Previously: Phantom Clown Sightings.
In Arizona, about 40 miles of Phoenix, there’s a mountain range known as the Superstition Mountains. The name is fitting; many stories and tales cling to the mountains, each more fantastical than the last. But none have captured the public’s imagination like the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine — a mine buried deep within the mountains said to be rich in gold ore, but whose location has been lost for a century or more. It’s a fascinating enough story that the Wikipedia page belonging to the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine contains a truly surprising amount of detail.
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But not all of it is necessarily true — including the existence of the mine itself. The legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is, you see, part history, yes; however, it’s also part myth — and at this point, it’s so difficult to separate the one from the other that the truth about the allegedly lost mine may never fully emerge.
The history — or, perhaps, simply the story — of the mine begins with a Spanish-Mexican family named Peralta and a rich vein of gold they allegedly found in the Superstition Mountains in the early-mid 1800s. The mine, however, wasn’t theirs to mine — and they were allegedly massacred for it in 1847 or ’48. The mine was allegedly hidden after that, although a doctor may or may not have been led to it in exchange for treating a member of a tribe indigenous to the area. The doctor, naturally, was unable to remember where the mine was after he left.
(This “massacre” story is not supported by the historical record and is generally believed by historians to be a complete fiction. It’s also suuuuuuper racist.)
Then, in the mid-to-late 19th century, one of two things may have happened: Two soldiers may have found the lost vein, but went missing before they could reveal its location to anyone else. Or, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz may have found the mine and grown rich off of it, but, similarly, not revealed its location in any meaningful or concrete way to anyone before he died.
Waltz, by the way, is the “Dutchman” for whom the mine is named; by “Dutchman,” we mean German. Rather than referring to people from the Netherlands, Dutch in this sense is an English cognate for “Deutsch.” (See also: “Pennsylvania Dutch.”)
There is historical evidence of some elements of the tale. Jacob Waltz was a real person, for instance; according to the documentation we have of him, he was born in somewhere around 1808 and 1810 in what was then Württemberg, Germany. He emigrated to the United States through the Port of New Orleans in 1839, when he was about 28 years old. In November of 1848, he filed a letter of intent to become a U.S. citizen in Mississippi, at which time he was about 38. He went out to California in 1850, and finally became a naturalized citizen there in 1861. And in 1863, he went to Arizona Territory, where he began prospecting and mining, as well as doing a bit of farming. His farm, unfortunately, was badly damaged during a flood in the Phoenix area in 1891; he also became ill after the flood and died on Oct. 25, 1891.
However, it’s unknown whether Waltz actually found a mine as rich as the Lost Dutchman’s was meant to be. He allegedly spoke of such a mine to Julia Thomas, a 29-year-old local business owner who cared for him in the months leading up to his death; afterwards, Thomas sold her business and teamed up with two brothers, Rhinehart and Hermann Petrasch, to find the mine, only to have their search end in failure. Journalist P.C. Bicknell interviewed Thomas and the two Petrasch brothers for an article on the “lost” mine he published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 13, 1895 — but it’s worth noting that Bicknell was apparently “known for his tall tales and jokes on the Arizona frontier,” as historian Tom Kollenborn put it. It’s therefore unknown how much of this article can truly be trusted — and, indeed, Bicknell’s piece is often pointed to as where fact first began to merge with fiction, forever blurring the lines about the truth of the story.
What’s more, many other elements of the stories connected with the alleged mine are not at all supported by the historical record — for example, the involvement of the Peraltas, the alleged “massacre,” the doctor, and the soldiers — and, indeed, represent motifs commonly seen in folk tales. Lost mine legends, you see, are a subset of lost treasure legends; as such, the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine has been of great interest to folklorists over the past several decades. There’s as much work about the folklore of the lost mine as there is about the history of it.
