After taking five years to fill out a mountain of paperwork, plus months of digging, a highly paid archeology consultant gave the Feldmans what they wanted, declaring that the timbers in the abandoned mine were Spanish. This gave more credence to any Peralta-related story, which holds that a Spanish family discovered the mine. This is what the Feldmans believe about the Dutchman.

As serious treasure hunters, the Feldmans are cagey about how their discoveries fit in with the Dutchman, even after writing three books on the subject. They imply that they believe there was a Dutchman mine and that it's been emptied — and that's okay with them.

"Whether the Lost Dutchman Mine has gold dripping from the walls or not is immaterial to anyone who hunts it, basically," Ron Feldman says. "To a Dutchman hunter, if you found the mine and there was gold dripping from the walls and there was a blinking neon sign that said 'Lost Dutchman Mine,' other Dutchman hunters would say, 'No, that's not it.' Because they don't want their dream squashed. The search is more important than the find if you're a true treasure hunter."

Goldfield Ghost Town is one of several Apache Junction tourist traps trading on the legend.
Jamie Peachey
Goldfield Ghost Town is one of several Apache Junction tourist traps trading on the legend.
Treasure hunter Ron Feldman, whose family charges $1,200 a head for a three-day Dutchman-themed riding trip.
Jamie Peachey
Treasure hunter Ron Feldman, whose family charges $1,200 a head for a three-day Dutchman-themed riding trip.

What the Feldmans do say, without reservation, is that geology and archeology, not cryptography and cartography, are the sciences important to real Dutchman hunters.

"You can't find anything if you follow the stories and the clues and the riddles and the arrows carved on saguaro cactus," says son Josh Feldman. "You're not going to find your ass with two hands."

Perhaps that's where Jesse Capen went wrong. Jesse took a studious approach to his Dutchman research — his mother calls it his "doctoral thesis" — highlighting and underlining certain things concerning codes and cairns in the stories told by old-timers. Books are what his family found in his apartment — not rocks.


Though he's certainly not the first prospector to go missing on a hunt for the Lost Dutchman's gold, Jesse Capen's disappearance does mark the dawn of a new era. Capen is, after all, the first high-profile disappearance of the Internet age. Though they're still intensely secretive, Dutchman hunters now use the Web to keep tabs on each other, spreading news, lies, and rumors.

Likewise, there's a glut of information from people who claim to know this or that about the search for Capen — which is good and bad, say Robert Cooper and Cynthia Burnett. On one hand, people are interested, and some kind folks have gone online to provide search support and to offer Cynthia a shoulder to cry on. On the other hand, there's a lot of misinformation. It used to take several years and access to a printing press to widely circulate variations on a Dutchman story; now anyone with a computer can do it instantly.

One poster says Capen staged his disappearance and is working on a book. Several vehemently assert that he must've been caught in a storm and tried to hurriedly make his way back to his Jeep, running recklessly down the wash. He fell, they suppose, and the water carried him away, the rushing current pummeling his body against rocks until there was nothing left to find. Some say he probably went into a tiny cave that no one will ever find and was bitten by a snake. Others look at his flabby countenance in the driver's license photo and surmise it was a heart attack. There are cruelly imaginative posts, too, including one that suggests hungry animals ate Jesse's body as he was alive and incapacitated. His family, understandably desperate for any information, reads this kind of stuff, and it's hard on them.

All told, thanks to Superstition Search and Rescue, the hunt for Capen has probably been the longest organized search in the history of the Superstitions. He's part of the lore now, and the stakes are high.

For SSR, gathered at the Tortilla Trailhead for another early-Saturday hike into the area where Jesse was last seen, there's a palpable sense of urgency. Foremost, it seems, squad member are there to provide closure to his family. But there's also a chance to score a huge 'W' in a simmering feud with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Cooper and his crew publicly supported the old sheriff, whom "Sheriff Paul," as he likes to be called, defeated two years ago. As Maricopa County residents are painfully aware, sheriffs can be more politicians than actual law enforcement agents, and Sheriff Paul has been trying to settle the score with SSR by pulling its county-tied insurance and trying to force Cooper out. Babeu also has started a posse to handle searches and told the rest of Cooper's team they're welcome to join. So far only a K-9 unit has defected.

Undaunted, Cooper says his guys shine when the county gives up on finding a missing prospector.

"When they stop searching, that's a cold case for us, and unfortunately, it's a great opportunity for us to do what we do," he says.

Meanwhile, at her home in Denver, Cynthia Burnett mostly mourns but sometimes worries. She still frets about anything unusual, even though she's 99 percent sure her son was killed in a run-of-the-mill mishap, his body somehow ending up somewhere searchers haven't yet thought to look. Still, doubts pop into her head. A mysterious cashier's check turned up in the mail a while ago, inspiring her to dream up a long list of dark, far-fetched theories and causing a week of panicked agony before some of her friends 'fessed up to sending it, worried she needed money.

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8 comments
sherrycook007
sherrycook007

My brother, a friend & myself took a hike in the superstition mountains once back in 1971. we had barely started walking when we saw this rocket ship @ the top of a cliff (we thought, a space ship - someone must

b playing a joke). We left the trail & headed 4 the base of the cliff, hoping that once there we'd find a way up. At the point directly below the ship we found a hidden waterfall (no way up at all). The waterfall was spilling into a circle of small river rocks. And going immediately underground. There was no pooling of the water @ all. We didn't touch it or walk on the rocks. We were so spooked we took off back to our car. When we could we looked back to c if the rocket was still there. It was not. I would love to hear of others experiences in those mountains. I have never been able 2 forget what happened to us & have never been back there.

Dbmcneal
Dbmcneal

Great article. I have been lucky enough to have been taught by knowlegable freinds how dangerous these mountains are.

Scole14
Scole14

This is a very interesting article but the idea that the Superstition area is a particularly dangerous one is silly. There is a certain romance associated with the range which some find important to nurture. The stories of stick-weilding miners and squatting prospectors are, of course, apocryphal, as are the tales of the lost mine itself. Likewise, the danger from the exceedingly sparse population of mountain lions in the range is by all measures nonexistent and anyone who packs a firearm into the wilderness against the advent of a shootout with one is either ignorant or operating a couple of raisins short of a fruitcake. I have hiked extensively in the Superstitions and I have often seen these pistol-packing nimrods. I suppose one should allow them to indulge in their adolescent Wild West fantasies, but they still leave me rolling my eyes a little. Nothing is sillier (even squatting prospectors or lurking mountain lions) than a paranoid, Stetson-wearing nudnik shivering with fear and packing a six-shooter in this rugged but friendly wilderness.

Jonathan  McNamara
Jonathan McNamara

How is looking for a lost gold mine any different from the constant search for material wealth modern society seems to place us all on?

C W Williamson
C W Williamson

There is a certain pity I feel for people as ignorant as you who think that nothing bad will ever happen to them. What happens when you or your dauhter are hiking with a couple of girlfriends and you come upon some maniac squatting out there? You would be really wishing you had a gun at that point, because chances are the maniac DOES have one. And guess what, there are no police out there either friend!

 
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