Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Superstition Mountains Dutchman’s Gold – Fact, Myth, Legend or Pure Fiction?

For us the story began with a visit to Saguaro Lake about 30 miles east of Phoenix where we embarked on a 90 minute paddle boat cruise aboard the Desert Belle, expertly and entertainingly under the command of Captain Jake.

Saguaro Lake an integral part the Tonto National Forest, located in the Superstition Mountain Range is truly one of the Valley’s hidden treasures where we experienced the magnificence of the desert beauty, natural wildlife including birds of prey soaring high on the desert thermals, spectacular flora and fauna, with the unbelievable Saguaro taking place of pride. All while we were navigating the pristine Sonoran desert canyons of the spectacular Saguaro Lake.

The highlight of our cruise was a story related by Captain Jake…in response to a question from an Irishwoman, no less! Guess who?

To the best of my recollection the tale goes something like this…

In return for noble services above and beyond the King of Spain conferred a land grant to a soldier named Peralta in the 17th century – this grant included parts of what is now New Mexico and Arizona and measured 300 miles by 100 miles, including the mountain range now called Superstition Mountains.

In the 19th century the fledgling United States decreed a principle of “use it or lose it” in regards to old land grants. The Peralta family dispatched two sons from Santa Fe, New Mexico, together with their wives and children, to Arizona to lay claim to and preserve their ownership rights in Arizona. Having lived harmoniously with the Native Americans in New Mexico for a few centuries the Peralta party sought out the Apache’s and befriended them. After some years living in close proximity with the Apache’s the Peralta’s received a substantial gift of the purest gold and learned from them the location of its source.

Shortly afterwards the Peralta’s decided to return to New Mexico to share their good fortune with the extended family, but first they had to travel west to buy provisions for the trip; unfortunately, they used the gold to pay. Unscrupulous townspeople provided the Apache’s with whisky, guns and ammunition and convinced them (in their inebriated state) that the Peralta’s were their sworn enemies. A few days later the Apache’s overtook and killed the Peralta adults sparing, as was their custom the children.    

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 being escorted, again, blindfolded from the site by the Apaches. Thorne is said to have been either unwilling or unable to relocate the mine.
In the 1860’s Jacob Waltz (the Dutchman) first appeared on the scene Waltz was in fact German not Dutch. When answering questions as to where he came from he answered Deutschland and thereafter was mistakenly called the Dutchman. The tale soon takes an interesting twist as a second German by the name of Jacob Weiser appears.

However, historians, most notably a gentleman called Blair argue that there is a strong likelihood that there never was a second man named Weiser, but rather that a single person named Waltz was, over the years, turned into two men as the legend of the Dutchman mine evolved. Blair also contends that this story can be divided into "hawk" and "dove" versions, depending on if 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 save or aid a member of the Peralta family, and are rewarded by being told the location of the mine). Later Waltz and Weiser are apparently attacked by marauding Apaches. Waltz who reported that he was wounded and unconscious recovered to discover that Wisner has been shot between the eyes and beheaded.

Subsequently, this has become the stuff of legend; to this day some people believe that an elite band of Apache’s jealously guard the mine by killing (yes, shot between the eyes) and beheading intruders. Blair however dismisses this story as similar to the game of Chinese Whispers, where the original account is distorted in multiple retellings of the tale.
What is known however, is that Waltz did arrive in 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 near Phoenix where he operated a farm.

In 1891 there was a catastrophic flood in Phoenix and Waltz's farm was one of many that were devastated. Afterwards, Waltz fell ill (he was rumored to have contracted pneumonia during the flood). He died on October 25, 1891, after having been nursed by an acquaintance named Julia Thomas (she was usually described as a quadroon).
Waltz is also said to have made a deathbed confession about Weiser to Julia Thomas when he drew or described a crude map to the gold mine.

There is little doubt that Waltz did in fact relate to Thomas the location of the alleged gold mine as on September 1, 1892 The Arizona Enterprise reported 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 have likely 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 (reminiscent of Weiser) – was recovered about half a year 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. 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 Lost Dutchman's (Peralta) mine in the Superstition Mountains, even reportedly passing on some antique maps of the site. 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 mine. After traveling to the region, Ruth stayed several days at the ranch of a 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 semi-lame, 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 discovery of a human skull in the Superstition Mountains. To determine if the skull was Ruth's, it was examined by a Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, a well-respected anthropologist who was also given several photos of Ruth, along with Ruth's dental records. 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.

In January 1932, human remains were discovered about three-quarters of a mile 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 where 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 likely succumbed to thirst or heart disease although one 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 noted that the conclusion of 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 wrote 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 is unclear how many of these can be regarded as reliably reported. Other searchers for the mine have disappeared in what have been reported as wilderness accidents.

In the mid-1940s, the headless remains of prospector James A. Cravey were reportedly discovered in the Superstition Mountains. He had allegedly disappeared after setting out to find the Lost Dutchman's mine.
In his 1945 book about the Lost Dutchman's mine, Barry Storm claimed to have narrowly escaped from a mysterious sniper he dubbed "Mr. X". Storm further speculated that Adolph Ruth might have been a victim of the same sniper.

In late November or early December 2009, Denver, Colorado resident Jesse Capen (35) went missing in the Tonto National Forest. His campsite was found abandoned, but he was not located. He was known to have been interested in the mine for years and had made previous trips to the area.
On July 11, 2010 Utah hikers Curtis Merworth (49), Ardean Charles (66) and Malcolm Meeks (41) went missing in the Superstition Mountains looking for the mine. Merworth had become lost in the same area in 2009, requiring a rescue. On July 19, the Maricopa county Sheriff's department called off the search for the lost men.

In January 2011, three sets of remains believed to be those of the lost men were recovered. They were presumed to have died in the summer heat.
Irrespective of the potential danger and despite the myth or legend, many people continue to search for the Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine.

So…is the story myth, legend or pure fiction?

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