Superstition Mountain Museum

Delightful Superstition Mountain Museum and The Story of the Lost Dutchman

The Lost Dutchman Museum isn’t on the sign anymore. Now it is the Superstition Mountain Museum. The Superstition Mountain Museum tells the facts and the myths about the Old West including about the Lost Dutchman and the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Moonrise over the Superstition Mountains as seen from the front window of our RV.
Moonrise over the Superstition Mountains as seen from the front window of our RV.

A little to the east of the Goldfield in Apache Junction, right on Apache Trail the Superstition Mountain Museum has a corner lot. The museum first started as a room at the Goldfield Ghost Town. Now they have their own property. The Superstition Mountain Historical Society created a delightful museum focused on stories from the Old West.

Apacheland

Apacheland was a movie set and home to numerous Hollywood movies. The movie set was established in 1959 and was known as Apacheland even though the official name changed several times over the years. In 2004 after a huge fire destroyed most of the buildings some of the movie set was moved to The Superstition Mountain Museum. The buildings included the barn and what is called the Elvis Chapel.

This is the back side of the barn at the Superstition Mountain Museum. I like it better than the front side because it doesn't have Apacheland in white letters across the hay loft.
This is the back side of the barn at the Superstition Mountain Museum. I like it better than the front side because it doesn’t have Apacheland in white letters across the hay loft.

Like much of the Old West, the Superstition Mountain Museum isn’t just about the facts. The mission statement of the Superstition Mountain Museum is that they collect and preserve fact, fiction, and legend.

Facts, fiction, and legends

Unlike most museums that try only to focus on facts, the Superstition Mountain Museum is dedicated to preserving all the stories about the Superstition Mountains. They don’t ignore myths and legends. In character to the area, they also preserve outlandish lies and tall tales.

This view of the Superstition Mountains was the view out the windshield every day while we were staying at Lost Dutchman State Park.
The Superstition Mountains were the view out the windshield every day while we were staying at Lost Dutchman State Park.

Campfire stories and tall tales

The Story of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine is one of these legends, probably mixed with a few facts and plenty of fiction. I have known at least one of the versions of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine since I was in an American History class during High School. This is as I remember it, after not thinking about it for fifty years.

The Story of the Lost Dutchman Mine

This is the story, as I remember it.

During the mining era of the last part of the 1800s, there was an immigrant called the Dutchman who found a gold mine. The mine was so rich that he didn’t need mining equipment to pick up all the gold he and his mule could carry. He then took his riches to Mesa Arizona. The mine according, to the Dutchman was in the Superstition Mountains but he kept the location secret.

I like the contrast between the purple and yellow flowers in this picture. Perhaps this happens every year. We caught this desert bloom just right.
I like the contrast between the purple and yellow flowers in this picture. Perhaps this happens every year. We caught this desert bloom just right at Lost Dutchman State Park.

When the Dutchman returned to the mine he was killed by Apache Indians and then the Apache’s buried him and the gold so well that no one in the last hundred and fifty years has ever found his grave or even a trace that the mine ever existed. Anyway, that is the story and how I remember it. The scary thing about the story that I just told is that it is probably as accurate as any of the Lost Dutchman stories.

The Superstition Mountains as seen from our campsite in front of our RV at Lost Dutchman State Park.
The Superstition Mountains as seen from our campsite in front of our RV at Lost Dutchman State Park.

Having such an old memory I was trying to relate it to our current visit to the Superstition Mountains and our stay at Lost Dutchman State Park. We were in a good place to find some facts. Fact one: There was a person who was from Germany, who was called a Dutchman, who was a miner, seeking gold, and found some. So far the story seems like it is playing out pretty well for my memory. I’m so proud of myself for paying attention and being able to recall this from fifty years ago. Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.

Fact two: There were probably several people known as the Dutchman and there were several mines named the Lost Dutchman Mine.

Our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park.
Our campsite at the Lost Dutchman State Park.

