The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine
There's gold in them thar hills!
Stories of hidden gold and treasure dot the landscape of the U.S. like it's part of our national identity. And in some ways, it is. Explorers traveled to the New World in search of gold, jewels, the fountain of youth, and much more, and it seems as though - along with the plague and theft of native lands - treasure hunting it in our blood.
It might be Blackbeard's buried booty, caches of Confederate gold, mobsters who buried their takes in the desert outside Las Vegas, or dozens of other rumors and tall tales about hidden wealth.
And in the Superstition Mountains outside Phoenix Arizona, rockhounds and treasure hunters have been searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine since 1892. It's considered to be the most famous "lost mine" in the U.S. and yet, it's never been found.
Let's back up, all the way to earlier in the 1800s to meet a man named Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant who is the progenitor of this tale. Born in 1810, Jacob Waltz's early life isn't detailed but we know a few things....
Jacob Waltz was born in the kingdom of Wurttemberg, Germany, circa 1810. He immigrated to the USA in the 1840s and became a naturalized citizen in 1861. By 1864, Waltz was prospecting in Arizona and is reputed to have found a gold deposit near the Superstition mountain, known now as the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine.
Jacob Waltz arrived in California about 1850. His name appears on several California census records. He prospected and worked as a miner in the mother lode country of California for eleven years. It was on July 19, 1861, in the Los Angeles County Courthouse, Jacob Waltz became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. Waltz worked as a miner on the San Gabriel River for a man named Ruben Blakney.
In 1868, Jacob Waltz was living as a humble farmer on the North bank of the Salt River which runs through Phoenix. He died on October 13, 1891 and was buried in the Southwest corner of City Cemetery.
Jacob and partner, Jacob Weiser, apparently discovered the mine and spent years excavating it for gold.
They allegedly hid one or more caches of gold in the Superstition Mountains. Most stories place the gold in the vicinity of Weaver's Needle, a well known landmark. Weiser was killed by Apaches, who lived in the area, or according to some, by Waltz himself.
Jacob Waltz died in 1891. And people have been hunting for the mine since 1892.
Like all good treasure stories, tragedy has followed in its wake.
At the time of his search, Waltz was living in Phoenix, reportedly on land owned by Julia Thomas, a local bakery owner. They were friendly, and he gave her hints about the mine's location. When Waltz died, the 29-year-old Thomas sold her bakery, got a group together, and went searching for the mine. Tragicomically, she and her team passed over two enormous gold mines on their search for the Lost Dutchman Mine, which they didn't find. Then, to recoup the cost of the failed expedition, Thomas started selling maps that she claimed would lead people to the mine. As you probably guessed, they were fakes.
By 1895, stories about the mine abounded, so much that they hit the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, leading a man named Adolph Ruth to his death.
In the early 1900s Ruth was an amateur prospector in that he had never found gold but had been seeking it for it for years. He and his son had searched California's Borrego Desert for gold, but they found none. Ruth injured his leg so severely in the process that he developed a lifelong limp. But when his son, who worked in Mexico, found a map that might lead to an Arizona gold mine, Ruth couldn't resist. At age 66, he went to the Superstitions alone, over the objections of his son and family. Just one day into his journey, he disappeared.
In June 1931, just a day into his first attempt to find the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine, the amateur prospector vanished without a trace. Until campers chanced upon a note in bottle floating down the Salt River.
"I'm sitting under a tree in a creek with leg broke, I've got to have help quick. Finder of this note please give to Howard Peterson. Ruth."
"P.S. Have found the lost Dutchman."
Months after the search was abandoned, The Mesa Journal-Tribune reported the new discovery on Jan. 8, 1932. "Find Bottle Floating in Salt River Bearing Note Signed by Missing Miner," the headline read.
"Delbert Daley of Miami retrieved the bottle but returned it to the river, not connecting the name with the lost prospector. This was two months ago."
Believing Ruth was killed, rescuers had long given up hope of finding him alive.
But the paper speculated,
"If the final word from Ruth is authentic it tends to discount the theory that he was murdered for the map he possessed. Unable to proceed because of a broken leg, he probably died of starvation near the spot where the bottle was set on its journey."
To give you an idea of the breadth of the modern search
Located east of Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains stretch across 160,000 acres of desert, and somewhere in these almost supernatural-looking canyons is a reported gold mine worth several hundred millions of dollars.
Wayne Tuttle has been looking for the mine for over 40 years. He estimates the mine could be worth over 200 million dollars in today's money.
"I've been in areas where it's said there would be no possible sign of gold. I've found mines that have been worked out and found ore samples that still hold traces of gold in them
The big prize, I think, for everybody, would still be - even not finding the mine - there is a stash of gold somewhere buried in a little pit in the ground near Waltz's camp, and who knows what that could be worth - two, three million dollars just sitting there under our feet. Every time I'm in specific areas, I wonder if I've walked over that spot."
But not everyone has Tuttle's drive or good luck...
In 2013, the remains of a man who went missing near the mountains in late winter 2009 were finally discovered. For 10 years, Jesse Capen, 35, a graveyard-shift bellhop at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, had studied myriad theories about the location of the Lost Dutchman gold mine, sought by treasure seekers since the 1870s.
In late November 2009, Capen drove to Arizona to begin his search. He never returned. Jesse's skeleton was found 60 miles east of Phoenix on 4,892-foot Tortilla Mountain.
A discovery at the end of 2011 helped searchers focus on Tortilla Mountain: Hikers found a note in a metal can atop the peak that said: "Jesse Capen was here. Dec. 4, 2009."
