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Columbia Stroll to “Curly’s Place”

Sunday October 28, 2007


Photo courtesy: Troy Gillenwater


Curly’s Place on October 28, 2007 - Photo courtesy Kevin Hart


The interest for the Columbia Stroll was more than expected. Lots of interest in the area and specifically Hershell “Curly” McKibby and his historic former home. Referred to as “Curly’s Place”.


The convoy from Lake Pleasant consisted of nine vehicles of various types and we picked up 2 vehicles along the way. In total the unofficial head count was over 30 people that made the Columbia Stroll to Curly’s Place.


A portion of the group of 30+ in front of historic Columbia Saloon. Oct. 28, 2007

Photo courtesy: Bruce Colbert


We parked at the former home of George Walters, now owned by Richard D. & Joann Losee, which was the mill site for many of the mines in this area. The actual Ghost Town of Columbia sets on the banks of Humbug Creek just over the hill to the east from the mill site. The property is currently on private land and is posted, please don’t trespass. There is a BLM road that will take your about half way to the creek and is so marked about a ¼ mile before reaching the locked gate to the mill property.


Mill with Columbia at the bottom of the picture.

Photo courtesy: Kevin Hart


Unfortunately Larry and Betty Gill, the caretakers of this property had come down with a 24 hour flu and asked Dave Burns the caretaker at Humbug to play host for the Columbia Stroll. Dave is a very astute historian of this area and was an excellent guide.


Structure at Columbia believed to be a saloon, Photo courtesy Lee Hanchett J.


Starting the Columbia Stoll, historical sites were pointed out by Dave and the remains of the Ghost Town of Columbia. Unfortunately all remaining structures and equipment were removed by BLM some years ago. There is one stone house and a fireplace or two still standing on the east bank of Humbug Creek across from Columbia.


Photo courtesy: Bruce Colbert


As we proceeded up Humbug Creek to the North, the original road has long since been washed out so you walk the creek bed, which was dry when we were here. There were various structures and mining equipment along the one mile hike that gave reflection of prosperous years that made this area a strong but small mining community.


It has been learned from Larry Gill that three individuals are working the creek for gold and they have posted their claim. We saw some evidence of their workings as we strolled to Curly’s.


Humbug Creek, Photo courtesy: Lee Hanchett Jr.


Early miners to this creek so named it HUMBUG as this was a negative term, (Bah Humbug) meaning there was no or very little gold in this creek. All the pioneer miners that worked this creek scoffed at any hope of finding large amounts of gold here and they left the area with empty pokes. However some amounts of rich minerals were found at Humbug and Columbia on Gold Hill.


The Tiger and Oro Belle mines and others were large producers farther up Humbug Creek near the beginning of the creek. Bradshaw City sat on Humbug Creek and was one of the largest towns in Arizona at the time.


It would seem every mile or so along Humbug Creek in this area there were small grouping’s of people, starting with the town of Humbug, Champie Mill, Columbia etc then about one mile down stream from Columbia is another well preserved but abandoned home and mine.


Much of the mining pioneer exploration was done by Charles Champie and his wife Elizabeth (Lizzie). Who lived at Humbug then Champie Mill and was involved in the development of the Champie Ranch in the area. It is evident pioneers had to be “Jack’s of all trades” back then to survive. They had a use for everything and discarded little. Contrary to our “throw way society” today.


Boiler at the Lunan Mine close to Allen Mill/Champie Mill on Humbug Creek 10/28/07

Photo courtesy: Bruce Colbert


There is still an old boiler and flywheel visible near Allen’s Mill and in early years was referred to as Champie Mill. There was a spring that helped provide water for the mining operations, but little remains other than and adobe wall and stone walls scattered about.



Iron flywheel at Lunan Mine, Photo courtesy: Lee Hanchett Jr.


The former road up to Rockwall Gulch to Swilling Gulch is still visible along the hill side and has had no maintenance in years. The road is no longer goes through for vehicles, possibly by hiking you could follow it to the Acquisition Mine, Tip Top, Gillett ending up at Rock Springs some 12 miles distance away. This would retrace the route Curly went for supplies in his youth.


