The Superstition Mountain has served as a beacon to treasure hunters and the curious, attracting them from around the world. Fortunes have been made and lost in the search for the Lost Dutchman Mine, however, the mine has never been found. Some claim the majestic beauty and tranquility of the region is the only treasure man will find in the Superstition Wilderness Area.
|Cattle range beneath the facade of Superstition Mountain c. 1930s. Photo source unknown.|
Hermann Petrasch was probably one of the most persistent seekers of Waltz’s mine. You might say Hermann was the "father of all modern Dutch hunters." Hermann and his brother Rhinehart began their search for the mine with Julia Thomas in the summer of 1892.
Carl Gottfried Hermann Petrasch was born in Hennersdorf, Germany on the 24th day of April 1864. Hermann arrived at the Port of Entry, New York, New York in the spring of 1869. He had left Germany with his father Gottfried when he was only five years old. Hermann accompanied his father to the town of Whatcom, Washington. Hermann’s father, traveled widely throughout the West, first Washington, Montana, Colorado, then finally to Arizona. Hermann lived in Arizona almost sixty years and most of those years were spent in and around the Superstition Mountain area. Petrasch did not apply for United States citizenship until October 1938.
Hermann Petrasch arrived in Arizona shortly after the death of Jacob Waltz on October 25, 1891. He came to Arizona at the request of his brother Rhinehart. Rhinehart wanted Hermann to assist Julia Thomas and him in the search for Waltz’s gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. Rhinehart claimed that he and Julia had the clues given to them by Waltz to locate his rich gold mine.
Rhinehart Petrasch had been residing in Phoenix for some time and helped Julia Thomas with her business. Some historians believe Rhinehart became a close associate of Jacob Waltz in his final days at Julia’s residence on West Jackson Street in Phoenix. Rhinehart learned a few meager clues during this period some believe, but not enough to find the mine. Waltz may or may not have mumbled out any clues in the final days of his life. If any clues were given out, surely Waltz would have given them to Julia, who was his caregiver during his long illness.
As the end became apparent for the "Old Dutchman" he called Julia and Rhinehart to his side, some say, and gave them the final clues to his rich gold mine in the Superstitions. This would have been fine, but Julia and Rhinehart had been celebrating a bit much and their minds were a little foggy. This they would regret when they wandered aimlessly in the mountains searching for Waltz’s mine.
Julia and Rhinehart tried to put the pieces together after old "Jake’s" death. Their first decision was to find another partner they could trust. Julia accepted the idea of inviting Rhinehart’s brother Hermann to join them in the search for Waltz’s mine. Hermann was living in Colorado at the time.
Early in August of 1892, shortly after Herman Petrasch’s arrival in Phoenix, Julia Thomas, Rhinehart and Hermann Petrasch began to organize their expedition to search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Julia Thomas had purchased a team, wagon, and camping gear for their expedition into the Superstition Mountains. The group departed Phoenix before sunrise on August 11, 1892, with little fanfare. The party moved slowly along the old Tempe-Lehi Road. They spent their first night at Marysville Crossing. The next morning they turned southeastward toward Superstition Mountain and the desert flatland west of the mountains. The second day of travel eastward across the desert toward the western face of Superstition Mountain proved difficult until they found some wagons tracks. These wagon tracks lead northeast toward Superstition Mountain, but crossing washes became very difficult for their overloaded wagon.
Somewhere along this old trail the group realized they had to abandon the wagon.
They spent their next night under the cliffs of Superstition Mountain. At sunrise the next morning they were packing up their two horses and decided to walk toward the northwestern end of Superstition Mountain. Julia Thomas was searching for La Sombrero, the pointed peak she said Jacob Waltz had told her about. The heat and humidity was stifling, but the three adventurers continued walking and leading the pack animals.
According to Hermann Petrasch they camped the next evening in Needle Canyon, at least he thought it was. Years later Hermann said, "we might have camped in East Boulder Canyon on the west side of Black Top Mountain that third night. The next morning we were up at sunrise again and climbed a steep ridge to a pass and walked down into a deep canyon. We could see the pointed peak old Jacob had talked about. It was here they set camp for the next three weeks as they searched the area with their clues."
Spirits were high among the three very amateur adventurers searching for Waltz’ lost gold mine. The tortuous summer heat and humidity soon took its toll. Toward the middle of the second week it was impossible to search except in the very early morning or late evening. At the end of the third week, the three explorers collapsed from exhaustion, lack of food and water. The search for Waltz’s mine was abandoned and the three returned to Phoenix exhausted, defeated and unsuccessful. A local newspaper, the Arizona Weekly Gazette, noted the expedition with the following excerpt on September 1, 1892, "A Queer Quest, Another Lost Mine Being Hunted by a Woman."
This prospecting venture reduced Julia Thomas to financial ruin. She and the Petrashes were destitute, having no source of income or a place to reside. Julia soon parted company with the Petraschs and married a farm laborer named Albert Schaffer on July 26, 1893.
At Schaffer’s encouragement Julia produced maps using what information she could remember. She became very resourceful and began producing excellent maps illustrating how to locate the lost gold mine of Jacob Waltz, her recent friend. These fraudulent sheets of paper were probably the first maps to the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.
It is also quite apparent that Julia Thomas gave Peirpont C. Bicknell an interview about the Lost Dutchman Mine. Bicknell chronicled the mine in the San Francisco Chronicle in article on January 13, 1895, making reference to most of Thomas’ clues. Now, the story was out nationally that there was a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains.
The abandonment of the Petrasch brothers by Julia Thomas left them on their own. Rhinehart worked around Phoenix for a while and eventually moved up to Globe. He worked as a caretaker at an archaeological site in Globe for many years before committing suicide on February 5, 1943. Rhinehart was known as "Old Pete" around Globe and Miami.
Herman had many odd jobs working for different cattlemen around the Superstition Mountain area. He was an excellent carpenter and worked at the old Reavis Ranch house for the Clemans Cattle Company in the 1930’s. Hermann also repaired waterholes and windmills for the Clemans. He was seriously injured when a packhorse pulled his riding horse over backward along Hewitt Canyon in 1938. Hermann eventually settled near the bank of Queen Creek in the area of the Martin Ranch. The Martin’s looked after Hermann for many years. The Martin’s would take Hermann to the dances in Superior where he would play his fiddle. Old Hermann could really play the fiddle. Hermann had a host of friends including my father. Newspaper reporters, authors, and magazine writers visited him from time to time and many articles were written about Hermann and his search for the old "Dutchman" mine.
My father and I visited old Hermann Petrasch on Queen Creek in October of 1952, during my freshman year in high school. I was more interested in baseball than I was lost gold mines at the time. He told us he was ailing a bit, but was still willing to talk with us. Hermann never complained about his aches and pains, he just endured. Herman Petrasch passed away on November 23, 1953.
I would like to clear something up about an old photograph taken of Hermann Petrasch on Queen Creek with a gold pan and shovel. The photograph appeared in Barney Barnard’s book, giving credit for the photograph to him. The person who actually took that photograph was Robert L. Garman, one of Hermann old friends.
The awful irony of the Petrasch-Thomas episode is that their journey into the Superstitions in the blistering hot days of August 1892, led them directly over the Black Queen and Mammoth mines that were discovered later that year. Julia Thomas and Petrasch brothers were not successful in finding gold, however, they began a legend that will live forever. It was in April of 1893, four men discovered the famous Mammoth mine. This mine produced two million dollars in gold bullion when gold was worth only twenty dollars a troy ounce. Some historians believe the Bull Dog or Mammoth mine was the source of Waltz’s bonanza gold ore.