57 Years ago tragedy strikes near Tucson on Mt. Baldy (Mt. Wrightston)

Categories:Featured | Hiking | Scout Stories | The Story | Tucson History

My first trip to Madera Canyon was a fun and enjoyable day. At the trailhead for the Super Trail is posted a plaque (pictured below) telling hikers that Boy Scout Troop 301 and Venture Crew 301 cautions you to be prepared. This was to honor the three Boy Scouts: David Greenberg (12 years old), Mike Early (16 years old), and Michael J. La Noue (13 years old), who had lost their lives on November 15, 1958.

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Memorial plaque at the Super Trail trailhead reminding hikers to be prepared.

I spent the day hiking around the area and thinking about those Scouts and what they must have gone through in that area. As an Eagle Scout these types of memorials and stories make me so very thankful.  My Scouting experience was quite normal and I am very lucky to have spent time and have been a leader to some great boys who are now great men. We never once had any major bad experiences. Sure we had a few scrapes, cuts, and bruises but never anything major. I left later that day with an odd sadness and a strange calling to come back to the area very soon.

On a later trip I decided to take a different trail one called the Old Baldy trail. This one is a more challenging trail and meets the Super Trail at an area called Josephine Saddle. At the intersecting point there has been placed a much larger memorial. (Pictured Below).  The memorial shares the tragic story of the Scouts. Many have left items like flags, painted stones, and other scouting related items in memory of the lost Scouts.

The memorial at J

The memorial at Josephine Saddle.

 

A closer look!

A closer look!

I have been to that spot several more times and wanted to share the story. So what happened those 57 years ago on November 15th?

The Scouts

  • Eagle Scout Junior Assistant Scout Master Mike Early (age 16 the following day)
  • First Class Scout Michael La Noue (age 13)
  • Second Class Scout Lou Burgess (age 16) and Ralph Coltrin Jr. (age 12)
  • Tenderfoot Scouts David Greenberg (age 12) and Ronny Sepulveda (age 11)

Saturday November 15th, 1958

The Six boys were dropped off at the Lodge by Mike Early’s father John around noon on the 15th. The boys picked up their gear and headed towards the Old Baldy trailhead. Mr Early had promised to be back early the next morning to pick up the boys so they could attend a birthday parties for Mike and David.  The Scouts reached the far side of the picnic area they set up camp and had lunch. They had planned to hike up the mountain and return later in the afternoon and camp for the night.

The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies and temperatures were close to the sixties and climbing.  They hit the trail full of hope happiness and excitement. This after all  was David’s birthday and Mike’s was on the 16th. Little did they know things were going to change and change quickly.

A couple of hours after leaving their camp the boys made it to Josephine Saddle where they stopped to rest. The boys continued up the trail resting several times along the way. At one point Ronny was overcome with exhaustion and  blisters. It was at this point on the trail with a pyramid shaped rock and oddly shaped tree that the decision was made to stay and wait for the other boys to return. As Ronny watched the boys head down the trial past a bend where he could not see them anymore he began to scream in fear. Ronny did not like the idea of being left alone. Lou halted the group and made the decision that Ralph should go back and wait with Ronny. Lou assured them that he the other boys would be back within a half hour.

The group of 4 boys continued on for another fifteen minutes before stopping for another rest. At this point it was getting close to 5 p.m, the temperature was dropping as was the sun. Lou tried convincing the other boys that they join back up with Ronny and Ralph. Threatening weather had begun to show, but that did not deter the boys from continuing.

Lou headed back to meet up with Ronny and Ralph while Mike, Michael, and David continued on after promising that they would turn around soon. Lou met Ronny and Ralph and they headed back towards Josephine Saddle and made it, but it was now dark. With only one flashlight between the three boys they made it back to camp around 7:30p.m.  They eagerly awaited their friends return as the weather continued to become worse.

A freezing rain started an hour and a half later. Lou who had been in a hammock had retreated to Mike Early’s tent and still no sign of their friends. It was not until nearly midnight that the temperatures had dropped enough to change the freezing rain into a snow.

Sunday November 16th, 1958

Around 4:30 a.m a blizzard was raging. The snow had accumulated quickly and there was enough that it collapsed several of the tents. The boys had retreated to the picnic area outhouse but soon decided that it was too small. They attempted to start a fire under picnic table to keep warm, but quickly found that the conditions were too bad to keep anything sustained for more than a few minutes. They took shelter in the makeshift tent they had made under the table the day before.  With only two sleeping bags in the shelter Lou decided to grab his sleeping back from his collapsed tent. He succeeded after loosing their only flashlight and a shoe. They huddled under the table keeping warm for the rest of the morning. Still no sign of the other three boys.

At approximately 9:00 a.m., Lou sent Ralph down to the lodge to see if Mr. Early had arrived and was waiting on them. With two feet of snow on the ground and temperatures still below freezing Ralph headed towards the lodge. He met Mr. Early about half way. On the way back to the campsite Ralph told Mr Early of the missing boys. Mr. Early instructed Ralph and Ronny to head to the lodge to get help. While he and Lou would head up the Old Baldy trail to search for the boys.

There happened to be two brothers who were ham radio operators in the lodge that morning. The lodge phone had been knocked out due to the storm. Ronny and Ralph explained the situation to the brothers and they hurried to get a message out.

In the meantime Mr. Earl and Lou had made it back up to Josephine Saddle but had not seen any sign of the boys. An Exhausted Lou turned and headed back down towards the lodge. A short time later Mr. Early with only moccasins on his feet battling waist high snow also turned around.

A message had been sent out and it was picked up by another ham radio operator in Kansas City who relayed it to another ham operator in Tucson. This message was finally relayed to the Pima County Sheriffs office. They began coordinating a search party contacting the other local search groups.

Lou and Mr. Earl made it back to the lodge and shortly after Mr. Earl headed home to get warmer clothing and contact the parents of the other missing boys.  The fathers of the missing boys and Mr. Earl came back to the lodge to continue the search but a search was impossible due to the weather.

Monday, 17 November 1958 – Thursday, 4 December 1958

A meeting is called at the Pima County Courthouse at 7:30 a.m. on November 17th.  This starts the largest search for missing persons in history of the state of Arizona. Over 750 local men, law enforcement, Forest Rangers, and military personnel were a part of the search. A helicopter,  airplane, search dogs, and horse mounted cowboys were enlisted to help in the search endeavor.

The boys were finally found by a soldier who had slipped and fell down the mountainside and landed on what did not resemble rocks or the ground. At 5:05 p.m. the boys were carried off the mountain by six soldiers. They were found on the 19th day of searching. This was the last scheduled day of searching before new plans were to be drawn up. The boys were laid to rest not far from each other in Tucson.

To learn more about this story I highly recommend the book Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy – Tucson’s Lost Tragedy written by Cathy Hufault.

It is stories like these that make us pause Scout or not to always be prepared for any conditions when going into the mountains.


Sources:
http://www.gvrhc.org/Library/BoyScoutTragedy.pdf,
https://www.azpm.org/s/5241-exploring-the-story-behind-the-deaths-of-three-boy-scouts-near-tucson-in-1958/


 

Adam Nutting relishes being an avid backpacker, hiker, and all-around adventure junkie. While he currently spends his time hiking in the backcountry of southern Arizona, he grew up in Missouri, where he was naturally inclined to spend as much time as he could outdoors. Adam’s passion for the outdoors grew as he climbed the ranks of the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

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