, he simply disappeared, leaving personal possessions in the truck. They included an expensive citizen's band radio and his favorite hat that he always kept with him.

Williams had a wife and three children, respect of his fellow workers and community, and a perfectly clean record relating to any drug or alcohol use.

It wasn't long before UFO organizations and psychics were on the case, searching the forested area where the truck had been left. Some reported having dreams in which his abduction was visualized; another saw him falling off the edge of the Rim in her dream.

The story was picked up nationally in various media and took on mythological proportions. On March 15, 1996, NBC aired a segment about Williams on the show "Unsolved Mysteries." More than 130 "tips" came in immediately after the program, and all were investigated by the Coconino Sheriff's office. None were helpful in solving Williams' disappearance.

Then two years later, May 2, 1997, a skull was found near the intersection of Forest Road 321 and the Rim Road 300. Forensic specialists identified it as that of Devin Williams.

Rumors about his abduction were partially put to rest, but the mythology continues, especially among those who indulge in UFO matters.

While we are up on the Rim, how about the legend of the Mogollon Monster?

Many areas of our planet seem to be home to huge ape-like creatures apparently left from some primeval period, and our Rim country has not been left out.

Ever since the 1950s, Camp Geronimo Boy Scout campfires have been the setting for this wonderful story. Apparently one of the prehistoric Mogollon tribes had a bear clan. Its totem was adopted by myth-makers and begins with a chief who was ousted from his position of power. He called upon the mountain spirits for help, and they transformed him into a hairy monster. He was then able to scare his people into fleeing away.

Somehow the monster has survived through the centuries, and still violently attacks any who do not respect his territory.

I heard Arizona Balladeer Dolan Ellis at a campground program sing his song about this monster. It seems the monster spies on campers, and will eat up any who are caught littering.

The old Boy Scout story tells about a rancher killed near Webber Creek, home of today's Camp Geronimo, who had settled in the monster's domain. Well, all the settlers along Webber Creek are accounted for, including Rim Rock Henry Thompson, William Craig and Paul Vogel.

In October of 1993, the sight of the huge creature in the forest terrified a visitor from England, camping near Woods Canyon Lake.

According to the Payson Roundup Oct. 27, 1993, a second sighting was had a few days later at Crook campground.

"The campground host also witnessed it, stating it was very large, human in appearance with long, burnt-orange hair falling below its waist." The couple made plaster-cast impressions of the 22-inch footprints after the curious creature lumbered off.

Lost Apache gold, UFOs and big-foot monsters do make for wonderful Rim country myths. I would enjoy hearing about others from our readers.

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