Legend has it that somewhere deep within the Superstition Mountains of Arizona lies the most famous lost gold mine in North American history—the Lost Dutchman Mine. Believers estimate its worth to be around 200 million dollars. They claim that veins of pure gold run through the rock, glittering in the light of the setting sun. Tales of this lost treasure have lured many into the treacherous terrain of the Superstitions, obsession has pushed some to the brink of madness. Since the turn of the 20th century, thousands of people have scoured the mountains in search of it, hundreds have lost their lives in the process, but not one has returned with an ounce of gold.
JACOB WALTZ, THE DUTCHMAN HIMSELF
Arizona territory, late 1800s. The tail end of the Gold Rush. Phoenix was nothing more than a glorified mining camp. An old prospector named Jacob Waltz was homesteading on the banks of the Salt River. He got his hands on a map to an abandoned mine that had once belonged to one of Mexico’s largest mining families, the Peraltas. How he came across this map varies from story to story. In our favorite, Waltz saved a man’s life in a bar brawl in Sonora. The man turned out to be Don Miguel Peralta, and in thanks, he gave Waltz a map to his family’s richest gold mine. The catch: the mine was located in the Superstition Mountains, deep in the heart of Apache territory. At the time, a trip like this could mean certain death. The Apaches had killed the last mining party that the Peraltas had sent out in the bloodiest massacre in Arizona history. The spot where it happened still bears the name “Massacre Grounds.” Like a true treasure hunter, Waltz was undeterred. He enlisted the help of his friend, fellow prospector Jacob Weiser, and the two set out to find the mine. A couple of weeks later, Waltz emerged from the mountains with a sack full of gold ore…alone. He claimed that the Apaches had killed Weiser, but people couldn’t shake the thought that Waltz had turned on his partner, murdered him for the gold. Because the ore that Waltz brought back with him was the richest that anyone had ever seen in those parts. From then on, every winter Waltz would trek into those mountains for months at time. When he came back into town, he’d pay for everything in gold. Waltz was so secretive about the location of his mine that he never even filed a claim. On his deathbed in 1891, Waltz drew a map to his mine and gave it to Julia Thomas, the woman who was caring for him. He told her that he’d hidden the entrance so well that a person could be standing right in front of it and wouldn’t even know it was there. He also gave her a set of clues to help her in her search. After Waltz’s death, Thomas went out into the mountains time and time again, but she never found the mine. And so a legend was born.
THE DUTCHMAN CURSE
Is the Lost Dutchman Mine cursed? Adolph Ruth might think so if he were alive today. Ruth was a Dutch hunter who got a hold of a Peralta map and went into the mountains looking for the mine in the summer of 1931. He never came out. His skull was found six months later. The remains of his body weren’t discovered until January of 1932, about three quarters of a mile from the skull. His personal effects were also found at the scene. Among them was a journal in which he’d written that he’d found the mine. He included detailed directions, along with the words “Veni, vedi, vici.” The Peralta map was gone.
James Cravey was another prospector who disappeared in the mountains in June of 1947. His headless remains were found almost a year later. In February of 1951, John Burns, a doctor from Oregon, was found shot to death on Superstition Mountain. In 1952, two teenagers from California hiked into the mountains and never came back. In the spring of 1958, three hikers came across an a deserted campsite on the northern edge of the mountain. They found a bloodstained blanket, a gun-cleaning kit but no gun, and a few letters. The names and addresses had been ripped off. No sign of the camp’s inhabitant was ever found. In the early ‘90s, two college friends hiked out into the mountains to search for the mine, and one ended up murdering the other. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. All in all, it’s estimated that over five hundred people have died or disappeared in those mountains since Jacob Waltz left Julia Thomas his map in 1891. So is it cursed? You decide.
THE PECULIAR HISTORY OF THE SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS
Long before prospectors came to town digging for gold, indigenous tribes knew the Superstitions as the sacred setting of their creation myths. In the Hopi story of the Emergence, the first humans came up from the underground city of Palatkwapi through hidden portals deep within the mountains called sipapus. From here they entered the Fourth World, the world in which we all live today. The Pima have a story about a man and his wife who withstood a great flood by building an ark which deposited them right on top of Superstition Mountain. They also believe that an evil spirit lurks behind its peaks. The Apache referred to the mountains as the Devil’s Playground. Their Thunder God lived inside, and anyone who disrespected him by trespassing on his land was surely doomed.
Ask around today and locals will tell you stories about strange lights hovering in the sky above the mountains that disappear in an instant. They’ll talk about energy vortexes that take your breath away and pull on your body, making it feel like it’s made out of lead. Supposedly there are portals out there that can move from one place to another and make it possible for people to experience time and dimensional shifts. Around the solstices and equinoxes, people have seen swirling dense black shapes that pass right through them. Some will tell you about a series of secret underground tunnels running beneath the mountain. Others will point to the old military trail that supposedly runs right by old Jake’s mine and talk about a government conspiracy of the highest order. Spend enough time out there, and even the most skeptical among us will come to believe that there is something going on in those mountains.
For more information on unexplained phenomena in the Superstition Mountains, please visit www.smaparc.org.