In the desolate wasteland of Arizona’s Superstition Mountains the remnants of an ancient volcano towers high above the barren landscape – a bright, shining beacon to prospectors and treasure hunters from around the world.
It’s called Weaver’s Needle, and for more than 120 years fortune seekers have been inexorably dawn to this ancient spire which, according to legend, holds the key to the richest and most famous treasures in the history of the American West… The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.
In the last 120 years since it began, the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine has been told and retold hundreds of times, morphing with each generation. There are now so many variations on the legend that it’s hard to know what’s fact and what is just the embellishment of some turn of the century newspaper reporter.
The one constant in all the variations seems to be Weavers Needle. All the Dutchman’s clues seem to focus around this rocky spire, and the search for treasure usually begins there.
Most experts agree that the mine, if it exists at all, will eventually be found in the dry, twisted tangle of canyons that surround the superstition mountains. So it’s there we will begin…
The Superstition Mountain Range covers approximately 160,000 acres of desolate, rugged terrain forty miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.
The story of gold in the Superstitions dates back centuries, and interestingly, has it’s roots tangled with another famous treasure Tale – The search for Cibola – also known as “The Seven Golden Cities of Gold”.
In 1540, trying to repeat the enormous success of his predecessors Francisco Pizarro, and Hernan Cortez, a Conquistador by the name of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came north from Mexico, bisecting Arizona in a quixotic quest for the fabled lost cities of gold.
Coronado’s expedition passed near the Superstitions and learns from the local Apache indians that the mountains are considered sacred by the tribe. The indians tell the Spaniards that if they dare trespass on the sacred ground their Thunder God would take revenge upon them, causing tremendous suffering and horrible deaths.
The Spaniards may have heeded the warning and passed right on through the desolate terrain which the indians called the “Devil’s Playground,” but one of the Apaches mentions that the mountains also happenes to hold rich deposits of gold bearing ore.
That was all the Spaniards needed to hear. They immediately began exploring the mountains. According to legend it didn’t take long for them to find the gold deposits. But their elation was short lived.
Men began to mysteriously vanish. Orders were given to never stray more than a few feet away from the rest of the group. Still, more men disappeared only to be found later, their bodies mutilated and their heads cut from their bodies.
Eventually the conquistadors fled, refusing to return to the mountain, which they dubbed Monte Superstition – “Superstition Mountain”.
Two centuries later, In 1748, the Superstitions, as well as 3,750 square miles of what is now Arizona, were given to Mexican cattle-baron, Don Miguel Peralta of Sonora, in a land grant.
Peralta, perhaps using information passed down by survivors of the Coronado expedition, discovered a rich mine and soon he was shipping millions of pesos in pure gold back to Sonora.
During the next century the Peralta family and their laborers would make periodic forays into Arizona, bringing out rich loads of ore. However, aware of the Apaches’ mounting displeasure, they kept these mining trips to a minimum, not wanting to risk the wrath of the Apaches.
In 1847, with the Mexican War in full swing it looked as if Arizona might soon became part of the United States, so one of Don Miguel Peraltas descendants; Pedro, led a contingent of 400 men to the Superstition Mountains. The Spanish miners attacked the mountain with a rabid gold fever, hoping to extract as much gold as possible before the mine was lost to the Americans.
This blatant desecration of the Apaches sacred mountain angered the indians like never before and they began raising a large force to drive Pedro Peralta and his men from the area.
Peralta got word of the impending attack and withdrew his men from the mine. He packed up his mules and wagons with the gold they had mined in preparation for the journey back to Mexico. Because Pedro hoped to return someday, he took elaborate precautions to conceal the entrance to the mine and to wipe out any trace that they had ever worked there.
Early the next day, he assembled his men and headed for home…. but they never made it.
The Apaches struck without mercy, and in what turned out to be one of the bloodiest massacres in Arizona history, Pedro Peralta and his party of four hundred Spanish miners were ambushed and wiped out at a place now known as Massacre Ground on the northwest slope of the mountain. Only one man survived.
The pack mules were scattered in all directions, spilling the gold and taking it with them as they plunged over cliffs and into ravines. For years after, prospectors and soldiers discovered the remains of the burros and the rotted leather packs that were still brimming with raw gold.
In the 1850’s, two prospectors are said to have come upon three dead burros with intact pack saddles that contained some $37,000 worth of gold.
The last case of anyone finding the bones of a Peralta mule was in 1914. A man named C.H. Silverlocke showed up in Phoenix one day with a few scraps of badly decayed leather, some pieces of Spanish saddle silver and about $18,000 in gold concentrate.
This lone survivor of the massacre eventually reached Mexico with a map to the Peralta Mine, but by then Arizona had become part of the United States; none of the remaining Peralta heirs ever dared venture back to Arizona to find the mine. Eventually the map was forgotten, the survivor died of old age and the location of The Peralta’s Mine was lost.
Legend of the Dutchman
Alleged photo of Jacob Walz
According to the legend, sometime during the 1870s a German miner named Jacob Walz (sometimes Waltz) arrived in Phoenix, his saddlebags brimming with rich gold ore; he drank heavily, spent money lavishly and bragged freely about his great gold find which he stated was “the richest gold mine ever”. He quickly earned the nickname “The Dutchman” as many Americans at the time confused the Germans with the Dutch.
Walz steadfastly refused to reveal his mines exact location but implied that it was somewhere in the Superstition Mountains – so naturally, many people believed he had found the Fabled Peralta Mine.
On many occasions, men tried to follow Walz when he left town, but Walz would always shake his pursuers in the rugged region around the superstition mountain. Long periods would go by when no one would see him and then he would show up in Phoenix again, buying drinks with gold nuggets the size of a man’s fist.
There have been a number of theories about how Walz found the “lost” mine. According to some, he stumbled upon it by accident. Others conjecture that Walz obtained the location of the mine from his young Apache mistress, Ken-tee or that Walz was given a map to the mine by a Mexican Don whose life he saved in a knife fight..
Whatever the truth may be, it was said that Walz had the richest gold ore that anyone in Phoenix had ever seen, and for the next twenty years, he would sneak back and forth to his secret mine, always bringing back saddlebags filled with gold.
Then, In the Spring of 1891, Waltz’s homestead was caught in a flood. He was saved from certain death by two brothers named Herman and Reinhardt Petrasch. Having contracted pneumonia, Walz was taken in by an African-American woman named Julia Thomas, who tried valiantly to nurse him back to health.
Through the summer Walz lingered in a wasted condition, giving clues to Julia, and the Petrasch brothers about the mine’s location:
- He had to climb above his mine in order to see Weaver’s Needle to the south.
- He could see the Military Trail from his mine, but he could not see the mine from the Military Trail.
- In order to reach the mine, he had to crawl through a hole.
- Below his mine one mile is a rock with a natural face looking east.
- The setting sun would shine on his gold.
- Above the mine is a peak.
- He hid his mine with a juniper.
- His mine is located where no other miner would think to look for it.
- There is an unfinished stone house a short distance back from the western end.
- The terrain around the mine is very rough, and he could be right in the mine without seeing it.
- Close by is a juniper with one limb which points away from the Weaver’s Needle.
- The mine contained an eighteen-inch vein of rose quartz studded with gold nuggets and another vein of hematite quartz about one-third gold.
- The mine is near a hideout cave.
But, Walz’s condition slowly worsening; he suffered a stroke and was paralyzed to the point where he could barely speak. Directions become more vague as he slipped in and out of consciousness – “The mine lay where the tip of the needle’s shadow rested at four o’clock”, and “sometimes the setting sun illuminates the gold so that it can be seen glittering through a mountain pass”.
Undaunted by the cryptic clues, Julia and the Petrasche brothers made an expedition into the Superstitions that summer, Julia, an ice-cream shop owner, invested everything she had into the treasure hunt, but they returned penniless. Julie never attempted to return to the Superstition Mountains again.
Jacob Walz finally died on October 25, 1891 at the age of 81, and the secret of the mine’s location went with him to the grave. The legend continued to grow and soon the mine was referred to as “The Lost Dutchman”.
The Hunt For the Lost Dutchman’s Gold
The lost Dutchman is possibly the most sought after Lost Treasure in all the world. The main reason being that, Unlike most lost treasures, the Dutchman is relatively accessible. The Superstition Mountains are only forty miles east of Phoenix, Arizona and there are plenty of Hotels and Campgrounds in the area; there’s even a state park at the outskirts of the Superstitions where you can establish your base camp. The Park is aptly named Lost Dutchman State Park.
But don’t let this fool you. The Superstitions are a very dangerous place. Conditions can be harsh in this rugged terrain. Temperatures during the day can easily climb to more than 100 degrees and at higher elevations can drop into the freezing temperatures at night.
Searchers should never enter the wilderness area by themselves, should take plenty of water, and pack lightly in order not to overexert themselves.
But if you decide to go looking for the Lost Dutchman, sunburn and dehydration could be the least of your worries.
Headless in Arizona
Since Jacob Walz’s death dozens of prospectors and treasure hunters have lost their lives in pursuit of this elusive treasure lending credence to the old Apache curse. As curses go this one is pretty darn potent; In the past 120 years more than thirty people have lost their lives in violent, grizzly ways while searching for the Dutchman’s gold.
When news of Ruth’s grizzly murder came out, the headlines were sensational, alleging that Ruth had located the mine and been murdered for his map. This theory rested largely on a notebook found among Ruth’s bones which contained the Latin words once spoken by a triumphant Julius Caesar “Veni, Vidi, Vici” – “I came, I saw, I conquered”.
Possibly the most famous victim of the Curse of the Superstitions was Adolph Ruth, a Washington D.C. veterinarian and avid treasure hunter who went missing in the superstitions in October of 1931.
Several months later his decapitated, bullet-ridden Skull was found in the desert by a group of archeologists. Two months after that the treasure hunter’s body turned up several miles away.
If you’re the morbid type you can peruse a comprehensive list of deaths associated with the treasure in my “Lost Dutchman’s Death Roll.”
Is this Treasure Real?
Does the Lost Dutchman Mine really even exist, or is it nothing more than a “tall tale” perpetuated throughout the years? Some scientists say that the Superstition Mountains don’t contain the type of mineral deposits that produces gold. So, if any of the earlier tales of gold finds are true, where did it come from?
Some historians believe that any gold found in this rugged terrain was probably brought from somewhere else and hidden there – some believe it may even have been the fabled Lost Treasure of Montezuma.
But that’s a different story…