Superstition Mountains – Legends, Murder and Mayhem

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Superstition Mountains – Legends, Murder and Mayhem - Photo

The Superstition Mountains are a series of jagged mountains resembling serrated teeth sticking into the desert sky at the edge of the Tonto National Forest. Laying east of Phoenix, they cast an ominous shadow upon the metropolitan area. Filled with ghost tales, monster encounters, and tales of UFOs, they are as mysterious as the devil himself, and for all those Dark Tourism enthusiasts, full of legends and weird happenings. 

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What’s The Story Behind The Superstition Mountains?


Once called Sierra de la Espuma, Foam Mountains, by the Spanish, the Superstition Mountains are known for their picturesque, panoramic views of the surrounding desert, perilous trails, and a slew of paranormal legends. A free-for-all for wilderness lovers, the area has become synonymous with James Franco’s film 127 Hours and the many tales hidden within it that continue to captivate visitors. 

Apache peoples honored and revered the mountains, claiming them as their ancestral home. Ever since Miguel Peralta’s ancestor, Antonio de Peralta, was murdered in 1799 by angry Apaches, the legend of the Superstition Mountain has grown. Mystery has oozed out of the mountains before this disputed arrival and continues today. 

Settlements of a long-gone civilization, likely the Hokoham people, have been discovered in the mountain range along the treacherous cliffs. When the European settlers arrived, it had long been a stronghold for the Apache and Pima people. They believed that a gateway to the underworld lay within the mountains. Anglo settlers began calling them the Superstition Mountains. It is full of many legends and tales, but none are more well-known than the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which has led to numerous disappearances, bouts of insanity, and mysterious deaths. 


The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine of the Superstition Mountains


According to folktales, the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a magnificent, rich, Scrooge McDuck-like repository of gold hidden somewhere in the Southwestern United States. Most folks believe that a cache of shiny treasure is hidden deep in the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction. 

Like all great legends and Indiana Jones-like ventures, the search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is littered with betrayal, spirits, backstabbing desperados, unexplained disappearances, and plenty of death.

The story differs, but the most common take, out of 62 different versions of it, goes like this. In the 1840s, Miguel Peralta found a plentiful gold mine deep within the mountains. They transported this precious mineral to their home for many years. But in 1848, the family was attacked and butchered in the so-called Peralta massacre. Famed Apache warrior Geronimo was often discussed in the story, but he likely wasn’t involved. The Apache tribe buried the gold and covered the mine to prevent any outsiders from invading their stronghold again. 

Only two members survived the brutal attack and brought back tales of its location with them. Soon, German immigrant Jacob Waltz, among many other ambitious men, got word of its location through a Peralta family member. The mine is now named after him. Although it may sound odd that a Dutch mine is named after a German immigrant, back then, the American term for German was “Deutsh.” One misspelling here, an illiterate vagrant telling tall tales over there, a shoddy reporter, and Deutsh suddenly transformed into Dutch. 

Waltz and his partner Jacob Weiser began searching for the mine in the 1870s. They had limited success discovering and then working the mine for some time. Then, they, too, encountered the Apaches. But not before hiding a large cache of treasure, believed to be near what is now Weaver’s Needle.


The Legend Continues


Waltz somehow survived, a bloodied pulp of a man. Weiser was not so lucky. The two were likely brutally ambushed by Apaches, but some say Waltz murdered his friend and partner. A corpse was later found and ID’d as belonging to Weise. Coroners were unable to state whether Apache weapons or American-made knives caused the lacerations and wounds that now marked his body. 

Waltz settled in Phoenix and remained in poor health for the next twenty years. Before he died in 1891, he befriended a woman named Julia Thomas, and the legend continued. Thomas had been caring for her ailing neighbor and was given the secrets to the mine’s location in return. In 1892, Thomas sold all her belongings for provisions and continued the search with two brothers, Herman and Rhinehart Petrasch. 

The only problem was that Thomas and Herman, who had been working for her for years together, were drunk when Waltz revealed the mine’s secret location. With a hazy memory, they set forth with a wagon, some gear, and a team of excavators. An effort that proved useless while traversing the treacherous trails of the Superstition Mountains. 

Their search ended in failure. Three weeks into the journey, the three collapsed from dehydration and returned to Phoenix in slightly better shape than Waltz, some twenty years prior. The two brothers continued to search for the mine, obsessed with its bountiful treasures for years. Thomas married a farmer and produced the first maps of The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for anyone crazy enough to seek it. 

The Black Queen and Mammoth mines were discovered after a flash flood swept the area only a year after the disastrous Thomas expedition. Eventually, the mines produced two million dollars worth of gold for those lucky enough to stumble upon them. Was the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine finally found?


Mysterious Deaths In The Superstition Mountains


The legend did not die with the discovery of these mines. Over the years, the subsequent search for the mines has only led to heartache and death. 

Adolph Ruth was an amateur explorer, veterinarian, and treasure hunter who made the mines a national phenomenon. In June 1931, 66-year-old Ruth set out to find the lost Dutchman’s mine in 1931 and vanished. His skull, with two bullet holes, was recovered about six months after he disappeared. 

Further down the Salt River, a bottle had washed up in Miami. Inside was a note signed by Adolph Ruth stating, “I’m sitting under a tree in a creek with leg broke. I’ve got to have help quick. Finder of this note please give it to Howard Peterson. P.S. Have found the lost Dutchman.” 

The story became a national sensation; everyone suddenly knew about the mine and its horror-riddled backstory. Since Adolph Ruth’s death, which has been riddled with controversy due to inaccurate reports about the cause of his death, there have been numerous other mysterious deaths or disappearances in the Superstition Mountains. 

  • The headless remains of prospector James A. Cravey were discovered in the mid-1940s. 
  • Author Barry Stome, in his 1945 book Thunder God’s Gold, declared to have escaped from a mysterious sniper only known as “Mr. X” in search of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. 
  • In late November or early December 2009, Jesse Capen, a hiker from Denver, Colorado, disappeared in the Tonto National Forest. His corpse was found three years later, in November 2012, by a local search and rescue organization, stuffed into a crevice.
  • On July 11, 2010, three more hikers went missing in the Superstition Mountains while looking for the mine. In January 2011, three sets of remains assumed to be those of the lost men were retrieved.


In The Shadow Of The Superstition Mountains


People from the town below are certain that only death and demons travel across the Superstition Mountains at night. Lights, screams, and shadows of Apache armies have been reported. Bands of roaming cannibals are said to hunt the area, and the curse of the Lost Mine isn’t a tall tale but a stark reality to many.

These stories are among many that have sparked rumors of a curse befalling anyone foolish enough to search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. The hit History Channel show The Legend of The Superstition Mountain followed the path of five gentlemen in search of the mine. Unlike their hunt, their show was a success but failed to renew for another season. One of the cast members experienced personal hardships that almost ruined his entire life afterward. He blames the curse of the Superstition Mountains. 

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