The Wild West In The Rim Country

Chapter 13: The Self-Inflicted Killing of aTrapper

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Sometime from 1968 to 1973, this rock headstone appeared containing the information on the old wooden cross.

Wayside graves are always intriguing. When we stumble across them they raise so many questions. One can discover just such an interesting monument while driving slowly and watchfully along the Forest Road 300 on the Mogollon Rim.

This famous scenic drive along the edge of the Rim follows somewhat faithfully the trail blazed by General George Crook in the early 1870s. His purpose was to connect Forts Verde and Apache and enable troop movement that could cut off the northern escape of renegade Indians.

Driving from west to east, as one approaches a sign noting “Leonard Canyon” a gravesite can be seen on the right, just off the road. This spot also happens to be the place where, in the late summer of 1872, General Crook’s two crews met, blazing the trail from both ends. In those days it was called “Deadshot Canyon” after a renegade Apache with that name who had been apprehended here.

Leonard Canyon is of interest in itself for several other matters of Rim Country history. It is the border between the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

To discover how the name “Leonard Canyon” originated we turn to columnist and historian James E. Cook. He grew up helping his dad who was a ranger at General Springs, and he gives this interesting account:

A female fire dispatcher at the Long Valley Ranger Station, named Leolin L. Oldham (born in Payson, 1898) was the daughter of Dr. Leonard, a physician at one time in the Payson area. Mrs. Oldham related that before her father was a physician, he and his brother Jim Leonard came to the area from Chicago and built a cabin on the ridge that overlooks Knoll Lake.

After he became a practicing physician, Dr. Leonard moved to Payson to take up his practice, and soon he married Anabella Fuller of Pine. He was also employed by some of the mining companies in the area, and did much of his traveling by horse and buggy on the primitive roads that surrounded Payson.

After he died, the family spread his ashes in this area that he loved. The canyon forms the drainage that leads toward the Rim and for obvious reasons came to be called Leonard Canyon.[1]

About 500 yards before crossing the border between the two national forests there is a rectangular gravesite, raised and bordered with native stones. A crude granite marker at the foot of the area simply states, “G. D. Bantz died Oct. 6, 1895,” although the date is faint and uncertain.

Gottlieb D. Bantz was born in Switzerland, according to his signature in the Great Register of Gila County, September 1894, and he was naturalized several years before that in 1890. According to New York passenger ship records, he arrived in America on the 4th of July 1881. He also registered in the Tonto precinct in 1896, and again (his last entry in public records) in 1898 he signed the Great Register at Tonto.[2]

We would wish to know his story from the time he came to America until he became a trapper on the Mogollon Rim, but there seems no way to uncover his odyssey. What we do know is that sometime in October in the mid to late 1890s he was driving a team of burros toward the Tonto Basin, loaded with the pelts he had trapped.

Now to ask the question, how did G. D. Bantz die and who buried him there?

In 1968, Superintendent Morrison of the Forest Service asked retired Payson District Ranger Fred W. Croxen to recall the story about this grave.

Croxen related the story as he had heard it from rancher Lewis Pyle.

“G. D. Bantz was a trapper and burro man. As the story goes, he had summered in the high country and was leaving for the Tonto Basin for the winter. A storm was coming up and he was in a hurry to get off the Rim and to warmer climate.

“He was driving his burros, with packs on them. To hurry one of them he punched it with the butt of his shotgun. Unfortunately it discharged and the load hit his stomach. The burros continued on down the trail. When Mr. Bantz failed to come with them, a party or parties went up the trail and found him. I don’t know whether he had died or not. He was buried where he fell. And that’s the story as it was told to me by Lewis Pyle of Payson.”[3]

The grave is along the trail built by Anderson Lee “Babe” Haught and his brother. It leads around the west side of the Tonto Fish Hatchery and to the old Haught homesteads along Tonto Creek. This Babe Haught Trail was used by the settlers to pack crops, cattle and supplies between their ranchers under the Rim and the railroad connection at Winslow.

When I asked the late Richard Haught, son of A. L. Babe Haught, about the Bantz story he had a different version to tell. “It was said Bantz had a wagon and come around there, and some wild turkeys jumped up. He grabbed his gun out of the wagon and it shot him.”

I asked Richard who found his body, and he said, “I don’t know. Whoever was in the wagon, whoever it was.”

I pressed for more, “Did you know anything about Bantz as a person?”

Haught answered, “No, I didn’t know a thing.”

It is easy to see how Rim Country stories get conflicting versions, but all things taken together I am ready to believe as most authentic the Lewis Pyle rendition.

Another mystery surrounds the grave marker itself. The archaeologist’s record at the headquarters for the Coconino National Forest in Flagstaff states, “The present headstone on the Bantz grave did not exist at the time of death. From 1956 to 1966 a wooden cross was on the grave.[4] The cross, suffering from poor repair, completely disappeared in the late ’60s. Sometime from 1968 to 1973, the rock headstone appeared containing the information on the old wooden cross. It is not known who chiseled the rock headstone.”

That headstone inscription was pecked out with a nail, and the lettering is very crude. The date of death, “Oct. 6” is evident, but the year is questionable. Some read 1896, and yet a “5” is more clearly chiseled, probably at another time, making it 1895. In either case, Bantz’s signature in the Great Register in Tonto Basin for 1898 would eliminate either of those years.

While Gottlieb D. Bantz was not murdered by someone else on that lonely trail, his foolish decision to punch the burro with a gun while the muzzle of the gun faced him was an obviously unwise act. One might say he murdered himself.

NEXT: The Murder of Clint Wingfield

[1] In Arizona Place Names Will Barnes says this canyon was named for a W. B. Leonard, “a sheepman who in the mid-1870s had a trading post at Ganado. His last home for several years was near Navajo Springs.” This seems like a very unlikely source of the name, and we prefer Mrs. Oldham’s eyewitness version.

[2] Just to make our search interesting if not confusing, someone named G. D. Bantz was found in Missouri in the 1880s, and an attorney by that name is found in New Mexico in the 1890s, even becoming an associate justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court. Could this be a son of “our” G. D. Bantz?

[3] This correspondence can be found in the Croxen files at the Rim Country Museum in Payson.

[4] The reference to 1956 simply means the first time a recorded study of the gravesite was registered at the forest headquarters.

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