Best of Phoenix 2014: Legend City / The Golden Nugget

In October 1891, German immigrant and Valley pioneer Jacob Waltz promised his friend and caretaker, Julia Thomas, that he would take her to his hidden gold mine the following spring, after he'd recovered from a nasty case of pneumonia.

Waltz had moved to the Valley in 1868 and tried homesteading a farm. But he was more interested in prospecting — something he'd done from North Carolina to California. From his home near the Salt River, he would often head east toward what is now the federal Superstition Wilderness Area. He'd stay gone for weeks, then return with gold ore he'd exchange in town for goods and services. Before he died, Waltz reportedly gave Thomas some idea as to where to find his secret stash. She later found a tantalizing sample of gold ore under his bed.

Thomas and her companions roamed the Superstitions in the years after Waltz's death for what became known as the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine.

In the years that followed, many have searched for the mine — sometimes with fatal results. In 2011, a trio from Utah died of dehydration while looking for the mine, and a year later the body of a gold-obsessed man from Denver was found.

Some parts of the legend are true. For instance, Waltz (or Walz) was a real person; his remains are buried at the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park at 13th Avenue and Jefferson Street. He searched for gold in the desert east of Phoenix, and he probably did tell Thomas about a real cache of gold he knew about.

Tall tales and unsubstantiated anecdotes surround most of the legend, however, including the source of the gold.

One popular telling has Mexican patriarch Don Miguel Peralta and his crew discovering a rich source of gold ore in the Superstitions just before they were slaughtered by Apaches. A few years later, Waltz and his friend, Jacob Weiser, found two Mexicans — possibly survivors of the massacre — working what may have been the Peralta mine and shot them dead, thinking they were Indians.

In a gentler version of the story, Peralta survives the massacre and tells Waltz and Weiser where to find the mine after they save his life in a knife fight. Yet some historians believe Weiser never existed.

A more plausible story is that Waltz stole gold ore while working for the large, productive Vulture Mine near Wickenburg, and later hid it somewhere, pretending to be working a mine in order to throw off suspicion about the theft.

Some believe that Waltz only wanted people to believe the gold was in the Superstitions, a range made of basalt that scientists say is unlikely to contain gold ore.

Yet the most interesting part of the legend may still be factual: That Waltz's fortune in gold nuggets is there, somewhere — just waiting for some lucky hiker to re-discover it.

Best of Phoenix 2014: Legend City / Crying Peafowl

They perch on rooftops, displaying massive plumage and looking for all the world like colossal weather vanes. They strut up and down sidewalks, taking treats from the outstretched hands of neighborhood kids. And during the summer months, the males scream bloody murder from atop telephone poles, bellowing for peacock tail well into the night and long before the sun rises each morning.

Some say the peacocks have always lived in Coronado, one of Phoenix's oldest neighborhoods, bordered by Thomas Road and I-10, and Seventh and 20th streets. The story is that a pair of the birds were abandoned by a woman who lived in Coronado in the early 1990s. Neighbors began feeding the pretty fowl and, before you could say, "shake a tail feather!" there were dozens of them.

Rumors have been flying around the neighborhood that some Coronado residents are breeding the noisy poop-makers, because they think peacocks make the neighborhood "more interesting." But there's another story that goes like this: One of our better-known historic districts is curb-deep in peafowl because one guy found out that a neighbor he despised happened to hate peacocks. This bitter fellow then, according to Coronado lore, smuggled in a pair of especially amorous peahens and one especially randy male, caged them in his backyard and, after they began laying pea-eggs, released them to terrorize his nemesis.

It sounds implausible and more than a little silly. But then so does the very notion of peacocks living in a downtown neighborhood. You decide.

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