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The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine (also known by many similar names) is, according to legend, a very rich gold mine hidden in the southwestern United States. The location is generally believed to be in the Superstition Mountains, near Apache Junction, east of Phoenix, Arizona. There are also theories that the mine lies a considerable distance beyond the Superstition Mountains, in Mexico. There have been many opinions about how to find the mine, and each year people search for the mine. Some have died on the search.
The mine is named after the German immigrant Jacob Waltz (c. 1810–1891), who purportedly discovered it in the 19th century and kept its location a secret. ("Dutchman" was a common American term for "German", as seen in the term Pennsylvania Dutch, derived from the German word for German, "Deutsch".)
The Lost Dutchman's is perhaps the most famous lost mine in American history. Arizona place-name expert Byrd Granger notes that, as of 1977, the Lost Dutchman's story had been printed or cited at least six times more often than two other fairly well-known tales, the story of Captain Kidd's lost treasure, and the story of the Lost Pegleg mine in California. Robert Blair notes that people have been seeking the Lost Dutchman's mine since at least 1892, while Granger writes that according to one estimate, 8,000 people annually made some effort to locate the Lost Dutchman's mine. Former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin is among those who have looked for the mine. Others have argued the existence of the mine has little or no basis in fact. But as noted below, Blair argues that all the main components of the story have at least some basis in fact.
According to many versions of the tale, the mine is either cursed, or protected by enigmatic guardians who wish to keep the mine's location a secret.
Blair writes that "[t]here have been at least four legendary Lost Dutchman's gold mines in the American West, including the famed Superstition mine of Jacob Waltz". One Lost Dutchman's mine is said to be in Colorado, another in California; two are said to be located in Arizona. Tales of these other Lost Dutchman's mines can be traced to at least the 1870s. The earliest Lost Dutchman's mine in Arizona was said to have been near Wickenburg, about 180 km (110 mi) north-west of the Superstition Mountains: a "Dutchman" was allegedly discovered dead in the desert near Wickenburg in the 1870s alongside saddlebags filled with gold. Blair suggests that "fragments of this legend have perhaps become attached to the mythical mine of Jacob Waltz".
Granger writes that "[fact and fiction blend in the tales", but that there are three main elements to the story:
In 1977, Granger identified 62 variants of the Lost Dutchman's story – some of the variations are minor, but others are substantial, casting the story in a very different light from the other versions. Keeping in mind that there are sometimes considerable variance between the tales, below is a brief summary of each of the three stories identified by Granger.
In this story (actually two interconnected stories), members of the Apache tribe are said to have a very rich gold mine located in the Superstition Mountains. Famed Apache Geronimo is sometimes mentioned in relation to this story. In most variants of the story, the family of a man called Miguel Peralta discovered the mine and began mining the gold there, only to be attacked or massacred by Apaches in about 1850 in the supposed Peralta massacre. Years later, a man called Dr. Thorne treats an ailing or wounded Apache (often alleged to be a chieftain) and is rewarded with a trip to a rich gold mine. He is blindfolded and taken there by a circuitous route, and is allowed to take as much gold ore as he can carry before again being escorted blindfolded from the site by the Apaches. Thorne is said to be either unwilling or unable to relocate the mine.
Blair insists that the Peralta portion of the story is unreliable, writing: "The operation of a gold mine in the Superstitions by a Peralta family is a contrivance of 20th century writers". A man named Miguel Peralta and his family did in fact operate a successful mine in the 1860s – but near Valencia, California, not in Arizona. The mine was quite profitable, earning about $35,000 in less than one year; Blair describes this as "an unusually good return" for such a small gold mine to earn in such a relatively brief period. As of 1975, ruins of the Peralta mine were standing.
However, the Peralta Mine eventually became unprofitable and after the money was gone Miguel Peralta turned to fraud. Dr. George M. Willing Jr. paid Peralta $20,000 for the mining rights for an enormous swath of land – about 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) in southern Arizona and New Mexico – based on a deed originally granted by the Spanish Empire in the 18th century. Trouble came after Willing learned that the deed was entirely bogus. Despite his efforts, Willing was never able to recover the money he gave to Peralta. These deeds led to the basis of the James Reavis Arizona land swindle.
