The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine

This most famous of all fabled "lost mines" has a history that fails to stand up to skeptical scrutiny.

Filed under History & Pseudohistory, Urban Legends

Skeptoid #347
January 29, 2013
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Lost Dutchman Mine

Tex Barkley with the remains of Adolph Ruth
Public domain photo

Today we're going to head into the dry backcountry of Arizona, where the rocks baking in the noonday sun stand in the same places as they were 200 years ago. It's a place where the heat is as oppressive as the silence; a place many of us would want to avoid, but that has drawn just as many others. The Superstition Mountains are perhaps best known as the setting for one of the enduring mysteries of the American West: the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. Like many similar stories, it's the legend of a fantastically wealthy mine whose discoverer left only hints to its location, and thousands of men have searched for it ever since. The Superstitions are such a severe environment that Dutch Hunters, as they are called, still die even today, in the hunt for the legendary riches.

The basic points of the legend hold that German immigrant Jacob Waltz — the proverbial "dutchman" — found a fabulously wealthy gold mine in the Superstition Mountains sometime after 1863. When he died in 1891, he left a crudely drawn map giving only hints to the mine's location. Ever since, treasure hunters have come from all over the world searching, but none has ever found it. Today we're going to look into the depths of the tale and see what's probably true, and what other elements might spare the Dutch Hunters a great deal of effort.

It is Waltz's map that has been the centerpiece of the story. It's a fact that almost from the day he died, reproductions of it have been abundant and openly sold as tourist items, with no way for anyone to judge the origins of any of them. It seems quite hopeless to learn anything from any of these maps; in fact, the more research one does, the more one learns that none of them are trustworthy. Even Waltz's original map was suspect. It was made while he was on his deathbed, when he revealed his secret to Julia Thomas, owner of the boarding house where he lived. She drew that first map based on his description. After he passed, Ms. Thomas and two miner friends followed Waltz's instructions to the letter, but found nothing. To pay her debts, she began printing and selling souvenir copies of the map. All the maps that have ever existed since then have been copied or made up based on her original, which was already proven to lead nowhere. For a fee, Thomas sold her tale to newspaperman Pierpont Constable Bicknell, whose 1895 article in the San Francisco Chronicle made the Lost Dutchman mine a permanent fixture in history.

And since then, innumerable variations of the story have arisen, mostly the colorations of 20th century authors. Some have two "dutchmen", with a companion named Weisner joining Waltz; some have gunfights, robberies, and all sorts of romantic additions. It's such a confused mess of pseudohistory that it seems hopeless to do a serviceable skeptical analysis. This might be the case if it were not for one man, a 1930s Dutch Hunter whose tragic death in the Superstitions launched the Lost Dutchman mine from colorful story to eternal legend.

Adolph Ruth and his son Erwin, both veterinarians by trade, loved their hobby of treasure hunting. Although they hailed from Washington, DC, they traveled as far as California in search of legendary riches. For them, the adventure was not so much about actually finding anything than it was about father and son companionship. However, they had a very special advantage over other treasure hunters. During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Erwin, the younger, had provided valuable veterinary services to essential livestock for a powerful Mexican family. Señor Gonzales thanked Erwin with a gift of maps, maps that had come down from his cousins the Peraltas. The Peraltas were a noteworthy mining family who had operated mines throughout the American southwest when it had belonged to Mexico, and these maps showed the locations of many of their mines.

Adolph and Erwin Ruth made many trips together. They never found much, but were undeterred. The pivotal moment came when Adolph, the elder, made a trip to the Superstition Mountains all by himself to give the Lost Dutchman a try in the summer of 1931. There he met Tex Barkley, a rancher who owned much of the Superstitions, and who also outfitted and guided Dutch Hunters. Barkley had hunted for the Lost Dutchman himself, of course, and was most intrigued to meet this friendly elderly gentleman from the east who showed up with a pocketful of authentic Peralta maps.

Adolph Ruth was 78 years old, physically very frail, and limped with a cane due to a hip injury sustained in one of his previous adventures. It was June, one of the hottest months of the year, when even the most stalwart of Dutch Hunters avoided the savage heat of the Superstitions. Tex Barkley sent two of his best men to pack Ruth into the mountains, to a good camp with a permanent water supply. One of the men returned a few days later, with some supplies and (more importantly) to check on the old man to make sure he was all right. Sadly, Barkley's worst fears were confirmed: Adolph Ruth was gone.

