04 December 2015

The Dutchman Who Won't Die


by Dixon Hill

Those confused to find my two posts about the Legend of the Lost Dutchman, and the Superstition Mountains, on the SleuthSayers blog, may be glad to learn the reason.

As many of you know: this year, I am posting a series of articles about Arizona Crime Scenes. Though it may seem odd to list a mountain range or wilderness area as a crime scene, the fact is: the Superstition Mountains, and the Superstition Wilderness Area have been the unfortunate host for many crimes, including murder. And, the legend of the Lost Dutchman's mine was a major catalyst for many of them.

Even though you can see a picture of that "Lost Dutchman" tomb stone on the right – there may have been no Lost Dutchman at all! At least, not in the Superstitions.

In fact, according to some research, there are as many as 51 versions of the Lost Dutchman legend, many of them having nothing to do with the Superstitions, and some taking place in states other than Arizona.

So, why is this legend so prominent, here in The Valley, that folks die over it?

Lost Dutchman Mine Ride at Legend City Amusement Park
Park was located at border of Tempe and Phoenix in the 1970's.
The Lost Dutchman Mine Ride was the "haunted house" attraction.

'What is so "haunted" about a mine?' you may ask.

Other than the part of the ride where an outhouse door flew open to a startled miner's recorded cry of, "Gee, Miss Mary, ain't there NOWHERE a man cain get a little privacy 'round here?" – which is pretty scary when you think about it – the answer is: A mine can seem pretty spooky if its location is mysteriously unknown and the reason for this is interconnected with murder, mayhem, Apache curses, the ghosts of dead Conquistadors, ghosts of dead Spanish miners, and/or dead Apaches, as well as Apache spirit guardians (evidently not quite the same as the ghosts of dead Apaches) – all of whom are pledged to slay any living soul who sets foot inside the mine shaft.

But, Where Did All These Ghosts Come From?

Long before anyone, from some land that might lead others to say he was 'Dutch,' ever came to Arizona's Great Salt River Valley and perhaps got lost, the Spanish Conquistadors encountered a group of the Apache tribe living not far from the Superstition Mountains, which they (the Apaches) considered sacred.

The Spanish, after evidently deciding there was gold in the mountains, directed the Apaches to help them find it. (Don't ask me how they decided there was gold in the mountains, if they hadn't already found it. It's a Conquistador thing: you wouldn't understand.) The Apaches refused, supposedly saying the mountain was "The Devil's Playground" (whatever that was supposed to mean – I mean, who translated it from Apache into Spanish, and from Spanish into English? I have no idea!), and that this mountain was the home of their "Thunder God," causing the Apaches to warn the Spanish that they would be cursed if they set foot on the land.

So, see: In the beginning, came "The Curse" element. As many a reader will happily realize, we can lay this one firmly at the feet of those nasty Conquistadors – mascot of my children's high school (the Coronado High "Dons"). This Curse Element, imho, lends a sense of magic to the story.

And magic is important, when it comes to fueling dreams.

The Peraltas (or Paraltas, if you wish)

Another part of the reason this legend rests in the Superstitions may be due to the Peralta family – members of which supposedly claimed to have mined both silver and gold in the Superstition Mountain area during the mid-1800's – though they didn't find it easy.

After all, the Apaches still considered the place sacred. And, they weren't exactly willing to look the other way or turn the other cheek when they felt their beliefs were being violated. (Can't say I blame 'em!)

Another shot from Legend City. This is how I always imagined the mine.
Except without wood floor, or a bar. Maybe not even a piano.
At one point, the Peraltas supposedly had to hide their mine and run for their lives, because the Apaches had tumbled to their presence and were not happy about it. This work of hiding the mine didn't help the Peralta miners very much, however. The Apaches caught up with their heavily laden wagon train (gold and silver not being terribly light-weight) and killed most of them, scattering (or, according to some: caching) the gold and silver they had collected on this trip.

Finally, around 1864, after a 16-year hiatus, on the north-west slope of the Superstitions, in an area now known as "Massacre Ground," the last Peralta to lead an expedition here was killed on his way back into the mine area, along with about 400 of his party, by rather angry Apaches, who evidently objected to outsiders again trampling over ground they considered sacred.