To this day, treasure hunters convinced that the mine does exist and can be found continue to mount expeditions into the Superstition Mountains. Indeed, it’s due to one such treasure hunter that the story of the lost mine has survived all these years — largely because this treasure hunter died while searching for it. In 1931, Adolph Ruth disappeared while searching for the mine; his skull was recovered some six months later, with two holes in it that looked mysteriously like bullet holes. Although it’s not actually believed that Ruth was shot to death (he likely died of exposure), the mystery surrounding his death has never been fully solved — and the gruesomely fascinating story of it all not only made the news at the time, but also helped cement interest in the supposedly “lost” mine for which Ruth was searching for decades to come.
Will they ever find it?
But if you, too, wish to search — either for the mine, or for the truth of the matter—here are some places to start:
Tales Of The Superstitions: The Origins Of The Lost Dutchman Legend by Robert Blair. Historian Robert Blair’s 1975 volume is an essential one for any Lost Dutchman reading; most of what we know about the actual history involved in the stories can be found within its covers. It’s pretty easy to find copies second-hand, although they can range in price from affordable to… uh… not so much.
The book was published by the Arizona Historical Foundation, which was founded in 1959 but unfortunately closed its doors in 2012. When it closed, however, the AHF did donate tons of its material to the Arizona Historical Society in Tempe — including six boxes full of Blair’s notes and drafts. If you’re in the Tempe area, you can make an appointment to see them if you like. Here’s the catalog of what’s in the boxes.
Blurry Photos: Episode 210, “The Lost Dutchman Mine.” Since 2012, David Flora (previously with co-host Dave Stecco, who departed the podcast at the end of 2017) has been “seeking the facts behind the fiction of the world’s most fascinating, unbelievable, and chilling mysteries and legends,” with a focus on developing “a better understanding of fringe subjects through research, storytelling, and rational thinking.”
Episode 210, which originally aired in April of 2018, focused on the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. It’s a good overview of the whole story, so if you prefer to get your introductory research done via audio sources, rather than text-based ones, Blurry Photos provides an excellent starting place. Flora also (thankfully!) includes a lengthy list of sources in the show notes for the episode — something I definitely appreciate, as source lists and research notes seem to be rare and rare in the current podcast/YouTube landscape.
It’s also worth noting that the tone and approach of Blurry Photos has changed a bit over the years; when it was co-hosted by both Flora and Stecco, it was much more banter-y, but shifted to more of a storytelling format once Flora took the helm solo. The Lost Dutchman episode is the latter, rather than the former. Just, y’know, bear that in mind — YMMV with this episode, depending on which format you prefer.
Motif-Index of Folk-Literature by Stith Thompson. Along with the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index (and yes, the Thompson in that index is also Stith Thompson), this motif-index is one of the standard tools for folktale analysis used in the study of folklore. Originally published in six volumes between 1932 and 1932 and revised and expanded between 1955 and 1958, it catalogs thousands of motifs found in “the folktale, the myth, the ballad, the fable, the medieval romance, the fabliau, the jest, the exemplum, and the local tradition,” per the work’s introduction; it does not, however, cover “superstitions, customs, religious beliefs, riddles, or proverbs,” unless they “happen to form an organic part of a narrative.”
The word “motif” has a specific meaning with regards to the study of folklore. Thompson has defined it as both “the smallest element in a tale having a power to persist in tradition” — with that power emerging from “something unusual and striking” about the element — and “[anything] that goes to make up a traditional narrative,” used “always in a very loose sense” such that it “[includes] any of the elements of narrative structure.” (The first definition can be found on page 415 of Thompson’s 1946 work The Folktale, and the second in the first volume of the Motif-Index Of Folk Literature.)
Thompson’s motif-index can be accessed in its entirety here; the Wikipedia page on it might also be a helpful primer on how to use it, for those unfamiliar with these kinds of folklore study tools. If you’re curious about Thompson’s work, I’d also recommend reading The Folktale, which can be accessed here.