Barkley and two local sheriff agencies immediately launched three large-scale searches. Erwin Ruth came as quickly as he could to direct the efforts to find his father, but it was to no avail. After three months, the searches were called off. Erwin accepted the inevitable fact that his father had perished in search of the Lost Dutchman.

And then, in December of 1931, an archaelogical expedition was in the area to study some ancient ruins from the Salado culture. The archaeologists had a dog, Music, who had gotten himself into trouble by eating up all the expedition's steaks. But Music redeemed himself by following a scent to the base of a palo verde tree, where sat Adolph Ruth's skull, upright among the cactuses. The skull was punched through side to side, apparently by a bullet.

When the news broke, Tex Barkley and a party of five rode and found the rest of Ruth's body about a kilometer away, and about ten back-breaking kilometers from Ruth's original camp. This search was thoroughly documented by several of the men who were present, including a couple of newspapermen. In a small memorandum book in the breast pocket of Ruth's body was found the following handwritten note:

The mine lies within an imaginary circle, whose diameter is not more than 5 miles, and whose center is marked by the Weaver's Needle, which is about 2,500 feet higher, among a confusion of lesser peaks and mountain masses of basaltic rock. The first gorge on the south side from the west end of the range. They found a monumental trail which lead them northward past Sombrero Butte into a long canyon. Travel northward in the gorge and up over a lofty ridge, thence downward past the Needle into a canyon running north, and finally into a tributary canyon, very steep and rocky, and densely wooded with a continuous thicket of scrub oak.

Then below this, also in ink, was:

Veni, vidi, vici.

(Latin for I came, I saw, I conquered) And below that, in pencil:

200 feet across from cave.

Barkley's party of five wasted no time in following up this new lead. Barkley knew well the canyon and the place described in the note; Weaver's Needle remains the centerpiece landmark in the Superstition Mountains. One of the party, deputy sheriff Jeff Adams, wrote in an official report:

We found intact all of his papers including the map or directions to be taken to find the Lost Dutchman Mine which Mr. Ruth was supposed to be trying to locate. After finding and assembling these bones we followed the directions given to reach the alleged Lost Dutchman Mine. This trip took us two days of very hard labor and following there [sic] directions we came to the place pointed out in the instructions and found no evidence of any human being ever having been there at any time in the past.

The press went into a frenzy over the news of the old treasure hunter murdered for his map; and most especially, for the tantalizing handwritten note. News spread that Ruth's map had been a Peralta map. Research into Jacob Waltz revealed that Julia Thomas had discovered high grade gold ore under Waltz's bed. No doubt remained, in the public eye, that a magnificent gold mine lay waiting in the Superstitions. Estimates say that as many as 80 Dutch Hunters have died since, searching for the riches for which Adolph Ruth had apparently been killed. This suspicion was bolstered by the result obtained when Erwin had the skull sent home for identification by Dr. Aleš Hrdlička:

My examination positively determined that it is the skull of an aged white man. Holes in the skull, one over an inch in diameter on the left side and a much larger one on the right side, indicate a strong probability that the man was shot to death by a shotgun or a large caliber rifle and that the shot or bullet passed somewhat downwardly from the left. I have examined such wounds before and have examined skulls with bullet wound holes found on battlefields. I hold a degree as a Doctor of Medicine, have medico-legal instruction, and have been engaged in anthropological work for many years. At present I am Curator of Physical Anthropology for the National Museum.

The December 19th, 1931 Arizona Republic proclaimed "Skull Believed that of Missing Prospector Found in Mountains". All the ducks were in a row for the story to be true as popularly believed. But what about that map, the map of impeccable provenance, the driver of so many deaths such as Ruth's? Following its thread, the story begins to unravel, stitch by inevitable stitch.

$2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

There's little reason to doubt that Adolph and Erwin used genuine Peralta maps, gifted by the Gonzales family, to pursue various treasures. However, it turns out that there's no evidence that the Peraltas ever mined in the Superstitions. The Superstition Mountains are, geologically, not a place where gold would be abundant. Placer mining — the type practiced by Jacob Waltz — takes place throughout the region to a limited degree, but there have never been any profitable strikes. In placer mining, gold flecks are scattered in the soil, having washed down from the mountains above. When miners find such gold on a slope, they follow it uphill to the source. If a rich deposit did indeed exist at the surface somewhere, it's likely that some placer miner would have found its tailings in the alluvial fans below.