So, here we have: (A) the introduction of a hidden gold mine, (B) an expansion of the Curse, and (C) the addition of mass death.

Please note: The above description of the Peralta family's activities is the one shared by a large portion of the Lost Dutchman legends. And, the Peraltas evidently did mine gold from within what is now Arizona. (Though there is a train of belief that says they mined their gold in California – just so you know.)

I should note here, however, that the Peralta family may have told folks they were digging in the Superstition Mountains just to throw people off the scent of where their real mine(s) were located. There is a strong belief that the Peraltas actually mined their ore from an area near, or around, the later-established Mammoth Mine or Black King mine, located roughly 4 miles north-east of where Apache Junction now sits. (This location is not literally within "shooting distance" of the Superstitions, but the mountains certainly do dominate the landscape here.) These mines pulled a lot of gold out of the ground during the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, which might support this theory.

This same belief holds that the Peralta Massacre took place there – not in the relatively near-by Superstition Mountains – while the miners were packing their ore for shipment back to Mexico.

And the Peraltas certainly continue to be deeply involved in many versions of the legend. The photo
on the right shows stones, supposedly discovered in the Superstition Mountains, which provide a map to the Lost Dutchman Mine (though, so far, nobody has successfully found the mine by using said map). These rocks are commonly known as the Peralta Stones, or the Peralta Rocks, or the Peralta Stone Map. Last week, as some of you may recall, I wrote that the Lost Dutchman supposedly created the marks on these stones.

And, in fact, many versions of the tale claim he did. In some, he was a friend of the Peraltas, and thus spoke Spanish (which explains why there is Spanish writing carved into the stones). In others, he carved the stones while working for the Peraltas, which is why he later knew the mine's location. In other versions – he just carved the darn things!

Be advised, however: There is NOT ANY EVIDENCE that the Peraltas ever dug in the Superstitions. Nor is there a single iota of evidence that ANY massacre of Peralta miners ever took place. Anywhere.

But, something else also occurred.

In the 1860's (remember, this is around the time that the Peraltas may have tried to reclaim their mines), people began spreading the rumor that two prospectors had found three dead pack mules somewhere in the desert around the Superstition area. The two supposedly claimed to have liberated $37,000 worth of "Spanish Gold" from the dead mules' saddle packs, which had still been intact. Popular opinion held that these mules must have been pack animals of the Peralta miner group killed when fleeing the mine in the mid-1800's.

After that, prospectors began combing the area for more spoils. They also started exploring the Superstitions, hoping to find the Peralta's mines. Hence: We now add prospectors to the mix, and the sense of magical mystery that has already begun.
From the lobby of Westward Ho hotel.
The peak in background is Weaver's Needle.


Enter the "Dutchman"!

Just who this Dutchman was, depends on who you ask.

One story holds that his name was Jacob Waltz, that he knew the Peraltas and had been told where their mine was. That's his tombstone, in that picture up higher, incidentally.

In another version, this same Jacob Waltz learned of the Peralta mine location from his young wife, an Apache woman he met while working at the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg.

In other versions, he's not Waltz at all, but a mysterious someone else.

What everybody DOES agree on is this:

  1. There may have been a man, who was a prospector, who was somehow involved in all this.
  2. That guy may have come from some place in Europe that caused the local yokels to call him a "Dutchman."
  3. This guy, who might actually have lived, and whom everybody supposedly called a Dutchman, died.
HOW he died (assuming he ever lived) remains in contention.

The folks who say Waltz was the Lost Dutchman, claim he brought several loads of high-grade gold ore out of the Peralta mine in the Superstitions over a period of several years. Before he could reveal his mine location, however, he was (A) killed, or (B) died of natural causes, at home, in bed (B-1) without revealing his mine's location, or (B-2) after whispering the location to someone who died without sharing this knowledge, or (B-3) he died after whispering cryptic clues about this mine's location to the woman nursing him on his death bed, who later was unable to locate the mine, or (B-4) he wandered off in a fever and told somebody else, who later told it to somebody else
just before dying, but that other person didn't quite understand what the dying man had told him. (And, while we're at it, don't forget those Peralta stones he may have been involved in, too.)

