The Lost Dutchman Wasn’t Dutch
Jacob Waltz, also called Walzer or Walz, was deutsch, meaning “German.” But that word when pronounced sounds a lot like “Dutch.” So he became known as the Dutchman. After all, Americans more than a hundred years ago seemed to have a more genial attitude toward the Dutch, who were an object of humor, than the Germans, who were thought too gothic. It just goes to show you how little we know about the man and his “lost mine” in the Superstitions.
The Superstition Mountains are dramatic at first sight. The massive hulk of barren rock brooding over the Salt River Valley east of Apache Junction guards a vast region of uninhabitable wilderness, broken by rugged canyons and insurmountable peaks and spires. The mountains were named when Pima and Maricopa Indians told early Europeans that the area harbored evil and only bad things came to those who ventured among the tumbled stones. That was believable when Apaches controlled the area. But long after they were driven to a reservation adventurers still disappeared or were found murdered in the mountains. After so many years the Supes still elicit feelings of fascination mixed with fear.
Fixation on Superstition Mountain began with the discovery of gold nuggets, but the only gold evident in this view are the sun gilded tops of cholla cactus. The photographer in the late 1940s or early fifties manipulated the color very well to capture the drama surrounding the barren rocks. Most people consider the isolated mountain shown here the western-most portion of an entire range by the same name extending far to the east. The Superstitions can also be considered the western limit of the Pinal Mountain range south of Globe.
Miguel Peralta and his family were the first on record to bring Apache gold out of the Superstitions. That is, if their La Sombrera Butte of 1845-1848, lurking over their diggings, is the same as what is now called Weavers Needle. The location of the butte described as shaped like a Mexican hat is a matter of dispute, just like everything else about the Dutchman’s gold. That gold was taken out of the Superstitions, however, is not in dispute.
During the Civil War, when US troops were withdrawn from the southwest to fight elsewhere, soldiers from the Confederate States set up camp in Tucson to protect Americans from Apache raids. After an undersized contingent of union troops returned, King Woolsey (1832-1879) who had come to Arizona from Alabama organized a private militia to track down Apache raiders. In 1864, he led at least three punitive expeditions. Both supportive and critical accounts of those forays exist, conflicting on many points of fact. It was said that he tricked Apaches into eating poison food and on another occasion opened fire on Apache warriors summoned to peace talks. The latter incident, known as the Bloody Tanks massacre, probably took place in the Superstition Mountains. Was Woolsey also looking for gold? In any case, he received a commendation from the territorial government for his efforts, was elected to the legislature, made commander of the territorial militia and went on to help form the Democratic Party in Arizona.
To Native Americans white men always seemed to lose all reason and discretion when it came to gold.
In 1871, after a prospector reported finding gold near a butte that looked like a Mexican hat, “the greatest treasure hunt in the southwest since the days of the Spanish conquistadors. . .was organized. Territorial Governor A. P. K. Safford, a pioneer of Nevada’s Comstock Lode days, set aside his official duties to lead the expedition” (p. 365, Arizona, American Guide Series, 1940). They found no gold and missed the silver that would be discovered a few years later near Globe. They did notice quite a few mountains resembling hats, but it was like searching for Weaver’s Needle in a haystack. Now there is a Sombrero Peak in the Sierra Ancha Mts. NW of the Salt River Canyon in Gila County and a Sombrero Butte in the Galiuro Mts. east of Mammoth in Pinal County.
This booklet issued in October 1940 in Phoenix is only one of hundreds of pamphlets, maps and books published over the years promising treasure to those who brave the Superstitions. Barry Storm (a.k.a. John Clemenson) went on to publish a popular book about the Dutchman story, Thunder God’s Gold, which was made into a movie called Lust for Gold in 1949 starring Glenn Ford and Ida Lupino.
A newspaper article that appeared across the country in 1940 suggested a lost Spanish gold mine discovered in Needle Canyon may have been the source of wealth for both the Peraltas and the Dutchman. (Click on article to see full size.)
Though Jacob Waltz lived in Prescott in 1864 and Wickenburg in 1875, there is no evidence that he joined either the Woolsey or Safford expeditions. But in 1884, he filed a claim in the Superstitions and became well known in Phoenix for spending money derived from gold nuggets. “His mine had become the byword of all the local inhabitants of Phoenix and the nearby towns and villages by his tales and stories of it’s enormous wealth, years before his death. He proved his stories by producing gold in large quantities. His quick trips to the mountain, his return, loaded down with gold. . .kept the downtown inhabitants of Florence and Phoenix in a frenzy and the hangers-on of the Washington Street saloons pried him with questions and watched his every move” (p. 19, Barney Barnard, The Story of Jacob Walzer, 1954; a booklet actually written by Charles F. Higham and issued in more than 21 editions over the years).
After leading annual hikes into the Superstitions, the Dons Club of Phoenix built this monument in Apache Junction in 1938 at the intersection of State Route 88 and old US 60. Recently, a hotel that blocked the view of the mountain from the monument for many years was torn down after the business failed. The original plaque on the base used to read: “Here lies the remains of Snow Beard, the Dutchman who in this mountain shot three men to steal a rich gold mine from Spanish pioneers, killed eight men more to hold its treasure, then died in 1892 [he died October 25, 1891], without revealing its location. Dozens of searchers have met mysterious deaths in the canyons there, yet the ore lies unrevealed. Indians say this is the curse of the thunder god on white men in whom the craving for gold is strong. Beware lest you too succumb to the lure of the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains.”
It’s probably true that some who followed Waltz into the mountains too close, didn’t return. According to one account, “this cold-blooded character was an ideal type for a real-life murder mystery. For the record, he killed upwards of a dozen men to gain and hold his treasure, one being his nephew, whose conduct failed to please the old man. Others faced his gun in ill-judged turns too close on his trail” (p. 46, Howard D. Clark, Lost Mines of the Old West, 1946). In 1891, Waltz got caught in the big Salt River flood in Phoenix, developed pneumonia and died about seven months later. But not before, on his deathbed, he gave his friends clues to find his cache. It’s across from a cave, near a stone house, in a gulch that runs north and south. You can see Weaver’s Needle from the cave.
Before Waltz’s death, four residents of Lehi, north of Mesa, began working a gold mine northwest of Superstition Mountain. More claims were filed in 1890 and a low-grade but profitable deposit was mined at what was now called Goldfield. A boom town developed with a post office that opened in 1895. The mine was productive until 1912 and then reworked 1950-1952. Some have argued that the Goldfield vein was the source of Waltz’s riches. Others continue to search till their last breath. Twenty adventurers died in the Superstitions from exposure, accident, gunshot wounds or unknown causes up to 1948. A few actually came out with gold, $18,000 reportedly in 1914. The Lost Dutchman became such a tourist draw that the Phoenix Don’s Club used to lead annual hikes into the Superstitions beginning in 1934.
So what is the secret? Is the Dutchman’s mine still lost? Or is it just profitable to continue to think so? Longtime Apache Junction resident and newspaper columnist Tom Kollenbom has probably made the most prudent observation, that the beautiful plant and animal life among the colorful stones in the Superstition Wilderness is more valuable than gold.
Several motels and restaurants in Apache Junction and Mesa have capitalized on the Dutchman legend over the years. State Route 87, or Country Club Road in Mesa, was the main highway to Tucson when this postcard was issued about 1947. The address at 560 South Mesa Blvd. (now called Country Club) locates the motel two blocks south of Broadway Avenue. The back of the postcard describes “a new 28 unit elegantly and completely furnished, insulated, air-conditioned, fire-proof Lodge. All tile kitchenettes and bath. Furnace heat. You will ‘really’ feel at home in Mesa’s Largest and Most Modern, Secluded Guest Lodge.” And then leave a place like that for a hike in the Superstitions? The motel is still in business as Lost Dutchman Comfort Lodge.
Contrast this view of a thinly covered, sun-baked desert, published by the L. L. Cook company of Milwaukee in 1939, with the thick vegetation nearby pictured above about 1949. It’s possible the two views document the difference between Sonoran desert growth on a floodplain versus higher ground, or a difference in climate. A long period of drought ended shortly after 1939 while 1949 fell in the middle of a short wet period. Much of the open space seen in both photos is now built over by housing subdivisions and strip malls. (The blue mountain Kodachrome was color enhanced on the original postcard, while I have yellowed the black & white “real photo postcard” by L. L. Cook.)
There is a tremendous amount of really fascinating information available on the Superstitions and the search for the lost mine. Start at http://lost-dutchman.com and http://www.superstitionmountain.info or http://ajpl.org (Apache Junction Public Library). Hint: copy and paste the web address into your browser to go there.
For some recent history see: Apache Junction and Superstition Mountains by Jane Eppinga (2006) and The Lost Dutchman Mine of Jacob Waltz: The Holmes Manuscript by Thomas E. Glover (2000).
Goldfield Ghost Town museum is located 4.5 miles NE of Apache Junction on the Apache Trail (State Route 88), and Superstition Mountain Museum is at 4087 North Apache Trail. Lost Dutchman State Park on the Apache Trail 5 miles north of Apache Junction, scheduled to close June 3, 2010 due to budget cuts, was created in 1977 from a US Bureau of Land Management recreation site developed in 1972.