The Legends:

Jacob Waltz in New York
(Sheriff Magazine, 1967)
(Superstition Mountain Historical Society)

     One year before the demise of the Peralta mining expedition, as if to answer the call of some preordained destiny in Arizona’s history, a thirty-eight year old German immigrant named Jacob Waltz stepped off a ship in a New York harbor. The year was 1846 (Corbin). He was one of many fleeing economic strife and poverty of his homeland in hopes of starting a new life in America. Jacob Waltz was born in Oberschwandorf, Würtemburg, Germany in 1808 (or, 1810). His family were farmers by trade and while there are some accounts that Waltz studied mining before coming to the United States, no documents have been found to support this claim.  However, mining was in Waltz’s heart if not his formal training, for shortly after arriving in America he left for the gold fields of Carolina and Alabama. These mines had, however, long since played out by the time Waltz arrived on the scene. Not finding any work to sustain himself, he began to drift westward.

     By 1848, Jacob Waltz had made his way to Natchez, Mississippi where he applied for naturalization as an American citizen in Adams County. Whether his application lapsed or was declined is uncertain, but Waltz was not granted naturalization at that time. His true yearning remained to find a livelihood in mining, so when a cry echoed across the young country that gold had been discovered in California, Waltz joined the rush. Some accounts say Waltz went to San Francisco via Panama after taking a ship from New Orleans. A more realistic theory suggests he hired onto a wagon train heading for the California gold fields. By way of either route Jacob Waltz is documented as being in California during the 1850’s, working as a miner for various companies.

     In 1861, Waltz again applied for naturalization, this time in Los Angeles where his request would be accepted. Waltz could now file claims in his own name and, eager to begin, he joined a group of prospectors heading to the Bradshaw Mountains in the Arizona Territory. Although persistent accounts claim that Waltz was an enlisted man during the Civil War (1860-1865), this was not possible as there was not enough time between documents Waltz signed in the Arizona Territory for him to have served a tour of duty of any length. Further, researchers have failed to find any documentation of Jacob Waltz having served in the military, nor ever leaving the Arizona Territory once he had arrived.

     By 1866, the little cow town of Phoenix, Arizona had been officially established. One of the town’s pioneer developers was a man named Jack Swilling. Swilling began a campaign to clear out and reopen the ancient ditches and canals of the Salt River Valley abandoned by the Hohokum Indian hundreds of years before. Many didn’t believe Swilling could pull off such a scheme, but he proved them wrong and the renewed waterways became the lifeblood of the community. These canals first created by the Hohokum Indian and reopened by the early pioneers are among the same waterways still feeding the metropolis today.

     In 1868, Jacob Waltz migrated from the Prescott region to the Salt River Valley and settled onto a section of land just south of town. Waltz set to work digging irrigation ditches, planting crops and raising chickens and hogs to reap a meager sustenance. It is said by some that Waltz also hired out as a laborer on occasion, as well. One particular canal Swilling reopened, called the ‘Dutch Ditch,’ is said to have been created in part due to the hired labor of Jacob Waltz and several other German immigrants.

It is uncertain whether Waltz’s one-room adobe house was already there on the land or if he built it, but the chores of working his farm and carving out a new life and home would have kept Waltz busy for those first years in the valley. It is unlikely that he found much, if any, time for prospecting, although he certainly must have felt the call to wander out into the wilds now and then to pick at a rock or two. Jacob Waltz was 60 years old by the time he settled in Phoenix. For a miner and prospector to live beyond 40 in those days was considered to be a miracle!

     It has been suggested by Arizona historian Tom Kollenborn, through research of documents and interviews with descendants of pioneers, that Waltz came into his now-famous gold ore sometime between 1872 and 1877. During that time, Waltz was said to have been selling some of that gold around Florence. There are very few accounts of Waltz and his gold that haven’t been embellished through the years. One credible account comes to us through an ancestor of a prominent Mormon family whose forefather owned a store in Mesa. The account comes the daughter of the store’s owner who, at the time in 1884, was a young girl. She remembered Waltz coming into her father’s store to by supplies. This account gives a very good description and profile of Waltz at age seventy-six:

“…I recall the old man the day he came into our family store for supplies. The skin of his face was parched and dry from the desert sun and hard as leather. His beard was almost snow white and somewhat stained by tobacco below his chin. His hands were coarse and callused revealing many decades of hard work. He no longer stood erect, for his age was showing. His clothes were dusty and torn but neatly in place…No one at first paid him any attention until he went to pay for his supplies. In his wrinkled hand was a small cowhide poke. He loosened the strings and poured onto the counter yellow gold in a matrix of white quartz...” (Source: Superstition Mountain: A Ride Through Time - Swanson/Kollenborn).

