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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"I just came to the conclusion, after wearing out boots, that it ain't out there," he says of the Dutchman. "It wasn't a waste of time — I had a good time out there hiking and saw some pretty scenery."

He's not the only Dutchman hunter who'll tell you "the gold is in the hunt," which is maybe the only thing that all hunters can agree on.

The current owners of the Bulldog Mine, for example, don't agree that it could be the source of the Dutchman's ore. How do they know? They've had it tested against some purported Dutchman ore, which they own, handed down from old Dick Holmes. Meet the Feldmans.

Considering he's a relative newcomer, born back east before moving to Arizona in the '60s, it's a little surprising that Ron Feldman and his family are the top outfit in the Dutchman-hunting game.

Unlike the loon who stumbled into Apache Junction's Pro-Mack Treasure Hunting on a recent weekend, drunk and asking for dynamite, the Feldmans play by the rules. They also have a huge platform for their beliefs via their OK Corral riding stables, which takes city folk on tours of the area, complete with history lessons from their guides. The gold is truly in the hunt for the Feldmans, who charge $1,200 a head for one of their three-day Dutchman-themed riding trips.

Ron Feldman first heard of the Dutchman legend while growing up in Buffalo, New York, then started exploring the Superstitions when he lived in California. In 1968, he opened his stables, mostly so he could finance his hunt for the Dutchman. Feldman's oft-repeated quip about his first quarter-century of searching is that he followed the typical threads and "became an expert on where the mine wasn't."

Then, Feldman started poring over the notes of Ted Cox, an old-timer whose father claims to have known Waltz and who himself purports to have overheard plotters discussing the murder of Adolph Ruth. That led Feldman to an abandoned mine far east of where most Dutchman hunters concentrate.

To explore that mine, Feldman had to assemble a team and file a "treasure trove permit," which had never been done in the Superstitions before. The Feldmans got the permit in 2004 and started digging without power tools, using basically the same technology the mine would have made do with in the 1850s. Officially, they were digging under the auspices of an archeological expedition, trying to prove the Spanish made their way into the Supes, far north of where most historians believed they'd been.

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."

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.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar