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The Secret of the Lost Dutchman's Mine

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

The weather is warming up in Tucson and all the palo verde trees are in bloom. It is such a beautiful time of the year! Before teaching, I was an avid gardener, but most of that fell by the wayside as I struggled to keep up with the demands of lesson planning and grading. Now, I am rediscovering the joys of gardening. I have been outside planting and relandscaping my front yard before the real heat of summer sets in. I’ve rediscovered my love of cacti and succulents this year too. I still have a lot of work to do, especially in the backyard, but it does feel good to get my hands dirty again.

Looking at the yellow blossoms of the palo verde outside my window I am reminded of the book I read recently, The Curse of the Dutchman’s Gold, by Helen Corbin. I did a report on the Lost Dutchman’s Mine when I was in 7th grade many decades ago, back when we had to go to an actual library and look in the card catalogue for resources we needed for our research. I remember looking down the rows of shelves for a specific book using its Dewey decimal number. We spent an entire week or two learning how to find things in the library. Now students can sit at their computers and “Google it.”

A teacher’s challenge today is to make sure students are finding credible sources and learning proper citation formation. I can’t tell you how many grey hairs I got from this rather frustrating exercise! “No, you cannot simply copy and past the URL onto the page. I need to know the author, title, publisher or website, publication date ...” It is still amazing to me how difficult this process was for some students so accustomed to instant results and easy transfer of information.

But I digress … I am still fascinated by the mystery surrounding the fabulously wealthy, though persistently elusive, Lost Dutchman’s Mine of the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, Arizona. Here is the story as I have learned it.

The story of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, begins not with a Dutchman, but rather with a German, or Deutsch man. Jacob Waltz was 38 years old when he emigrated from Wurttemburg, Germany to New York City in 1846. Many Germans were coming to the United States at that time due to a severe famine, unprecedented cold winters, poverty and sickness which was dividing the German people. It appears that Jacob Waltz then got caught up in the California Gold Rush of 1848 and later, fighting for the South in the Civil War.

In 1864, one year before the war ended, he arrived in Arizona where he filed mining claims in Turkey Creek, near Prescott. Mining lore also connects him to the Vulture Mine near Wickenburg, Congress, Stanton, and Rich Hill Mines. All of these were rich strikes. Jacob was 56 years old when he was hired to work in these mines.

But in March of 1866, Jacob decided to try his hand at farming and homesteaded 160 acres north of the Salt River. Sometime between 1873 and 1876, Jacob found his rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains with his then partner and childhood friend, Jacob Weisner.

It is known that Jacob Waltz did find gold somewhere because several eyewitnesses reported that he sold some in the Florence area. Then in 1890, Jacob shipped a large sum of gold ore, estimated to be worth $1,400 to $1,500 at the time, to San Francisco to be smelted. He gave most of the money he received from this sale to a local woman who owned a bakery and ice cream shop. Her name was Julia, though she is sometimes called Helen, and she used the money to pay off her debts.

Later, right after his death in October 1891, another local man, Dick Holmes, took possession of a candlebox, hidden under Jacob’s bed, which was filled with gold ore. Early in 1892, Dick had the ore assayed at Goldman’s store, where it was found to be a very rich ore worth $20.64 an ounce. It should be noted at this point, that gold ore, like turquoise, can be traced to its origin through its chemical makeup. Remnants of the gold Dick Holmes acquired have been tested and so far, there is no known mine with gold matching the chemical makeup of the Dutchman’s gold.

So, how did Jacob Waltz find the mine and who else knew of it? There are two related stories about how he found the mine. In both stories the owner of the mine was originally a Don Pedro Peralta, who lived in the area of Mexico City, but came up to work the mine a few times under heavy guard, in case of attack from the Apache. From here the stories differ.

In the first account, told by the Dick Holmes as part of his tale about how he claims he legitimately acquired the gold, Jacob Waltz was traveling to Fort McDonald alone and was attacked by several Apache. They took his horses and supplies. After continuing on foot for a while, he stumbled across the campsite of three Mexicans, who were working the mine. They were apparently the only survivors of the last Peralta expedition in which everyone else, including the owner, Don Pedro Peralta, were killed. The apparent leader having escaped as a lad with his two cousins. These three men easily took Jacob, a stranger to them, into their confidence, giving him food and water. The next day they showed him the mine and as thanks, Jacob killed them for their trouble, taking over the mine for himself.

