The Lost Dutchman Mine is a well known myth of the American Southwest. It is usually set in the Superstition Mountains near modern day Phoenix. This is an example of “inherited myth” where a story long ago started a myth that grew beyond expectation and no ability to fulfill it. So like the aforementioned, in another post, game of historical telephone the story grows to mythical levels. With enough anecdotal and usually unsupported evidence, myth becomes fact.
This is also another example of how our myths become what we want them to be. Have you ever heard a myth about a boring day or a lost piece of lawn furniture that was amazingly comfortable? No. These wont feed basic emotional needs. They won’t feed the need for reward, or punishment.
These are the two basic themes to most myths. Reward and punishment are also the themes in our theological beliefs. But that’s another day and another post.
I will show again how myth grows from dubious fact, a lot of fiction and a massive amount of psychology. The Lost Dutchman Mine myth does not hold up to modern scrutiny or simple logic and is far more easily discredited than supported, yet it is held onto because it serves one of the basic themes of myths, it offers reward for belief.
The Lost Dutchman Mine is much like Captain Kidd’s treasure or Oak Island. It offers reward for belief. This is basic, and human, and fun! I can understand why people chase these myths. But I do poke fun at them if they take it seriously. And people die chasing them. But at least they died having fun, I hope. I would recommend before heading out in search, consider the facts, not the myths, and at least find the information I have while writing simple profiles about them. There is much, much more.
Instead of starting with the start of the myth like I often do I am going right to the jugular. The Superstition Mountains have very little gold in them and would yield very little in any one mine. The mountains have been assessed by major mining companies, and rated as poor prospects for mining. This doesn’t mean it is impossible, it does however mean it is pretty damn unlikely.
There are mines there but I am from Colorado. We, like California, know big mining. Signs are not hard to find, but discerning a high yield mine in quantity, from a low yield mine is not easily done. The purity of the gold is also hard to predict without digging it out of the ground. But the Superstition Mountains show almost no signs of workable yield. That means, the gold yielded wouldn’t pay for the work it took to yield it.
This doesn’t mean you cannot find mine tailings and holes in the ground in the area. It means that it is highly unlikely that the area would pay. And the minimal mining activity there reflects that.
Now I know there are deep running names and things that are a part of this myth. Jacob Waltz and Julia Thomas are the origin, or at least at the center of it. The Peralta and Ruth names are all over this as well. As well as the Peralta stones. These are the core components of the myth.
The basic myth is that Jacob Waltz; a known prospector came out of the hills to town because he had taken ill. He was known, and known as a good prospector. He knew how to find and extract good gold. He apparently paid for his time in a boarding house being tended to by Julia Thomas with some of that gold. But the whole idea is that just before his death in 1891, he revealed to her the location of a “mother load” mine. The Dutchman Mine.
Thus the birth of a legend came about and like in my writing about Oak Island
this is another story where there is a secret keeper. The secret must be handled and either acted on or handed down or it dies.
Here is where things get muddy. See, all we did was get into the starting gate and the path is already filled with fog and forks, not a good combination. There is also a claim that a real German miner was found dead on a trail in the area with saddle bags full of golden riches. Some say this is the real miner of the myth. Some say this was real and a separate story. Some believe neither. But a story about a dead miner would not be a story. But add riches to it and now were selling papers!
Personally, I have to wonder why someone would report the man dead with riches in his saddle bags. Just run off with his gold and leave the dead Dutchman. No myth or story needed.
With that simple logic in hand, lets return to Julia Thomas. As the myth goes, she was told the location of a mine. She was told this on the Dutchman’s deathbed so she was the sole owner of this myth, legend, road map. So again, two options; keep the secret or pursue it. She didn’t keep it and hand it down. She pursued it adding more myth with the original myth. Can you hear the historical telephone ringing?
She did in theory pursue it. She in theory went after the mine based on a map that she had drawn from his description. Who knows if it was drawn with his guidance or from her memory? She went off in search of the mine with two prospectors and found … nothing. Nothing at all.
So why didn’t the myth end there? Seems like a logical place to stop. But no, were just barely out of the starting gate. So the rest of this myth is based on second hand knowledge and a failed expedition based on it. Were off to a roaring start. Even if someone wants to dispute that she found nothing, in order to build value to the myth, then ok. If she found it, then why is it lost? Why was she not fabulously wealthy buying the Brown Palace in Denver and all? So we know she found nothing.
Maybe she never went on said expedition. Possible and very likely.
The story goes that she later sold copies of the map drawn by her, possibly as told by the dying Dutchman, to others as a way of profiting from this myth. She also sold the story to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1895. All known maps to the mine are based on the original but there is no verifiable original. Were also not talking about a Xerox copy here. Were talking about each one being hand drawn over and over. So we likely have many copies of hand drawn copies of hand drawn copies of a hand drawn original map as told by a dying Dutchman or by memory of his description. Were already lost.
As with all these cases, like the Oak Island money pit [perfectly named], once the story hits the press, the compass never bears true again. People started combing the mountains looking for the mine often based on maps sold to them by a wonderful woman who owns and boarding house. She assured me it was the only copy she had.
This is where the story should have ended, again. But in 1931 a new chapter was written, again based on myth and the promise of reward. This is also where another layer of myth building enters the picture. The people mentioned already are likely real but acted on unsubstantiated claims. The next people in this myth are real and their actions are documented so this is where truth builds on fiction converting that fiction to truth.
Enter Adolph Ruth. Adolph’s son worked for the Government inspecting cattle from Mexico for disease. This is documented. Here is where the story gets murky for a bit, didn’t take long did it. Somehow, Adolph’s son, Erwin got a hold of some maps of mines. He acquired these maps from a man named Gonzolas who had not worked the mines but knew the Peraltas who had worked the mines [were already a layer away from direct knowledge again]. Sometimes the story goes that Gonzolas was related to Peralta but I think that is there to lend credence to the story. The peralta family is well known and ancestors are all over the area so were still not really in the murky part of this story.
