For this month’s Legend and Lore post, we’ll travel to the southwestern state of Arizona in an area known as the Superstition Mountains.
Since early times the Superstition Mountains, located east of Phoenix near Apache Junction, have been the source of legends and mystery. Their very name was inspired by Pima Indian legends. The area contains ancient cliff dwellings and caves—many of them still show signs of former habitation.
Some believe these early dwellers were Salado or Hohokam Indians who populated the area several centuries ago. Later, the Pima and Apache tribes occupied the region. It’s the Apache that’s more closely associated with the Superstitions because they had a stronghold there in the 1800s.
During the 1840s a family named Peralta of northern Mexico supposedly discovered and developed rich gold mines in the mountains. In 1848, the family made one last expedition to carry gold back to Mexico.
According to legend, Apaches ambushed the family, killing all but one or two who escaped into Mexico. The area is now known as the Massacre Grounds.
A number of people were said to have known the mine’s location. Many maps surfaced, only to be misplaced or lost if interested parties pressed for facts. Men who claimed to have found the mine were unable to return to it or disaster occurred before they could file a claim. These stories added to the lore.
The term Lost Dutchman’s Mine came about in the 1870s. A German immigrant named Jacob Waltz found the mine with assistance from a Peralta descendant. Dutchman was a common name for Germans, with Dutch being the English equivalent to Deutsch.
Waltz and his partner, Jacob Weiser, worked the mine and allegedly hid caches of gold in the mountains. Most believe the gold is near Weaver’s Needle, a well-known landmark. Weiser was killed by Apaches, although some say Waltz killed his partner.
His health failing, Waltz moved to Phoenix in the 1860s. Before he died in 1991, he told a neighbor, Julia Thomas, about the mine’s location. But Thomas or other seekers have never been able to locate the mine.
In the summer of 1931, an amateur explorer and treasure hunter named Adolph Ruth disappeared while searching for the mine. In December of that year, his skull containing two bullet holes was discovered. A month later, searchers found human remains three-quarters of a mile away. Scavengers had scattered the remains, but many of Ruth’s personal effects, including a pistol with no missing bullets, his checkbook, and his wallet were located.
Inside the checkbook was Ruth’s handwritten note claiming he had found the mind. He ended the note with the words, “Veni, Vidi, Vici.” (I came, I saw, I conquered.)
The story made national news and generated new interest in searching for the gold. Since Ruth’s death, many have died in their quest.
- J. A. “Tex” Bradford began searching in 1933. By October of that year, he had been missing nine months.
- Writer Barry Storm, using the pen name John Griffith Climenson, published a book about the mine in 1945. In it, he claimed to have narrowly escaped death at the hands of a mysterious sniper. Strom speculated the unknown sniper could have been responsible for Ruth’s murder.
- Retired photographer James A. Cravey was reported missing on July 3, 1947. He had chartered a helicopter on June 19 to drop him off in the Superstition Mountains so he could search for the mine.
- Denver resident Jesse Capen went missing in November or December 2009 in the Tonto National Forest. Searchers found his abandoned car and campsite. Capen was known to have been obsessed with finding the mine. His remains were found in a crevice by a local search and rescue team in November 2012.
- On July 11, 2010, Utah hikers Curtis Merworth, Adrian Charles, and Malcolm Meeks went missing while searching for the mine. Their remains were discovered in January 2011. It was believed they perished due to the summer heat.
After the disappearance of Capen, the term “The Dutchman’s Curse” was used in an episode of the program, Disappeared.
Is a curse behind the deaths of these explorers, or in most cases did they succumb to the harsh elements? Does the mine exist? Whatever your beliefs, these legends will live long in the chronicles of Arizona history.