The Legends:

The Origins of the Peralta-Ruth Map

Adolf Ruth
(Superstition Mountain Historical Society)

      It was the mysterious and tragic death of Dr. Adolph Ruth in 1931 that prompted another round of interest in the Lost Dutchman Mine. Until then, popular interest in the mine had settled into the hot, dusty land and was pursued only by a few die-hard locals. But like an unexpected gust of wind upon a quiet plain, newspapers picked up the story of his death and carried it across the nation, even as far as England, once again resurrecting the legend to life with renewed vigor.

       The story of Dr. Adolph Ruth and his search for the Lost Dutchman Mine has its beginnings many years earlier in 1913-14. At that time, his son, Erwin, a veterinarian, had been commissioned by the U.S. government to inspect cattle that were being imported to the United States from Mexico. It was in Mexico that Erwin received a map and other documents that would later result in his father’s death. The Mexican Revolution was well under way by 1913 and the United States favored General Carranza’s efforts in the rebellion. In order to provide funding for the General’s cause, the United States began buying cattle from Mexico. U.S. sanitary codes were in place by then to prevent diseased livestock from infecting the American beef industry, and, to ensure this, the U.S. government commissioned Dr. Erwin Ruth, who was fluent with Mexican customs and language, to oversee the inspection.

     During his tenure in Mexico, Erwin Ruth had witnessed many insurrectionists captured and executed. One such man was named Juan Gonzales, who was being escorted under heavy guard.  Erwin recognized the incarcerated man (possibly as an old friend from the States) and asked one of the soldiers for permission to speak with him before they took him away. During conversation, Gonzales explained that he would soon be put against a wall and shot. Fearing for his wife and children, he asked Erwin to take them into America where they would be safe. Gonzales had nothing to offer in payment except some old maps and documents, one of which showed the location of mines in Arizona. These mines were owned and worked by his wife’s ancestors whose family name was Peralta; they had been killed by Apaches while fleeing from the mines.

      Erwin Ruth found compassion for the doomed man and obeyed his last request. He took the Gonzales family to the safety of Texas, but he had no interest in the old maps, save for a sentimental token of his experiences in Mexico. When he at last returned to his home in Washington D.C., he showed the maps to his father and told him the sad story. His father acquired an interest in the maps—one that would ultimately prove to be fatal.

      It should be noted here that in light of the situation, it would seem unlikely that Gonzales’s last request would come attached with a bribe of false documents. Erwin was reputed as having little or no interested in the maps, nor in the mines, but rather helped the man’s family out of compassion alone. Adding support to Gonzales’ claims is the fact that the map does, indeed, precisely match landmarks located in Arizona, very near to where the Sombrero Mines and Peralta mines of legend were said to be. Also fitting in with the legend is that the Gonzales’ ‘Peralta’ miners were killed by Indians while working the mines. It is unlikely that Erwin Ruth would have fabricated the connection between the maps and the actual legend, especially in light of his disinterest in the mines. The tale Gonzales told Ruth, therefore, must be the truth; the Sombrero Mines and the Peraltas did exist.

     As time went on, Erwin’s father, Adolph, talked more and more about trying to find the mines mentioned on one of the maps. He believed, like so many before and after him, that the mines could be easily located. Erwin refused to squander his valuable time looking for lost mines, but still his father was persistent.  Then, sometime near the end of that decade, Adolph convinced his son to take a long, deserved vacation to California with him. Only after several days on the road did Adolph tell his son the true nature of the trip—to locate the Lost Peg-Leg Mine in the Anza-Borrego desert. At first, Erwin was furious and for some time he refused to talk to his father. Eventually, though, he gave in, deciding that the trip might get the fever for lost mines out of his father’s system once and for all.

It was nearing sundown a few days later when Erwin decided it best to pull off the road for the night and make camp. In the near distance the Anza-Borrego Mountains loomed into the evening sky above the eerie shadowed land. As Erwin set up camp, his father took advantage of the remaining light to scout around, but when he did not return to the car Erwin became greatly concerned.
      Anyone who has ever lived in the deserts of the American Southwest knows how quickly the landscape can become obscured when the shadows of night befall the terrain. Trails and landmarks become one with the sky in an opaque mixture of indigo hues. It is easy enough to become disoriented during the day, but when the sun goes down beyond the jagged horizon, all perception of direction can be lost as predators awake to begin their nightly hunt.

       It now was long after dark and Adolph had still not returned to the camp despite his son’s relentless calls and flashing of the vehicle’s headlights. As the minutes wore into hours, Erwin knew that his father was in trouble, yet he could not leave the site and go for help in case his father did return and discover the vehicle gone. Neither could Erwin venture too far into the night lest he too risk becoming lost or injured. All Erwin could do was stay put, call out and pray that his father would be safe until daylight permitted a search. When dawn finally came, Erwin wasted no time in getting help. Taking the car, he backtracked the road to a ranch house they had passed the previous day. The rancher, C.E. Bemis, was sympathetic to Erwin’s situation. Knowing how treacherous the terrain could be in that area, Bemis gathered some ranch hands and horses to help in the search. It would be another four days before the party located Adolph Ruth lying in the bottom of a dry ravine. He was suffering from exposure, dehydration and a broken hip, which would require surgery, a steel plate and much time to heal before the elder Ruth would walk again. As a result of the broken hip, one leg was slightly shorter than the other. Adolph Ruth would walk in pain with a severe limp ever after.

       One special note of interest is a strange comment the elder Ruth made when his son at last found him in the ravine. As his son approached his father, Adolph said simply, “I found it!” Whether he was referring to the Lost Peg-Leg Mine will never be known, but he would write an equally cryptic statement in a notepad a decade later shortly before his death while he was searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains.

      In the summer of 1931, Adolph Ruth again became obsessed with tracking down one of the Spanish mines on the Gonzales maps Erwin had given him. This time it would be the Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona. No doubt Adolph Ruth had researched the legend during the years he was convalescing from his injury in the Anza-Borrego desert and had learned that the Dutchman mine had once belonged to the Peralta family. All the hype about how rich that mine was—and how rich the finder would be—only fueled his determination to take another trip west, and Adolph had one thing the other seekers didn’t have—a map once belonging to the Peralta family. With this map he believed he would succeed where others had failed. Adolph Ruth asked his son to again travel with him to search for the mine, but remembering all too well the last trip they took, Erwin flatly refused. Adolph was irreproachable, though. He decided to make the journey to Arizona without his son’s companionship.

While Erwin would not attend his father on this trip to the Arizona desert, Adolph would not be traveling alone, either. He hooked up with a young man who was also heading west, offering to take him as far as Phoenix in exchange for sharing the driving. On May 4, 1931 Ruth and his traveling companion left Washington DC for Arizona and arrived in Phoenix a little over a week later. Once there, Ruth and his companion parted ways and the young man was never seen again.

      On May 13. Ruth drove to the home of William Augustus Barkley, whose ranch, the Quarter Circle U, was nestled against the Superstition Range. Hospitality at the Barkley home was renown. The Barkley ranch was often visited by ranchers, cowboys, and prospectors who lived in the area. The day Ruth came to the ranch was no different. Several men were visiting with Barkley when Ruth knocked at the door. One of these men was Brownie Holmes whose father, Dick Holmes, had been one of the two men present with Waltz the morning the old prospector died. Also in the room were two cowboys employed on the ranch who were listening to the idle conversations and experiences of the older men. After introductions, Ruth wasted no time in getting to the point. He told them he had come to find the Lost Dutchman Mine, and that he had a map that once belonged to the Peralta family. The map, Ruth explained, showed a tall prominent peak. If he could find that peak, he would have no trouble finding the rich mine.

       One can imagine the room falling silent as Ruth told the story of how the map came into his possession, and how it closely tied in with the story of Jacob Waltz and his lost mine. Until then, no one had known how to find the mine, but with the map it would be as simple as finding the peak. Barkley admitted that there was in fact a peak in the area fitting that description called Weaver’s Needle, but the interior of the Superstition Wilderness was deadly and inhospitable, no place for a greenhorn to be traveling alone—especially a man in as poor physical condition as Ruth obviously was. Here stood a man who was aging and crippled, who had rarely left the comforts of big city and was telling total strangers all about a map he had that would lead him to the richest mine in the world (a mistake I myself made).

        Ruth asked Barkley if he would pack him in as far as the peak, offering to pay him for his time. William Barkley flatly refused, knowing it would be the death of the old man. Temperatures in the Superstitions were approaching one hundred degrees in places and it was still early in the summer. If the heat wasn’t enough to kill the old man, any number of other circumstances would. Even the most experienced of men have met with death in those mountains and Barkley would have no part in condemning this man to the same fate. But knowing how far Ruth had traveled Barkley invited him to stay on at the ranch to rest up before returning to Washington D.C. Ruth had no intentions of going home before he located the mine, however. As was his way, he badgered Barkley again to take him in to the mountains. Barkley grew agitated with the man’s obnoxious persistence and decided to pacify him. Barkley agreed to pack Ruth into the range as far as the spring in West Boulder Canyon, which would place Ruth just two miles from Weaver’s Needle. He would have to wait, however, until Barkley returned from a business trip in Phoenix, which would take about a week.

William Barkley hoped Ruth would come to his senses by then, having the chance to experience Arizona’s heat at the semi-comfort of the ranch house. This would not be the case. In fact, Ruth did not wait for Barkley to return from Phoenix but instead persuaded the two cowboys, Purnell and Keenen, to pack him in before Barkley returned.

      Early one morning, shortly after Barkley had left for Phoenix, Purnell and Keenen saddled the horses and tied Ruth’s supplies to the pack animals. They then led the old man into the rugged range. For Ruth it was a grueling and painful ride, certainly not at all what he expected.
The two cowboys helped Ruth set up camp before leaving him alone to fend for himself and search for the mine. When Barkley learned that the cowboys had taken the old man into the mountains against better judgment he became furious. Without hesitation, Barkley rode to the spring where Purnell and Keenen had left the old man, but when he arrived there was no sign of Ruth to be found. Barkley conducted a preliminary search of the area around the camp and called out for him, but only the rustle of wind through the cactus and palo verde trees answered back. Several more searches were made in the days that followed, but it would not be until six months had passed that any sign of the old man would be found. When Ruth was found, it would be a morbid scene.

       On December 15, the Arizona Republic sponsored an archaeological expedition into the Superstition Mountain to locate ancient Indian ruins rumored to exist in the wild outback. Among this group were photographers from three different newspapers, an archaeologist named Odds Halseth, and Brownie Holmes as their guide. The man who donated his horses and pack animals was Richie Lewis. It was Lewis’ dog, Music, who made the grizzly discovery five days into the trek. Music began to sniff and whine around an object lying beneath a tree. Brownie Holmes was the first to investigate. Lying on the surface of the ground was a skull, and as the rest of the group gathered around, Holmes picked up the artifact and examined it. A moment later he announced, quite certain, that it was the skull of Adolph Ruth! How Brownie Holmes knew this must have been questioned by someone in the group for he went on to explain that while Ruth had been at the Barkley ranch he had studied the man’s features and noted his high fore-head. One unique aspect of the skull was a large, gaping hole in the temple region that would later be determined by examiners to have been produced by an old Army style forty-four caliber revolver, although this claim is still debated.

 Brownie Holmes poses with he skull of Dr. Adolf Ruth.
The hole believed to be the result of a gunshot is plainly visible
(Superstition Mountain Historical Society)

     Suddenly disenchanted with old Indian ruins, the newsmen were eager to return to civilization with information about the disappearance of a man who had captured headlines months earlier. As the news of the discovery swept across the country, Ruth’s son, Erwin, left immediately for Arizona to conduct a search for the rest of his father’s remains. Despite search efforts by Erwin and county officials, Ruth’s remains were not located until the following January when a persistent William Barkley, who may have felt some responsibility for the old man’s death, found the remains high in a ravine one-half mile from where the skull was lying.

      Among the remains Barkley discovered, which proved they belonged to Adolph Ruth, was the steel plate Ruth had surgically implanted after his failed expedition into the Anza-Borrego desert a decade earlier. In one of the pockets of the tattered clothes was found a notebook in which Ruth had journalized his daily experiences and thoughts. His last entry in the notebook has left many students of the Dutchman legend believing he may have actually found the mine before he died:

‘It lies within an imaginary circle whose diameter is not more than five miles and whose center is marked by the Weaver’s Needle, about 2,500' high, among the confusion of lesser peaks and mountainous masses of basaltic rock. The first gorge on the south side from the west end of the range—-they found a monumented trail which led them northward over a lofty ridge, thence downward past Sombrero Butte, into a tributary canyon very deep and rocky and densely wooded with a continuous thicket of scrub oak.’ (Source: Superstition Mountain: A Ride Through Time—Swanson/Kollenborn)

     Beneath this Ruth had added, ‘Veni, Vedi, Vici’ which means, ‘I Came, I Saw, I Conquered’.  And below this was written, ‘about 200 feet across from the cave.’

In my opinion, the statement Ruth made in the above text does not bear testimony that he actually found the mine, but rather may have been surmising the route taken by the Peralta miners as he sat gazing across the forbidding expanse of high peaks and deep canyons. For as the legend goes, the mine is supposed to be in the top of a steep and rugged ravine, certainly beyond the reach of the aging, crippled Adolph Ruth. Further, many of the clues had been given in earlier accounts of the Lost Dutchman Mine as told by Julia Thomas after Waltz died, and they were reported in the articles written by Bicknell. Ruth would have known this if he had read of the legend at all.

     As for the comment, ‘Veni, Vedi, Vici’, that, to me, is more obvious. It was a self-congratulatory expression induced by the inspiration of an incredible achievement. For Adolph Ruth, against all odds and threat of defeat, had—in his mind—conquered the mighty Superstition Range and stood where he believed the Peralta miners had once worked the great Sombrero Mines. His persistence and determination had paid off—he had arrived! And even though he may not have found the Lost Dutchman Mine yet, he stood in the midst of some of the wildest, most untamed and rugged country in the world, and for Ruth that was certainly an achievement worthy of claiming the Latin quote for a proud moment in his life.

       While Adolph Ruth did not locate the mine, I believe he did hold one of the true maps leading to the Sombrero Mines, although his research had led him, as so many others, several miles south and east of where the mines were actually located along the mountains bordering the Salt River. The map Ruth used (which some accounts claim did not surface until a decade after his death) became known as the Peralta-Ruth map. Although there are several facsimiles available to treasure hunters, only the map reproduced in Swanson’s book depicts drawings that match the real landmarks. As the reader will see, this map was crafted in a unique fashion worthy of respect for its creator—possibly Don Miguel Peralta himself.

Copyright 2002 - John Ramses - Oneta Vera Enterprises

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