JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I must tell you that your parents were right; the world is not fair. Some people succeed while you fail because they are more talented than you are, or more persistent or prettier, and some are smarter...and some are just so lucky they could walk through a car wash and not get damp. Jacob Waltz, on the other hand, almost drowned in the middle of a desert. 

To be fair it was a once in a hundred year rainstorm. The clouds above central Arizona opened up on Wednesday, February 18, 1891, and by the next morning the Salt River, which ran past Jacob’s property north of Phoenix, had risen 17 feet. The normal trickle you could jump across had grown to a mile wide rampage. In the Rio Satillo Valley, the eighty year old retired miner was forced to lash himself to a tree and spent that night, and the following Friday, day and night, with just his head and shoulders above the cold pounding waters.
The Sacramento, California "Sunday Union" reported on the 22nd, that “The northern edge of this flood…entered the city of Phoenix, flooding out many of the poorer families….About a hundred adobe houses fell in…The churches and public buildings have been thrown open to the shelter-less, and a subscription started for their benefit, but many families are still without protection. The river began to fall Friday afternoon…”
That Saturday, February 21, 1891, one of Waltz’s neighbors found the old man shivering in the ruins of his home, crouched atop his soaked bed. He refused to leave unless his heavy candle box came out with him. The Samaritan brought Waltz and his meager possession into Phoenix. Luckily, the now destitute Jacob was matched with a compassionate small businesswoman named Julia Elena Thomas, who had a spare room and a bed. In fact, Julia was probably the only lucky thing that ever happened to Jacob.
Because, besides being compassionate Julia was curious, and susceptible to greed. She cared for the difficult old man as best she could, in part because Julia became intrigued by the heavy candle box Jacob insisted on keeping under his bed. 
Before the development of electricity, oil for lamps was expensive to buy and transport. So farm and ranch homes were usually lit by candle. Tallow candles were made from farm animal fat, and every rural home had a candle box. Strength was not a requirement, merely protection from the rats and mice attracted to the tallow’s odor. So the wood was thin but coated with a paint or varnish. The boxes were usually a foot to a foot and a-half long and a foot deep, but usually no more than six inches wide. The top slid into place, making for a nearly air tight closure without the need for weighty hardware. 
But Jacob’s box was too heavy to be holding candles, or papers, or keepsakes. What could a broke, sick, old man hold so dear that he risked his life to stand guard over it, while soaking wet, in a collapsing flooded adobe? Eventually Julia peeked, but all she found inside were about 50 pounds of rocks. But it was enough to start her imagination racing. As the months passed Julia teased out Jacob’s story, and it seemed the old man had spent most of his life chasing gold. 
He had been born in Germany. And he had chased the shinny metal across the Atlantic. He had worked in the gold mines of North Carolina and Georgia and Mississippi. He could not mine for himself, however, because only an American citizen could own a mineral claim. In 1848, at 38 years old, in Natchez, Mississippi, Jacob had filed a letter of intent to apply for citizenship. But his intentions were put on hold when he chased the California gold strike of 1849. But again, Jacob was not lucky. Like most of the 49ers, he found no gold.
In July of 1861 Jacob finally became an American citizen, in Los Angeles. In 1863 Jacob joined a wagon train bound for the new gold fields around Phoenix, Arizona. Over the next few years he filed three claims for mines in the Bradshaw Mountains. But they produced nothing. In 1868 he homesteaded 160 acres in the Salt River Valley. Every winter Jacob would wander the bitter wilderness of the nearby Superstition Mountains, searching for gold. And, like a lot of other bearded prospectors in the area, every summer Jacob made ends meet by working established mines for his next grubstake. In Jacob's case he worked the Vulture Mine.
Henry Wickenburg had traveled in the same wagon train that had brought Jacob Waltz to Arizona. But unlike Jacob, Henry was lucky. Within a few weeks of arriving in the Phoenix area, Henry stumbled upon a vein of quartz that eventually produced $200 million worth of gold and silver, the Vulture Mine. But very little of that fortune went to Henry, in part because Henry sold the mine after a few years (and eventually died broke), but mostly because of something called “highgrading”.
“Freighters would line up at the mine with wagons to transport the gold ore (to the crushers and smelters). As soon as they were out of sight of the mine, the freighters would begin picking through the ore, pocketing the best nuggets. "Highgrading" was the name of this practice, stealing the highest grade pieces of ore. In fact, freighting for the Vulture was more profitable than mining. Several nearby mine owners closed down their mines to become freighters for the Vulture…It was widely known among the prospectors that working at the Vulture for a few months could provide them with a grubstake for the rest of the year…Miners would often work the mine during evenings and weekends for their own benefit. The early owners of the mine treated harshly anyone caught doing personal mining. Later owners may have silently condoned personal mining when they were not able to pay their workers.” 
Every successful hard rock mine in the nineteenth century suffered these deprivations, and that is why all modern mines include stamps and smelters on their premises. Nothing leaves the mine site except for refined gold - under guard. 
Jacob never told Julia he highgraded the ore in his candle box from an established mine like the Vulture. If he had, she probably would not have believed him, for Julia, like Jacob, had been bitten by the gold bug. Instead, she pressed the old man for more details about his hidden mine in the mountains. Eventually the sick old coot was forced to admit that he had a mine. But where was this bonanza? Although he never produced a map, in infuriating slowness the old man confided obscure details, almost as if he were stringing Julia along to ensure he kept a roof over his head and food in his belly. He told Julia that with a short climb from his mine you could see the peak known as Weever’s Needle, but from the Needle you could not see his mine…You could see the military trail that ran through the Mountains from his mine, but you could not see the mine from the trail…You had to crawl through a hole to see the gold in his mine…that near his mine was a rock shaped like a face…and that the setting sun shown on the entrance of his mine. This was about all that Jacob shared about the source of the ore in his candle box, before he died of pneumonia in Julia's spare bed, on October 25, 1891.
The ore in Jacob’s box brought $4,800 from the assay office – a lot of money in those days. And that proved the case for Julia. Jacob had a mine hidden in the mountains; where else could the ore have come from? A year later the "Arizona Enterprise" noted in its pages that Julia had sold her business (an ice cream parlor) and was actively prospecting the Superstitions, searching for Jacob’s “missing” mine. She even attracted a few financial backers. But after a few more unproductive seasons, Julia lost her financing. I guess Julia was just not very lucky. 
But she finally made money off Jacob’s mine, once she gave up trying to find it herself, once she switched to selling maps to Jacob’s “Lost” mine, for $7 apiece. And because Jacob had been born in Germany, making him a “Deutsch man” or ‘Dutchman’ to parochial American ears, the magical mystery was marketed as the “Lost Dutchman Mine.”
You too can find the Lost Dutchman Mine. All you need is a map and an understanding of the intricate and complicated stories weaved to explain how once located, a source of immense and instant wealth could have become lost again, and why, with some 2,000 people every year searching for it in the Superstion Mountains Wilderness Area, "The Lost Dutchman Mine" could have remained lost for a hundred years. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is that all those people before you have just been more unlucky than you. And just around the next bend, the next canyon, the next turn of the card or the next scratch off lottery ticket, you too could be the luckiest person in the world. It could happen.
- 30 -

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