Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Lost Dutchman Days 1999

February 16, 1999 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The old prospector of lost mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left quite a legacy for the State of Arizona 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 still believe Waltz had a rich gold mine while others claim it to be a fable.

The story still compels some to search the deep canyons and towering spires of the Superstition Wilderness for the lost mine. Prospectors, treasure hunters and the curious come from far and near for a look at the Superstition Mountain and [to] try their luck at searching for gold.

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 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 still stands at the intersection of the Apache Trail and the Old West Highway, although it’s now somewhat hidden by the new city focal point.

The monument was rededicated on February 28, 1988, after standing for fifty years undisturbed by progress. Almost 400 dignitaries and citizens from around Arizona attended the rededication. The keynote speaker for the occasion was Governor Rose Mofford of Arizona.

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 Arizonans, including governors, legislators and historians. The prospector and burro became 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, and Hollywood movie stars often became involved with the Burro Derby between 1958-1963 when they were in town filming at Apache Land.

As I recall, St. George’s Church stated as a Mardi Gras parade and out of this event and the Burro Derby, grew Lost Dutchman Days in 1965. Lost Dutchman Days was named by Lulu Luebben. If I recall correctly, the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce organized the event each year after 1965. This year’s event will be the 35th Annual Lost Dutchman Days.

Lost Dutchman Days is known around the world because of the notoriety of Jacob Waltz and his lost gold mine in the rugged Superstition Mountains. Each year, this celebration draws thousands of people to Apache Junction for fun and to share in our history. The event requires a tremendous amount of volunteer energy and ingenuity to pull it off each year, and is marked by volunteer dedication everywhere you look. If it [were] not for volunteers, there would be no Lost Dutchman Days. It is through their efforts that our community puts its best foot forward.

We need to recognize the businesses and sponsors who so strongly support this event. It is also important that 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 having his picture taken there 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.”

Come out and celebrate Lost Dutchman Days with the fine people of Apache Junction this year on February 26, 27 and 28. The 1999 celebration includes a historical parade, a rousing Rodeo Dance, a carnival, Polka contest, gold panning, a Senior Pro Rodeo, and lots of good food and entertainment. 

For more information on Lost Dutchman Days call 480-982-3141.