By John Hernandez
Kielberg Canyon is located in the beautiful and rugged Galiuro Mountains. It is well known for being the site of the Power mine owned by the Power family. The Power family was involved in the famous Power shootout where three lawmen lost their lives as did one of the Power family. It resulted in the largest manhunt in Arizona history at the time and is still a controversial subject among surviving family members of the victims and some historians. How Kielberg Canyon got its name and the man it was named after is an interesting and colorful story.
In 1872 Europe was in the beginning of an economic crisis. Two young men in Denmark, Emil Kielberg and his best friend Carl P.F. (Charles) Birkenfeld were drawn to advertisements offering “Free Land in the American West” and news of gold being found in abundance in California. Seeing no future in Denmark, Emil and Charles signed on as crew members on a ship sailing to New York. Emil had a fiancé, Ida Bliesje, who he had to leave behind. In New York they hired on as shotgun riders on a wagon train heading to California. These two city men were lucky enough to meet two cowboys heading west who taught them what they needed to know about guarding the wagon train.
In California they worked for four years. Emil wrote his fiancé and asked her to come to America but told her he did not have enough money to pay her passage. Ida wrote back and told Emil that her passage would cost one year’s salary and she could not save that amount. Disheartened, Ida would marry an older man.
Kielberg and Birkenfeld headed for the Arizona Territory in 1876. They had heard stories of miners finding gold, silver and copper in the hills of Arizona. They found jobs as miners and worked hard to save their money. They both had dreams, Emil wanted to own a fruit ranch and Carl wanted to own a saloon. In 1885, Emil received a letter from his brother in Denmark. Emil’s former fiancée Ida Bliesje was now a widow. Emil wrote Ida and proposed to her and offered to bring her to America. She accepted and Emil sent her first-class passage on a ship and a first class train ticket to Arizona. On May 26, 1886 Judge W.F. Scott in Tucson presided over the marriage ceremony of Emil Kielberg “a prominent citizen of Aravaipa” and Mrs. Ida “Bliesje” Jorgensen, of Kolding, Denmark. The Arizona Weekly Citizen newspaper told the romantic story of Emil and Ida losing each other and getting a second chance many years later. The newspaper also said, “They are wished a long life of happiness and an abundance of all the good gifts of earth and heaven.”
By this time Emil was already a successful fruit rancher. He had homesteaded 160 acres in Aravaipa Canyon. He had a large orchard which held 1,000 peach trees, apple, apricot pears and quince trees as well as a half acre of blackberries. Emil became known as the “Peach King” in Tucson and Florence where most of his produce was sold. The Daily Arizona Silverbelt newspaper in Globe reported on April 28, 1908 “Emil Kielberg, a prominent rancher of Pinal County, will market 40 tons of peaches this year.”
In the early 1900s Emil convinced Ida to take a horseback ride with him into a canyon 20 miles south of Aravaipa Canyon. While exploring the area, Ida came upon a mine that had been abandoned by Charlie Dyke. They decided to file a claim on it. It was Kielberg’s first mining claim. This discovery and claim of the “16 to 1 Mine” as well as Kielberg’s notoriety as a very successful fruit rancher, led to the U.S. Board on Geographical Names naming the canyon in 1931 “Kielberg Canyon”. They also named the nearby mountain “Kielberg Peak”, the creek that sometimes ran down the canyon “Kielberg Creek” and the dam and reservoir on the upper part of Kielberg Canyon “Kielberg Dam” and “Kielberg Tank”.
As for Charles Birkenfeld, he found his dream also. He started up the St. Louis Exchange, a saloon in Tucson, Arizona Territory. It would become successful. He would sell it and open up the San Francisco Exchange on Congress Street. Both businesses were successful. Birkenfeld would become involved in gold mining in the Oro Blanco and Arivaca areas. Later on Birkenfeld would run for office and be elected constable. He would be re-elected and finally retire in 1917.
If you would like to read more about the lives of Emil Kielberg and Charles Birkenfeld as they chased the “American Dream”, a book is being published and will be available soon. The book is titled Journey to Aravaipa Canyon and will be available soon. The author is Emil Kielberg’s great granddaughter P.J. Kielberg-McClenahan. The book should be a welcome addition to the history of the Aravaipa area. You can find out more information about the book or order the book directly from the author and receive a 10% discount at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write her at P.J. Kielberg, 14900 Morro Rd., Atascadero, CA 93422-1612. Be sure to include your area code and phone number.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to P.J. Kielberg-McClenahan for use of the photograph and information on the story.