Whatever "map" Adolph brought to Tex Barkley was not a Peralta. Note that Deputy Adams described it only as "the map or directions"; there's no record that Adolph Ruth had a pictorial map at all. And furthermore, the text of Ruth's handwritten directions found on his person came from — you guessed it — P.C. Bicknell's 1895 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. The map accompanying the Arizona Republic's 1931 article was — you guessed it again — virtually identical to the ones sold by Julia Thomas forty years earlier.

With little doubt, the infamous treasure map that led Adolph Ruth to his doom was little more than a secondhand verbal account, told by a lady who made a living selling a story attached to souvenir maps, based on the alleged claims of a miner who never made a red cent mining. Among the few contemporary accounts of Jacob Waltz were that he kept a small supply of rich gold ore in order to attract interest in his mining claims; probably what Ms. Thomas found under his bed. Ore like that came from quartz, and was unlike the placer gold found around the Superstitions.

Suppose you were Jacob Waltz, a poor immigrant prospector in the late 19th century, and you stumbled upon the richest placer mine anyone had ever dreamed of. Would you stake a claim? Waltz filed claims in California, but never in the Superstitions. Would you extract any of its gold? There are no records that Waltz ever made any significant money from mining. Would you leave it be, freely available to anyone else who might happen along, while suffering the same life expenses and hardships of all the other poor farmers and prospectors, willfully foregoing a financial windfall for decades? That's what we'd need to believe if we are to accept that Bicknell's fanciful article, based on Ms. Thomas' verbal account of Waltz' credibility-straining story, is a factual literal account of the existence of the Lost Dutchman mine.

It was the characters of those hardy people who lived and adventured in the Superstition Mountains who comprised the real story of the Lost Dutchman mine, and not some apocryphal and improbable stash of gold. It was the courage and craftiness of Jacob Waltz; the opportunism of Julia Thomas and P.C. Bicknell; the call to adventure heard by Adolph Ruth that spoke so much louder than his age and infirmity; the grit of Tex Barkley; the love of Erwin Ruth for his father; and the roles played by so many other colorful figures that we've not even mentioned here. As we find so often in urban legends promising something fantastic, the real treasure almost always lies not in some wild phenomenon, but in the people whose lives became the stuff of legend.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianDunning.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Bicknell, P. "One of Arizona's Lost El Dorados - A Mine in the Superstition Mountains - The Half-told Tale of an Old Miser." San Francisco Chronicle. 13 Jan. 1895, Newspaper: 12.

Blair, R. Tales of the Superstitions: The Origins of the Lost Dutchman Legend. Tempe: Arizona Historical Foundation, 1975.

Cundiff, G. Adolph Ruth's Directions to the Lost Dutchman Mine. St. Louis: Ancestry.com, 2008.

Editors. "Skull Believed that of Missing Prospector Found in Mountains - Possible Murder of A. Ruth, Aged Easterner, Seen." Arizona Republic. 19 Dec. 1931, Newspaper: 1.

Eppinga, J. Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2006. 45-57.

Kollenborn, T. "FAQ About the Superstitions." Tom Kollenborn Chronicles. Tom Kollenborn, 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. <http://superstitionmountaintomkollenborn.blogspot.com/2012/12/faq-about-superstitions.html>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 29 Jan 2013. Web. 20 Apr 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4347>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 29 comments

Australia has it's own version of this story. In the 1930s a man called Harold Lasseter claimed to have found a rich goldfield somewhere in Central Australia around the end of the 19th Century.

He managed to obtain private backing and launched an expedition to find it that ended in his death.

Later an author named Ion Idriess wrote a highly embroidered account of the events called "Lasseters Last Ride" which led to several future expeditions in search of the reef.

To date, no one has found anything, but the story remains.

Graham, Australia
February 01, 2013 10:35pm

BUT I have read in several accounts that the gold found by the Dutchman was not some ore native to the area but was actually an old cache of gold that he actually rediscovered and was buried there and forgotten from some older Spanish era expedition

Steve, San Diego, CA
February 03, 2013 6:42pm

I have a quite interesting story about my experience in Centralia, Pennsylvania. It is basically an old coal mining town that was mostly abandoned spare the 16 or so residents that still reside there. The town was abandoned due to an uncontrollable underground coal fire that has still yet to be extinguished. This has caused the ground to fall apart & cave in. Parts of the movie Silent Hill were loosely based off Centralia as well.

I went with a small group of friends to explore the area. We had trouble finding it, so we went to a nearby convenience store to ask for directions. The lady there seemed angry to see us there & simply told us not to go there (the way she reacted seemed like a part of an old corny horror film)

We found Centralia without her help & went up a long road with the few houses that remained in the town. We found bright cracks in the ground with smoke rising from them. We then traveled towards a graveyard that had a lot of smoke nearby it.