For all its complexities, though, Thompson’s index has a number of gaps in it. Over the years, other folklorists have made an effort to fill those gaps — which leads us to our next source:
A Motif-Index For Lost Mines And Treasure Applied To Redaction Of Arizona Legends, And To Lost Mine And Treasure Legends Exterior To Arizona by Byrd Howell Granger. Published in 1977, Byrd Howell Granger’s work covers one of the gaps noted in Thompson’s index: Motifs pertaining to lost mine and treasure narratives. She focuses specifically on Arizona legends, but does also include legends from elsewhere; it’s acknowledged largely as useful for comparative purposes.
Although Granger divides the majority of the legends by historical period — the Spanish Period, which runs from 1540 to 1848; the Early American Period, which runs from where the Spanish Period leaves off through the early 20th century; and the Modern Period, which covers from 1900 through to what was, at the time, the present — there’s also a separate section specifically for legends from the Superstition Mountains, with a particular emphasis on tales pertaining to the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. This section is generally one of the most complete collections of Lost Dutchman tales available.
According to Granger, there are three primary versions of the Lost Dutchman story, with “the most complete version” of the legend combining elements of all three. All in all, Granger identified and chronicled a whopping 62 variants on the Lost Dutchman legend.
Getting a hold of a copy of this work is likely going to be difficult for most people; it’s not generally available online, most physical copies available for purchase are only available second-hand (and often at considerable expense), and to find it in a library, you’ll need access to one of the academic institutions that has it in their research collection. In the event that you’re not able to get a hold of it, here’s a review of it published in the journal Western Folklore in 1979; additionally, this piece about how the index can be applied to a different legend gives you an idea of the sorts of motifs Granger included.
The Superstition Mountains at The American Southwest. The American Southwest website has been one of the most comprehensive online guides to the national parks, monuments, and landscapes of the Western and Southwestern United States since 1994, so if you’re looking for information about the Superstition Mountains themselves for the purposes of visiting, hiking, or what have you, their page here is a good place to start. You can also check out the Superstition Wilderness Area page on the Tonto National Forest’s governmental website, and the Arizona State Park’s page on the Lost Dutchman State Park.
The Superstition Mountain Museum. Run by the Superstition Mountain Historical Society, a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization, aims to “collect and preserve the history and legends of Arizona’s Superstition Mountain, to support research, education, and publications involving the region, and to develop an historical museum and research library devoted to these endeavors,” per the organization’s Mission and Vision page. That museum was founded in 1989 — about nine years after the historical society formed — occupying first a rented building at Goldfield Ghost Town until 2003 and later a building of its own along Highway 88.
Atlas Obscura’s entry on the museum describe as “a tourist trap in the middle of the Arizona desert,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (See also: The weird and fascinating history of American roadside tourist attractions.) It isn’t devoted just to the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, but it does have an entire exhibit on it — and it’s the best place the see actual artifacts related to everything we do (and don’t) know about the whole thing. The key items on display? The Peralta Stones — a set of carved stones allegedly depicting an as-yet-undeciphered map to the mine.
The museum’s page on the exhibit also has a pretty comprehensive article about the overall story by historical society founder Tom Kollenborn.
P.C. Bicknell’s Jan. 13, 1895 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. A copy of the 1895 article that’s believed to have kicked off the legend proper is available on the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine Prospecting forum. That link up there goes to a text reproduction of the article; meanwhile, this link has a scan of the article in its original form, as well as a full-page image showing the periodical name and the publication date. For the curious, the article was on page 12.
Further information about Bicknell, including some commentary on his Lost Dutchman article, can be found in this piece by Tom Kollenborn.
Jacob “Lost Dutchman” Waltz at Find A Grave. The historical Jacob Waltz is interred at the City/Loosley Cemetery, one of seven historic cemeteries in Phoenix encompassed by the Pioneer & Military Memorial Park. In addition to his grave site, there’s also a memorial to him there; it’s designed to look like a mine shaft. Photos are available on Waltz’s entry at Find A Grave.
