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It Happened Here: The Superstition Mountains - American Cowboy | Western Lifestyle - Travel - People

It Happened Here: The Superstition Mountains

The story of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine.
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Credit: AGEFOTOSTOCK.COM

Credit: AGEFOTOSTOCK.COM

In late November 2009, Jesse Capen, a quiet, 35-year-old bellhop from Denver, Colo., packed his bags and drove 15 hours to the Superstition Mountains in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. He bought a month’s worth of supplies, storing them in a nearby hotel room to refuel on the weekends. After a decade of research, obsessing over the gold that awaited him out there amongst the sagebrush and prickly pear, his moment had finally arrived. 

A week passed after he first headed into the backcountry. Then two. Capen never returned to that hotel room. Back in Denver, his parents lost hope, suspected everything from a bear attack to the trigger-happy prospectors who—rumor has it—still roam these desolate parts. Finally, in November 2012, three years after his disappearance, searchers spotted his daypack at the bottom of a cliff on Tortilla Mountain. Then his boot. And then his bones.

“We call ‘em Dutch hunters,” Superstition Search and Rescue Director Robert Cooper told Fox News. “They’re infatuated with all the lore and the history ... and he was part of that.”

The legend of The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine lies at the confluence of fact and fiction. Nevertheless, the mystery hooks new “Dutch hunters” like Capen every year—each one of them convinced their fate will be measured in carats. It goes something like this:

German prospector Jacob Waltz came to Arizona sniffing for gold in the 1860s. U.S. Census records prove as much. The folklore contends that Waltz and another man, Jacob Weiser (likely one in the same), rescued a member of the Mexican Peralta family, which had struck a hugely profitably gold vein in the Superstition Mountains. In thanks, Peralta offered directions to the mine. But history rarely supplies gold caches so easily. Eventually, Weiser mysteriously disappears. Some say the Apaches killed him. Others say Waltz grew tired of splitting the riches.

Yet, none of these stories depict Waltz, now presumably wealthy, as such. He lived in solitude, probably on his 160-acre homestead near Phoenix. Now and again, they say, he’d show up in a Phoenix saloon, purchase his drinks with gold nuggets, and head home again. Then, in 1891, a historic flood destroyed his homestead and left him ill with pneumonia. Just before he died, on October 25, 1891, he drew Julia Thomas, his nurse, a map.

In September 1892, The Arizona Republic began reporting on various attempts by Thomas and others to find Waltz’s hidden gold. The reports continue, even today, though it’s never been found or proven to exist. But the myth of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine lives on, luring those like Jesse Capen, unwilling to rest until ever stone has been turned.

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