Jacob Waltz

The Dutchman’s name was Jacob Waltz, and after doing some mining and in a book on the subject, reports that Jacob Walzer sold $250,000 in gold to the U.S. Mint during the 1880s and had a farm near Phoenix of about 160 acres. He died in 1891 (perhaps of pneumonia) while in bed. This was after his farm was ruined by a flood (the flood was documented in 1891). Waltz was buried in Phoenix at the Pioneer Memorial Park. His tombstone mentions “The Lost Dutchman” including the quotes above his name.

At the center of this picture, there is a buckboard wagon. The pipes to the right are part of the drilling rig to the left.
At the center of this picture, there is a buckboard wagon. The pipes to the right are part of the drilling rig sitting to the left.

Perhaps not in the Superstition Mountains

One thing about the story that is true, is it has at least six different versions. It is nearly certain that IF Jacob Waltz found a super-rich gold mine, he didn’t find it in the Superstition Mountains. The reason for this is that the Superstition Mountains are volcanic and are made of igneous rock. Finding a mine that was easy enough to mine without tools in an area of igneous rock would be far more rare than gold. Gold is exceedingly rare in the first place. You can’t just walk along and pick up nuggets and load up a mule.

Fields filled with yellow flowers in front of the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park.
Fields filled with yellow flowers in front of the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park.

East of Phoenix and nearly everywhere in the Superstition Mountains there are mines. The town of Goldfield had several mines as did the mountains to the west. Northwest of Phoenix there is an additional mining area near Wickenburg. Jacob Walz was known to spend time near Wickenberg in Prescott. At least one book mentions that a “Dutchman” was discovered dead in the desert near Wickenburg in the 1870s alongside saddlebags filled with gold. Was this story near Wickenburg mixed with the story about the Lost Dutchman Mine?

I first thought that Tami had photobombed my picture of this drilling rig. When I zoomed in I found that it was a maniquin.
I first thought that Tami had photobombed my picture of this drilling rig. When I zoomed in I found that it was a mannequin and part of the display.

Another story goes perhaps Jacob Waltz found a cache of gold that had been deliberately hidden, and it wasn’t a lost gold mine after all. If this was true, then perhaps it was the Lost Peralta Gold or the gold hidden during or after what is called the Peralta Massacre. In history, assuming that the story of the attack was printed in newspapers, there was no such thing as the Peralta Massacre.

By cranking this winch the operator could raise the bucket and then drop a load of stones into this ore cart.
By cranking this winch the operator could raise the bucket and then drop a load of stones into this ore cart.

Superstition Mountain Museum

The Superstition Mountain Museum tells the tale of the Spanish Governor of New Mexico Peralta. Starting at about 1600, this included all of Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, obviously including the Superstition Mountains. The Spanish governor of the area may have included a gold mining effort. At a minimum, it isn’t too far-fetched to think that the Spanish may have been moving gold to Mexico City for further distribution in Spain. If this was the case, you would think that it would have been mentioned in the Spanish history of the area. It wasn’t mentioned.

A horse would be hitched in front of the wheel and thus dragging this stone around the circle helping to bust rocks into smaller chunks as part of extracting the ore from the rocks.
A horse would be hitched in front of the wheel and thus dragging this stone around the circle, helping to bust larger rocks into smaller chunks, as part of extracting the ore from the rocks.

Perhaps related to the Spanish Governor of New Mexico, maybe the story that I remembered was about the Peralta family (related to the Governor but two hundred years later), in the 1800s transporting gold from the mining areas near or through the Superstition Mountains. There, they were attacked by the Apaches, and either during or after the attack the gold was hidden. Perhaps then the Dutchman found the gold.

This rock crusher came from New Mexico. Before the invention of these rock smashers rocks were crushed to extract the ore using a sledgehammer.
This rock crusher came from New Mexico. Before the invention of these rock smashers, rocks were crushed to extract the ore using a sledgehammer.

