The astonishing story of the Dutchman goldmine – one of the most famous lost treasures in history – has been peddled since the 1890s. At the height of its popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s believed that over 8,000 people a year tried to find it, including a former Arizona Attorney General.
The legendary goldmine is said to have a curse upon it, and dozens of people have been injured or killed looking for it. Some due to the extreme heat and treacherous terrain, but some in more sinister circumstances, either shot or simply vanished off the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again…
Let’s try and uncover the mystery of the Lost Dutchman’s goldmine.
The Legend of Superstition Mountain
East of Phoenix, Arizona lay the Superstition Mountains. Covering an area of almost 160,000 acres, the forbidding peaks have, for almost 500 years, been cloaked in mystery.
It is said that when Europeans first arrived in the area, local inhabitants believed the 915-metre Superstition Mountain was home to their Thunder God. However, the Spanish conquistadors simply wanted to prospect for gold. The Spanish were warned of the wrath of the Thunder God should they dare to desecrate their sacred ground. But desecrate it they did. Almost immediately the Spanish began to disappear, later found mutilated and beheaded. They soon fled, never to return.
According to the Spanish and many who came after, buried deep within the Superstition Mountains lies the richest gold deposits in America, chief among which is the lost Dutchman mine.
But is it a genuine mine filled with riches beyond anyone’s wildest dreams? Or is it an elaborate hoax tied up in myth, superstition and legend?
Even today, despite the fact mineral prospecting was outlawed in 1983, people head to the Superstition Mountains on the off-chance they might stumble upon the Dutchman’s treasure.
Who Was The Lost Dutchman?
The lost Dutchman wasn’t Dutch at all. In fact he was a native of Württemberg in Germany named Jacob Walz, later Americanised to Waltz. Dutch in this sense is believed to be a variation of the German word for German – Deutsch – rather than a reference to natives of The Netherlands.
He was born around 1810 and in the 1860s, one version of the story suggests he relocated to Arizona to try his luck as a miner and prospector. Yet it seemed he wasn’t particularly successful at either endeavour. Another version of the story – which seems to fit the narrative – is that he was often found with a hoard of gold from his very own mine. A book published in 1972 called The Sterling Legend: The Facts Behind the Lost Dutchman Mine by Estee Conatser tells of a Jacob Walzer selling $250,000 worth of gold to the US Mint in the 1880s, but no-one is sure if it’s the same man, or indeed if the story is true at all.
Between the late 1870s and around 1890, it was said that Waltz would often appear in Phoenix to deposit huge saddlebags full of gold. When challenged, he’d give contradictory stories about where it came from and impossible directions to its location. People even followed him but he would easily and quickly lose them in the terrain he got to know like the back of his hand.
In early 1891, Jacob Waltz, now living on a 160 acre homestead near Phoenix decided to hide his mine. Perhaps he knew he’d never return to it.
Local legend says he dug a hole six feet deep at the mine’s entrance and laid in two solid layers of ironwood logs. He filled the hole with dirt and then a layer of stones. He bragged it was so well hidden you could drive a pack train over it and have no idea it was there.
The End of The Lost Dutchman, The Start of the Legend
Summer 1891 saw Phoenix – and Jacob Waltz’s farm – devastated by floods and he was rumoured to have caught pneumonia. He was taken to the home of a friend named Julia Thomas who tried in vain to nurse him back to health. He died soon after, but before his final demise, he claimed there was over $20 million of gold in the mine and left this clue to the mine’s location – which has been told and retold so many times over the years there’s no chance it has remained verbatim.
“From my mine you can see the military trail but from the military trail you can not see my mine. The rays of the setting sun shine into the entrance of my mine and glitters on the gold. You take the first gorge on the south side from the west end of the range. There is a trick in the trail of my mine.”
“My mine is located in a north-trending canyon. There is a rock face on the trail to my mine. You can see Weaver’s Needle to the south from above my mine.”
Was Waltz dancing around the truth? Was it written down correctly? Is this the last hoax from a master hoaxer in his death throes?
Thousands have tried, no-one has been successful and the legend of Superstition Mountain has only been augmented by the promise of untold riches. But is the gold there? Was it ever there?
There are those who genuinely believe the Dutchman goldmine is there, but just hasn’t been found yet. Others think the mine was filled in and eroded by Arizona’s monsoon storms and wildfires decades ago. Others think the entrance to the mine is protected by guardian angels and will reveal its whereabouts to those they deem righteous enough.
Maybe the lost Dutchman wasn’t lost at all. Perhaps it was those that tried to find his gold who were really lost in a complex tangle of myth, legend, misdirection and greed…