      The above account gives many clues about Waltz, the man. The most obvious clue is the description of his physical condition: bent with age, weathered and callused from a lifetime of hard work. The account also mentions his clothes as being ‘dusty and torn but neatly in place.’ He apparently cared about his appearance, and yet, a small amount of the gold in his possession would have bought a new wardrobe in 1884. The impression one is left with is that of a man who, conditioned by a lifetime of scraping and hardship, was only concerned with the essentials in life and using what he had to the fullest. Waltz was also a quiet man keeping conversation to a minimum. After years of observations and working as a miner, he had likely become wary of everyone, knowing all too well the nature of a man when he gets gold fever. Spending his first thirty-eight years struggling in his homeland under strong German traditions had molded the caliber of the man he would be the remaining days of his long life, and life in America had only served to temper that mettle. When he died, it is claimed that Waltz had a fair amount of this gold in his possession (what would later be coined the ‘deathbed ore’), although the exact amount and worth of that ore is debated. Yet unto his death, Waltz lived such a humble, impoverished life with so few worldly goods as to nearly be overlooked by history. It is likely he would have been if not for the events that followed in the wake of his death.

      In May of 1887, a strong earthquake rocked the Salt River Valley. The quake was felt as far away as El Paso, Texas.  Rockslides throughout the Superstitions changed the very landscape as witnesses watched clouds of dust bellowing up from within range. It is widely believed that Waltz never returned to his mine or cache after the quake because the location was buried by rockslides, or because landmarks pointing the way no longer existed. It is also suggested that the damage caused by the earthquake is the reason no one has found the location since. But was Waltz’s mine ever located in the Superstition Mountains we know today?

       Several years ago, I read a brief article from 1887 that reported on the earthquake damage at Fort McDowell, which was also shaken in the temblor. Interestingly, this article referred to Fort McDowell as being located in the ‘northern extreme’ of the Superstition Range. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate this article again in time for the first printing of this book (as I am in Australia and my research notes are [god-knows-where] in the States), but I will include the article in a following edition, as well as include it on updates on my web site. Nonetheless, this reference to the location of Fort McDowell as being in the northern extreme of the Superstition Range suggests that Waltz may have indeed found his mine in the ‘Superstitions,’ however, just not in the same mountain to which we refer today. In the latter 1800’s, and even into the early part of this century, many of the mountain ranges and canyons of the region had not been given official names. Rather, different people knew them by different names. Ranchers and soldiers had their own nicknames for them, while those living in the town had still other names.

At the time of Jacob Waltz, only Superstition Mountain and Salt River Mountains had been given proper names. Viewed in association with the Superstition Range from 30–40 miles away in Phoenix, one could get the impression that they were part of one jumbled continuation of the same range. Superstition Mountain was the most well known at that time, so it is easy to surmise that when someone referred to the ‘Superstition Mountains,’ they may have been referring to a much broader expanse than we recognize today, using that mountain as a general reference point. We do this same generalizing even today. Someone may live in Chandler or Mesa, but when explaining to outsiders where they live they might say ‘I live in the Phoenix metro area’—Phoenix being the most well known of the towns and cities around it. This in itself may be one reason the location of the mines could not be found. The proper naming of those ranges isolated the search area to a more specific, if incorrect area—Superstition Mountain proper—rather than the previously known ‘general’ region. This possibility becomes curious when reading through the clues Waltz supposedly gave to find his mine, for if the Sombrero Mines are located at Red Mountain—which may have been casually included as part of the ‘Superstition Mountains’, the Waltz ‘Peralta’ mine may be among them and thus he never lied when claiming that his mine was in the ‘Superstitions’.

      In the year 1891, heavy rainfall caused flooding of the Salt River. The floods consumed not only part of the growing town of Phoenix but also the homestead of Jacob Waltz. For several days, he remained trapped in his small adobe by the high, dangerous waters. A friend of Waltz’s, Julia Thomas, became concerned for the old man’s welfare and sent her lodger, Rhinehart Petrasch, and a sheriff to check on him. Waltz was found (according to one version) sitting upon his bed just above the water line with only a candle for heat (another version claims he was found sitting in a tree). Rhinehart helped Waltz to a horse and together they rode back to the Thomas home in Phoenix, where Julia put the old man up and gave him warm food and clothes.