At the end of November 2012, a day pack containing Jesse's GPS equipment, his mother's camera and his identification was found at the bottom of a 180-foot cliff on the same mountain. Searchers spotted a boot in steeper terrain above the day pack.
"All of a sudden - out of the blue - they found him," David Capen said.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Department sent a helicopter to the side of the cliff, and deputies rappelled down to a skeleton, which was retrieved in a wire basket.
The skeleton was large. Jesse had been 6 feet 4 inches tall. His parents recognized the teeth they had paid dentists to repair, but they couldn't find their son's dentist. The boots and clothing matched as well.
There was no sign that Jesse had been shot. Burnett said she believes her son was caught too far from camp that first day to make it back by sunset. He was just too excited about the possibility of a quick discovery.
She speculates that he slipped off a ledge and tumbled to his death.
Coroners used DNA extracted from bone marrow to make a match with DNA provided by his parents.
Other deaths and mysterious vanishings
James Kidd - Death: December 29, 1949
Kidd was born in Ogdensburg, New York, on July 18, 1879. Walter Beach was Kidd's prospecting and mining partner for more than twenty years. Beach died in 1947, leaving Kidd alone to travel from his work to home and to his mining claims somewhere west of the Miami area. It was known by several prospectors along Pinto Creek, in the early days, Beach and Kidd prospected the eastern end of the Superstition Wilderness Area.
He had no family and a ridiculous sum of money - mostly from investments - but where he got the cash to invest in the first place remains unknown. He spent a considerable amount of time poking through the east edges of the Superstitions. It's possible he found the lost treasure and was making pickups from his stash as needed. He was secretive and standoffish, which is why no one knows much about him. His disappearance was reported on December 29, 1949, but probably would have been reported sooner had someone cared enough to notice he was gone.
Several years after Kidd's disappearance, it was discovered that he left a half-million dollar fortune behind. An ardent believer in ghosts, Kidd specified in his will that his entire estate was to be awarded to anyone who could prove ghosts existed. Some believe he was slain for his gold, another story tells of a man who dropped him off in the Superstitions and continued to check on him each month until he perished. His cadaver was never found.
Other reports say that Kidd was in poor health when he paid someone to go out with him to his claim in the Superstition Mountains and leave him there to perish. This is not a substantiated story but it's been told many times.
UPDATE: Jan 7 2021
After recording we discovered some more information about what happened with Kidd's will. Here is what encyclopedia.com has to say:
In January 1964 official examination of Kidd's papers disclosed assets totaling $174,065.69 and a will written in Phoenix, Arizona. It reads,
"This is my first and only will and is dated the second of January, 1946. I have no heirs and have not been married in my life and after all my funeral expenses have been paid and one hundred dollars to some preacher of the gospel to say fare well at my grave sell all my property which is all in cash and stocks with E. F. Hutton Co., Phoenix, some in safety deposit box, and have this balance money to go in a research or some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death I think in time their can be a Photograph of soul leaving the human at death, James Kidd."
Even before the will was validated, the first claim to the estate came from the University of Life Church, Inc., Arizona, as an organization conducting research on scientific proof of the existence of a human soul. Meanwhile two Canadians, claiming to be blood brothers of Kidd, contested the will. By now, wide-spread press coverage had resulted in claims to the estate from a number of individuals and organizations, including the Parapsychology Foundation, the Psychical Research Foundation, and the Neurological Sciences Foundation of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
On May 6, 1965, the Court of Maricopa County, Arizona, declared the will fully acceptable for probate. More petitions flooded into the court, some of them merely facetious and invalid, others from reputable organizations like the American Society for Psychical Research. The hearings were presided over by Judge Robert L. Myers of the Supreme Court of Maricopa County and occupied 90 days and some 800,000 words of testimony. Eventually a decision of October 20, 1967, awarded the Kidd funds to the Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix, Arizona.
After an appeal, the court's decision was overridden and the money was split between the American Society for Psychical Research (two-thirds share) and the Psychical Research Foundation (one-third share).
- In the years 1927 and 1928, people had reportedly been hiking up the trails when suddenly large boulders rolled down on them from above.
- In 1970, a long-term prospector named Al Morrow suffered the same fate. A boulder fell while he was excavating a tunnel and ended him.
- In 1964, the remains of Robert and Richard Kremis were discovered at the bottom of a high cliff. Whether the ground had crumbled beneath them or a boulder knocked them off is uncertain. The integrity of the ground they were standing on was most likely the cause, or they were pushed. It seems a bit farfetched that both men just happened to accidentally fall off a cliff
- It was early in 1952 when Joseph Kelley of Dayton, OH, decided to go out in search of the lost fortune, and he was never seen alive again. Kelly was eventually found near Weaver's Needle two years after he disappeared. He had been shot in the head; there are no leads on the identity of the shooter.
- That same year , two California boys named Ross Bley and Charles Harshbarger vanished out in the Superstition Mountains. Their cadavers were never found.
- Many people believe the slayings could be connected to the curse, while others hypothesize it could be bandits taking advantage of gold-bearing explorers.
- Apparently, stumbling across skulls is a regular occurrence in the Superstitions. From 1955 to 1978, multiple remains were reportedly found with holes in their heads. Two more cadavers were found without heads and investigators were never able to find their skulls.
This search has claimed many lives and spawned multiple rumors and tall tales that keep people like Tuttle still searching. Did Jacob Waltz actually find a gold mine, or did a story about a small find of gold latch onto people's minds, driving them mad with thoughts of treasure?
Maybe don't go looking for lost treasure in the Superstition Mountains. Whether it be boulders, bandits, cliffs, the weather, or a curse, no gold is worth the risk.
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