THE SOMBRERO MINES
The stories handed down to us over the past century have created one of
this country’s most romantic, alluring and tragic tales ever recorded in
the annals of lost treasure lore. These tales portray a myriad of people—both
men and women—whose lives and deeds in the quest for this hidden wealth
are uniquely woven into the fabric of Arizona’s history like strands of
wool in a Navajo blanket, each adding to the design, color and texture
of the whole. The list of characters within the matrix of this legend is
long and complex, and each is important to their place in history. This
chapter focuses primarily on those individuals whose role in history creates
the foundation for the legend, or held the strongest testimony to its authenticity.
There are many versions of the legend of Don Miguel Peralta and the expedition’s
demise. The version given here comes through a compilation of many sources.
Unfortunately, none of these sources can be relied on as fact. Nonetheless,
the legend of Peralta and the Sombrero Mines is romantic and adventuresome
in any of its versions. Somewhere beneath the layers of embellishments
lie the basic truths from which the legend was erected—events that may
not be so far removed from fact as historians suggest.
The year was 1847. It was a changing time of endings and new beginnings.
The first Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young had reached the Great Salt
Lake Valley on 24 July while the war between the United States and Mexico
gained momentum in what would later be known as the Great Southwest Desert
of United States. This war would end early the following year with the
signing of the Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty in Mexico City, which ceded the
land from New Mexico to the Pacific Ocean into the hands of the United
States. Gold would be discovered in California just nine days prior to
the signing of the treaty and soon beckon a rush of emigrants to the west.
These settlers planted permanent settlements and industry, securing American
interest in the region henceforth.
The Peralta family was based (according to some accounts) in Cumpas, Sonora,
Mexico. Over generations the family spread out into other locations in
Sonora including Ures and Arizpe, where it is believed that our Miguel
Peralta of legend resided. It is said by some that the Peraltas operated
productive mines in what would later become the state of Arizona, particularly
in the mountains north and east of the Salt River Valley, but except for
the mines the Peralta family had little interest in that land. It was an
untamed and inhospitable territory facing constant threat of Apache attacks.
Save for the lonely, understaffed missions built closer to established
towns and villages in Sonora, there were no military outposts from which
to seek protection.
The patriarch of this family was Don Miguel Peralta, an aging yet influential
man of Spanish descent who held impressive investments in land, mining
and livestock. He believed that this trip would be the last trip he would
make to the mines. Whether it was because of the Apache, or the trouble
with the pending treaty, is speculation.
Don Miguel Peralta wanted this final trip to be as lucrative as possible.
The ore of that land was good and had helped to make his family name prominent
in years past. Legend records that he recruited the aid of several hundred
men to travel with him in order to work the mines through the mild winter.
In that year of 1847, Don Miguel Peralta, together with his sons and an
army of men, horses, cattle, burros and supplies, bid goodbye to their
families and marched north to the land of the Apache. The mines were called
Las Minas de las Sombreras, or in short, the Sombrero Mines, named primarily
for a prominent hat-shaped peak in the area of the mines. Some accounts
claim it was a name given to the mines by his forefathers who had worked
in this region for generations. Aside from this one peak, there were
other formations and outcrops that resembled ‘hats’ including one which
looked as if a giant sombrero had been tossed upon a ridge where it came
to permanent rest. While Peralta called this unique peak a ‘sombrero,’
it is told in some accounts that the God-fearing miners thought it resembled
more the ‘finger of god’ pointing heavenward.
