Anyone who has lived in Arizona for some time becomes familiar with its mountain peaks, each with its story and tradition. These landmarks were used for travel by early settlers and enjoyed by recent arrivals for their beauty and history. How many can you name? Baboquivary, Dos Cabesas, San Francisco Peaks, Bill Williams Mountain, Mount Ord. There are so many more, but the Four Peaks that dominate the Tonto Basin are in the Mazatzal mountain range. They anchor the southeastern end of that range, at a height of 7,645 feet.
Whenever the traveler sees The Four Peaks, it is such a majestic sight it often causes one’s heart to leap. These looming, menacing, magnificent peaks almost seemed bewitched, perhaps because eons of time have endowed them with legend and mystery. For Native Americans this landmark held unusual significance because the number four had been sacred to them from time immemorial. For Christians, the number three holds this position, representing the Trinitarian view of the godhead. For Indians, the number four signifies the godhead, and when it appears in nature that site becomes sacred. “Four” also symbolizes the four directions, each with its sacred significance and spiritual power, and this symmetry is frequently inscribed in native art.
It is said that the ancestors of the Hohokam, migrating northward, came to the place where they saw the sacred number four blazoned before them on the mountain, and that is where they stopped to establish their civilization. This sense of the sacred carried over to the Athapaskan people who arrived later. It is to these mountain peaks that young Apaches would migrate for their vision quest. A youthful Indian would trek into the wilderness and spend whatever time needed fasting and praying to discover the powers or talents that God had given him to use for the good of his people. He would stand and stare at the mountain until he captured the inspiration it offered; he might even be visited by an eagle or raven or lightning that would produce an epiphany. One elder of the Tonto tribe told me that anyone can have a real vision if he goes to a mountain and fasts for three or four days.
It was in more recent times that another mystery was attached to the Four Peaks. From the 14th century came an unfounded legend that Spanish explorers discovered the royal gems of amethyst at the Four Peaks, and took them to Spain where they added to the wealth of kings.
However, there is no evidence that the Spanish were ever here in the Rim Country. Our records pick up during the 19th century when prospectors discovered the array of purple pebbles scattered among the Four Peaks. Apparently, a fellow named Jim Daniels was the first white man to find them, but since he was looking for gold he did no more than file a mineral claim and move on. A series of owners followed over the decades. Mrs. Gertrude Evelin held the claim in 1925 and sold it for $2,500 to the brothers Louis and Rudolf Juchem, stonecutters from Germany. They worked the claim under the name Arizona Amethyst Placer, but due to ill health quit working in 1942. A Bob Dye leased and operated the claim then until 1963, when Cec and Al Stoner bought the mine for about $50,000. It was during their time that helicopters began delivering supplies to the miners, the only sensible way to reach the almost inaccessible area. The Stoners put the Arizona Amethysts on the map by placing them in gem and hobby shops throughout the Phoenix metro area.
In September 1972 the mine was sold for a rumored price of $350,000 to Darrell Smith, who operated it as the Maricopa Mining Corporation. He had an accident with a bulldozer overturning and falling 200 feet, doing significant damage to the mountain. Because of this the Forest Service revoked his operating rights, and ownership reverted to the mortgage holder. However, in the meantime word came from a New York assay office that the gems were of world-class quality.
It seems that when all is said and done, this Four Peaks mine is the only source of such fine amethyst in North America. Some have called the Four Peaks a “Purple Mountain Majesty.”
The amethyst is the birthstone for February, and has a long history in ancient days for its association with the Greek god Bacchus. The gem was embedded in wine cups with the belief that it enabled the drinker to remain sober. Translated from the Greek, “amethyst” literally means “protection from drunkenness.” Since it reflects the deep purple hue of royal robes the stone has been identified with kings and queens throughout European history.
On April 27, 1996 a wild fire, named the Lone Fire, licked its deadly way around the Four Peaks wilderness, and raged for more than a week. It destroyed more than 80,000 acres, along with their animal and plant life. It also gave Tonto Basin ranchers a good scare. In spite of the fire, the mine was purchased in December 1997 by East Coast investors Kurt Cavano and Jim MacLachlan.
Over the years the mine has produced $1,000,000 a year in retail sales among a select group of jewelers. Several grades of the gem come from the mine, and colors range from pink, pale lilac to violet and deep purple. The average stones are from 1/2 to 10 carats, but occasional stones weigh from 20 to 40 carats. The mine is known to have produced stones of more than 100 carats, and one weighed more than 300 carats.
According to Dr. Otis E. Young, professor of history at Arizona State University, “These (four) peaks are of a hard quartzite mineral and sit like dunce caps upon the crest of the range whose base is ancient grey schist.” [Arizona Highways Feb. 1977, page 42] The mineral solutions came up between the schist and the quartzite, depositing its amethyst on and near the surface. The loose gemstones that once littered the surfaces have long since been picked and are gone, but in any case the area is off limits to the public and heavy fines wait for trespassers. Another word of warning for potential buyers of the gem: the market is flooded with synthetic amethyst, and the buyer should insist on a certificate of authenticity.
As always, every time we see the Four Peaks all the legend and history of it fades into the shadows, because we continue to be entranced by the majesty of the sight. Like Native Americans before us, we somehow sense a sacred Presence in this mountain.
“Amethyst Mine at Four Peaks,” by Bob Mason, reprinted by the Commercial Mineral Company of Scottsdale.
“Purple Gems, Mountain Mystery, A Journey to the Four Peaks Mine,” by Richard B. Drucker, July 1999
“Treasurer At Four Peaks,” by Ed Davis, Rock and Gem (undated issue)
“Purple Mountain Majesty” by Dr. Otis E. Young, Arizona Highways, February 1977
“Amethyst Mine Back In Business At Four Peaks” by Tara Teichgraeber, The Business Journal, July 23, 1999, page 36
The Mesa Tribune, January 10, 1999, page 1, section D
The Payson Roundup. September 24, 1999, page 9A, by Mindi Brogdon