A bedraggled stranger, dusty and parched staggers out of the blinding sun into the dim whiskey soaked environs of the saloon. After a few glasses to clear his head he begins his tale to all who will listen. The tale involves fellow travelers (now dead), Spaniards (to lend flair) a pack of angry Apaches, muddled recollections, and most stirring of all: gold. Lots of gold. Gold nuggets, gold seams, gold dust - too much even for his mule to carry.
He has none of this gold, he buried it in his haste to escape, but he knows where it can be found. Someone buys his drinks, another buys his dinner. He is visibly shaken by the events he has endured to bring this tale here.
Someone offers to take him back, to brave the Indians and recover the gold. But he is too afraid, "I'll draw you a map" he says, "and good luck to you."
And another treasure story is born. Arizona is littered with tales of lost mines, lost robbers loot, lost Conquistador gold and even lost mines that the Indians kept secret. The gold was found, but lost, or found and buried, then lost, or found, buried and abandoned. But there is always one survivor, one man with no gold, or just a bit of gold willing to spin his yarn.
The Lost Dutchman of the Superstitions is either a gold mine (lost) or a gold cache (lost). According to one of the many legends surrounding the Lost Dutchman, the gold was initially found in 1759 by the Peralta brothers, the brothers were driven from the claim after they offended the local Apaches, and the Apaches seeing no purpose for the gold loaded on the pack mules dropped the packs where they lay.
In 1871 two Germans Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser saved a man in Mexico from a crooked gambler. The man was named Miguel Peralta. In gratitude Peralta offers the two strangers a piece of the mine in Arizona if they will protect him from the Apaches. The venture is successful and the Germans purchase the mine for $30,000 from Peralta.
Back at the mine Waltz kills his partner and digs the mine for years, refusing to disclose its location.
Or, a mule got loose and tore up the camp and when Waltz went in for more supplies Apaches attacked Weiser. Wounded and dying Weiser escaped and made it to a doctor, to whom he told his story. He drew a map before he died. The doctor did not attempt to verify the story.
When Waltz returned, seeing the signs of a fight, he assumed his partner was dead. He left for Mexico. He returned to Phoenix in 1889. There he befriended a woman and helped her keep her bakery going with his gold. Before dying of pneumonia he disclosed the location of his mine but it was never found.
Variations include the Apaches disclosing the location of the mine by leading a doctor to the mine in thanks, however their thanks only went so far, as he was blindfolded throughout the trip. Geronimo knew of the mine and tried to bribe an army officer with it's location. The officer refused, and the secret died with Geronimo. Instead of land grant Spaniards the Peralta brothers are robbers who, fleeing with their ill gotten gains to Mexico are attacked by Apaches and hide the gold. They die.
In all of these iterations the gold is in some manner found by Wiser, Weiser, Weizer or Waltz (or some combination of the two.) Murder usually ensues (in one case Waltz kills 12 men, but usually he confines his homicidal tendencies to his ill-fated partner).
The only fact in this mash of embellishments and shaggy dog stories is that Waltz existed. He lived in Phoenix in the 1860's until his death in 1891 and he was a prospector.
As for the Dutchman himself, Waltz died in poverty in 1891, providing a deathbed tale of a rich gold mine in the Superstitions. Mrs. Thomas, a friend and confidante, hocked her business (a confectionary, not a bakery) in the quest for the mine.
She found nothing. She did however enterprisingly go into the lost mine map selling business selling maps to the mine that she herself never found for $7 a piece. Had it not been for Mrs. Thomas and two others that accompanied her on their fruitless expedition into the Superstitions, and the publicity that surrounded them, the tale of the Lost Dutchman would have been lost to time.
On so flimsy a story thousands of people have searched the Superstions. The Lost Dutchman is Arizona's most famous lost mine. Arizona is hme to countless other lost loot stories.
The Catalina Mountains north of Tucson is home to the famed Iron Door Mine, launched as a letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) in 1880. The story involves a Jesuit hiding gold from the Franciscans. The man writing the letter proceeds to write a story involving the Canada del Oro wash, walking through a cave for an hour through a mountain to a lost city where a mine with an iron door is filled with gold. He, of course saw none of this first hand, however the story teller's unnamed friends are so eager to share their prospect with a total stranger that he will be accompanying them the following day into the Catalinas. He ends his letter by promising to write again, which of course, he never does.
This launched movies, a book, and countless searches.
The fact that a hazy, sketchy, hardly believable story can do nothing but gain heft and credence with age is the truest stuff of legend. The ability of people to happily, almost joyfully leap off the cliff of reason is perhaps one of the most endearing aspects of our species - and the most frustrating.
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Most of the facts in this article were found in "A Motif Index for Lost Mines and Treasures applied to Redaction of Arizona Legends, and to lost mine, and Treasure legends Exterior to Arizona", by Byrd Howell Granger (1977) an appallingly named gem of a book, found as all really great treasures are, in an antique shop.