Apache Junction, Arizona
The scent is in the air, teasing excited breaths from the lungs as one travels upward into the mountains of Arizona. Despite the heat, the dry land, the fatigue, the party travels onward, spurred forward by the promise of that which has eluded others for over a hundred years. Up the trail, shadows move and whisper with the voices of hundreds who have come before, sending up a warning. Something protects this land and her secrets from all who would approach, but the visitors pay no heed. It still calls to them, pulling them from their very blood, driving them on to their deaths like so many before them. And what could drive a man to forsake his family and friends and even his own wellbeing? A peculiar kind of fever that has afflicted men for centuries: Gold fever.
History is littered with stories of fictional cities of gold and mines that, should anyone find them, could make a man rich beyond his wildest dreams. Usually, such stories also come with a warning. The mines are cursed, or protected, by something that does not wish to be disturbed. Still, plucky explorers travel to the sites of these treasure-troves, believing that they, more than any other, will beat the curses and finally rediscover the lost mines. While most of these stories are fictional, at least one of them seems to be true. And though the mine has been lost for more than a century, the curse surrounding it also appears to be true, as many do not return from seeking the Lost Dutchman Mine.
The legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine may begin in the late 1800’s, but the curse that blankets the old mountain extends back to the 1500’s, when Jesuit priests came to Arizona and New Mexico. It was their practice of building churches and attempting to convert the natives that caused a curse to be placed on the mountain, which they regarded as holy burial land. When Coronado invaded the land, searching for cities of gold, he was warned by the natives that the mountain was protected by a “thunder god,” and any who walked on the mountain would be killed. Coronado did not listen, resulting in many of his party vanishing, some only a few feet away from the rest of the group. Many of the bodies were found mutilated, their heads several feet away from the bodies. It was Coronado himself, according to legend, that gave the name Superstition Mountain.
The mountain remained a mysterious and holy place, with stories of death and spirits usually spoken in the same breaths as its name. Of course, superstition and rumor can only keep people out for so long, especially when gold is discovered. When gold was first discovered by Don Miguel Peralta in 1845, in enraged the Apaches. They planned an onslaught from which none would survive. Peralta, hearing of their plans, tried to escape with his men and all the ore they could carry. It was, however, too late. The Apaches attacked, killing everyone on the site and driving their mules, their saddle-bags still filled with gold, off over cliffs. As late as 1914, people were still discovering the remains of Peralta’s mules, and their gold.
Around that same time, a German named Jacob Walz, whom the Apaches took to calling “Snowbeard,” arrived in the United States. According to most stories, it was around 1870 when Walz met up with another German, this one named Jacob Weiser, who was also tired of working other men’s claims. The pair made for the Superstition Mountain, bent on finding their own mine. They disappeared for a while, only to reappear in Pheonix buying drinks with what most claimed to be the most rich gold ore ever seen. How they found such a rich ore when no one else had any clue where to find such a thing was the subject of many rumors. Some say they murdered prospectors for a map while others say they literally fell into the thing. The most common story purports that the two saved the life of the grandson of Don Miguel Peralta, who gave them the map out of gratitude.
The mountain, however, wasn’t finished claiming lives yet. Only a few years later, Weiser vanished, some say to the Apaches, others to Walz. Whatever the case, no one was able to learn the location of the mine. He took the secret of his mine to the grave with him in 1891, leaving behind only a sack of pure ore beneath his death bed.
The legend doesn’t stop there, however. Since that time, hundreds have gone looking for the mine. Of those who go looking, a great many never return, and those that do tell eerie stories about things that protect the mountain, and restless souls.
According to historian Troy Taylor, as many as four-hundred died in the massacre in 1848, but the death toll has risen a bit since then, with most of the deaths being, to say the least, curious. Before the turn of the century, four more prospectors who were searching for the mine turned up dead. In 1900, two prospectors went up the mountain, coming down ten years later insane. A woman’s skeleton was found in 1910, followed by a man and his sons in 1927 who were the victims of some unseen force rolling boulders down on them, crushing the legs of one of his boys. In 1931, a government employee went in search of the mine. Seven months later, his skull was found with two holes in it. A month after, the rest of his body was found nearly a mile away.
The body count continues. 1936 saw the death of a clerk from New York. 1937 saw an “accidental” gut-shot prospector. Some of the most incredible stories of death, according to Taylor, come from the incomprehensible rulings of officials. Several times, bodies have been found bound in blankets, their heads found thirty feet or more away, with “no evidence of foul play.” The list goes on and on up until today, where people still disappear without a trace.
Whether it is the “Thunder God” of the Apaches or the souls of those who have died looking for it, most agree that there is something protecting the mine. Countless deaths have occurred on the mountain, and many that return from it tell strange tales of dancing lights and shadows that twist and turn. There are stories of voices, screams from those long since dead re-experiencing their final moments, and whispers from the dead to escape while escape is still possible. Others point to the dead as the cause of disappearances. Whatever the case, most everyone agrees, something is up on Superstition Mountain, and it’s not just gold.
In 1984, the Superstition Mountain was reclassified as government-owned wilderness, where it has been enjoyed by treasure-hunters and campers alike. The Superstition Mountain Museum, in fact, contains many artifacts relating to the lost mine, including stone tablets that supposedly point the way to the mine’s entrance. Though many have searched for the mine using these maps and other clues, no one has ever found it. Open 364 days a year, the museum also contains exhibits that were typical of the mining age, such as a 20-stamp ore crusher.
Still, the call of gold haunts people and brings many to the mountain, hoping to find their fortune.
Seeing as the entrance has never been discovered, there’s really no “best time” to visit. Also, considering the place’s habit of killing off those who go in search of the mine, visiting the area reputed to be the location would be considered hazardous. However, visiting the museum is safe enough, and well worth the visit. And, should you decide to go up the mountain looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine, watch your back, and beware of shadows that move without wind.
See you in two weeks!
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