Another version of the story, is that a green-horn from Europe, whom local yokels called a "Dutchman" because they had a hard time understanding his poor English and thus lumped him in with those who were rather Germanic, stumbled into an assay office in Phoenix several months after anyone had last seen him around town. This "Dutchman" turned in a load of ore for assay, and was overjoyed to discover it was incredibly "pure." This "prospector" then lives it up all over town, getting folks fired-up to discover where he found his gold. But, he refuses to say, departing in the dead of night, to avoid being followed back to his mine – never to be seen again.

The real Weaver's Needle, plays significant role in the legend.
According to which legend you prefer, he disappeared because he was killed by (A) someone in town who followed him out to the desert, tortured him for the mine's location, and then cut his throat before realizing the "Dutchman" had left out important clues, or (B) by Apaches who were getting really tired of all these white guys digging holes in their sacred mountain, or (C) the ghosts of dead Apache braves who had been killed in the mine so their spirits could protect it from being plundered by others, or (D) by the ghosts of Conquistadors who were entombed with the gold they had abused the Apaches to find and now must guard for the Apache horde in the afterlife, in order to atone for their bad behavior, or (E) the ghosts of Peralta miners who are there for reasons similar to those in choice D, or (F) by Apache 'Spirit Guardians' who protect the mine from interlopers, or (G) by the desert itself, since he was a greenhorn – he might have just died of thirst and evaporated into a desiccated husk-like mummy.

Pure Gold

The "incredibly pure gold" part of the story might be important to note here. This is why some people – many of whom claim the Dutchman was Waltz – say he had discovered, not a vein of gold ore in the ground, but rather the site where the massacred Peralta miner's gold had been hidden (either by the miners, or the Apaches, depending on who's telling the story). The theory here is that the gold was "too pure" to have been simply mined from the earth, but must have already been processed somehow – hence the introduction of the Peralta miners, who must surely have had smelting equipment or something on hand, so the story goes.

At this point, I'm sure the reader has already noticed the easy way in which that rumor of two prospectors discovering dead mules with gold-laden saddle packs sort of fits right in, or perhaps morphs and entwines itself within the "Dutchman's" legend. Which illustrates another factor that I believe keeps this legend so alive: The Dutchman does not stand alone.

Instead, "his" story is combined and en-wrapped by many others, wrapping itself about these stories in return, serving to create a rather thick "cable of legend" created by myriad strands of other legends all twisting together to form a plot-line capable of bearing great weight over a long period of time.

This also helps account for why there are so many versions of the Legend of the Lost Dutchman: Person A is introduced to the legend through one strand, which the teller follows throughout the tale's recounting, while person B is introduced via another legendary strand, which puts a different slant on the main legend, and person C is introduced through a third strand, etc.

In fact, some versions of the story insist on specifying that the Dutchman discovered a vast sum of "Spanish gold." Among these versions, some fail to identify where this "Spanish gold" came from, while others claim it was Peralta gold, and still others claim it was gold mined by Apaches used as slaves by Conquistador overseers.

Enter the Fourth Estate

The best explanation I think I've read, concerning the origins of the Lost Dutchman's Mine legend, can be found HERE at the Apache Junction Public Library's website.

Evidently, Julia Thomas, a woman who claimed to have been at Waltz's bedside as he lay dying (with many valuable gold nuggets in a box beneath his bed) supposedly searched the Superstitions after his death, following the directions he had given her. She was unable to find the mine shaft, but did evidently mine some meager profits by selling the story to Peirpont C. Bicknell, who wrote an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1895. And, once the newspapers got hold of the story, it was "Drop the soap and Katy bar the door!"

Whatever the truth behind the "Lost Dutchman" and his "mine" there can be no denying the fact that its influence on some folks' imagination is responsible for many deaths, violent or otherwise. And most of those deaths occurred within the Superstition Mountain Wilderness Area.

