Excerpt from Arizona Adventure by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.
Arizona’s most notorious lost treasure story for both believers and otherwise takes place in the mysterious Superstition Mountains.
History of the Lost Dutchman Mine
The rugged range of mountains east of the Salt River Valley encompasses some of the most breathtaking, untouched wilderness recesses in America. There is also an aura of mystical beauty that can possess the soul. They are regarded as religious shrines by both the Pimas and Apaches. They provided the setting for much bloody violence between those warring tribes before the coming of the white man. During the latter part of the 19th century, the mountains became a formidable sanctuary and one of the last vestiges of the Apaches who refused to become reservation Indians. They used the twisting canyons and impenetrable maze of rocks, defying sustained efforts by the military, for over twenty years.
Closing of the frontier in the 20th century has not lessened the violence of the mountains. People still get lost and perish in the vast wilderness. Occasionally gun play between treasure seekers occurs. The Superstitions, it is said, can take a normal, peaceable individual and turn him into a gun toting crazy, once he comes under its mystical spell.
Now a few well-educated, reasonably sane friends of this writer have attested to the fact that they never ride into those mountains without going well-armed, prepared for close encounters with the worst kind of humanity who are reputed to inhabit the region. They also admit to becoming a little crazy themselves upon entering the Superstitions.
As is usually the case, most people going into the mountains regard everybody else crazy and violent, so they arm themselves for self-protection. Since everybody in the area is armed and considers himself the only sane person in the mountains, there is bound to be some suspicion when two people meet along the trail. One innocuous word or gesture could be taken by the other as a prelude to violence and the fun begins.
What brings out this craziness? Most would suggest it is the frenzied quest for fabled Lost Dutchman Mine.
Why has this particular lost mine captured the imagination of so many? The mysterious mountains themselves provide the Dutchman Mine with the ideal location to hide a lost treasure. Its convenient location to a large metropolitan area is one reason. It’s one of the few places where the part-time treasure-seeker can escape from the concrete, glass and steel jungle and for a brief period relive those dreams we all share at one time or another—that of locating some fabulous cache of riches. For we are, in the immortal words of Texas folklorist, J. Frank Dobie, “Coronado’s children.”
The legend itself has all the basic ingredients of the consummate lost treasure tale—deathbed ruminations by an enigmatic prospector, then embellished and improved versions, fruitless searches, a ballad or two, and that important ingredient—violence. All contribute to make the Lost Dutchman one of America’s most enduring legends.
Paradoxically, the old Dutchman, Jacob Waltz would be surprised and bemused by all the notoriety since his death in 1891.
He seems to have lived a very nondescript life, arriving in America from Germany about 1840, to Arizona in the early 1860s and to Phoenix in 1868. He was one of the Valley’s first settlers. Earlier, he prospected around Prescott and Crown King, but his name does not appear on any claim after 1865. There was no reference to a claim or mine by Waltz in the Superstitions during his lifetime. Contrary to stories of hoarded gold, he lived out his final years on his homestead at Henshaw Road (Buckeye Road) and 7th Street in poverty. He literally sold himself into peonage by deeding his property to a neighbor in exchange for that neighbor’s taking care of him for the rest of his natural life. His only spoken words regarding a treasure are handed down from people who befriended him during his last days, like Julia Thomas, a young lady who owned a confectionery store, and Rhinehart Petrasch, a neighbor.
The disastrous flood in Phoenix during February, 1891, was Waltz’s final undoing. His homestead was inundated and the old man suffered from exposure. He contacted pneumonia and died several months later. During those last days he is supposed to have told Mrs. Thomas about his hoard of gold in the Superstitions.
Soon after Waltz died, she and Rinney Petrasch, along with his brother Hermann, ventured into the mountains to search in vain for old Jacob’s gold. Had it not been for the brief publicity generated by Mrs. Thomas and the Petrasch brothers, the legend of the Lost Dutchman mine might have died then and there. It would remain for the yarn spinners and tall tale tellers to embellish the legend.
Julia Thomas hocked her small business to grubstake the expedition. She would not be the last modern-day argonaut to make that mistake. She did reap some profit from the venture, however. The resourceful Julia sold the first of a long line of treasure maps for seven dollars each, or whatever the market would bear, for several years, thereby distinguishing herself as one of the few who made a few bucks for her trouble. Another was author Oren Arnold, who was also one of the founding members of the Don’s Club, a group of hard working history buffs. Arnold happily laid claim to finding riches beyond his wildest dreams by sitting down at his typewriter for a couple of hours and writing a popular pamphlet on the elusive Lost Dutchman.
