Longform

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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Teton, who's given name is Ken Eddy, has lived in Apache Junction for a decade and embodies the city's attitude toward the Dutchman myth, literally and figuratively. He plays the part of ol' Jacob Waltz at community events while privately regarding the Dutchman stories with bemused detachment.

Actually, Teton doesn't just play up the myth for the kids who stop by his trailer for story time and a mule ride. Like a lot of locals with experience in the Superstitions, he's been known to guide full-grown men into the bush on treasure-hunting expeditions. For a fee, of course.

"The number-one rule is, we stick to the proven trails," he says.

Trails that any real Dutchman hunter will tell you lead toward nothing. On the other hand, sticking to such trails is a good way to make it out alive — which is Teton Ken's main goal.

So, seeing how he is the Lost Dutchman (even on the cover of this issue) maybe Teton has some insight into the legend. Geologically, there shouldn't be any gold in them hills, at least not a huge deposit in the heart of the range, as Dutchman hunters believe. It's not that there's no gold in the general area — in fact, millions of dollars' worth has been pulled from the nearby hills, and a few pieces of gold-lined quartz show up in the Superstitions from time to time. A mine fitting the Dutchman's description, though, doesn't appear possible. But might there be one rich vein?

Teton pauses.

"Let me put it to you this way: There could have been a fluke."

There are some true believers in Apache Junction, a town of 40,000 people living in gated trailer parks. Signs all over the town bear the bearded image of Jacob Waltz — there's even a Lost Dutchman laundromat. But while people on Pinal County's western edge are steeped in — and financially tied to — the legend, there's skepticism.

There's also a bubbling sense of dread about the threatened closure of Lost Dutchman State Park, which could happen in June. Though the park is irrelevant to serious Dutchman hunters, who stick to the backcountry, and is a postage stamp-size plot in the gigantic Tonto National Forest, it's a major financial engine in Apache Junction.

Things look good, for now. The park's projected budget isn't really that red, the state seems willing to accept donations to keep the park open, and well-heeled snowbirds are donating money in droves.

The hardcore Dutchman hunters don't care either way. One compared the small state park to a "pimple on a dog's ass," as far as the hunt for Waltz's gold is concerned.

Steve Jakubowski, an assistant park manager, says the park isn't the focus of anyone who is serious about searching for the mine, but many wanna-be prospectors spend a few nights there, in the shadow of Superstition Peak.

"We get gold hunters all the time. I've seen people come in here in $100,000 motor homes, and I've seen people come in here on foot after catching a ride. They are all looking for it," he says. "A lot of them are not the most organized. They're not going too far off the [beaten paths], but they want to find the Dutchman's gold."

Some have experienced a "find," Jakubowski says, which is how die-hard prospectors are minted.

"They have a big pendant with a piece of gold on it, and they love to show it to you too," he says. "That's what got them going. They find one piece like that — one big piece of rock gold in quartz — and they're addicted to prospecting."

Which is to say that small amounts of gold have been found near the Superstitions, though nothing like the Dutchman's lode.

If prospectors are addicts, Louis Ruiz, a salty old shopkeeper who runs The Blue Bird Mine store, is a 12-stepper. Ruiz, a man who says "daggummit" a lot and chews tobacco as he chats up customers, selling them handmade bolo ties and shards of volcanic glass, takes a dim view of the ongoing Gold Rush.

"A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar," he spits.

Sure, Ruiz says, he spent time out in the mountains hunting the Dutchman. Then, he started developing an interest in geology, concluding that the main range of the Superstitions has been stripped of valuable minerals. Now he believes Waltz actually got his gold by poaching the nearby Bulldog Mine, one of many old-time shafts in the area.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar