It has all the elements that go into a fascinating mystery—lost treasure, unexplained death, and a cast of interesting characters. I’ve spent the last couple of days immersed in an exploration of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine—tucked somewhere amid the Superstition Mountains in southern Arizona—and lived to tell about it.
Mine was a virtual exploration—research for a story—so I didn’t have to battle heat waves or rattlesnakes, but the steep deadline darn near killed me! I turned the story in with about 60 seconds to spare, making for a very exciting race against the clock. While the published story won’t appear for some time yet, I thought I’d share a little of what I learned on my research adventure with interested readers.
I come by it honestly
I grew up in Tucson, not all that far from the Superstition Mountains. There was a theme park, based on local folklore, called Legend City just outside of Phoenix that featured a ride inspired by the legend of the Lost Dutchman.
My family visited the park when I was a toddler and while standing in line for one of the kiddie boat rides, I somehow got loose from my parents. Looking for someplace to cool off, I broke through the barrier to splash around by myself in the refreshing water, evading capture by the bigger folk and providing some entertainment for the crowd.
It’s a funny family story, but imagine my surprise when I returned to Legend City as a grade school student on a tour of some of the attractions and heard the guide tell the story of the little girl who broke through the fence to paddle in the water and amuse the guests.
I, myself, had become a legend at Legend City!
The Superstition Mountains
The mountains, located east of Phoenix, are honeycombed with caves and cliff-dwellings, enigmatic evidences of past peoples and cultures. That, in itself, contains enough mystery to fire my imagination in all sorts of directions. But overlay that inspiring terrain with local legend, and I could write a shelf full of books on the subject, given enough time.
My father was fascinated by the Lost Dutchman legend. I heard about it often during my childhood and have always been attracted by the mystic sound of it and the allure of hidden treasure. So, I thoroughly enjoyed researching this story. Here are a few choice bits from the trove I uncovered.
The Massacre Grounds
No one knows precisely who built the cliff-dwellings. A whole string of different cultures populated the area over the centuries, but it became an Apache stronghold by the 1800’s. The Peralta family, out of northern Mexico, developed a mine in the mountains, carrying a lot of rich ore across the border. On one such trip, they were attacked by Apache on what is now known as the Massacre Grounds. The entire party was killed, except for a few who escaped back to Mexico.
Since that time, a number of people have claimed to know the location of the Peralta mine and dozens of maps have turned up with directions to the mine. But those who professed to have been there either couldn’t find it again or died before they could make the attempt. And maps disappeared before they could be put to the test.
The Lost Dutchman
In 1870, Jacob Waltz—a German nicknamed the Dutchman—was said to have found the mine by appealing to a descendant of the Peralta family. The story goes that he and his partner, Jacob Weiser, worked the mine and hid a large quantity of gold in one or more caches in the mountains. During another Apache attack, Jacob Weiser was fatally wounded, leaving Waltz as the sole survivor to the secret of the mine.
Years later, on his own deathbed, Waltz told the woman who nursed him to look in a box under his bed. She found a lot of rich gold ore. Waltz said he’d been living off it for years and there was enough left in the mine to make millionaires out of twenty men. In his last moments, he told her how to find the mine.
The woman’s name was Julia Thomas. She sold everything she had to provision an expedition into the Superstitions. Teaming up with a pair of brothers, she scoured the mountains, following the instructions given by the dying miner. But to no avail. After fruitless weeks in the scorching Arizona sun, she admitted defeat and returned to Phoenix, destitute.
The two brothers quarreled and parted, never speaking to each other again. Each, in his own way, spent the rest of his life hunting for that mine. Thousands of hopeful seekers of treasure have combed the mountains, following some notion of how to find the mine or one of Waltz’s hidden caches. If any have found it, they’ve kept the secret to themselves.
I struck it rich
Treasure galore resides in the Superstition Mountains and in the legends surrounding them, just waiting to be dug up. I ended up buying several books and watching some documentaries devoted to this intriguing subject. As a writer, I have to be careful when researching not to get sucked down the wormhole. It’s tempting to spend a whole lot of time learning more about highly interesting topics, but I’ve got to tear myself away and get the work done.
So now I’ve written one story based around the Lost Dutchman, but I have a feeling I’ll be back to plunder these riches again for more stories in the future. What an adventure, and I hope you enjoyed it too!
How about you? Have you heard of The Lost Dutchman’s Mine? Ever been on a treasure hunt? Tell us about it in the comments.