“A Death In The Superstitions: The Fate Of Adolph Ruth” by James R. Kearney. Kearney, then a professor of history at Arizona State University, published this piece on the Adolph Ruth mystery in the Journal of Arizona History in 1992. It offers a solid, fact-based narrative of what we know about what went down and includes hand-drawn maps, photographs, and more.
The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine at Skeptoid. For a skeptic’s view of the story — or, perhaps more accurately, all associated stories — of the Lost Dutchman, Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast and transcript offer that angle. Although the episode does cover everything from Waltz through Ruth, it spends most of its time focusing on Ruth; as such, it may be more useful when listened to or read in conjunction with Kearney’s, Kollenborns, and AZ Central’s pieces than anything else. His argument—that the Ruth story does not offer evidence of the mine’s existence — hinges on the lack of evidence that the Peraltas actually mined in the Superstition Mountains. Writes Dunning:
“Whatever ‘map’ Adolph brought to Tex Barkley was not a Peralta. Note that Deputy Adams described it only as ‘the map or directions’; there’s no record that Adolph Ruth had a pictorial map at all. And furthermore, the text of Ruth’s handwritten directions found on his person came from—you guessed it — P.C. Bicknell’s 1895 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. The map accompanying the Arizona Republic’s 1931 article was — you guessed it again — virtually identical to the ones sold by Julia Thomas forty years earlier.”
“List Of Lost Mines” at Wikipedia. This list is far from comprehensive; as the Wiki page itself notes, it comprises “just a sampling” of alleged lost mines all over the world. It does, however, also include a rundown on the basic elements of a lost mine legend, as well as provide a bunch of other, similar stories to look into if the Lost Dutchman is your jam. (Content note: One of the mines listed under the “Texas” section has a racist slur for a name.)
Legend Of The Superstition Mountains on the History Channel. In 2015, the History Channel aired a six-part docuseries following a team of five “Dutch Hunters” — the term used to describe folks who, uh, spend a lot of their time hunting for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine — as they trek through the Superstition Mountains on a quest to locate the mine. I am not generally a fan of History’s programs; they’re typically sensationalist, highly speculative, and built on the flimsiest of premises, rather than on anything solid. But, well… this is here, just in case it’s of interest.
If you have cable, you can use your provider login to access Legend Of The Superstition Mountains on History’s website; additionally, the episodes are all available on History’s YouTube channel. The channel does actually feature a playlist that has all of the episodes in it, along with trailers and shorter clips, which makes it easy to find the episodes within History’s behemoth of a channel —but note that playlist isn’t assembled in chronological order, so you’ll have to poke around a bit to make sure you’re watching the episodes in the correct order.
Tales Of The Lost Dutchman: Bibliography, Notes, And Chronology. Still want more? Head to this website, which is devoted solely to chronicling the various works about the Lost Dutchman available in the big, wild world. I’d start here, at the Core Works section; as the site’s explanatory introduction notes, that’s where you’ll find all the most influential works directly concerning Waltz,the mine itself, and Superstition Mountain. But the other sections are also worth exploring, as they broaden the scope a bit — and sometimes in some unexpected ways (for example, the Art section).
The Tom Kollenborn Chronicles. The previously (and repeatedly) mentioned Tom Kollenborn was one of the foremost experts on the Superstition Wilderness in general and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine in particular. He passed in 2018 at the age of about 80, but his website, the Tom Kollenborn Chronicles, remains live, courtesy of the Apache Junction News and the Apache Junction Public Library. The Tom Kollenborn Chronicles covers more than just the Lost Dutchman, but there’s plenty to explore regardless; highlights include his look at the mythologizing of Jacob Waltz, an exploration of a 1966 expedition to find the mine and how Curt Gentry’s book The Killer Mountains… uh… let’s say embellished it somewhat, and more.
One thing’s for sure: If you must go seek out the Lost Dutchman… at least tell someone where you’re going first.
[Photo via Chris Jones/Wikimedia Commons, available under a CC BY-SA 2.5 Creative Commons license.]