The legend was also responsible for bringing a lot of money into The Valley, whether spent by tourists or contemporary treasure hunters. Many tourists enjoy a picnic at Lost Dutchman State Park, while others climb from the trail heads there to explore the inner wilderness area behind the jagged peaks in the foreground.

The Mountains themselves do not stand mute, in my opinion. Walk the trails through them, and I'm sure you'll discover what I mean.

Just watch out for the tourist traps that the Dutchman's legend helps spring up around the area. If you want to take the kiddies on an extremely safe ride into a "mine," see a "shootout," or maybe get a good steak, you might check out Goldfield Ghost Town.

Just be aware: The real Goldfield burned down in the 1940's. When I was a kid, the area looked like the photo on the right. Now, it looks like the one below.





















If you want to see something that really is, basically, a ghost town, however, the Superstition Wilderness holds some of the nicest American Indian Ruins I've ever encountered. Not only are they TRULY old and authentic, but you actually have the opportunity, in some of these ruins, to reach out a hand and lay your fingertips on the very spot on a wall, floor, or roof, where ancient peoples may once have touched their fingers to it.

This is a very powerful feeling, and may ... in the final calculation ... account for the real reason that the Lost Dutchman's story has such a strong hold more than a century later. Touching that ancient place touches a person's heart in return. There can be no denying the deep-seated call of the ancient past – which may well be the same call sounded by that Lost Dutchman.

See you in two weeks!
–Dixon

9 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I'm struck for the second time by the artistry of the Peralta Stone Map. The drawing of the pony is well executed, particularly as it's carved in stone, and the drawing of the human isn't bad either. But the map itself looks like it was drawn by a 3-year-old. Hmm… suspicious.

I like the library historical society's explanation.

Dixon Hill said...

So do I, Leigh.

janice law said...

I wish I'd known all this when we last visited Phoenix!

Anonymous said...

That photo from Legend City looks more like a uranium mine!

Dixon Hill said...

Well Janice you could always come back this coming February for Left Coast crime. Wouldn't hold it against you. lol

anon, I laughed for about 10 minutes to heat after reading your statement.

Anonymous said...

Terrific article! I liked this one even better than the series about the castle, and that's saying something!

I can't resist noticing the ironic parallel between this situation and the one playing out at Oak Flats now, which is not at all romantic (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/29/opinion/selling-off-apache-holy-land.html?_r=0 for example). Sacred Apache lands protected as federal property for years have been swapped to a copper mining company. Over 2400 acres will be open-pit mined without any oversight. That's nearly 4 square miles of sacred land where rituals are still done (and have been done for centuries) that will be scooped out from mountains to below ground-level. There's liable to be more protector spirits doing things that the locals see as "eerie" -- and maybe even blood shed. Some things don't change, and one of them is miners taking sacred Native lands for their own financial gain.

I guess it might provide some new Arizona crime scenes though... :-/

Dixon Hill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robert Lopresti said...

Reminds me of the Whiteman cement gold mine in Mark Twain's ROUGHING IT. http://genius.com/Mark-twain-roughing-it-chap-37-annotated

Dixon Hill said...

Anon: I wonder if it boils down to cultures that view land in two very different ways. One might value the land intrinsically, for itself -- similar to the way we might enjoy the beauty and scent of a rose. While the other might value the land for what it can produce -- like someone who primarily values roses, not for beauty or scent, but for making rose hip tea instead. Perhaps one of the current differences between plants and minerals, so far as people's interaction with them goes, is that the rose (as long as the bush remains planted and cared for) can produce both lovely blossoms, and tea. But, we seem not, so far, to have figured out how to do the same thing with land -- at least not in an affordable, and/or/versus sustainable way.

Rob, I think that's right on target, buddy.

Folks: I don't know why Blogger posted one of my earlier comments twice, though maybe it's because I used my phone to transcribe it -- thus changing the word "straight" (as in "I laughed for ten minutes straight") into the two words "to heat" (rendering the phrase: "I laughed for ten minutes to heat") -- and the Blogger Gremlins liked this. At any rate, I removed the redundant comment.