The second story was told by Julia, the woman mentioned above and who nursed Jacob for several days before his death. Parts of this story were later confirmed by Jacob’s childhood partner, Jacob Weisner, through a Dr. Walker. The two Jacobs were prospecting together in Mexico and came to the town of Arispa in Sonora. They stumbled upon a poker game, and thought they did not gamble, they were able to determine that the game was rigged. Though, I am not sure how they could determine that there was cheating, if they didn’t play. My husband has tried to teach me this game, many times, but the rules are too complicated for me to keep track of. In any event, the man accused of cheating drew his gun, and the Jacob’s drew theirs rescuing the young man who was losing at cards. That young man turned out to be Miguel Peralta, son of the now deceased Pedro Peralta, who owned the mine.

Miguel needed money to pay his debts but was afraid to go to the mine alone because his father had been killed by Apache in a mining expedition. Miguel was likely the young lad who escaped in the first story above with his two cousins. Miguel hired the two Jacobs to protect him and his party so that they could go to the mine with the agreement that they would split any ore they removed. In the end, Miguel asked for all the ore, but then gave the two Jacobs permission to take whatever they could from the mine.

So, Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weisner returned to the mine where they discovered two Mexicans working it. Likely, these men were two of the peons (day-laborers) who had gone with Miguel to work the mine earlier, or perhaps they were his cousins as referenced in the first story. In either case, Weisner and Waltz killed them and buried the bodies. They worked the mine for several weeks and removed quite a lot of ore, hiding it in tin cans and burying them at their campsite.

When they ran low on supplies, Jacob Waltz went to get more. Here the story diverges again, being told from two different perspectives. Waltz was detained at the training post and returned later than expected. When he arrived back at the campsite, his partner was gone, and it appeared that there had been an Apache raid. He never saw his partner again and assumed Weisner was taken as a slave or killed.

In a later story, told by a Dr. John Walker, who was living in the area and had taken a Pueblo Indian wife, Jacob Weisner, fled from the Apache and was taken in by the Pueblo Indians, who then sent for Dr. Walker because Weisner was very ill. It is through Dr. Walker that we learn of Weisner’s story.

Weisner told Dr. Walker that when Waltz didn’t return as planned, he assumed his partner had been killed by the Apache. He was then attacked, and the Apache took all the animals and remaining provisions, but he escaped. In the end, Weisner died during the night. Presumably, Dr. Walker then acquired a map Miguel Peralta had given the Jacobs. More on this later.

From this point on, Waltz worked the mine alone. He took great care so that he was not followed. In fact, Dick Holms admits to trying to follow Waltz once. Waltz discovered him after a couple of days, and nearly killed him. This detail does seem to make Holmes’s story of Jacob giving him his gold and the directions to his gold mine on his death bed somewhat suspect. Why would Jacob trust this man?

When Jacob became ill in the fall of 1891, Julia took him into her house and nursed him. Perhaps this was to repay him for giving her the money to settle her debts the year before. She claims that Jacob told her that there was a lot more gold left in the mine and gave her the directions to the mine on his death bed.

The result is that there are three different maps, which allegedly provide clues to the location of the Lost Dutchman Mine. One Waltz allegedly gave to Julia and one he allegedly gave to Dick Holmes. Would Waltz have given out two (different) sets of maps and directions, or is it more likely he only gave one, if any? He had, after all, jealously protected the mine in life. It also seems more likely that if he did provide a map, he would give it to the woman who nursed him and who he had helped in the past. However, in the Holmes story, he claims that Waltz “always liked him and knew he [Holmes] wanted to find the mine,” and so was willing to help him do so knowing that he was dying.

The original, more-detailed map, which Miguel Peralta had given to Waltz and Weisner, has disappeared. It is claimed that Dr. Walker obtained that map when Weisner died, but it has since gone missing. A friend of Dr. Walker claims to have seen it and has reproduced it from memory, but no one can confirm how closely it matches the original.

Over the years, the cities surrounding Phoenix have merged and expanded to the very foothills of the Superstitions. Numbers of people have searched the Superstition Mountains for over a hundred years now, using one or another of these maps along with clues obtained from the now deceased people who knew Jacob Waltz. It seems that if the gold still exists, (or ever did,) it will never be found.

If you are interested in learning more about this mystery, or perhaps going in search of it yourself, then I recommend you read Helen Corbin’s book, The Curse of the Dutchman’ Gold. It is the most detailed account I have come across. In her book, she reproduces all the maps, newspaper articles, letters, and other primary and secondary evidence available.

If you have any comments on the Lost Dutchman Mine or have other mysteries you would like to share, please reply to this email. If you have any historical mysteries, events, or people that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Next month, I will also share some writing updates with you, so stay tuned for that.

Take care, keep cool, stay hydrated, and I’ll connect with you again in June!

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