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‘The Lost Dutchman’ was an elusive goldmine in Arizona

Posted in America, Geology, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

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This edited article about treasure hunters first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.

Arizona Afterglow,  picture, image, illustration

Arizona Afterglow by Fernand Lungren

The boy who had stumbled into Simon Novinger’s ranch was something of a curiosity, even in the Arizona of the 1860s. He was a white Indian. Orphaned as a baby when redskins attacked his parents’ wagon train, he had been brought up by a number of tribes, who had each taken turns at raising the boy. Then, when it had been decided that he had reached the age of 14, he had been turned out to fend for himself.

Novinger fed the pathetic misfit, unwanted by Indians and yet totally ignorant of the ways of his own people. He gave him clothing and odd jobs around the ranch. Then one day a neighbour called to collect payment on a deal completed some time before, and as was usual in those parts. Novinger brought out a deerskin pouch and from it paid his debt in nuggets of raw gold. The white Indian watched the transaction with interest, and when they were alone he asked his benefactor a question in the Apache tongue.

“Yellow metal good for trade?”

“The very best,” Novinger assured him in the same language. “White men will trade horses, food, guns, for it. Anything.”

The boy considered the information for a while. Then he gestured towards the distant Superstition Mountains, “I know where a man may pick up as much yellow metal as he wants. Before today I did not know it was of value. Now I go to become a rich man.”

Amused, Novinger watched him go, never to return. It was not until later that a thought struck him. What a fool he had been! The boy had lived with Apaches. And who else but an Apache was reputed to know the secret of the lost Peralta mine?

Whether the Indian-raised boy knew the secret or not, the rancher never found out. Years later he was to look in vain for the mine himself, as were scores of men after him. But he was correct in thinking that the Apache Indians knew more than most about the strange, lost fabulously rich load of gold. For it was their braves who had found it in the first place.

No one knows quite when they found it, but find it they undoubtedly did, high up in the bleak, boulder strewn hills east of a point where the town of Phoenix stands today. They certainly knew that the ore was there by the time pioneer priests entered the region in the 16th century.

To the tribesmen the gold was valueless, no more than a soft, pretty looking metal with which to make ornaments. They showed the place to a Mexican priest. And two hundred years later another priest passed on the secret to Don Miguel de Peralta de Cordoba, when this fortunate nobleman was granted all the land in that area by King Ferdinand VI of Spain.

For Don Miguel and his family it was like having an endless supply of morey stored in a hole in the ground and being prudent they did not broadcast their good luck. Neither over the years did they even partially exhaust the rich earth. What they needed they took. The rest was safer where it was. After all, they argued, a goldmine couldn’t run away.

As it turned out, the Peralta’s were over confident, because they were to wake up one morning in 1845 to discover that the recent fighting with the gringos was over and that a large portion of what had been Mexico was now part of the United States. What was more, the fabulous Peralta mine was north of the border, while the family home remained in the south.

It was annoying but not a disaster. The Mexican family simply sent mule trains to collect the ore, well knowing that only the friendly Apache Indians would see them in such a remote region. This proved satisfactory for just so long as the Indians were friendly, but one day a quarrel broke out and the redskins killed the Mexicans, threw the gold on the ground and stole the one thing they really valued, which was the mule train itself. For the first time the great mine was surrounded by hostile tribesmen, and so far as the Peralta family was concerned, totally out of reach.

It was in 1871 that two Dutchmen, Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser, found themselves in the little Mexican township of Arispe. By chance they happened to be watching a card game, when a quarrel broke out between a professional gambler and the man he had obviously been cheating. The gambler stabbed the other player in the shoulder, but before he could follow up his attack Weiser hit him on the head with his pistol and he and Waltz dragged the injured player off to safety.

Patched up he introduced himself as Miguel Peralta and as a token of gratitude, he suggested that the two Jacobs might care to join him in a money-making venture. It was, of course to the family mine, and the bargain was that Weiser and Waltz should keep off the Indians while Peralta loaded up gold. They would then halve the proceeds.

The Dutchmen agreed, and the three made a completely successful trip. However, upon their return Peralta confessed that he really needed all the gold himself. Why, he suggested, didn’t his two new friends return to the mine on their own and take as much as they needed for their own share?

It seemed a fair offer, but once back at the mine things seemed to go wrong. The friends lost their stores and Waltz set off to collect more, leaving his partner to guard the gold they had dug up. He had planned to be back in three days, but due to troubles on the way he took nearly twice as long. When he eventually arrived back, the mine area was in chaos and Weiser had vanished. Suspecting Indians Waltz snatched up some gold and hurriedly got out of the area, assuming that his friend was dead.

Weiser had indeed been fatally wounded by the Indians, but before he died he had managed to make his way to the home of a certain Doc Walker, to whom he gave a rawhide map of the mine, which the doctor tossed into a drawer and promptly forgot. A few months later, Weiser’s partner died of pneumonia in Phoenix, having passed on all he knew to a Mrs Thomas, who had nursed him in his illness.

The search for the great goldmine, now known as the Lost Dutchman in memory of Jacob Waltz, was soon to gather momentum, for with the death of the last Peralta to know the secret, its exact location seemed anybody’s guess. Mrs Thomas could not find it, but a careful search was commenced by James Bark, on whose land the gold was supposed to be. After a few years of fruitless investigation, he joined forces with a newcorner to the district, Sims Ely.

Bark and Ely spent 25 years searching for the Lost Dutchman and in so doing inspected an area of some 250 square miles. During this time they managed to build up a very exact picture of what they were looking for. It was a funnel-shaped opening, and situated in a region so rocky that it could only be reached on foot. The sides of the opening had been cut into terraces, as though ladders had been used to reach the lower levels, and it lay north of a point known locally as Weaver’s Needle.

Possibly closer to the exact position than either Bark or Ely was Adolph Ruth, who claimed to have a map given to him by a member of the Peralta family, and who was last seen, in 1931, camping by Weaver’s Needle. Six months later his skeleton was found with two bullet holes in the skull and a notebook containing obscure directions and the famous quotation from Julius Caesar, Veni, vidi, Vici: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Had he really conquered the secret of the Lost Dutchman Mine before some unknown assailant struck him down? It would seem possible were it not for the evidence of one man. He was a very old Indian known as Apache Jack, who confided in a friendly white man that nobody would ever find the lost mine. The reason it seemed to have suddenly disappeared was because he and his fellow Apache tribesmen had grown tired of having white men searching every foot of the Superstition range. Accordingly, the squaws of the tribe had been given a special task. Throughout the winter of 1882 they had collected rocks and rubble and filled up the entrance to the mine. The area had been smoothed over so that no trace of it remained.

The Lost Dutchman is still waiting to be found in Arizona. But if Apache Jack spoke the truth it is likely to stay lost till the end of time.

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