EP 27: The Most Mysterious Place in Arizona: Superstition Mountains

Superstitious Mountains

In a quest for gold, German immigrant Jacob Waltz, found a secret mine in the 1880s. Rumors are that he killed to keep it a secret, making a small fortune in the process. Now known as the Lost Dutchman Mine, know one has retuned from the mine alive.

The Superstition mountains wilderness area is located about a 45 minute drive east of Phoenix Arizona. This place was called a variety of different names throughout the years, from thunder mountain to crooked mountain top. But it wasn’t until the 1890s, when they received their final label: Superstition Mountains.

Weavers Needle

This serene mountain range includes several landmarks like Weavers Needle, a tall eroded spire formed by an ancient volcano. The severely rugged nature of the terrain contains sharp drop offs, cliffs and deep canyons. Hikers can also encounter extreme changes in temperature, harsh winds, and dangerous wildlife.

Pima Indian

A Native American tribe called the Pima’s, told American settlers stories about strange sounds coming from the mountain range. They told of disappearances, mysterious deaths, and had a general fear of the mountain. But this didn’t stop German immigrant Jacob Waltz from searching the area for gold in the mid-1800s.

Waltz immigrated to the US in the 1840s and upon hearing about gold in the West, moved to Arizona, where he spent the rest of his life searching for the precious metal.

gold mine

According to legend, Waltz found a massive gold mine in these mountains, but refused to hire any help or build a proper large scale mining operation. Part of the reason for this was that he didn’t own the land. Instead, whenever he needed money, he ventured into the Superstition Mountains alone and returned with gold nuggets that he would sell to the US Mint.

This became known as the Lost Dutchman Mine.

The Sterling Legend

According to The Sterling Legend, a book about the mine, Waltz sold $250,000 dollars’ worth of gold to the US Mint in the 1880s, which, in todays dollars is over $5,500,000 dollars.

Locals purportedly tried to follow Waltz into the mountains. Prompting him to change his routes and misdirect followers into dangerous areas. He even supposedly shot and killed two men who came close to finding the site.

Jacob Waltz

After he died 1891, those who knew Waltz began to grow suspicious of his nurse, who was with him at his death bed. Julia Elena Thomas, tended to Waltz during his final days and after his passing she spent an unusual amount of time visiting the Superstition Mountains.

Thomas and two men had teamed up locate the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. Her efforts were further revealed in the Arizona Enterprise, a weekly newspaper, which claimed that moments before his death, Waltz gave Thomas information about the whereabouts of the mine.

After two months searching, Thomas gave up in her efforts.

But her failures didn’t stop prospectors Sims Ely and Jim Bark from searching for the next 25 years.

Sims Ely

Although they weren’t lucky in finding gold, they were lucky for coming out of the mountains alive. Countless men and women have gone in search of the lost dutchman’s mine, and lost their lives in the process.

Like in 1896, when the bodies of three people were found dead near the supposed location of the mine.

Then in 1910 a woman who had been searching for the mine went missing. When her body was found weeks later, she had a small bag with gold nuggets in her pocket.

Adolph Ruth

But the strangest death occurred in 1931. A man from Washington DC by the name of Adolph Ruth,  left for the Superstition foothills with an old map, in search of the mine. When he failed to returned from the mountains, a search party went out to find him. They discovered his campsite which was completely in tact, but Ruth was nowhere to be seen.

Downstream from the Superstition Mountains along the Salt River, a different man found a bottle floating in the water with a note that read:

“I’m sitting under a tree in a creek with leg broke. I’ve got to have help quick. Finder of this note please give to Howard Peterson.” p.s. Have found the lost Dutchman.”

The letter was signed by Adolph Ruth.

Ruth Lost Dutchman

Six months later his skull was found high up in the mountains with two bullet holes in it.

Every few years’ afterward, similar tales had taken place in the area. All involving people who went looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine. And although in 1984 mining in wilderness areas were banned, it hasn’t stopped people from searching for this mysterious place.

As recently as 2010, three people have died in search of it. After the men went missing, a hiker happened to discover the bodies of the three. All that remained was clothes and bones.

Today you can visit the Superstition Mountain Museum on the Apache Trail where artifacts of the Lost Dutchman are on display.

If you’re not interested in risking your life to find gold you can hike one of 40 different trails in the wilderness area. Remember, the National Parks Service advises to never hike alone, let people know where you’re going and when you’ll return. Also, check the weather forecast and bring plenty of food and water.

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