Who doesn’t love a good mystery? With Arizona’s wild and violent past, you can bet there are quite a few that exist in our Southwestern state. One of the most popular Arizona legends also happens to be one of the most deadly: the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine.
Supposedly tucked away in the rugged trails of the Superstition Mountains, the legend of unfathomable riches has numerous versions and characters and each insists on being the correct story, with some dating to the first trek Spanish conquistadors made into the northern reaches of the Sonoran desert. However, the most popular dates to the late-19th century with a German immigrant, Jacob Waltz, or the Dutchman.
Waltz was indeed a real person but how much of the real and fictional aspects of his life kind of belnd together. Waltz emigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1840s and later settled in Arizona two decades later. He did some prospecting and operated a farming homestead near Phoenix until a flood wiped it out in 1891. Later that year, Waltz died from pneumonia.
It was during one of Waltz’s prospecting trips that he somehow discovered the location of hidden gold in the Superstitions. He kept the location hidden, perhaps in hopes of one day being able to take advantage of its riches when the timing was right. Whatever his reasoning, Waltz was never able to cash out. Instead he punched out without ever harvesting the hidden gold.
As he was nearing death in 1891, Waltz was being cared for by Julia Thomas, an acquaintance with whom he shared the gold’s location. Within a year, Thomas and others began searching for the hidden gold and even sold maps with instructions to get to the mine. None of these maps featured any real location of the mine.
As of today, there are several “real” versions of the map with plenty of interesting and vague directions, none of which lead to a gold mine. In fact, geologists have stated that gold does not exist in the mountains since they are the remains of an old volcanic range.
If the story ended there, the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine would make an interesting story. However, the story and possibility of stumbling across immense wealth has enticed hundreds of people to attempt searching for the gold mine and a fair number of those lives have ended in death.
While natural occurrences from the heat and rugged landscape certainly add to the number of people who met an early death, a handful of these also had more sinister possibilities. The remains of treasure hunters have been found over the decades, some decapitated and some shot.
One of the first deaths attributed to the lost mine was Adolph Ruth in the 1930s, whose remains were found with bullet holes a few months after he disappeared into the wilderness. Officials initially cited the cause of death as natural—from thirst or a heart condition—but this did not explain the bullet holes and Ruth’s undischarged pistol found with the remains.
Since then, the Superstition Mountains have claimed at least a half dozen lives of people searching for the hidden wealth. This added a mystery and a romantic sense of danger to treasure hunting, making the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine one of the most sought after wealth.