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Fool's Gold: Prospectors Have Looked for the Lost Dutchman's Gold for a Century, But Jesse Capen Figured He Could Find It. He Probably Died Trying.

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When all the minutiae are cast aside, there are two main camps of serious Dutchman hunters: Petrasch and Holmes (see the sidebar).

Helen Corbin, wife of former Arizona attorney general and avid Dutchman hunter Bob Corbin, breaks down the details of the two factions in her book, Curse of the Dutchman's Gold.

The Petrasch faction believes the dying Dutchman told the secret of his mine's location to Julia Thomas, a black woman who'd been his caretaker, and her adopted son, Reiney Petrasch. Holmes followers believe Waltz confessed the location to Dick Holmes, who'd previously tried to trail the Dutchman to his mine. The Petrasch faction tends to end up searching on the east side of the Superstitions, where their clues fit, while the Holmes supporters stick to the west.

Both stories tie the mine back to the Peralta family of Sonora, Mexico. Both versions are full of riddles about unnamed places and vague references to common natural features. And both stories involve murder, betrayal, and misfortune.

But neither has led anyone to the mine. Even the people who supposedly heard the details from the Dutchman's mouth couldn't find it, though Thomas, Petrasch, and Holmes all searched extensively, as did their kin.

The fact that nearly every detail associated with the mine is hearsay has done nothing to dampen interest in it. Just ask 75-year-old Tom Kollenborn. Having spent the last 35 years chronicling "The Supes," Kollenborn is the most prolific author about, and the most quoted source on, all things related to the area and its missing mine. A retired teacher and former Fulbright Scholar, Kollenborn takes a levelheaded approach in a recent column:

"Now you ask me, is there a Dutchman lost mine somewhere out in the rugged Superstition Mountain region? I have dreamed of finding this mine, but I have never found any evidence that really suggested the mine existed. Everything is based off subjective hearsay. Actual facts about the lost mine just don't exist."

Truth is, legendary lost mines were clichés even in the Dutchman's time. A blurb from an 1892 edition of the Arizona Daily Gazette, a short-lived Phoenix newspaper, barely restrains the reporter's mocking tone about the very first Dutchman hunters, Julia Thomas and Reiney Petrasch:

A Queer Quest in Search of Gold: Another 'Lost Mine' Being Hunted for by a Woman

Mrs. (Julia) Thomas, formerly of Thomas Ice Cream Parlor, is now in the Superstition Mountains engaged in a work usually deemed strange for a woman's sphere. She is prospecting for a lost mine, the location of which she believes she holds the key. But somehow, she has failed after two months work to locate the bonanza, though aided by two men. The story about the mine is founded upon the usual death-bed revelations of the ancient miner usual in such cases.


The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine may have ended up another footnote in Arizona history if it weren't for retired Washington veterinarian Adolph Ruth.

Ruth went missing in 1931, just after the start of the Great Depression. Though a little more grandiose, his backstory is similar to Jesse Capen's: A naive outsider becomes obsessed with the mine, underestimates the dangers of the Superstitions, and goes into the mountains alone. Then, predictably he turns up missing, and a massive search is launched.

Ruth's story ties back to the Peraltas. While on a business trip in Mexico, Adolph's son Erwin was given a map to several rich American mines from a Mexican facing either imprisonment or execution, depending on which tale you believe. Erwin shared that map with his father, who became obsessed with finding the mines, crippling himself in a fall while hunting for one hole in California. Even with a bum leg, and with his son too busy to help him, Adolph Ruth wanted to search for a mine in Arizona's Superstition Mountains. He went out alone, stopping at a ranch and talking freely with some men about his map, apparently unaware of the intrigue surrounding this particular mine and assuming the men to be simple, harmless cowpokes.

Upon his arrival in the desert, Ruth wanted to immediately hunt for the mine, even in the June heat. Despite discouragement by a local rancher, Ruth hired two cowboy prospectors to pack him into a canyon that matched the one on his map. He was never seen alive again, though searchers did find a slip of paper where he'd written "Veni, vidi, vici" — Latin for "I came, I saw, I conquered." Despite an exhaustive manhunt, Ruth wasn't found until an expedition to document unexplored Indian ruins turned up his bullet-shattered skull under a palo verde tree a few months later.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar