Monday, March 16, 2015

A Treasure Tree

March 9, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Walter Gassler, prepared for another trip into the
Superstition Mountains in search of the
Dutchman’s Lost mine.
Walt Gassler made trips into the rugged Superstition Mountains each year in May to search for the legendary Dutchman Lost Mine. Walt was convinced a rich deposit or cache of gold was located along a legendary line between the second peak on Four Peaks and the tip of Weaver’s Needle. Some claim Walt’s story fits the old Gonzales Map if it were authentic. He continued his search for more than fifty years.

 Walter Gassler was born in Switzerland and immigrated to America as a child. Walt became a chef early in life and worked as a chef all his life. He was the pastry chef at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel for many years, however in his spare time he liked to hunt for lost gold mines in the Southwest.

He met William A. Barkley shortly after the discovery of Adolph Ruth’s remains in 1931 and became friends with the old rancher. Barkley was always concerned about Walt going into the mountain alone, but he continued to do so.

Walt was always giving Gertie Barkley (wife of William “Gus” A. Barkley) gifts of special pastries he made and shared various recipes with her. The Barkleys were always concerned for Walt, but also knew he would hunt for the gold of Superstition Mountain regardless. Walt was a solo prospector and Dutch hunter and never really shared anything with anyone until he was almost eighty years old.

Walt spent most of his time on Peter’s Mesa, east of Charlebois Spring. He was convinced the Dutchman, Jacob Waltz, traveled into the Superstition Mountains from the Salt River by the old Peter’s Canyon trail up and over Geronimo Head. The trail was extremely difficult to follow on the black solid rock out of Peters Canyon above the confluence of Peter’s and Tortilla Creeks.

This portion of the trail is marked by rock cairns. The trail eventually led upon Geronimo Head and eventually southward toward Peter’s Mesa. Some old time Dutch hunters call this the “Monument Trail” and were convinced Jacob Waltz would follow this route to his rich mine. Gassler was also convinced this was the point Jacob Waltz entered the mountains from Salt River (Rio Salado or Salinas). Also near the confluence of Peter’s Canyon and Tortilla Creek there is a unique “trick in the trail” a horse, mule or burro could easily negotiate to enter Peter Canyon to gain access to the Monument Trail.

Walt Gassler spent fifty years searching this region for hidden gold. Early in April of 1984, Walt was convinced he had figured out the riddle of the infamous Dutchman’s mine and wanted Bob Corbin and I go with him on his last trip into the mountains. Neither Bob nor I could prepare for a trip on such short notice therefore we both declined his invitation.

I believe Walt was eighty-two years old when he had his wife drive him out to First Water Trail. He hiked into Charlebois Spring some eight miles away on May 1, 1984. I rode into Charlebois and talked to Walt on May 2, before he started his final hike to his camp. Walt died on the trail just above Charlebois Spring. 

Gene Baker and Don Shade found his remains along the trail on May 3, 1984. There was a story told that a rich bonanza of gold was found in his backpack or was removed by an unknown party.

A story was told that Walt Gassler had found a rich deposit or cache of bonanza grade gold ore on Peter’s Mesa or somewhere nearby. It is said that near this cache or vein there is an unusual tree that has grown out of its natural ecosystem. Walt was said to have described the tree as an Ironwood. These desert legumes general, live well below 2,500 feet. They cannot survive freezing weather.

The Ironwood tree is easy to identify because of its heavy, dense wood and its flowers are lavender or purple in color. I have never seen an Ironwood on Peter’s Mesa, but I have not covered the entire mesa during the past fifty years or so. I suppose now we can call this the “Lost Ironwood Mine.”

Maybe, or maybe not, this is another tall tale about the legendary Superstition Mountains.