One of the best treasure tales in the history of the American West is the Lost Dutchman Mine. Shrouded in mystery, the mine is not only allegedly rich in gold but is also said to have a curse upon it, leading to a number of strange deaths, as well as people who mysteriously go “missing” when they attempt to locate the old mine.
For more than 120 years, the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine has been told over and over, growing in proportions to such an extent that some claim the entire legend is nothing but a myth. But for thousands of others, the mine and its legends are extremely real, hidden in the forbidding peaks of the Superstition Mountains.
“Real” or not, the haunting tales endure, continuing to draw prospectors to the Superstition Mountains today, and making the story one of the most famous lost treasure tales of all time.
East of Phoenix, Arizona is the Superstition Mountain range, more commonly referred to by locals, as the “Superstitions.” Standing majestically at the forefront of this rough terrain is Superstition Mountain, a 3,000-foot high monolith, which seemingly stands guard over the rest of its territory.
Long before gold was found in these rugged cliffs and mesas, the area has been cloaked in mystery. When the Spanish arrived in 1540, the region was inhabited by the Apache Indians, who considered Superstition Mountain to be sacred ground, as it was home to their Thunder God. Led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the conquistadors cared little about the Apache customs or beliefs, wanting only to find the legendary “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola.”
Learning from the Apache, that the range did, in fact, hold gold, the Spaniards were intent upon exploring the area. The Apache; however, refused to help them, telling them that if they dared to trespass on the sacred ground, the Thunder God would take revenge upon them, causing tremendous suffering and horrible deaths. The Indians called Superstition Mountain the “Devil’s Playground.”
But the Spaniards were determined and began to explore. Almost immediately, men began to mysteriously vanish, to the point that warnings were given to never stray more than a few feet away from the rest of the group. Still, more men disappeared only to be found dead later, their bodies mutilated and their heads cut off.
In fear, the conquistadors finally fled, refusing to return to the mountain, which they dubbed Monte Superstition. The legends had begun.
A century and a half later, having heard of the rich gold to be found in the Superstitions, Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, whose objective was to establish missions and Christianize the Indians, was lured by the tales. In the first decade of the 1700s, he began to explore the region, finding several sources of gold. Though it is not known if he found the fabled Dutchman’s Mine, his forays did produce the coveted shining metal, adding more fuel to the legend of gold in the Superstitions. However, these expeditions further enraged the Apache, who then began to prey on all trespassers.
In 1748, the Superstitions, as well as some 3,750 square miles of what is now Arizona, were given to Mexican cattle-baron, Don Miguel Peralta of Sonora, in a land grant.
The land not only contained a rich gold mine, but also several silver mines. This was the first official recording of the mine’s existence. For the next century, the Peralta family and their laborers would make infrequent forays into Arizona bringing out loads of ore. Aware of the Apache’ displeasure, they kept these mining trips at a minimum, not wanting to risk the ferocious Apache’s ire.
However, in 1846, four descendants of the original grant, Enrico, Pedro, Ramon, and Manuel Peralta, decided to make another foray into Arizona, risking not only the “curse,” but also the wrath of the Apache.
They soon returned to Sonora, laden with gold and planning another trip. The next year, with the Mexican-American War in full swing, Pedro was the only one willing to return to Arizona, determined to extract as much gold as possible before their holdings became part of the United States. In the meantime, the Apache were angry at the intrusion upon their sacred grounds. When the Peralta miners heard that the Apache might attack, they packed up, concealed the entrance to the mine, and with burros and wagons laden with gold, began to make their way back to Mexico in the winter of 1847-1848.
But, they wouldn’t make it. They were attacked by the Apache. The pack mules scattered in all directions, spilling the gold everywhere. For years afterward, prospectors flocked to the area not only in search of the mine but also in search of Mexican gold spilled during the massacre. In the 1850s, two prospectors are said to have come upon three dead burros with intact pack saddles that contained some $37,000 worth of gold.
The Peralta family refrained even more from working the mines for the next 16 years. However, in 1864, Enrico Peralta, leading some 400 men, ventured back into the range. It would be his last. On the northwest slope of the mountain, in an area now referred to as “Massacre Ground,” all but one of the miners were ambushed and killed by the Apache. Never again did the Peralta family venture back to the mine and all maps and knowledge of its location were lost through the years.
The next person to come across the mine was a man named Dr. Abraham Thorne. In 1865, Thorne was working as an army doctor at Fort McDowell, Arizona. During this time, the Apache had turned their wrath against the Arizona settlers and the U.S. Army. As the Indians were subdued by the soldiers, a reservation was established near Fort McDowell, where Thorne began to provide his services. Thorne earned the respect of tribal leaders as he cared for the sick and injured, and after curing several Apache of an eye disease, he was offered an opportunity to be led to the gold in the Superstitions in 1870. However, Thorne had to agree to be blindfolded for the 20-mile trip. When the doctor agreed, he was taken to a place that was allegedly near the mine, where a pile of gold ore had been stacked near the base of the canyon wall.
Allowed to remove the blindfold, Thorne found himself in a canyon where a large unusual rock pinnacle loomed to the south. The Apache let him pick up as much as he could before the doctor was once again blindfolded for the return trip. Thorne sold the ore for some $6,000, making him a wealthy man. However, sometime later legend tells us that Dr. Thorne determined that he would try to find the place again. Gathering up a few of his friends, the group amazingly stumbled onto the mine’s location. After filling their saddlebags with as much gold as they could carry, they started to Phoenix but never lived to enjoy the wealth. They were discovered by the Apache, who killed them before they could escape with the gold.