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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wick

Horrors of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

While searching for a legendary cache of gold hidden somewhere in central Arizona, many treasure hunters and thrill-seekers have lost their lives under mysterious circumstances. The headless bodies of those that have eventually been located have made it clear that there is something lurking in that place. In this post, let's dive deep and bring to light the mystery.

It was customary for April to be one of the hottest periods of the year for the State of Arizona. But even taking that into account, the weather conditions for 1958 seemed unusually unforgiving. Daytime temperatures have not dropped below 30 degrees Celsius for the past two weeks and as Benjamin Cruz slowly labored along the mountain track, he found himself silently praying for rain. There was no obvious shelter for miles around and the lights and heat from the Sun directly above him was relentless. The Pinal County Sheriff's deputy came to a halt again, to take yet another gulp of water from his canteen. A gentle Shake of the container as he finished drinking confirmed it was nearly empty, but thankfully he was carrying a spare.

When he had set off from their patrol car back on the main highway, his partner Joe Donaldson had insisted that Cruz take his along too. The decision for Deputy Donaldson to remain at their vehicle with the hikers who had called for police assistance had not being a difficult one. As soon as the officers had pulled up, it was clear from the haunted expressions on the faces of the two youths that they would be little more than a hindrance if they were to show them the way. Cruz had seen their kind a hundred times before: dump college kids, heads turned by stories of hidden gold and ghostly apache guardians. Rather than endure another hour of their nervous babbling, he had made repeat the directions to the location they had called about until he was satisfied they were not lying and then moved off up the mountain's northern slopes.

Approximately half an hour later, Cruz found what he was looking for. A short distance off the main trail, hidden from sight behind a small outcrop, were the dusted remains of a campsite. The deputy produced a pencil and notepad from his breast pocket and then slowly walked around the perimeter of the scene, noting down the details he felt were pertinent. A good cleaning kit lay discarded to one side, its scattered contents forming a wide circle of metallic debris. On one hand, the absence of any spent shell casings was reassuring, but the fact that the weapon the kit was intended for was missing was conversely a concern to him. Despite all the sand and particulates that had evidently blown into the location over the past few days, it was clear that some form of violent confrontation had taken place. Deep scuff marks and divots were still evident on the ground, the remains of an evening meal strewn haphazardly across them. Cruz had watched enough corny B-movies to recognize a Geiger counter when he saw one, but whilst its presence intrigued him, that was not the item which held his attention.

Several feet away from the camp, snagged on a nearby bush was a military style sleeping bag. The Deputy approached it cautiously, wincing when he caught sight of the dark blood staining that had saturated its interior. Having bent down to retrieve a few pieces of correspondence, all of which had any identifying names or addresses torn away from them. He used his walkie-talkie to send Donaldson back into town to fetch more officers. He then settled down on a nearby rock sighing wearily before lighting up a cigarette. The remains of the campsite's owner would turn up at some point in the future; they nearly always did. Hell, he thought to himself, if they were really lucky, then this time the head might even still be attached.

The Superstition Wilderness Reserve

The Superstition Wilderness Reserve dominates a huge swath of the land lying to the east of Phoenix. Arizona. It is named after its highest peak, the Superstition Mountain, a 3,000 foot monolith located towards the south. Rarely has a geological feature been so aptly named, as even before western settlers eventually stepped foot in the region, the indigenous tribes residing there, regarded the location with an uncomfortable blend of fear and reverence. The Apache people swore that the mountain was home to a vengeful Thunder God who resided deep within the caves and tunnels. Only through regular worship and sacrifice could he be persuaded not to rise and decimate the lands around his lair.

In addition to this, they further believed that concealed somewhere within the bowels of the mountain range was a bottomless portal, leading straight down to the depths of hell itself. Or rather the Apache equivalent. But it was whispered tales of underground cities of gold that caught the attention of the Conquistadors who arrived in the area during the 1540s. The Spanish forays into the foothills and valleys around the mountain brought them into direct confrontation with the Apaches, who warned them only misery and death awaited those venturing into the kingdom of the Thunder God.

