Monday, April 13, 2015

Tribute to a Legend

April 6, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The History Channel’s 6-part series on the Dutchman’s Lost Gold focused attention on the area.
This past February the History Channel introduced us all to the “Legends of the Superstition Mountains” in a very dramatic way with a six-part reality show starring some local individuals. These individuals included Wayne Tuttle, Frank Augustine, Woody Wampler, Eric Dleel, and Eric Magnuson.

Each of these individuals had a special talent they contributed to the History Channel’s expedition in to the Superstition region. No, they didn’t find any gold or treasure, but they certainly contributed to the myth, legend and lore of the rugged Superstition Mountain region.

Remember, this reality show is about the legends of the Superstition Mountains. If you followed this show you may have even wondered just a bit about this mysterious and unusual land. However if you are a hiker or horseman you may visualize the area completely different.

Those who search these mountains for gold and treasure may find this reality show interesting. Many viewers hope the series continues on television and some wish it would just go away. Arizona author Oren Arnold once said, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  The following will guide you through the “Legends of the Superstition Mountains.”

The legend and lore of Superstition Mountain has prompted a continuous search for hidden gold or lost treasure within the towering spires and deep canyons of this nationally known landmark for the past century. Men and women from all walks of life come to bid their luck against the elements and dangers of a mountain some men call “evil.”

A German immigrant named Jacob Waltz supposedly started the contemporary search for a rich gold mine that he allegedly found within this mountain’s realm. The clues he left behind after his demise on October 25, 1891 fired the imagination of the citizens of Phoenix and the surrounding countryside about lost gold in these mountains.

These stories are more than a century old now and they still tantalize the imagination of contemporary adventurers although no gold has yet been produced.

Only one other man has created such an interest in the mountains since Waltz’s death. This was Adolph Ruth.  He did it by dying in the summer of 1931, alone in the heart of the Superstitions.  Ruth’s sudden and possibly violent death in the mountains quickly replaced the headlines of 1930s “depression” news in major newspapers across the nation.

Across this nation, newspaper headlines echoed the story of Ruth’s mysterious death in the Superstition Mountains while searching for gold. Authors and journalists capitalized on the story of Superstition Mountain and the infamous Lost Dutchman’s mine. The story caused temptation on the part of readers to pack their bags and head for the Superstition Mountains in Arizona and begin the search for gold.

The list is endless of those men and women who have searched and died in this barren and rugged wasteland known as the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some threw their fortunes away just for an opportunity to search for this hidden wealth.  All of them believed they would find that single solitary clue that would lead them to the golden cache, riches beyond the dreams of kings.

The Lost Dutchman’s mine is one of the most often found mines in the world, yet it is still lost. Since 1895, the mine has been found at least 150 times by a variety of individuals from all walks of life. The annual winter migrations of prospectors that descend upon the Superstition Wilderness Area only proves the interest that still exists in the mine today. This story is still America’s most popular lost mine story and continues to captivate the imagination of dreamers.  This fanatic search for lost gold has driven some men to the brink of insanity and some even to suicide.

Some of these individuals have even organized complex corporations and implemented sophisticated electronic equipment to aid in their quest for the gold they believe is contained within the rocks of Superstition Mountain or its wilderness.  Even with the advent of modern technology and the advancement of electronic metal detection equipment to aid in the quest for gold has not aided in the discovery of the legendary rich mine.  The legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine continues to elude the prospector’s pick and shovel.

The hunting of lost mines, in particular the legendary Lost Dutchman’s mine, is like chasing a rainbow, “so close yet so far away.”  The search itself is a solo avocation among the most ethical and honest lost mine hunters. These men and women share no information and ask nobody for assistance. Maybe it is not the finding that is so important for them, but the searching. It is a documented fact many an old timer found pay dirt, only to sell it or lose it so he could return to his wanderlust way of life.  The source for gold and legends are where you find them, “out in the hills.”

The true Dutchman aficionados are definitely blessed with a certain amount of happiness and the rewards of adventure in the great outdoors. They spend years around campfires speculating about the location of Superstition Mountain’s hidden wealth.         

Al Morrow spent nineteen years of his life living in Needle Canyon in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness searching for the Peralta Mines. He believed these mines and the Dutchman were one in the same. This man knew what happiness was and he most definitely knew the pain of loneliness among the towering escarpments of Needle Canyon. He found success in something that we are not able to measure. His life was the simple everyday task of survival in this remote wilderness. Morrow chose this way of life. He could deal with nature first hand and continue his life at this slow pace far removed from the complexities of urbanization. He did this with great success and integrity. Morrow did it in an age where everything was based on material wealth. It is difficult to imagine the likes of Al Morrow and other prospectors like him, who choose such a solo way of life despite the demands of modern society. Al Morrow marched to the ”beat of a different drummer.”

Superstition Mountain is a tribute to those people and their stories of hidden gold and the never-ending search for it. This mountain has become a fitting monument to these men and women who suffered the hardships of isolation, hard work and being different just to survive. Maintaining a camp deep in the mountains required an enormous amount of work and the constant search for good water. However, the beauty and adventure associated with searching the lofty ridges and deep canyons for hidden wealth was well worth any exerted energy.

Just maybe someday a lucky man or woman will come forth with the gold of Superstition Mountain and forever end the tantalizing tales of lost gold within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. The discovery will also vindicate all those who have believed in the legend. Jacob Waltz undoubtedly left behind the most lingering story ever told about lost gold in the American Southwest.

This is strictly a romantic view of the Superstition Wilderness Area and the life of early prospectors in the area, but as we face the future the significance and importance of the region will grow enormously. Today we find hikers and joggers wandering the trails of the Superstition Wilderness looking for adventure, recreation, and relief from the stress of our modern urban society. The Superstition Wilderness Area has become an important habitat for these urbanites with their daypacks, water bottles, and Nikes on weekends. Today the region serves more as park than a true wilderness with more than 70,000 (as per estimated figures for 2001) people using the system trails this past year.  The future and survival of the wilderness is totally dependent on the forest service’s management plan as the Phoenix metropolitan area grows. We will probably soon see the day access will be limited to the wilderness as more and more state trust lands are closed or developed.      

Until this gold is found, the legend of Superstition Mountain is the stuff that dreams are made of. Dreams of hidden gold or personal enrichment— it matters not because the opportunity to search has been worthwhile to the old timers. While this legendary land of the old “Dutchman’s” lost mine has become a prime recreational resource for the Phoenix metropolitan area and old Superstition Mountain continues to remain as a tribute to a legend.