Blair argues that this Peralta story (well known to Arizona residents) was eventually incorporated in the Lost Dutchman's story, in a severely distorted version, following the renewed interest in the Lost Dutchman's mine in the 1930s.
Another detail which casts doubt on the story is the fact that, according to Blair, there was never any Dr. Thorne in the employ of the Army or indeed of the Federal Government in the 1860s. According to Blair, the origin of this story can be traced to a doctor named Thorne who was in private practice in New Mexico in the 1860s. Thorne claimed that he was taken captive by Navajos in 1854, and that during his captivity he had discovered a rich gold vein. Thorne related his claims to three U.S. soldiers in about 1858. The three soldiers set out to find the gold, but without success. Over the decades, this true tale was gradually absorbed into the Lost Dutchman's story.
This tale involves two German men, Jacob Waltz (or Weitz, Weitzer, Walls, Welz, Walz, et cetera) and Jacob Weiser. However, Blair argues that there is a strong likelihood that there never was a second man named Weiser, but rather that a single person named Waltz (or a variant thereof) was, over the years, turned into two men as the legend of the Dutchman's mine evolved. Blair contends that this story can be divided into "hawk" and "dove" versions, depending on whether the German(s) are said to behave violently or peacefully. In most versions of the tale, Waltz and/or Weiser located a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains (in many versions of the story, they rescue or help a member of the Peralta family and are rewarded by being told the location of the mine). Weiser is attacked and wounded (whether by marauding Apaches or by a greedy Waltz), but survives at least long enough to tell a man called Dr. Walker about the mine. Waltz is also said to make a deathbed confession to Julia Thomas, and draws or describes a crude map to the gold mine.
John D. Wilburn in his book Dutchman's Lost Ledge of Gold (1990), argues that the Bulldog Gold Mine near Goldfield, Arizona, fits very well the description Jacob Waltz gave as the location of his 'lost mine'. Furthermore, Wilburn states that geology indicates that there is no gold in the Superstition Mountains, which are igneous in origin. (However, in some versions, the 'mine' is actually a cache put there by the Peraltas.)
In yet another version of the tale, two (or more) U.S. Army soldiers are said to have discovered a vein of almost pure gold in or near the Superstition Mountains. The soldiers are alleged to have presented some of the gold, but to have been killed or to have vanished soon after.
This account is usually dated to about 1870. According to Blair, the story may have its roots in the efforts of three U.S. soldiers to locate gold in an area of New Mexico, based on an allegedly true story related to them by Dr. Thorne of New Mexico; see above.
Blair cites ample evidence of the historical Jacob Waltz and suggests that there is additional evidence that supports the core elements of the story as related above – that Waltz did in fact claim to have discovered (or at least heard the story of) a rich gold vein or cache. But Blair suggests that this core story was distorted in subsequent retellings, comparing the many variants of the Lost Dutchman's story to the game of Chinese whispers, where the original account is distorted in multiple retellings of the tale.
There was indeed a Jacob Waltz who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany. The earliest documentation of him in the U.S. is an 1848 affidavit in which Waltz declared himself to be "about 38 years old". A man called Jacob Walz was born in September 1810 in Württemberg. Blair suggests that this Waltz could be the same Waltz who later came to be regarded as the legendary Dutchman, and that he Americanized the spelling of his family name.
Waltz relocated to Arizona in the 1860s, and stayed in the state for most of the rest of his life. He pursued mining and prospecting, but seems to have had little luck with either. In 1870, Waltz had a homestead of about 160 acres (0.65 km2) near Phoenix where he operated a farm.
There was a catastrophic flood in Phoenix in 1891, and Waltz's farm was one of many that was devastated. Afterwards, Waltz fell ill (he was rumored to have contracted pneumonia during the flooding). He died on October 25, 1891, after having been nursed by an acquaintance named Julia Thomas (she was usually described as a quadroon).
Blair suggests that there is little doubt that Waltz did in fact relate to Thomas the location of an alleged gold mine. As early as September 1, 1892, The Arizona Enterprise was reporting on the efforts of Thomas and several others to locate the lost mine whose location was told to her by Waltz. After this was unsuccessful, Thomas and her partners were reported to be selling maps to the mine for $7 each.
