Don’t Blame the Thunder Gods

By Tom Kollenborn The Apaches are not known for their stories about Superstition Mountain. Few Apaches have actually ever entered the area. It was the Yavapais who had villages in the area we today call the Superstition Wilderness Area. It was also the Yavapais who were pursued by the Army and their camps destroyed. According…

The Apaches are not known for their stories about Superstition Mountain. Few Apaches have actually ever entered the area. It was the Yavapais who had villages in the area we today call the Superstition Wilderness Area. It was also the Yavapais who were pursued by the Army and their camps destroyed.

According to local storytellers, the mountains are known as “Wee-kit-sour-ah” meaning the rocks standing up to the Apache. It is told Superstition Mountain and all mountains were believed to be a kind of purgatory where all Apaches must pass before or after death, depending on the storyteller.

Some say this mountain is called “Ghan” (sic). According to some, only those warriors who achieve martyrdom were buried in a sacred area deep within the confines of the Superstitions. The stories are all according to storytellers of tall tales. Historically, burials were not significant to the Apaches until Christianity was introduced to them after the 1850s.

Contemporary writers made up most of the foregoing information used in books and periodicals. The Superstition Wilderness Area and Superstition Mountain in particular are known to have very violent thunderstorms during the summer months. When intruders broke the peace and solitude of the mountains, the Native Americans believed these were omens of the “Thunder Gods.” Research does not prove this to be true. It is because of this climatic phenomenon.

Some claim the Apaches called the Superstition Mountains the home of the “Thunder God.” As the story goes, the Apache, as legend claims, believed the “Thunder God” dwelled inside of Superstition Mountain and only makes it known during the hot summer months in the desert. It is alleged these Thunder Gods place the “curse of death” on those who violate this sacred domain.

The “curse of the Thunder God” supposedly has been responsible for the many unexplained deaths in this rugged mountain wilderness. This “curse” has struck fear into the hearts of many intruders, but only because of other circumstances. As long as there are gold-crazed treasure hunters seeking the Lost Dutchman and Peralta mines with guns slung on their hips, there will probably be unexplained deaths in these mountains. And, of course, the misery and deaths will be blamed on the “Thunder God.”

Book titles such as Thunder God’s Gold and Killer Mountain appear to go hand in hand with some of the trigger-happy fools running around the Superstition Wilderness Area. But those days are gone, since the government withdrew the area from mineral entry. This might be a slight exaggeration of the situation that prevailed in the mountains between 1952-1983. The history of accidents and deaths in the wilderness was quite common during this period.

Vivid book and periodical titles have helped sensationalize the need to carry a firearm in one’s own defense. However, most shootings in the Superstition Wilderness have been caused by the careless and reckless misuse of firearms, usually by untrained individuals. Since 1920, more than a hundred individuals have died in the Superstition Wilderness from accidents, and many of these accidents included firearms.

There have been unexplained cases where individuals have lost their lives and to this day, these cases remain an unsolved mystery. The most celebrated and notorious of these cases was the death of Adolph Ruth in summer of 1931.

Ruth, a Washington, D.C. treasure hunter, disappeared in the Superstition Mountains during the hot and dry summer of 1931. It wasn’t until December 10, 1931, that Ruth’s skull was discovered near the north end of Bluff Springs Mountain and just east of Needle Canyon in an area known as the “old Spanish Racetrack.”

During January of 1932, the remainder of Adolph Ruth’s remains were found near Needle Canyon on the east slope of Black Top Mesa, three-fourths of a mile from where the skull was found. There is still controversy as to how Ruth met his demise. This particular case was chalked up to the “Thunder Gods” by the pamphleteers of the day. This was the first case where the “Thunder Gods” roared in the various periodicals of the period.

Pulp writers such as Barry Storm and Barney Barnard credited the “Thunder God” with the death of Adolph Ruth. They both claimed it was the revenge of Superstition Mountain’s “Thunder God.”

So many writers have accredited the Apache with the tale of the “Thunder God,” even though there is no proof to substantiate this belief. So, let’s not blame the “Thunder God” or the Apache for the unexplained phenomenon that has occurred in these mountains. The Superstition Mountain’s “Thunder God” is where great tall tales come from.

A reality check lets us know all the “Thunder God” stuff is nothing more than climatic conditions during the summer months over the rugged topography of Superstition Wilderness area caused by orographic lift and convectional activity in the atmosphere.

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