As we entered the graveyard, I noticed something really disturbing. A freshly cut rabbits head sat on top of a gravestone. The body laid beside the grave with blood still trickling out. We quickly fled the scene (after taking a couple pictures of course.) It became apparent that we weren't welcome in that town and we left.

When we looked at the pictures we noticed many "orbs" in the photos...you know...those things that ghost hunters obsess over. While I don't buy the whole orb thing, it was strange nonetheless.

Ken, NJ
February 12, 2013 12:17am

Tex Barkley shot him and took the real map.

mik, mh
February 12, 2013 1:12pm

I was under the thrall of the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine as a kid, to the point where it had some influence on my decision to become a geologist.

I have continued following the story through the years, although I long ago realized that the only substantiated facts of the case are that an old guy named Jacob Waltz lived in Phoenix in the lated 1880's, and he told tales about an alleged gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. All of the rest of the incredibly byzantine story (which Brian only had space to mention the basics of)has evolved gradually over the last 122 years.

On a not-totally-unrelated note, I was curious about Kneon's mention above of a "Chimney Rock" treasure in his (unnamed) state, and I Googled it. Right off the bat I found tales to fit his description from Colorado, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, and West Virginia. I guess that just goes to show the ubiquity of the Lost Treasure Waiting To Be Fond in cultural mythology.

Clay M, Denver
February 13, 2013 12:24pm

I thought it was pretty inch-resting.
I liked it and I know my answer now. thank you!

esmeralda, bc
June 28, 2013 8:29pm

Brian, a lot of your version of the story is incorrect. Without going into too much gory detail;

1.Waltz' deathbed lasted for eight months. In those eight months, he tried to explain to Rheinhardt Petrasche the location of his mine and caches of gold ore. Reiney was an avid drinker and didn't remember a lot of what Waltz told him. No map was drawn until well after Waltz' death. Thomas and some friends used Waltz' clues to try and find his mine. When they couldn't find it, she started drawing maps and selling them to tourists, and YES, there are many versions of this map.

2.While Adolph was an avid treasure hunter, his son Erwin only went along to keep an eye on his dad.

3.There are well known family histories of both the Peralta and Gonzalez Families of Sonora that detail the mines.

4.Ruth showed Bark his old map when he got to the ranch. Bark had to leave for several days and offered to pack him in when he got back. After he left two cowboys volunteered to do it. When the body was recovered, the map Ruth showed Bark was not there.

5.What Waltz left on his deathbed was a candlebox with over $4000 of very rich gold ore that Dick Holmes said Waltz gave to him. Some of that ore survives to this day, and was tested against every sample of ore know from Arizona, and it was deemed UNIQUE! That means that the source of this ore was not from ANY mine in Arizona.

I have been in and out of those mts many times. I have read most of what is known. Good Luck

Mike M, Pasadena, Ca.
December 21, 2013 7:03pm

Hmm. Gold ore was running, at the time, from an average of $20/ton to an absolute max of $400/ton. So to have $4000 worth of ore, he had how many tons under his bed?

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
December 21, 2013 7:30pm

Mike M's points 1-4 are reasonably accurate as far as I know, but irrelevant to whether the Lost Dutchman Mine is real.

However, for someone who's even a little skeptical, there is no convincing corroboration for his point no. 5, the "candlebox gold" story, except word of mouth and local legend.

Also regarding the modern gold claimed to be from Waltz's candlebox, I would be interested in hearing the details of the comparisons with "every sample of ore know [sic] from Arizona". From what I've read, it was only compared with individual ore specimens from a handful of Arizona mines. Which really proves nothing at all, since it leaves every other gold deposit in the entire world as a potential source.

In the end, belief in a legend like the Lost Dutchman Mine is a matter of faith. And while I have no faith at all, I would dearly love to be proven wrong.

Clay M., Denver, Colorado
March 04, 2014 12:16pm

I live in Holland and live quitte the same live as jacob Waltz, in poverty. So i have got nothing to lose, trying to make my way into the superstitions locate the probably forever lost mine. I'm strong and healthy and i've got plenty of time even to walk,fight and struggle my way through if neccecary every inch of them fu#$%ng superstition mountains. Here in the Netherlands i'm bored like hell, en i love spending long Times in mother nature's rough landscapes, so i'm getting prepared and in time who know's.
Friendly regards Raymond

Raymond, Netherlands
March 31, 2014 1:18am

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