Maybe Jacob Waltz stumbled across the hidden gold. Jacob Waltz, however, clearly stated that his gold mine was a mine and not a buried treasure. Another story links the story about the Peralta family but instead says that the Apaches owned the mine and for untold reasons decided to hide it to make sure it wasn’t ever discovered. One thing I know about mines is that they create tailings of moved rock. If you could hide the mine opening it would be very hard to hide the tailings.

This windmill came from the Apacheland Movie studio in Gold Canyon. It was one of the few things that survived the wildfire.
This windmill came from the Apacheland Movie Studio in Gold Canyon. It was one of the few things that survived the wildfire.

Part of the stories about a mine owned by Peralta is true, except it was in Valencia (in Los Angles County California). By the time of the Peralta mine in Valencia, however, taking a load of gold to Mexico City via the Superstition Mountains would be unnecessary. If there was a lost gold mine it has to be in Arizona, not California. The story of the lost Peralta mine and the Apache attack on the shipment of gold to Mexico was well known during the time that Jacob Waltz went “seeking” and reportedly found the Lost Peralta Gold (mine).

A stagecoach all hooked up and ready to go at the Superstition Mountain Museum.
A stagecoach all hooked up and ready to go at the Superstition Mountain Museum. These horses however are a little stiff and haven’t moved, or even twiched for years. The good thing about fake horses is that they don’t eat much.

If Jacob Waltz found a cache of the Perlata gold, since it was already mined, it would make the gold easy to pick up. One of the Lost Dutchman stories is that Jacob Waltz met Peralta during a bar fight in Mexico and that is how Jacob learned about this abundantly rich mine.

A gallows and a pine casket at the Superstition Mountain Museum were transferred from the Apacheland studio.
A gallows and a pine casket at the Superstition Mountain Museum were transferred from the Apacheland studio. One of the notes that I saw was that the gallows were brought up to modern building standards. Where exactly do you look for building standards when building gallows? Are trap doors mentioned in OSHA regulations?

Lots of Dutch Hunters try to include that the Jesuits and Father Kino were involved in the lost gold mines in the Superstition Mountains. People try to link the Jesuit Missions to the stories of lost mines; after all didn’t the Spanish ship untold fortunes back to Spain and Portugal? The problem with these stories is that none of the Jesuit Missions were located north of the Gila River in the Superstition Mountains. If the Jesuits had found a rich gold mine surely would have established a mission nearby.

A prairie wagon with hoops for the canvas cover at the Superstition Mountain Museum.
A prairie wagon with hoops for the canvas cover at the Superstition Mountain Museum. These wagons were much lighter than the more well-known Conestoga wagons and thus were much more popular.

Dutch Hunters

People have been seeking the Lost Dutchman’s mine since at least 1891 when Jacob Waltz died. First, Waltz told Julia Thomas that he would take her to the mine, but he didn’t accomplish this before he died. It was at Julia Thomas’ home where Jacob Waltz died.

When Jacob Waltz died he left behind a small box that had some gold in quartz that later proved to be quite valuable. More than that, the quality of the gold proved that the gold in the Dutchman’s house did not match the gold found in Goldfield in Arizona near the Superstition Mountains. This was the opinion of a professional assay. The assay is the art of evaluating the gold content of a potential mine.

This is a traditional Apache Wickiup. The Apaches used the readily available brush to create a shelter. Much later they added a canvas top.
This is a traditional Apache Wickiup. The Apaches used the readily available brush to create a shelter. Much later they added a canvas top. Mostly the shelter would be warmer when sleeping and cooler during the daytime as opposed to being in the sun.

The first Dutch Hunter was Julia Thomas who put together a party to try to find the mine in 1894. The search was unsuccessful. After returning to the Phoneix area Julia was known to have drawn some maps associated with the search; perhaps she was selling these maps to the next generation of Dutch Hunters. If Julia Thomas knew where the gold was, why did she fail to find it when she went to get it? Would I buy a treasure map from a person who tried to find a treasure, using the same map but failed?