Were it not for the death of amateur explorer and treasure hunter Adolph Ruth, the story of the Lost Dutchman's mine would probably have been little more than a footnote in Arizona history as one of hundreds of "lost mines" rumored to be in the American West. Ruth disappeared while searching for the mine in the summer of 1931. His skull – with two bullet holes in it – was recovered about six months after he vanished, and the story made national news, thus sparking widespread interest in the Lost Dutchman's mine.
In a story that echoes some of the earlier tales, Ruth's son Erwin C. Ruth was said to have learned of the Peralta mine from a man called Pedro Gonzales (or Gonzalez). According to the story, in about 1912 Erwin C. Ruth gave some legal aid to Gonzales, saving him from almost certain imprisonment; in gratitude, Gonzales told Erwin about the Peralta mine in the Superstition Mountains, even reportedly passing on some antique maps of the site (Gonzales claimed to be descended from the Peralta family on his mother's side). Erwin passed the information to his father Adolph, who had a long-standing interest in lost mines and amateur exploration. In fact, the elder Ruth had fallen and badly broken several bones while seeking the lost Pegleg mine in California; he had metal pins in his leg, and used a cane to help him walk.
In June 1931, Ruth decided to finally try to locate the lost Peralta mine. After traveling to the region, Ruth stayed several days at the ranch of Tex Barkely and prepared for his expedition. Barkely repeatedly urged Ruth to abandon his search for the mine: the treacherous terrain of the Superstition Mountains could be difficult for experienced outdoorsmen, let alone for the 66-year-old Ruth.
However, Ruth ignored Barkely's advice, and set out for a two-week stint in the mountains. Ruth did not return as scheduled, and no trace of him could be found after a brief search. In December, 1931, The Arizona Republic reported on the recent discovery of a human skull in the Superstition Mountains. To determine if the skull was Ruth's, it was examined by Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, a well-respected anthropologist who was also given several photos of Ruth, along with Ruth's dental records. As Curt Gentry writes, "Dr. Hrdlicka positively identified the skull as that of Adolph Ruth. He further stated, after examining the two holes [in the skull], that it appeared that a shotgun or high-powered rifle had been fired through the head at almost point-blank range, making the small hole when the bullet entered and the large hole when it exited".
In January 1932, human remains were discovered about three-quarters of a mile (1.21 km) from where the skull had been found. Though the remains had been scattered by scavengers, they were undoubtedly Ruth's: many of Ruth's personal effects were found at the scene, including a pistol (not missing any shells) and the metal pins used to mend his broken bones. But the map to the Peralta mine was said to be missing.
Tantalizingly, Ruth's checkbook was also recovered, and proved to contain a note written by Ruth wherein he claimed to have discovered the mine and gave detailed directions. Ruth ended his note with the phrase "Veni, vidi, vici."
Authorities in Arizona did not convene a criminal inquest regarding Ruth's death. They argued that Ruth had probably succumbed to thirst or heart disease (though, as Gentry writes, "[o]ne official went so far as to suggest that [Adolph Ruth] might have committed suicide ... While this theory did not ignore the two holes in the skull, it did fail to explain how Ruth had managed to remove and bury the empty shell, then reload his gun, after shooting himself through the head". Blair notes that the conclusion of the Arizona authorities was rejected by many, including Ruth's family, and also by "those who held onto the more romantic murdered-for-the-map story".
Blair writes that "the national wire services picked up the story [of Ruth's death] and ran it for more than it was worth", possibly seeing the mysterious story as a welcome reprieve from the bleak news that was otherwise typical of the Great Depression.
Since Ruth's death, there have been several other allegedly mysterious deaths or encounters in the Superstition Mountains, but it's unclear how many of these can be regarded as reliably reported. Other searchers for the mine have disappeared in what have been reported as likely wilderness accidents.
In 1977 12 acres (49,000 m2) abutting the Tonto National Forest were set aside as the Lost Dutchman State Park. It is easily accessible from Phoenix. Hiking and camping are popular activities. There are several paths that go through the brush and cacti. The short Discovery Trail is a clear route with several placards giving the natural history of the area. Serious gold prospecting is not allowed.