Plentiful seams of gold were soon discovered, but extracting this great wealth came at a terrible cost. Almost immediately, decapitated and mutilated bodies of the soldiers who had been sent to mine the bounty were recovered, their steel breastplates and matchlock rifles were little match for whatever mysterious force guarded the treasure. As their numbers dwindled, the Spanish made the decision to leave the region, but the lure of the gold would prove impossible to resist for many others. Over the centuries, many adventures would return to the Superstition Mountains in search of the hidden fortune meeting with varied levels of success. But it would not be until the 1840s, that a permanent mining facility could be established.

The influential Peralta family conducted operations in the hills for many years, until the Apache massacred them and their workers, as a warning for others to stay away from the sacred grounds. In time, the Peralta mine was forgotten until a US Army doctor by the name of Abraham Thorne, wandered into Phoenix carrying a knapsack full of gold ore. He claimed to have lived among the Apaches for a decade, studying their culture in exchange for the provision of basic medical care. Thorne stated that out of gratitude for his services, he was blindfolded before he left and led to a deep mine shaft where he was allowed to take as much gold as he could carry away with him.

The abandoned gold mine was rediscovered in the 1870s by a German prospector called Jacob Waltz. He refused to reveal his location, regularly venturing off alone into the mountains and returning with large amounts of gold. Records show that he sold a total of $250,000 worth of the precious metal to the US Mint, before he passed away in 1891 following a bout of pneumonia. In the years following Waltz's death, there were many attempts to locate and claim the seam he had been working on, which became known-despite the fact Waltz had been German-as 'The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine'. And as those who set out into the mountains in search of the mine failed to return, the story gradually evolved from a local Legend, into a national obsession.

The mysterious deaths

The first recorded death related to the mine came in 1896. An outlandish character named Elisha Reavis relocated from California to the superstitions built himself a cabin up in the mountains from which to operate in search of the gold. Reavis was something of an eccentric, refraining from shaving or cutting his hair and often wondering the canyons buck naked brandishing a pair of revolvers. His antics apparently led even the Apaches to give him a wide berth. When his battered body was eventually found four miles away from his shack, the head had been carefully placed upon a rock, several meters away from it, looking down at the rest of his remains.

An adventurer by the name of an Adolph Ruth announced his intention to locate the Dutchman's mine in June of 1931, and after equipping himself with a large amount of provisions, he too disappeared off into the wilderness. The following December, his skull was located by a search party that had been hired by his family in a vain effort to find him. The cause of his death was not overly difficult to deduce, with two large bullet holes torn into the center of the forehead.

It would be a further four weeks before the rest of Ruth's remains were recovered. A decapitated corpse was found several miles away identified as the missing man, due to the presence of metal pins, inserted into one of its two crushed, and broken legs from a previous fall. The coroner ruled that Ruth had committed suicide when he had been unable to walk any further. This proved somewhat unconvincing for the family who are keen to stress that Ruth would not have been able to shoot himself in the head twice, and that no gun have been recovered.

Equally as disturbing was the death of treasure hunter James A. Cavey in July of 1947. He arranged to be transported into the mountains by helicopter, establishing a base with two weeks worth of supplies in LaBarge Canyon, before setting off on foot In search of the gold mine. When the helicopter pilot returned two weeks later finding all the supplies untouched and no sign of Cavey, he immediately alerted the local sheriff. A posse was organized assisted by track dogs, but it would not be until the following February, that a party of hikers found Cavey's remains rolled up in a blanket and left hanging from a ledge by a rope that had been tightly tied around them. Once again, the head had been removed and several ribs were broken. Cavey's identification papers, clothing and money were all left in a pile nearby, with a rock placed on top to stop them from blowing away.

The mysterious slayings have continued, with the most recent being that of a 35 year old Colorado native in December of 2009. Jesse Capen was utterly obsessed with finding the Lost Dutchman's mine and had made multiple trips to the Superstition Mountains before he disappeared. A search by the local police found his car abandoned on a remote track with a phone and wallet still inside. Jesse's broken and shattered body was recovered three years later, wedged in a crevasse halfway down a sheer rock face which was inaccessible from above. There was no indication of how he had come to rest there.

Other strange phenomena have also been reported by people visiting the Superstition Wilderness Reserve, including phantom orbs of light flying around in the skies overhead and sightings of a tall skeleton like figure making its way across the plains at night searching the ground for something with a flickering lantern in its grasp.

There have been in excess of a hundred unsolved murders and unexplained deaths which have been documented within the boundaries of the reserve over the last century. The overwhelming majority of which were people who had been searching for the Lost Dutchman's gold mine. So, who or what is it that so fiercely and effectively guards the location against avaricious Intruders? Apache writings make reference to a race known as the 'Tuar-Tums', underground dwellers who could occasionally be glimpsed at the top of mountain ridges, peering down at travelers who are entering their territory. Few native, warriors encountered these creatures and lived to tell the tale. It is, of course, easy to dismiss such a story as being far too fantastic to be true except for the similarities it bears to another mysterious mountain region.

The Nahanni National Park is located in Canada's Northwest territories, but is also known by another far more Sinister nickname, 'The Headless Valley'. Much like the superstitions, it was home to a tribe of Native Americans, the Dene, until the beginning of the 18th century when rumors about deep seams of gold attracted large numbers of Prospectors and treasure Hunters. In 1908, two brothers named Frank and Willie McLead disappeared whilst prospecting in an area of the park known as the 200-mile Gorge. Over a year later, the decapitated bodies of the two men were discovered in undergrowth a short distance from Virginia Falls. Their heads were never located. A decade later, the charred remains of another prospector named Martin Jorgensen were found in his burned out cabin, again -without the head.

The Dene lay the blame for the killings firmly at the door of a supernatural race known as the Naha, fierce ghost warriors who covered their faces with nightmarish masks and took the heads of their enemies as trophies. In addition to the murders, the bodies of frozen campers have also be found next to burning campfires, which should have kept them alive. And of course, there have been persistent reports of UFO activity in and around the valley.

The Apache belief that the Superstition Mountains hide a portal which descends directly into hell is also far from an isolated one. Tales of these so-called 'Hell-mouths" can be found in the history of cultures from all over the world. One of the most famous is said to be located 50 kilometers north of Prague in the Czech Republic. During the 13th century, it was written that winged demons were terrorizing the area and knights despatched to find them stumbled across a gaping chasm, which the creatures were using to emerge from hell.

Houska Castle was allegedly built on that spot to seal the portal and prevent any further incursions by these entities. Again, it is easy to scoff at what amounts to a medieval ghost story, but the manner in which the castle was constructed does set it apart from similar fortifications of the era. It was built in an isolated area, well away from existing roads and supply routes, and all the battlements and walls were inward-facing with no external defenses. It was also designed with no kitchen or sleeping quarters to support a permanent garrison of defenders.

The answer to the questions

Whatever truth may or may not lie in these two legends. The fact that some of the victims were killed with modern firearms suggest that the answer to the mystery is a far more rational one. In 1945, a treasure hunter called Barry storm claimed to have survived an encounter in the mountains with a mysterious sniper, whom he referred to as 'Mr. X'. Storm stated that the attacker had stalked and taken shots at him for several days, before he had finally managed to escape.

He would go on to write a book about his experience, in which he theorized that the same individual may have been the killer of Adolph Ruth 15 years previously. Given the lengthy passage of time over which the murders have occurred, it seems inconceivable that one such killer could exist. This in turn leads to the theory that there may be a secretive organization or cult that continues to exploit the wealth of the Lost Dutchman's mine. One that is prepared to go to the most extreme lengths in order to prevent the precious resource from falling into the hands of others. As with any of the stories we examine, the truth naturally rests somewhere between these more outlandish theories and far more mundane explanations.

A large percentage of the deaths that have occurred are most likely the result of murder, suicide, fatal accidents or natural causes. The perceived decapitation or mutilation of the remains can further be attributed to the body being left out for a sustained period in such a desolate and unrelenting environment. But dead bodies being degraded by animals or harsh weather conditions can't fully explain away the more bizarre fatalities that have been reported. The fact that such a high number of these unexplained cases have occurred at both the Superstition Mountains and the Nahanni valley makes it clear that hostile adversaries dwell within the mountain ranges of the North American continent and that they are best avoided at all costs. In time, it is possible we may yet discover what is responsible for the Superstition killings. Until then, our thoughts are with all those who have perished in pursuit of The Lost Dutchman's mine and the families they left behind. May they rest in peace!


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