Allen Mill on Humbug Creek – Photo courtesy: Bob Cothern


Troy Gillenwater states that Curly was 19 when he came to this area. Curly was born on May 15, 1908 in Michigan and lost his family in the Typhoid epidemic. After this incident, he went to live with an Uncle what was a miner. They headed off to South America to seek there fame and fortune when Curly was a young lad. Not finding it, they proceeded to Alaska and worked the Gold Fields (presumably the Yukon Territory) then returned to California. Crossing overland to Walsenburg, Colorado, coal was the main mining activity there. On their sojourn they crossed over the Bradshaw Mountains and both he and his Uncle observed the mining opportunities there. After working in the Walsenburg area they decided to head to the Bradshaw’s.


Troy Gillenwater welcoming everyone at “Curly’s Place” after 20 Years. Oct. 28, 2007

Photo Courtesy: Tom Kenson


Dave Burns at Grave of Joseph Champie – Baby stung to death by a scorpion in its diaper in 1898. Photo courtesy Bruce Colbert.

“Curly’s Place” Notice the extensive rock work Curly engineered.

Photo courtesy: Bob Cothern


At 19, the year would have been 1923; seven years before the Stock Market Crashed on October 29, 1929, there presumably were ample opportunities here along Humbug Creek. Curly filed on two patented claims, the Red Rock and Black Rock Lodes. Set up housekeeping and exploring his claims along Humbug Creek. Curly eked out a paupers existence but none the less would have his life no other way. Living with no electricity, running water, bathroom, using Mesquite wood as his source for heat and cooking he had no modern conveniences. Curly in his younger years had to hike to Rock Springs to get supplies. He had burro’s that helped carry his needed supplies for the trip back.


Photo courtesy: Troy Gillenwater


We have a copy of a letter that states Curly was offered an opportunity to live in Prescott as a ward of the County but he turned it down to live his life as a hermit. Can’t say that I blame him after seeing his former home along the banks of the Humbug Creek. Curly had acquired the skill of dry wall stacking and there is evidence of his trade all over the place. A real monument to their talents to make do with what they had in those days. Curly it is evident was somewhat of a pack rat, which wasn’t uncommon. One never knew when they might have use for an item. It was a full day hike to Rock Springs and back.



Curly’s ability to work with rock seems to have been a love/hate affair. As an example, the floor in the house was dry laid rocks by Curly. If for some reason one of the rocks would get misaligned and he would stub his toe, there would be a hour long outburst of profanity that would embarrass a Shanghi Sailor. Then extrusion of the offending rock, to which it would take Curly hours to find the exact correct rock to replace the one that stubbed his toe. Troy’s best advice was to stand clear of Curly when all of this was going on.


The actual porcelain cup containing steaming hot coffee was on the table next to Curly’s dead body when Troy Gillenwater found Curly on September 8, 1985. It is thought that Curly expired from a heart attack moments before Troy arrived. The cup is now on display in the Black Canyon Historical Society. Photo courtesy: Neal Du Shane



Troy at one time gave Curly a battery operated television. To Troy’s knowledge it never worked. But one day when Troy arrived he could tell Curly had something on his mind that he had to share with Troy to get it off his chest. Curly asked Troy “remember that TV you gave me, well I decided to fix it”. The only tool Curly had in his tool chest was a hammer. Plus factor in Curly’s eye sight was very poor; in fact he was legally blind. Needless to say there were bits and pieces of the TV laying everywhere. That was the terminal demise of the TV.


Headstone of Hershell M. “Curly” McKibby final resting place,

Chiseled in a rock by Troy Gillenwater c. 1985-86.

It reads: “Curly 1908 – 1985”

Photo courtesy: Bob Cothern


Along the hike on Humbug Creek we discovered several graves and one historic Pioneer Cemetery which we dubbed “Champie Mill Cemetery”. One of Charlie and Lizzie Champie’s children, Joseph Champie, was stung by a scorpion in its diaper in 1898, before they could figure out why the baby was crying. Pug Dalton and some of his mining associates created a headstone as a marker for the baby at the request of the Champie family in the 1980’s.


Headstone of Joseph Champie – Photo courtesy Bruce Colbert

It reads: “Joseph Champie Born Feb 20, 1894 Died Sept 19, 1898”


L-R, Neal Du Shane & Troy Gillenwater discuss historical events at Curly’s Place

Photo courtesy: Bruce Colbert


Currently I’m writing a book on Columbia which will include history of the area with many pictures of the structures in the area. Curly and other pioneers are detailed in the book. Hope to have it posted on the internet at

by January 1, 2008.


Neal Du Shane


Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Internet Presenation

Version 110207


WebMaster: Neal Du Shane