This week I've decided to examine an old story about a plane crash on Myrtle Point, near the Boles Homestead.
I recently came across the wreckage on Myrtle Point and thought that it deserved to be written about.
Let's start with the basis of this story, with an excerpt from an interview I did with longtime Mead Ranch local, Royce O'Donnell.
"Well these two guys. One of them got killed in a bi-plane. I have the wing and the ... arm off of it I think. He crawled down here and stayed at the Mead's cabin, you know with a broken leg. He left them a gun for the use of the cabin, one of his guns. He stayed there and got well."
I've heard variations on this from others, and the apparent time period is the 1940s and 1950s, before Mead Ranch was too well developed. I've heard that both men survived, I've also heard that no one was home at the Mead place and that it was an instructor who was killed and a German student.
First off, how do we go about checking this story out? Well, the easiest way is newspapers that have been OCR'd -- that is scanned in a way where you can search for words over a variety of years. This isn't the kind of thing that you want to go through microfilm for.
The old Payson Roundups that are still an existence only start in the late 1950s with a few exceptions, so we'd have to be looking at newspapers from throughout the state. Thankfully there is an online database of newspapers called NewspaperArchive. com. While The Arizona Republic is not on there during this time period, there are some other newspapers from around the state. AP and UPI stories helped cover the state in those days and there were actually quite a few crashes in and around the Rim through the years. After digging through stories one seems to fit the situation the best.
Find Fragment Of Lost Plane
PAYSON, Ariz., Mar. 19 (AP) -- With a bit of an airplane wing as a clue, a ground party Friday resumed its search for Robert A. Toth, 29, of Durango, Colo., pilot of a crashed aircraft.
Jesse Fears, forest ranger, reported the wing fragment was found at Roberts Mesa under the Mogollon Rim, north of here.
Toth's plane crashed Mar. 9 on a flight from Redondo Beach, Calif., to Durango.
His passenger, Larry H. Koshak, 26, also of Durango, wandered into a lumber camp near here Wednesday night. Koshak is under treatment in a hospital at Cottonwood for a head injury, broken right hand, and frost-bitten feet.
Koshak said that when he regained consciousness in the wreckage he could find no trace of Toth.
With the weather clearing, planes were expected to join the search Friday.
The 50-man ground party is made up of forest rangers, sheriff's deputies and volunteers. Fears said arrangements were being made to have 30 soldiers assigned to the hunt.
Tucson Daily Citizen, March 19, 1948
While the wreckage is technically on Myrtle Point, it is adjacent to the backside of Roberts Mesa and thus could be easily confused. The Mead cabin was said to have been vacant at the time and thus he wouldn't have reached people until getting to a lumber camp. It also fits with the one person account. Further accounts of this incident do not state that the man stopped at a cabin. According to his story, he didn't come across anything before reaching the Owens brothers' sawmill approximately 20 miles from Payson. The Owens' sawmill, at that time, was at today's Diamond Point Summer Homes. However, Koshak was clearly very dazed after the crash.
"At times I blacked out," Koshak continued. "I had dreams and hallucinations. Sometimes I had no idea of where I was or what I was doing.
"I remember asking for a cigarette from a man I thought was standing beside me.
"He'd say, ‘Sure, I got a cigarette.' Then I'd come to and there wouldn't be anyone within miles of me."
Reno Evening Gazette, March 18, 1948
Toth's body was found just a couple days after Koshak was rescued. According to accounts, Toth was found frozen dead in the pilot's seat after searchers spent two days backtracking over "Koshak's stumbling trail." Accounts also state that Koshak spent two days at the crash site before walking out.
Is this truly the tale that's been passed around in Mead and Collins Ranch through the years? Ultimately, we're probably not ever going to know with 100 percent accuracy, but my feeling is that this has a great chance of being it. In my searches I have yet to see Roberts Mesa mentioned another time in connection with a plane crash and a lot of the details are similar.
As we near June, it's worth mentioning a couple of other tragic plane crashes in Rim Country. If you look at my June column from last year, you can find out more about Chuck Cochrane, "Korky" Kodz and Art Goodnow, who died in two plane crashes while fighting fires during a tragic two-week stretch in June 1961. Cochrane died while on a slurry run fighting the Roberts Mesa Fire and Kodz and Goodnow died on the Hatchery Fire just a week or so later.