Fool’s Gold

The Legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine

Dozens of treasure hunters have died looking for the legendary lost mine. At least one may have found it first.


Just 60 miles or so east of downtown Phoenix, Arizona, one of the richest gold mines of all time may be hidden in a rugged collection of cliffs, canyons, mesas and peaks known as the Superstition Mountains.
For more than a century gold seekers have scrutinized maps, some old and tattered, some new and precise, searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine. They debate the meaning of cryptic clues left behind by those who claim to know where the mine is located. No doubt many wonder whether they may have passed within feet of the entrance to the legendary mine without seeing it.

But whether or not the Lost Dutchman Mine really exists, the dangers in hunting for it are tragically real. No one since “the Dutchman” has found the mine and lived to tell about it, but many have died trying.


There are stories of gold in the Superstitions going back centuries. Among the Pima Indians who lived around the mountains there was a legend that Aztecs hid vast quantities of gold in the rugged mountains after fleeing the Conquistadors in southern Mexico.

Some believe that when the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico in the 1700s they hid gold and mining records in the mountains. Were these just campfire tales perpetuated by hopeful prospectors?
Whether the Jesuits mined gold in the Superstitions or just hid gold there they mined other places is unclear. But there is some evidence to support stories that the Peralta family of Sonora, Mexico mined several rich claims in the Superstitions in the early 1800s.

At the time the area was still part of Mexico, but the U.S. would gain control of it with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Just prior to the date the treaty was to take effect, in 1848, the Peraltas sent a large group of workers and mules to extract as much gold as possible and bring it back to Sonora. On their way back, loaded with gold, the group was attacked by Apache warriors. The men were killed, the mules were taken and the gold was scattered.


The Superstitions were an Apache stronghold. Some say when the Jesuits left they warned the Indians against letting outsiders into the area. But the Apaches may have had their own reasons. The rugged mountains were sacred to the Apaches, and a refuge from their Indian enemies as well as the Spanish and white intruders. Unlike the Aztecs, to the Indians of the Southwest gold had no intrinsic value. To the Apache warriors who massacred the Mexican miners the mules may have been more valuable than the treasure they were carrying. At least mules could be eaten.
For years afterward, when treasure hunters would come out of the mountains with gold, some claiming to have found the mine, many people thought they had just found the scattered Peralta gold. The mine remained hidden.


The Dutchman was Jacob Waltz (a German actually) who roamed the Superstition Mountain area in search of gold in the late1800s. He wasn’t the first one to claim he found the legendary mine. Nor was he the last. But of all the characters associated with the tales of the treasure hidden in the mountains, it was “Dutch Jacob” who would leave an indelible mark on the legend.
His reputation would be understandable if he had come out of the mountains with bags of gold, or retired to enjoy his mysterious fortune. But the fact is that, in spite of stories that circulated after his death in 1891, he never seemed to have much money. He died at the age of 81 in a small adobe shack in Phoenix, apparently broke and almost alone. If Waltz knew where the gold was, why didn’t he have any?
On the other hand, shortly after his death Julia Thomas, a neighbor woman who nursed him on his deathbed, spent months in the mountains looking for the mine. What did he tell her as he lay dying? She was among the first to seek Dutch Jacob’s lost mine. She didn’t find it, but unlike many who followed her, at least she came back alive.


According to some stories Jacob Waltz learned the location of the mine that would make him famous from a member of the Peralta family in Sonora. Using a map he had been given Waltz and a fellow German, Jacob Weiser, found the mine but when they got there they surprised a trio of Mexicans who were mining gold, perhaps former Peralta employees. According to Waltz the two Germans mistakenly thought the Mexicans were Apaches and shot them. Waltz and Weiser grabbed as much gold as they could, but their shots had been heard by the real Apaches who attacked the two men, seriously wounding Weiser. The two Germans escaped the mountains going different directions. Weiser made it to a small village of friendly Pima Indians, where he died shortly afterwards. Waltz showed up in Phoenix with a few intriguing nuggets of gold.


If Waltz really had found the mine, why didn’t he go back? And if he really told his neighbor the location of the mine as he lay dying, why couldn’t she find it? It is impossible to know the answer to the first question, or even know for sure that he didn’t go back. But between the time Waltz first found the mine and when the scores of treasure seekers flooded into the mountains looking for it something important happened which could explain why his instructions, and the many maps that mysteriously appeared later, were impossible to follow.
On May 3, 1887, an earthquake shook the Superstitions, changing the terrain forever. Landmarks crumbled and disappeared. Tons of rock tumbled from the peaks, covering trails, gullies and possibly the opening to the richest mine ever found. No doubt most of the maps that the later gold seekers followed were counterfeit, but even a genuine map may have been close to useless. Those who still follow those maps today sometimes forget they may have been based on landmarks that no longer exist.


Of the many maps that purportedly show the location of the Lost Dutchman Mine, the best known is not written on paper, but carved on stone tablets. In 1954 an Oregon man on vacation with his family literally stumbled over the first stone map as he was walking around stretching his legs during a road trip back from Texas. According to his story he noticed the corner of something sticking out of the ground not far from the road that caught his interest. He dug it out and saw Spanish words and a figure of what looked like a witch carved into it (some believe it is supposed to be a Jesuit priest). The next year he and his family eagerly returned to the area and found three more stone tablets with cryptic clues carved into them.

The maps were a treasure hunters dream, like something from an adventure movie. The carved clues and caricatures, while cryptic, are anything but crude. Spanish words, some misspelled, are neatly engraved on flat surfaces. A horse on one stone looks remarkably like a Disney drawing. They are almost too good to be true.

And maybe they are—some suggest the tablets are 20th-century hoaxes. But others believe the maps were carved by one of the Peralta family, and they have become known as the Peralta Stones. Genuine or not, they have not lead anyone to the Lost Dutchman Mine, in spite of the attempts of many to decipher the clues and symbols.


Over the years countless people have gone into the mountains, some better prepared than others. Many have never been seen again. More than a few have been found decapitated, or shot (or both!) In 1931 the body of one victim was found quite a distance from his skull, several months after he had disappeared into the mountains. In the pocket of his coat was a notebook with a description of landmarks. At the end of the note he wrote “Veni, vidi, vici…” (I came, I saw, I conquered). Then, “…about 200 feet across from cave.” His victory, whatever it was, was short lived.

No one has been able to explain the murders. Maybe the Apaches still guard the secrets of the Superstitions; maybe a jealous miner is protecting his imaginary claim. Indian legends hint at even stranger possibilities.


Will the Lost Dutchman Mine ever be found? It is impossible to say. But what is certain is that until it is, people will scrutinize maps, share stories of dubious origin and risk their lives searching for the most fabulous gold mine (possibly) ever discovered.

copyright©Jim McCluskey 2002-2012


Lost Dutchman Mine — 1 Comment

  1. I found out where the peralta stones lead,on mt. all the markings are natural including 2=3-O-18=7. On top of the mt. there looks like a good place for a mine because the earth is already split open. thanks chuck chatsko ps,write back