There are widely conflicting stories about how Erwin acquired the maps. Some stories are based on Gonzolas, the man who gave him the maps, being a criminal and going to his execution and the maps being a thank you for Erwin taking Gonzolas’s family to safety. This would be a new form of putting Erwin Ruth into the secret keeper role as it is handed down from a man on his death bed, essentially. This, like the original origin of the story as told to Julia Thomas. It gives credence to the story since no one would lie on their death bed, right?
Or, the other popular version is that Gonzolas was wealthy and knew Erwin Ruth and wanted to thank him with maps to mines and riches. Associating wealth with the legend of wealth lends credence to the legend. The two stories are so conflicting it begs the question if either is real. These maps became known as the Ruth-Peralta maps.
One of these maps, was supposedly to the Dutchman Mine that was supposedly once owned by the Peralta family. Legend said it was fabulously wealthy. I’m sure that’s why the Peralta family stopped working it. And somehow lost it. Right? People lose fabulous wealth all the time. Myths are full of such events. Or is it that history is full of such myths?
Erwin’s father is an adventurer and liked to look for mines in the south west. At the ripe old age of 78, Adolph makes one last adventure and goes off on his own one last time to look for the previously lost Dutchman Mine. He runs into or meets up with, stories conflict here, Mr. Barkley who owned most of the land in the area. Some stories say that Adolph Ruth met at Mr. Barley’s house a man who claimed his father was in the room the day that Mr. Waltz died. So were telling a story again without direct knowledge, but a generation removed again. Common theme in reward myths. Somehow this man had knowledge about the lost mine and never acted on it and became fabulously wealthy? I am confused here as should you be. Whatever, I am more acknowledging the layers of myth than following them here.
The upshot is, Mr. Barkley had two of his ranch hands help old Adolph Ruth to a good base camp and make sure he was supplied for his adventure. Mr. Barkley, as well as being very land rich, often sold supplies to miners in search of Lost German mines. Ironic.
When the ranch hands returned to the base camp days later to resupply Adolph, he was missing. They later found his body after a massive search. The search was well documented in the paper. First they found his head, with a bullet hole in it. Months later his body was found a half mile away or so. There are many conflicting versions of this even though this was a news story.
The point here is, that in his pocket was a journal, supposedly, that recorded his day’s events. In it there was notes on either where the mine was, or where he felt it was. The trek from where the base camp was to where his body was found was a long and very rugged trek. The further trek to where the mine supposedly was according to his notes, was even more so. Remember, this man is 78 years old and oh yes, I forgot to mention he walked with a limp due to a steel plate in his hip from an earlier adventure searching for a different mine.
But these notes and the description of where the mine was set forth a new rush to the mother load. When the notes were followed, the prospectors found nothing. No sign of human presence, ever. The only thing that was clear was that Adolph Ruth could never have made the journey himself.
It turns out the directions to the mine that he had written down and were followed by people after discovering his body, were taken from the article in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1895, 36 years earlier. This new level of facts, real events, recorded events and lives lost, was based on the original myth and did not constitute anything new at all, except more lives lost chasing myth.
It is important to remember here that when lives are lost, it lends value to an effort. Oak Island even has a built in challenge that the mystery would not be revealed until 8 lives are lost … eeeeeehhhhhwwwww…. Insert Halloween sound effects here cause I suck at them.
For the most part, this is where the story ends. Except again, it doesn’t.
The Peraltas are not over in this story.
Sometime recently, there appeared on the scene the Peralta Stones. These are called Peralta stones for no other reason in my opinion than to try to leap frog over the Jacob Waltz and Julia Thomas origin and predate any weaknesses in their myth. The Peralta family as I have mentioned were all over this area. They predate Jacob Waltz easily. These stones supposedly have more clues to the mine that are even more cryptic that the ones written down by Julia Thomas.
No. Just no.
These stones are fakes and can easily be seen as such. They can be examined by anyone and are not considered by The Arizona Museum of Mines who has them in their possession, as historical since they also consider them fakes. They were apparently done with electronic tools. No one can substantiate where or when they were found. No one can prove they show anything. The language in Spanish, also tries to lend credence to the myth by predating not only Jacob Waltz but in fact the area being part of the United States.
Symbols on them are not authentic to the culture they are trying to represent and when translated, they have no clear meaning. Ironic.
I come back to a basic approach, Ocham’s Razor again in use, that is born of logic and psychological understanding. The gold reported to have been held by Jacob Waltz was embedded in white quartz. That is not what is near Phoenix. That is likely from California or Colorado. What the Superstition Mountains produce is placer gold. That is fine particles washed down into streams from broad sources. It is very hard to mine placer gold and make money.
This all stems really from Julia Thomas in my opinion. She likely made this whole story up maybe based on stories told by an old and dying prospector in her care. She may have cared for him out of guilt or pleasure but saw an opportunity to make money by selling a story based on a man that could not deny it. She sold maps and sold the story and every thread of this comes back to her.
Who by her own account, never found a thing.
There is an important part of myth building and upkeep that has to be addressed here. They offer a sense community and belonging. Those who believe and have in fact taken part in the search and be come part of the story have a kinship with all others who have and believe. They also trust that the belief will be rewarded, with wealth, or fame, or simply, being right.
Those who believe in the Lost Dutchman Mine have this as well, as well as a name, “Dutch Hunters”. Belonging cannot be under valued. It cannot be discounted or discredited for personal health. Belief and defense of a poorly founded and very weak myth is more of a psychological statement about belonging than about the truth of the myth. The myth, is more about the person who chases it, than the myth itself.