     Waltz would never again return to his humble abode to live on his own. The farm was destroyed, his home badly damaged. Waltz had also acquired pneumonia during his exposure to the cold and wet that would require Julia’s  care for the remaining months of his life.
It is likely at the home of Julia Thomas that the seeds of the legend of Waltz’s lost gold mine began to take root. Julia knew well of the gold, for Waltz had given her some of it to pay off her debts after her husband abandoned her. She assumed that the gold he offered her then was saved from a lifetime of mining and prospecting and at first she refused to take it, but Waltz assured her there was plenty more where that came from. Now lodging and providing for the old man, and perhaps fearing that Waltz may soon die, she began asking him questions about the mine’s location. What Waltz actually revealed to her, as opposed to what she may have later invented around the few hints given up in, has been the subject of controversy since the old man’s death. The story she told around Phoenix, and later to P.C. Bicknell and Sims Ely, places Waltz elsewhere on dates when Waltz was known to have been present at another location.

     Anyone who has studied the dates of the known documents signed by Waltz through the 1850’s until his death quickly learns two things:
 1- There was not enough time for Waltz to have participated in the adventures Julia spoke of, and 
 2- His ‘friend and partner,’ Jacob Wieser, does not appear on record anywhere in conjunction with Waltz at any time while he was alive (in Germany, in America, nor anywhere else). 

Jacob Waltz recovered from his bout with pneumonia for a short period in during the summer months, but with the return of the cooler temperatures in the fall he suffered a relapse. Waltz died on Sunday morning October 21, 1891. There are several versions of the events that occurred the morning Waltz died. Most accounts agree that Julia Thomas was not with Waltz when he died, for seeing that his condition had worsened she left to fetch the doctor. (Other accounts claim that when Julia realized Waltz was dying she began selling tickets to towns people for one last glimpse of the old man). But Jacob Waltz did not die alone that morning. There were two men present with Waltz when he died. One man was Richard ‘Dick’ Holmes and the other was Gideon Roberts. Julia supposedly discovered the two men waiting on the street outside her adobe in the pre-dawn hours when she went to find the doctor. Concerned for Waltz, she asked the two if they would watch over the old man until she returned. They readily agreed. When Julia returned with the doctor, Waltz was dead, and the two men quietly left.  Later that day, she discovered that the candle box (or soap box) of gold ore had vanished. For a long time Julia suspected Rhinehart, her lodger, of taking the gold, but some years later it was learned that Dick Holmes actually had the gold, claiming that Waltz gave him the gold after telling the (long and windy) tale of how he came into the mine in the first place. The Holmes version of Waltz’s mine discovery varies from Julia’s version. Both versions are riddled with unlikely events or impossibilities.

      Several months after Waltz’s death, Julia announced that she would be heading to the Superstition Mountains to find his mine. She claimed that Waltz had revealed the location of the mine to her and that she could find it with little trouble. However, this was not to be the case. Julia sold her ice cream parlor to finance the expedition, but she never found the mine. Later, to recoup some of her losses and help maintain sustenance, she began selling copies of a map that she claimed would lead some lucky prospector to the mine. Accompanying the map was a colorful and richly crafted tale of how Waltz came into the old Peralta digs with the help of one of the Peralta descendants, also named Miguel Peralta.

     For a while, the rumor of Waltz’s gold created a whirlwind of interest. Treasure seekers, armed with the tale and map Julia had sold them, often trekked into the formidable range to try their luck at finding the mine. By the turn of the century, though, interest had waned as new discoveries of rich ore had been located just a little northwest of Superstition Mountain in what would become Goldfield, close to where the remains of the Peralta miners were believed to have been massacred years before.

Jacob Waltz had lived a long life by the time of his death at age 83. He has been portrayed as a con man and cold-blooded killer by some, but should the truth ever be known it is my guess that he was just a simple, quiet man—a loner in a strange land who kept to himself and helped people when they were down and out, having known himself what it is like to be down on luck. The gold Waltz is said to have had was real; some of this ore was later made into jewelry pieces. This jewelry, which presumably contains samples of the ‘Deathbed Ore’, is said to be in the possession of an Arizona businessman and is accompanied by documents signed by Holmes. Recounting the day that Waltz died, Holmes claimed that Waltz had given him the gold ore saying, “no one deserved it more.”

      Somewhere not too far from Phoenix, an elderly Jacob Waltz had located a source for this gold and kept it secret to the day he died. While Waltz may have been the only white man to see and take the rich gold of the Sombrero Mines after the Peralta massacre and live to spend it, only one treasure hunter subsequently obtained the true map to Peralta’s riches. However, he died in the rugged Superstition Wilderness searching for it. His name was Dr. Adolph Ruth.....

Copyright 2002 - John Ramses - Oneta Vera Enterprises

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