Once in the region of the Sombrero Mines, the party established a base
camp near water where the arrastras and smelters would be erected to crush
and process the ore. From this base camp, the men were organized into smaller
groups then sent into the surrounding hills to work various claims. Some
of these were rich placer deposits located in ancient streambeds. Still
others were tunnels bored into solid rock extending for hundreds of feet
into the earth, some of which may have been started years ago by Peralta’s
forefathers. The processed ore would be cached in a storehouse until the
miners were ready to return to Sonora the following spring, preceding the
Until now, the marauding Apache had left the miners alone, save for a few
skirmishes. But this year would be different. Something greatly angered
the Apache into organizing themselves with the intent of killing the miners
to the last man. There are several versions of what had so offended the
Apache as to risk war with the heavily armed miners. Beside the fact that
the Apache were sworn enemies of the Spanish, one version has it that some
of the men were taking liberties with a daughter or wife of a prominent
chief. The more widely told version claims that the miners had discovered
and began working a rich deposit of gold ore on land sacred to the Apache
(this would be the mine Jacob Waltz would later be accredited with finding).
This version seems to be more likely.
The Apache warned the miners to stop digging in the sacred land—the abode
of their ‘Thunder God.’ When Peralta refused to quit such a lucrative
deposit of ore, the Apache had no choice but to defend the honor of their
god and protect his domain, lest they risk punishment themselves for ignoring
it. Peralta was neither concerned nor intimidated by the threats of the
few Apache tribes who inhabited the region. His forces greatly out-numbered
them and for the warriors to attack would be no less than suicide for them.
The Apache knew this, too, but to allow the desecration of their holy site
was not an option, neither. A plan was needed—a plan and many more warriors.
Runners were sent to other tribes living throughout the territory with
a plea to join arms against the defiant miners. Hatred for the Spanish
had long flowed in Apache blood and the tribes were eager to join an assault
against them. There was much to be gained by slaughtering the miners for
they had brought with them weapons, horses, cattle, burros and supplies
as well as the clothes they were wearing—all prized by the Apache. At the
same time, the Apache would send a chilling message back to Mexico warning
of what would happen to any Spaniard who crossed into Apache land again.
As the warriors began to amass beyond the view of the miners, they planned
the attack. They offered prayers and conducted ceremonial dances to the
rhythm of beating drums around a blazing fire.
It was not uncommon for captured women of rival tribes to be traded for
horses and weapons, nor was it rare to find these women working as slaves
in Spanish camps. Some accounts claim that it may have been one such woman
that was responsible for warning the miners of the impending attack, perhaps
knowing that she, too, might be killed if the Apache won the battle. Now
warned, Peralta called the miners down from their work early to evacuate
the territory before the day of the attack arrived. Immediately the men
went to work concealing the wagons and supplies in pits and caves. If they
were going to survive, they could not be encumbered by unnecessary weight.
Most of the peons had made the long trip from Arizpe by foot, leading supply-laden
burros. Now these burros would have to be ridden in order to escape. Only
what gold that could be carried in the saddlebags and on pack animals of
the Spanish dons would be taken at this time. The remaining ore would have
to stay behind in the storehouse until it was safe to return for it.
By now the Apache scouts had noticed the activity and surmised that the
miners had been forewarned of the attack. The command was given to attack
the camp immediately before the miners could escape, because should they
do so, they would bring back more men and weapons later. The plan was simple:
herd the miners into a vulnerable position where the main body of warriors
would await to ambush them. The Apache split into several garrisons surrounding
the main camp and closed off any passage to the open plain in order to
force the miners to retreat in the planned direction. When the signal was
given, a horrifying sound filled the air. Battle cries and thundering hooves
led a cloud of dust from multiple directions as the Apache raced toward
the camp. Fear seized the miners as they attempted to mount their frightened
animals, which bucked or stampeded in the chaos. As predicted, the miners
retreated in the opposite direction, through the narrow corridor their
adversaries had strategically provided.
The Apache, shouting and howling in a macabre blend of screaming men and
musket blasts, rode fast upon their prey. The unarmed peons scrambled over
rock and cactus, quickly becoming disoriented with panic. They were the
first to be slain, their pitiful screams silenced by Apache arrows and
flint knives, their scalps hastily removed. Later, when the battle was
won, the warriors would return to strip the ravaged bodies of all their
possessions, leaving the remains for the coyotes and buzzards.
As the miners desperately
fled, the Apache prodded them with arrows to keep them grouped on course
to where the main force awaited to join the slaughter. Several hours later,
only the horse-mounted dons and a few herd-bound burros were still alive.
They rode hard and stayed together for defense but the heavy saddlebags
of gold wore on the animals’ endurance. The pistols and muskets were difficult
to reload at such a rough, fast gallop and the best defense was to keep
running until they could find a location in which to make a stand. But
unfortunately, they had run directly into a box canyon with no way out.
Suddenly, the air was filled with a piercing noise that rose above the
wind in their ears and thunder of horses’ hooves. It seemed to come from
every direction as if a portal to hell itself had been opened. The plan
had worked. The dons had ridden into a trap and were completely encircled
and out-numbered by Apache warriors who bore down on them from out of the
brush and crags and even, it seemed, from the ground itself. Some of the
miners managed to fire their weapons, striking a few of the warriors, but
it was in vain. The half-naked Apache rained arrows through the clouds
of pale-red dust, killing both man and animal in their tracks. When the
air became still again, Don Miguel Peralta, his sons and the men who had
accompanied him to Las Minas de las Sombreras lay dead. Strewn among the
bodies of men and animals upon the cactus-choked landscape was the gold
taken from the rich Sombrero Mines.
While the above account is based mainly upon the romantic imaginations
of previous writers there is strong circumstantial evidence supporting
that a terrible battle between the Apache and Mexican miners did take place
very near Superstition Mountain. Shortly after the Civil War ended
a small group of army troopers who were pursuing a band of Apache happened
upon 25 skeletons in an area that would later come to be called Massacre
Grounds. One of the troopers was a man named William Edwards who was also
likely the first hunter of lost mines in Arizona. The skeletons
were bare of any clothing and while most of the troopers took the remains
to be those of Pima Indians who had died at the hand of their enemy, the
Apache, Edwards silently disagreed. Edwards had a keen eye and noticed
one of the skulls had gold tooth. He knew that no Indian would have had
such expensive dental work and that the skull likely belonged to that of
a Mexican of notable standing.
Some time later, Edwards returned to the site by himself and believing
the skeletons to be the remains of Mexican miners he began to back track
their route. Edwards located other skeletons as he traveled deeper into
the mountains, which, to him, clearly suggested that a running battle had
taken place. Edwards’ searches led him to discover the remains of a large
camp that had been decimated by the Apache. The camp had been well established
suggesting that the Mexicans had worked the area for a long time. For the
rest of his life Edwards searched for the mine but never found it. William
Edwards’ grandson, Ben Edwards, also searched for the mine (Source: T.E.
Glover The Lost Dutchman Mine of Jacob Waltz).
Traditions among some Apache tell of a great battle with the Mexicans that
took place north of Superstition Mountain. In Tom Glover’s book The Lost
Dutchman Mine of Jacob Waltz –Part 1, The Golden Dream he speculates that
not one, but two battles took place in the area: one in the 1840’s (1842
or 1848) and another sometime during the Civil War.
To further support claims that such a battle took place is the strange
tale of two men named Silverlocke and Malm who, around the turn of the
century, discovered what they thought was a float of gold ore very near
to the site of Massacre Grounds. A ‘float’ is ore lying free on the surface
of the ground. Silverlocke and Malm believed the ore came from a primary
vein somewhere nearby and spent many years digging beneath the hot sun
for the source. They never found that source because such a vein never
existed. It is commonly believed that what Silverlocke and Malm discovered
lying on the surface was the remains of Mexican gold that had been cut
loose from the burros after the battle.
It would not be until nearly a decade after the town of Phoenix and the
Territory of Arizona had been established that a man would come into the
gold of the Sombrero Mines. The events which followed in the wake of this
man’s death would set the stage for murder, con men, adventure, books and
movies and create one of the west’s most celebrated legends of lost gold
ever told: Jacob Waltz and
the Lost Dutchman Mine.
2002 - John Ramses - Oneta Vera Enterprises