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Ground view of Meteor Crater, Arizona, seen from five miles out. Discovered by Albert Franklin Banta.

By Janet Downs

"I have followed almost every occupation under the sun, from bull-whacking and mule-skinning down to politics, with one notable exception, stage robbing," wrote Albert Franklin Banta in his memoirs. This Arizona pioneer, who saw the whole territory on horseback and participated in its development from the beginning, spent 10 years of his wandering life in Holbrook.

Banta, who for many years went by the name Charley Franklin, made many trips across Northern Arizona as a guide and scout for the U.S. Army. He often camped at Horsehead Crossing, where Holbrook would later be located, and wrote, "At this time, 1870, there was not a settlement or single soul to be met with from the time I left Zuni until I reached Bob Postle's ranch in Chino Valley, 25 miles east of Prescott."

He joked that though he was paid well as a scout, he was always broke by the end of the month. On one trip, he discovered the huge Meteor Crater west of Winslow, which was called "Franklin's Folly" for years afterward.

Intellectually curious, despite the fact that he had attended a log school in the backwoods of Wisconsin for only 12 months in four years, Banta lived three years among the Zuni Indians of New Mexico, and as an amateur anthropologist interpreted many of their beliefs and ceremonies. He studied nature closely all his life, as well.

An expert hunter and trapper, he said, "At this time, I wore a full buckskin suit with a fox-skin cap with the tail hanging. Of course, I was a foolsight to see, but at that time did not realize what an ass I was or how ridiculous I looked."

Banta combined his adventurous side with intelligence and a great respect for the written word. He worked as a newspaper man off and on for 40 years, starting in Albuquerque at the Rio Abajo Press in 1863. Albuquerque, at that time, had only one street, and he felt that every woman and child in town had come to watch him work the press.

In 1872, he went south to help survey Tucson, but soon was back scouting for the Army, this time at Fort Apache. He worked for a short time at Bosque Redondo while the Navajos and Apaches interned from The Long Walk were there.

Banta wandered toward California, working on newspapers in Tucson, Yuma and San Francisco before returning to Northeast Arizona in 1874, where he was elected Justice of the Peace in Springerville.

As Frank Reeve, editor of Banta's memoirs observed, western people of that time "talked and acted in the belief that any citizen of sound mind was competent to participate in the affairs of the community and state. Formal education was not essential."

Banta helped establish Apache County, which at that time included Holbrook, and was elected district attorney in 1879 and delegate to the Territorial Legislature in 1882. In that year, he founded the Arizona Pioneer, the first newspaper in St. Johns, which later became the Herald. Even after he sold it, Banta contributed many Holbrook news items, including a long eyewitness account of the fire of 1888.

Around this time, now Pima County deputy sheriff Charlie Shibell (previously sheriff. Retired in 1881, then reappointed deputy sheriff by Eugene O. Shaw, 1887-1889, and who, as sheriff, had a one time appointed Wyatt Earp as deputy sheriff in Tombstone), challenged Banta to track down a fugitive 900 miles into Old Mexico and back. He returned with his prisoner, though he "had one horse shot; missed being assisinated three or four times, but I am here yet, telling the story." [1]

Before leaving St. Johns, he got involved in an argument with Sol and Nathan Barth, and narrowly escaped death when he was shot in the neck at close range.

Banta reported, "1887 found me at Holbrook acting as justice of the peace and notary public. In the summer of 1888, the county convention was held at Holbrook;...a bunch of the delegates including Dalby and Darling came to my office and requested that I run for district attorney. I refused saying that I did not want the office, to put someone else on the ticket. They went away but returned the following day and said, 'We are going to nominate you'."

The nomination accepted, Banta beat Bob Morrison for the post and took office Jan. 1, 1889. "I had not been in office long when I found that the county was cursed with an unscrupulous ring, which was fattening off the county monies." He worked hard for the two-year term, and felt he had cleaned up the county government when he left office.

"At Holbrook, I started the Holbrook Argus; the first issue was on Dec. 12, 1895. Feeling the country demanded and would have a change in the national administration, I espoused the cause of William McKinley...In almost every issue of my paper, I gave various reasons why McKinley should receive the nomination." McKinley won the 1896 election, the year Banta sold the Argus and left Holbrook. He moved on to newspapers in Phoenix, Prescott and Douglas, traveled five years in Central America, returning to Arizona in 1908 to prospect across the territory.

He entered the Arizona Pioneers Home in 1916, "but the everlasting lure of the hills still possess my soul, and I cannot shake off that feeling," he wrote.

Frank Reeve related, "The one part of his life that he gives no direct information about was the matter of marriage. But there was a Mrs. Banta and a daughter Mildred. The mother taught school at Pinedale in the year 1898, but whether before or after that date, there is not information at hand."

When he died in 1924, at the age of 81, the Prescott Evening Courier wrote, "There was a pride about this fine character that was beautiful to see. He asked no odds of anyone...He paid his debts, kept his word and was honest and true." See:




ON THE CRATER FLOOR: Meteor Crater, Arizona



The Case Against "Shamans" In the
North American Indigenous Cultures


(original no longer calls up)


Publications in History, vol. 14; edited by Frank D. Reeve. Memoirs of a pioneer newspaperman, guide, prospector, and man of all trades who came to Arizona in 1863 and died at Prescott in 1924.

Albert Franklin Banta: Arizona Pioneer. Albuquerque: Historical Society of New Mexico, 1953. [2] 143 pp. 8vo

Arizona History IX:23: edited by Andrew Wallace. In the winter of 1864 Banta herded stock for $7.50 a month for R. E. Farrington in the perilous Apache lands of Arizona Territory.