Theories About the Lost Dutchman Gold
There are usually four theories surrounding old Jake’s mine or cache of gold. Some say he highgraded ore out of the Vulture near Wickenburg, then circled across to the Superstitions. However, Waltz’s name does not appear on any records nor does he seem to have spent any time around the Vulture mine.
Another theory is that he found a hidden cache of processed gold left by Jesuit priests prior to their expulsion in 1767. Most historians agree, however, the Jesuits could not possibly have hidden any gold in the Superstitions.
A likely theory, if Jake Waltz did have a cache of gold, was that he found it west of the Superstitions at Goldfield. It is a fact that a large amount of the yellow metal was taken out of the Mammoth Mine and others in 1893. Another possibility was east of the mountains. The fabulous Silver King near Superior mined some $19 million in its heyday, so the region was certainly not devoid of mineral; but the area where most treasure seekers congregated, Weaver’s Needle, does not appear to be mineral-bearing.
Unfortunately old Jake died, lonely, forgotten, obscure, pitiful and broke. In spite of all this, the legend continued to grow.
The fourth theory concerns the fictitious Peralta Mine.
The story took on an Hispanic flavor around the turn of the century, when it was said Mexican gambusinos had worked the area prior to the U.S. acquiring it with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. The story was told that a Mexican gentleman had befriended Jacob Waltz and his partner Jacob Weiser (there seems to be no evidence of there ever being a Jacob Weiser) in Sonora, and agreed to take them to the mine in the Superstitions called the Las Minas Sombreras. After taking some gold, the Mexican returned to Sonora and soon after, Weiser, according to one version, was killed by Apaches, in another, by Waltz. During these tellings, the character of Waltz transforms into that of a sinister, steely-eyed reprobate who ambushed those who tried to follow. In reality, old Jake was incapable of the violent nature attributed to him by myth makers.
Around 1930, the name of this “mysterious Mexican” materialized into that of Don Miguel Peralta. The Peralta name is rich in the annals of Southwest history and gave credence to the legend. The great Peralta Land Grant swindle was still fresh in the minds of most Arizonans, although the huge grant had been conjured up in the fertile mind of a con man and would-be Baron of Arizona named James Addison Reavis and had been proven a fraud, many people still believed in a Peralta land grant. This seems to have enabled yarn spinners the opportunity to incorporate the name Peralta into the legend.
In reality, there was a Don Miguel Peralta. He traveled from Mexico to California during the gold rush and thence to Arizona where he hoped to hit paydirt. He and his party were not ambushed and massacred in the Superstitions by Apaches. The Peralta Mine was located in Yavapai County’s Black Canyon, near Bumble Bee. Apparently it was moved to the Superstitions later for convenience.
Still, the Lost Dutchman would be just another obscure legend had it not been for Dr. Adolph Ruth, a crippled, old, amateur treasure-seeker who ambled into the Superstitions in 1931. Dr. Ruth carried with him a map giving the location of the Peralta’s Las Minas Sombreras. When Ruth failed to reappear from his sojourn, a search party went looking but could find no trace. Several months later, Ruth’s skeleton was located. The skull appeared to have been perforated by a bullet. He was killed for his secret map, the yarnspinners said, and a whole new generation of treasure-seekers joined in the search.
A full-scale feud broke out around Weavers Needle between a friendly old cuss named Ed Piper and a good-natured lady named Celeste Marie Jones. Both were seeking the mythical Lost Jesuit treasure and that is what created the contention. Celeste, a black woman, reputed to be an ex-opera singer, carried a sawed off .30-06 and a pistol strapped to her hip. Piper went similarly armed. Neither seemed capable of violence; however, both hired an assortment of baleful bodyguards and they were catalyst for what followed.
A saloon in Apache Junction joined in the fun, hanging recruiting poster sign-up sheets on the walls for each army. The frivolity ended when real violence broke out among the hirelings and three people died violently.
The feud ended when Piper died of natural causes in 1962 and Ms. Jones abandoned her claim for parts unknown.
These stories and others have continued to perpetuate the legends of the Superstitions and the Dutchman’s gold.
While historians and some writers refute the existence of the Lost Dutchman and the stories of buried treasure in the Thunder God’s Mountains, the legends live on and the Dutchman hunters still persist.
The entire matter was summed up three centuries ago, when a Spanish chronicler noted wryly, “Granted they did not find the gold, at least they found a place in which to search.”
You ask me—does the Lost Dutchman exist? Is there a treasure in those Superstitions Mountains? You bet there is a Lost Dutchman. It lives, if only in the minds of those who choose to believe. And that is their privilege and right. A treasure in that magnificent theatre of nature? Yessir—it’s called “being there.”