The last light of the day while camping at Lost Dutchman State Park.
The last light of the day while camping at Lost Dutchman State Park. Notice the planet at the top of the picture. I think that it was Venus.

Treasure Maps

The Peralta family mine gained renewed interest in 1949-1952 when a map of the Peralta Lost Gold was found. This and other picture maps of the location of the mine surfaced, including some etched into sandstone. These were found by an unknown person who linked them to the Peralta Lost Gold mine. One more of these maps mentions, in Spanish, that to find the mine, first, you need to find the heart. Most Dutch Hunters completely discounted the stone maps because they were created using modern tools.

This wagon was a drilling rig. at the center of the bottom of the wagon was a drill that would bore a hole into the ground by turning the auger.
This wagon was a drilling rig. at the center of the bottom of the wagon was a drill that would bore a hole into the ground by turning the auger.

Superstition Mountain Museum Collection

The Superstition Mountian Museum isn’t just about the Lost Dutchman Mine or really even about the myths about the Superstition Mountains. It is about everything in and near the Superstition Mountains. As outlined above (between the pictures) the museum is about the Old West and specifically about the area of the Superstition Mountains. When the museum was started it was about the Lost Dutchman Mine, but has expanded to include items from the surrounding area including Apacheland Movie Studio, which was located a little south of the museum in Gold Canyon.

The Elvis Chappel at Superstition Mountain Museum.
The Elvis Chapel at Superstition Mountain Museum was moved from the movie set at Apacheland Movie Ranch. The chapel is called the Elvis Chapel mostly associated with the Elvis movie Charro.
Breeze is the host of the Elvis Chapel at the Superstition Mountian Museum.
Breeze is the host of the Elvis Chapel at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

While at the Superstition Mountain Museum, we almost had the place to ourselves and wandered about looking at the attractions without any assistance. This changed at the Elvis Chapel where we met Breeze and had a wonderful conversation. We didn’t talk much about the Chapel, but rather we talked about our visit to the museum and about our life living in our RV and being full-time travelers.

Anyway, Breeze is now a subscriber to the blog and gets our weekly email updates. Thanks, Breeze, for joining us on our journey. We are very thankful to have you along with us for the trip.

Breeze the host at the Elvis Chapel took the picture.
Breeze, the host, at the Elvis Chapel took this picture. You might not be able to tell, but Tami and I were trying to strike a dance pose, like Elvis, just for the picture. Perhaps you might say that we were dancing. Or at least I was “dancing” Tami describes me as being a little stiff while dancing. Maybe my dance style shows through a little in the picture.

Recap

We really enjoyed our stay at Lost Dutchman State Park and would go again. We would also do some more hiking in the Superstition Mountains and go back to the Superstition Mountain Museum. Just don’t expect us to be there in the summer.

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Superstition Mountain Museum

Apacheland Movie Ranch

Lost Dutchman State Park

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9 thoughts on “Delightful Superstition Mountain Museum and The Story of the Lost Dutchman”

  1. Scott, You have a way of telling each story, which makes it a wonderful story! I wanted to thank you for sharing it with all of your subscribers. We too are full-timers and enjoy living part of our life vicariously through your writings. Love the photos in this chapter!

  2. Great photos, Scott and Tami!
    We are so fortunate to be able to wander around this great country of ours at our own pace. It takes time to see the sites and take photos of the unique things in each corner. I appreciate the love and thought you put into each story, along with the great photos, helping all of us to understand what you are seeing.

  3. Great story! I grew up in Phoenix, so Superstition Mountain and the Lost Dutchman were stories that we talked about all the time. I think we even visited the Apache Land movie set when I was a kid. I know we drove out to Apache Junction more than once which was a long trip from Glendale in the 1950’s. Thanks for the memories. Drive safe you two. Chip

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