The following footnote, even though not part of the original article above, is being presented here for your own edification. The information was brought up in conversation with the Wanderling by his Uncle sometime in the early-to-mid 1970s:

Although Banta was known as a highly accomplished hunter and tracker most of his experience transpired north of the U.S. border.

While living, working, or traveling around the Tucson and Yuma area, Banta had, on a regular basis, come into contact with Yaqui Indians that inhabited the region. The Yaquis had been in an ongoing on and off war between the Spanish and later the Mexican government basically since their initial contact --- with no real beginning or a defined finalization date in sight. In the 1880s, in an attempt to quell the seemingly never ending hostilities, a major relocation of Yaquis occurred. Yaquis were moved from the United States Territory to Sonora and from Sonora to United States Territory (Arizona did not become a state until 1912). In the process of that relocation some Yaquis became not only quite adept at skirting back and forth across the border while avoiding the authorities on both sides, they also developed an intimate knowledge of the Sonoran Desert and surrounding terrain. Banta drew on that knowledge when he went on his manhunt into Mexico by recruiting a Yaqui who, because he was married to a Yuma Indian on the U.S. side, had lots of experience going back and forth traversing both sides of the border. Banta thought the idea perfect because the person he was seeking was operating outside the law and, since the Yaqui had to operate by avoiding the law as well, Banta felt it would put him in a much better position to apprehend the suspect he was seeking. In the end of course, his idea paid off as Banta returned with the fugitive.

The interesting part to the whole story is that the Yaqui Indian Banta recruited from Yuma to help him apprehend the outlaw turned out to be, according to the Wanderling's uncle, the father of one Don Juan Matus, who grew up to become famous in a series of books by Carlos Castaneda. How would the Wanderling's uncle know such a fact to be the case, and if so, why would it even come up in conversation? As a young boy the Wanderling spent a lot of time traveling in and around various haunts of the American southwest --- with many hours, days and weeks in and around the general Meteor Crater area --- so conversations regarding the crater would not be unusual. Secondly, the Wanderling's uncle WAS the informant infamous for being the person that first introduced and taught Castaneda the use of Datura and other medicinal plants indigenous to the desert southwest, so he knew Castaneda and more than likely had time for casual interaction with him as well.


Some people say there never was a Don Juan Matus. Others say he was composite of several people, most often being named the revered Cahuilla spiritual elder Salvador Lopez and the Mazatec curandera Maria Sabina. Others, such as Tezlcazi Guitimea Cachora have claimed outright to BE Don Juan Matus. Still others say someone like Alex Apostolides, of whom I address the possibility, or lack of same, in The Tree, if not Don Juan was the role model for him. Then there are those like Ken Eagle Feather who say they met, knew and actually studied under him.

The above, citing my uncle regarding the Yaqui tracker being the father of Don Juan Matus, makes it sound like a person named Don Juan Matus was an actual real life person in the exact same vein as written by Castaneda and that my uncle knew him because he knew the connection between his father and Banta.

Professor C. Scott Littleton knew Carlos Castaneda well, having attended UCLA graduate school with him in the same department at the same time. Their lasting friendship was initially set into motion through an introduction by one of Littleton's and Castaneda's professors at UCLA, William A. Lessa. Because of the level of their friendship, Littleton had Castaneda as a most willing guest lecturer in his classes at both Occidental and UCLA Extension on many occasions. He is on record as saying in an interview titled Adventures With Cassiopaea with Laura Knight-Jadczyk, that he was convinced there was indeed a prototype of Don Juan Matus the Yaqui Indian Castaneda apprenticed under and wrote a dozen best selling books about. Professor Littleton says that Don Juan was probably a Yaqui Indian who moved rather freely between the Tucson area and northern Sonora.

My uncle knew Castaneda as well and may have even orchestrated the Nogales Bus Station Meeting, but at no time did he ever tell me personally that he met or knew THE Don Juan Matus that Castaneda writes about. What I got from our discussions is not too different from Littleton's, that Don Juan was probably an Indian --- possibly of Mesoamerican or some Yaqui extraction --- who moved rather freely between the Tucson area and northern Sonora.

Castaneda's road trip colleague Bill, at the end of the summer of 1960, after weeks of traveling on the road throughout the desert southwest together, takes Castaneda to the Greyhound bus station in Nogales, Arizona to catch a bus back to Los Angeles. Sitting in the station Bill looks out across the room and sees an old man he points out to Castaneda. Previously Bill had told Castaneda about Cloud Shamans and tells Castaneda that the Cloud Shaman and the old man in the bust station knew each other. The following is found in The Road Trip:

"Bill says the old man and the Cloud Shaman knew each other. He also says the Cloud Shaman and the informant are one and the same person --- AND it is known from the above that the "one and the same person" is my uncle. In his works Castaneda writes that the old man he met in the bus station is none other than the shaman-sorcerer Don Juan Matus. Using Bill's logic, it would imply by default then that my uncle knew Don Juan Matus. If such was the case and had I been privy to the same information myself I would have personally had in my hands TWO people that could have substantiated the reality or existance of Don Juan Matus one way or the other --- or possibly even led me to him --- IF such was the case. The clinker is, although both seem to know the old man in some fashion or the other, neither of them ever say anything about him being Don Juan. Castaneda is the ONLY one out of everybody or anybody involved that seems to know or says the old man in the bus station is or turned out to be, Don Juan Matus. For all I know the very strange man my uncle was somehow associated with that handed me the feather as reported in The Boy and the Giant Feather could have been Don Juan."