June 25, 2017

Mystery Man Entombed in Thumb Butte

It was Sunday, January 22, 1911. Two young men had made the risky climb to the summit of Thumb Butte. While enjoying the view and carefully moving about the top, one looked down into a deep crevice and was shocked to see a person!

"So stupefied and astounded were they, that after a few minutes observation...and satisfying themselves that life was extinct; (they) hurriedly left the scene and gave alarm in this city."

The following morning Judge McLane, Lester Ruffner and a coroner's jury left for the Butte to investigate. "The party went to the highest part of the Butte, and the place where the crevice leads below was on the eastern slope of the center of the high mound."

"They were also shocked. The sight was ghastly." Evidence gave indication of a suicide; "a pistol being found lying by the side of the body."

The descent into the crevice to the deceased would be difficult even for the most skilled rock climber.

"After viewing the remains from a height of over 30 feet, into the crevice on a ragged ledge of rocks, to reach the body was a perplexing question. To descend with their shoes on was fatal, so it was decided to remove the footwear and go down cautiously and slowly."

Judge McLane, Lester Ruffner and a third man, Wiley Woodruff, required several minutes to carefully descend to the body. "They made an examination of the remains, and then began surveying the scene for the best manner in which to remove the body to the surface."

After much thought and discussion, it was decided that pulling the body up out of the crevice 30 feet and then bringing it down off the Butte 300 feet was "out of the question." So, the examination was made on the spot.

"The pistol, a .32 caliber double action Smith & Wesson, was lying by his side. A bullet hole in his mouth showed that he was a suicide. In personal effects nothing of material evidence was found, except a note encased in a nickel shaving tube." Sixty cents was found in his pocket, "while in the band of his hat, on the inside, was found a portion of a San Francisco newspaper which...bore (a) date of September 6th, (1910)."

The shaving tube was opened and the note read:
"This is as fine a place for a dead man as Cecil Rhodes has in the Matabele Hills, so I will take my rest here. I hope they won't disturb me. My life is just as thorny as this cactus (which was growing near his feet). Therefore, I want to quit this Devil's Kingdom. My spirit will go where there is a better ruler. --OMBRE MUERTE" (Cecil Rhodes was a famous and wealthy mining man from Britain who had recently passed.)
It was thought that the note was "written in a German hand." "In appearance the body was that of a man about 50 years-old, and the clothing were of a grayish color. He also took off his shoes in descending...They were of good quality, with rubber heels and soles. He wore a soft light shirt and a pair of heavy police suspenders were on his body." His eyeglasses were from "San Mateo, Cal."

True crime story about Fred Marshall, who murdered two men after losing a $2 bet in Humboldt, AZ.

It was the belief of the three men that the body had been there approximately 5 months. This would put his death shortly after the September 6th, 1910 newspaper scrap found in his hat.

"After the members of the jury were acquainted with the ordeal, it was deemed advisable to leave the body where it was and to ascend to the surface."

"(His) dead limbs...were carefully placed over the remains (and) weighted with small boulders picked from the cliff at considerable risk," before the three cautiously climbed back to the top.

It seemed that the case was closed and the poor soul would get his final wish of being left where he lay. However, Thumb Butte soon was overrun with the curious wanting to climb to the top and look at the burial site below. "Twenty-five parties climbed the historic landmark to gaze into the abyss where the body was found" within the first week of its discovery! It was feared inevitable that soon someone else would be injured or killed.

Curiously, although one would think this episode would fall squarely under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service, they took no part in it. It was the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors who ordered the body removed.

This was not the best news for Lester Ruffner. Removing the stiff body up through the jagged crevice would be dangerous, difficult, and undignified for the deceased. After that the body would have to be carried all the way down the side of the mountain "to the wagon road" below.

The effort had to wait a few days for a storm system to clear. "The work will be extremely tedious and delicate," Ruffner said. He took several men with him to help accomplish the job.

Slowly and surely, carefully taking their time at every step, the chore was eventually accomplished.

The man was quietly "laid away in the Citizens Cemetery...among the many mounds of unknown dead."

Who was this mystery man? Perhaps his suspenders indicate that he used to be a cop at one time--maybe in San Mateo. It seems certain that he spent time in California. Maybe the last, best chance remaining to identify this lost soul lies in the serial number of his double-action Smith & Wesson .32. It's easy enough to remember: 19191.

Tourist Tip:

CLICK HERE for information about Citizens Cemetery


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Arizona Journal-Miner 1/24/1911 Pg. 4 Col. 3
Weekly Journal-Miner 2/1/1911 Pg. 3 Col. 1


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