February 19, 2018 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
The old prospector of lost mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left the state of Arizona quite a legacy when he died in Phoenix on Sunday, October 25, 1891.
His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, myth and cryptic clues about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. Today, some believe Waltz had a rich gold mine and others claim the story is nothing but a fable.
As we celebrate this Lost Dutchman Days, we should think about all the stories these old timers left behind. Most are fiction, but some are true. Our state is unique with its many stories of lost mines, cowboys, gunfighters, miners, prospectors, lawman, ministers, farmers, ranchers, jurists and politicians. These were the men and women who helped Arizona make the transition from territorial status to the modern state it is today.
The stories like the Dutchman Mine compel some to search the deep canyons and towering spires of the Superstition Wilderness for the Waltz’s lost mine. Prospectors, treasure hunters and the curious come from far and near for a look at the Superstition Mountains and try their luck at searching for gold. Also, many hike and ride the old trails of the “Wilderness.” However, most come to enjoy the climate, scenery, tranquility and solitude of the mountains.
The first major group to take advantage of this international interest was the Phoenix Dons Club, now known as The Dons of Arizona. Their first annual Superstition Mountain Trek was held in 1934. The Dons Club, in an attempt to further commemorate the history and lore of the Lost Dutchman Mine and Superstition Mountain, constructed the Lost Dutchman Monument in Apache Junction in 1938. The monument was rededicated in 1988 after standing for fifty years, undisturbed by progress. Almost 400 dignitaries and citizens from around Arizona rededicated the monument on February 28,1988. The governor of Arizona was the keynote speaker for the occasion.
Thousands of families have stopped to admire the monument over the years. Many had their photograph taken with the monument in the background. Sam Lowe, columnist for the Arizona Republic recently wrote about the historical significance of the monument in the lives of many prominent Arizonians, including Arizona governors, legislators and historians. Recently, the city of Apache Junction dedicated a bronze statue of the prospector and burro at City Hall on October 4, 2011. The prospector and burro have become the motif of Apache Junction, unique to any other community in Arizona.
The Apache Junction Lions Club so valued the legacy of the Lost Dutchman Mine story and the monument, they implemented the Apache Junction Burro Derby in 1958. The Burro Derby drew thousands to Apache Junction each winter. Hollywood movie stars often became involved with the Burro Derby, between 1960-1963, when they were in town filming at Apache Land.
As I recall, St. George’s Church started a Mardi Gras parade. Lost Dutchman Days evolved in 1965, under the guidance and support of Colonel Rodgers. Lulu Luebben named Lost Dutchman Days. Lulu’s husband Roy became the first officially elected Lost Dutchman. If I recall correctly, the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce organized the event each year after 1965. This year’s event will be the 53rd Annual Lost Dutchman Days.
Lost Dutchman Days is known around the nation and world because of the notoriety of Jacob Waltz and his lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction. Each year, this celebration draws thousands of people to Apache Junction for fun and to share in our history. This event requires a tremendous amount of volunteer energy and ingenuity to pull off each year.
This event is marked by volunteer dedication everywhere you look. If it were not for community volunteers, there would be no Lost Dutchman Days. It is through their efforts our community puts its best foot forward. We also need to recognize the businesses and sponsors who so strongly support this event. It is also important we recognize the resources and support committed by the City of Apache Junction since 1978, when the city was incorporated.
Recently, I had to explain to an old timer how to find the burro and prospector monument in downtown Apache Junction, because of our recent growth. He recalled to me having his picture taken with the burro and prospector in the background in 1939. He said, “When I had that picture taken, there was nothing between the monument and Superstition Mountain.”
I then mentioned Lost Dutchman Days to him. His reply was simple, “You mean the old prospector and burro has an event named after them? It sure pays to hunt gold in these hills, friend.”
Please come out and celebrate Lost Dutchman Days with the fine people of Apache Junction on February 23, 24 and 25, 2018. This year’s celebration includes a parade, a rousing Rodeo Dance, a carnival, Polka contest, gold panning, a Senior Pro Rodeo and lots of good food and entertainment.
If you need information about Lost Dutchman Days, call 480-982-3141.
Community events have sustained Arizona through good times and bad times. Most communities in Arizona have an annual event that attracts thousands of people to Arizona. These community events have been important to Arizona’s sustained growth and prosperity. These events bring people together to enjoy the best of Arizona, its climate, culture, scenery and people.