February 2013

The Lost Dutchman gold mine: legend or fact?

By Donna Alice Patton

Weaver’s Needle at sunrise | Photo: Eric Aldrich

For hundreds of years, tales of the Lost Dutchman gold mine have lured treasure seekers to the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix, Arizona. Although the whereabouts of the mine remain shrouded in mystery today, a wealth of history surrounds it.

The Apache were among the first to discover gold in the Superstitions. When Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino arrived to explore the land early in the 1700s, he heard talk of a secret canyon with a vein of gold so large it could be shovelled out by the spade-full. Kino’s advice to the Apache was to keep the treasure hidden to avoid a gold rush that could disturb their way of life and infringe on territory they considered sacred. But the story spread, and when fortune seekers came, intent on plundering the canyon’s riches, the Apache became hostile. The mountains were home to the Apache Thunder God and had to be protected at any cost. The Apache preyed on trespassers and, as a result, few dared to antagonize them.

Mexican cattle baron Don Miguel Peralta owned the Sombrero mine near Weaver’s Needle, a 1,000-foot-high column of rock located in the Superstitions. Every few years, he led an expedition to mine the gold ore. Peralta held great respect for Apache war parties and tried to avoid them, but around 1748, his party was seized. Estimates say over 400 of Peralta’s workers were massacred at a site now known as Massacre Canyon. Only two of Peralta’s descendants are believed to have survived and neither dared venture back into the mountains.

In the late-1800s, one of Peralta’s sons, Don Miguel II, crossed paths with Jacob Waltz, a chance encounter that would provide the next chapter of the Lost Dutchman mine’s legend. Waltz, a German immigrant nicknamed the Dutchman, would become the first person to seriously exploit the Sombrero mine. He had been prospecting for an elusive mother lode for 20 years and, in 1868, started a homestead in the Salt River Valley, in the northern Superstitions.

According to Curt Gentry, author of The Killer Mountains, Waltz and his prospecting partner, Jacob Wiser, saved Don Miguel II Peralta during a fight and tended to his wounds. In thanks, Peralta struck a deal: if the two men would share the riches with his family, he would grant them temporary ownership of the Sombrero mine. Waltz and Wiser agreed. Following Peralta’s map, they located the mine easily. For months they mined ore, burying each day’s hoard in a cache near their base camp. Then tragedy struck. Having re­turned to camp after buying supplies, Waltz found Wiser’s body roasting over their campfire – Apache fashion.

Waltz mined a considerable fortune from Sombrero, which came to be considered his own. People claimed Waltz knew the Superstitions like they were his own backyard. Known as one of the most desolate and forbidding areas on the North American continent, the land with few roads, no water and scant shelter from the smothering heat was easily traversed by Waltz. The greedy who tried to follow him were hopelessly lost among poisonous rattlesnakes and scorpions.

In the summer of 1891, Waltz was trapped when his homestead flooded and he caught pneumonia. Near death, he crawled to the home of a friend, Julia Thomas, where he died before he could draw a map to the mine. Waltz left behind only feverish, mysterious mumblings about the mine’s location. After his death, the mine became known as the Lost Dutchman gold mine.

Researchers believe the mine is located in a designated wilderness area known as Apache Junction, where mining is prohibited.

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