Elisha Reavis ~“The Old Hermit of the Superstition Mountains”~ Pinal County, Arizona

Elisha Marcus Reavis, my maternal 2nd cousin, was born in 1827 in Beardstown, Cass County, Illinois. He was the son of James A. and Mary (Harlan) Reavis. After the death of his parents when he was 6 years old, he and his siblings were raised by an aunt and uncle. Elisha attended college before going to California during the Gold Rush. He taught school briefly at El Monty and searched for gold along the San Gabriel River. He married Mary Y. Sexton in San Gabriel in 1862 and they had one daughter and her name was Louisa Maria Reavis.

Elisha went with other gold seekers to the Bradshaw Mountains in Arizona in 1863 but had little success. He returned to California but his wife refused to move to the rugged country in Arizona and preferred to live near her parents. After her death, their daughter went to St. Louis to live with some Reavis relatives.

Elisha returned to Arizona with his uncle who was appointed a judge on the territorial state Supreme Court by President Grant. Elisha worked as a US Marshall before starting a small ranch near Ft. McDowell, There he broke horses and mules, packed for the army during Indian campaigns before moving to a remote valley in 1874. It was on Iron Mountain and was high enough to be cool and beautiful in what became known as the Superstition Mountains. He was known as the “Hermit of the Superstitions” to Anglos, and the “White Devil” to the Apaches.

Elisha cultivated and irrigated about fifteen acres of land on the mountain. He had chickens, turkeys, hogs, burros, two horses and several dogs to care for. His team of horses pulled his disc and shear plow for his large fields. In 1895, He was seventy years old and was still making trips from his mountain valley farm to the small towns in the central Arizona Territory to sell his vegetables. The chores on his farm were enough to keep a young man busy, let alone a seventy-year-old man.

He hunted to supplement his diet with wild game. Early visitors to his place talked about the many antlers he had hanging around His home. He even had several bear skin rugs. These items certainly pointed to the fact he was quite a skillful hunter and tracker. Old pioneers all said Reavis had lived in these mountains for more than twenty years. The two decades Reavis spent living alone in the Superstitions made him a legend in his own time. He had been an outdoors man since the 1850s when he first moved to California from Illinois.

His acquaintance, James Dalabaugh, often checked in on Elisha at his ranch. Dalabaugh knew he wasn’t doing too well in the spring of 1896. It was on April 9th of that year when Dalabaugh was at the ranch with Reavis as he was preparing to make a trip to Mesa to buy seed potatoes. Dalabaugh later stopped by the Fraser Ranch just a few miles south on the 6th of May, almost one month later and found that Reavis had not been there.

Alarmed, he backtracked and found Elisha’s remains four miles south of his ranch on the trail. His mules were tied nearby and half starved. Reavis’ remains were scattered by wild animals. On May 7th, 1896, he was buried at a nearby Indian ruins where the soil was softer under a cairn of rocks. His grave was marked with a stone marker. He had died at the age of 68.

Many stories have been told of him, such as how he was a crack shot with a Winchester causing the Apaches to give him a wide berth after a fight in which he killed three of them. Also, how he faced a bear with a rifle that misfired. Even for the mid-1800s Reavis was quite the sight. With long, unkempt and unwashed matted hair and beard Reavis was the proverbial mountain-man poster child. Beaming small, piercing eyes he maintained a savage and even feral appearance even for the old west. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reavis was quite educated and kept a personal library at his ranch as he was an avid reader.

I have lived in Arizona for over 50 years and I have never heard this story nor knew that I was related to this man. I have lived within 4 miles of the Superstition Mountains for over 28 years! It really is a small world.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have written two books “Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time” and “Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip”, both available on Amazon. You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter @VHughesAuthor.

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