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Legendary, but lost: The search for the Lost Dutchman Mine

Real riches or tall tale?
Posted at 11:44 AM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 14:44:34-04

APACHE JUNCTION, AZ — It is a story of untold riches -- lost somewhere in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. But what is the truth about the Lost Dutchman Mine?

This is anything but a get-rich-quick story. The story of the Lost Dutchman Mine and its supposedly limitless stores of gold is full of danger, death, and mystery that lives on to this day.

This story lives in the Superstition Mountains: rough and forbidding -- a place for treasure hunters where, as far as anyone’s letting on, it’s been all hunt and no treasure.

Clay Worst is 92 now. One of his photos shows him 74 years ago ready to use dynamite to make the mountains give up their secret.

He survived to talk about his quest. Not everyone did.

“People that went into a remote wilderness that were hopelessly unqualified to do so. And they go back there in August with a bottle of Coca-Cola and a ham sandwich. You end up dead.”

No one’s sure what the Dutchman looked like. Historians think they have one photo of him at a bakery in Phoenix. Whether it’s really him is just part of the mystery.

Jacob Waltz wasn’t really Dutch. He was Deutsch, as in Deutschland -- Germany. In the Old West, Dutchman was close enough.

Clay Worst says the Dutchman bounced all over America obsessed with finding gold -- and found nothing.

He joined an expedition looking for a rich Native American mine.

The expedition failed, so he went back on his own.

Worst says the Dutchman found some Mexican men working a mine with a vein of gold a foot and a half wide.

“The Dutchman lay awake all that night.”

Worst says the Dutchman decided he could have found that mine and he deserved to have it.

“The Dutchman shoved the muzzle of his shotgun into his bedroll to muffle the sound. He shot the first Mexican in the back. The second Mexican barely whirled in wide-eyed astonishment when he took the second charge of buckshot at the chest.”

A third man came back later. Worst says the Dutchman murdered him too.

To preserve his secret and avoid vengeful relatives, Jacob Waltz covered the mine opening and stayed away for two years.

Worst says another man found and worked the mine. He died in quicksand without revealing its location.

“They looked through his outfit to try and find names or addresses of friends or relatives to notify of his death. What they found was two one-pound baking powder cans, completely filled with pure hand-cobbed gold”.

Years later, Waltz became friends with Julia Thomas, an African American woman who had grown up speaking German.

As he neared death, he agreed to tell her how to find the mine. Thomas found one of the Dutchman’s friends who introduced her to Dick Holmes, a man who knew the Superstition Mountains and knew mining.

But it was hard for Waltz to give Holmes directions. In 1891, most of the landmarks in the Superstitions had not been named yet.

“So all he could do really was describe what the country looked like as he traveled around one of the roughest pieces of wilderness terrain on the North American continent. It simply wasn't good enough.”

Holmes' son became Worst’s partner in his search for the Lost Dutchman Mine.

He’d seen something special to drive him: a matchbox made of gold -- gold from a box under the Dutchman’s death bed.

“It was heavy. The Dutchman said, ‘Open it.' Holmes opened it and in that box was almost 50 pounds...of incredibly rich hand-cobbed gold.”

Worst says jewelers' records confirm gold for the matchbox came from under Waltz's bed but they don’t prove where that gold came out of the Earth.

One treasure we can confirm is how the story fascinates so many people. People from around the world come to the Superstition Mountain/Lost Dutchman Museum asking about the gold, and the mystery.

Phil Staley with the museum says, “We have a lot of visitors who come here from Europe, a lot from Eastern Europe, that come to visit here, and some of them have known of the legend before they got here.”

But Staley wonders if the mine was never in the Superstition Mountains -- that maybe the cagey old Dutchman found gold somewhere else and lied to throw us all off the track.

But Worst is a believer and does not regret a minute of the years he’s spent trying to find the lost mine.

“And I tell you, those are the most precious memories of my life. And today if I could turn the clock back to 1947, and absolutely know then that I would never find it with God as my witness, I would do it all over again.”