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APACHE JUNCTION, AZ – Forty miles east of Phoenix in Arizona’s fabled Superstition Mountains is a mystery dating back more than 150 years. The enigma that is the Lost Dutchman Mine has captivated people from all over the world. The search for it cost many adventurers and would-be treasure-hunters their lives. There have been those who claimed to know where the mine is - to have found it again. But author Harold Cohn says that’s not true. Because the Lost Dutchman Mine was never lost.
We’ll talk about Cohn and his book, “The Lost Dutchmen Mine and the Peg Leg Pete Mine,” in a little bit. Let’s start with the history of the Lost Dutchman Mine and the secret Jacob Waltz, the “Dutchman,” took to his grave.
According to the legend, a family from northern Mexico found and worked “rich gold mine(s) in the Superstitions” in the 1840s. Arizona State Parks sketches out the story on its Lost Dutchman State Park web page. As the tale goes, the Peraltas and their party were taking gold from the mountains back to Mexico in 1848 when Apaches ambushed them in an area now known as the Massacre Grounds. According to the Arizona State Parks, only one or two members of the Peralta family survived.
“The Lost Dutchman’s gold is covered in blood.”
This is where things get interesting. Nobody seemed to know where the Peralta mine was located. “Numerous maps have surfaced over the years, only to become lost or misplaced when interested parties pressed for facts,” according to Arizona State Parks. “Men who claimed to have found the Peralta mine were unable to return to it, or some disaster occurred before they could file a claim, all adding to the lore of a ‘lost mine.’”
It gets juicier.
Decades after that ill-fated expedition by the Peralta, a German man named Jacob Walz supposedly found the mine with the help of a descendant of the Peralta family. Waltz and his partner, Jacob Weiser, hid the gold they mined in at least one cache – possibly more – in the Superstitions. That’s the gold for which people are still looking today.
At some point, Weiser was killed – either by Apaches or by Waltz himself, depending on the storyteller. Waltz moved to Phoenix, where he died in 1891. Legend has it that he told the neighbor who looked after him until his death where the mine was. She never found it. Nobody did. “Subsequent searchers have sometimes met with foul play or even death,” explained Arizona State Parks.
This brings us back to Cohn and his supposition that the mine was never lost.
Cohn’s fascination with the Lost Dutchman Mine is rooted in his time at the Naval Training Center in San Diego more than 50 years ago. He recalled reading an article about the mine in an issue of Popular Mechanics in the base library one Saturday morning. “Harold, someday you are going to find that mine,” he told himself.
When Cohn, now in his 70s, got out of the Navy, he became a park ranger with the County of San Diego’s Parks Department. His time stationed at El Monte Park in Lakeside, became the foundation for his first foray into the past and his first book, “El Monte Park History.” It also spawned his interest in the Native Americans who lived in the western part of our country.
The combat veteran later took a course called “Indians of the Desert” offered by Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, California. It was a walking tour of an ancient Native American site in Anza-Borrego State Park. It was during that tour that he saw his first pictograph, an example of Native American rock art. While listening to the group’s guide talk about the pictograph, something happened to Cohn. Something some might call unusual.
“[I]t was like a black curtain dropped. The people disappeared,” Cohn recalls on his website. “There was just this writer and this writer and the pictograph. I shouted out: “THE DAMNED THING IS A MAP!’ I returned to the real world at this point. I was welcomed [by] the group’s laughter which continued the rest of the day ….”
Some years later, Cohn shared that experience, along with his years of research, in a book of supposition essays he called, “The Stone Spoke.”
Cohn started his work on “The Lost Dutchmen Mine and Peg Leg Pete Mine” after he had foot surgery to fix an injury sustained while he and his grandson were exploring and examining pictographs. That surgery put him in a wheelchair for months. “A wheelchair is a prison to a person who was once mobile,” he wrote in an article about his work and how “The Lost Dutchmen Mine and the Peg Leg Pete Mine” came to be. It started with an article about the Lost Dutchman Mine on DesertUSA.com. That launched five years of in-depth research, including interpretation of the famed Peralta Stones.
“You do such an excellent job of making this come alive,” Ric Bratton told Cohn while interviewing him on “This Week in America.”
“The Lost Dutchmen Mine and the Peg Leg Pete Mine” is one of many books about the mine and the legend behind it. Cohn says like in “The Stone Spoke,” “his conclusions are not fact nor fiction, just supposition.” And his supposition is that the mine was never lost. “One who searches for what is not lost is a fool,” Cohn wrote at the start of the book. He also admitted to Bratton that he himself had been such a fool. Cohn’s reason for writing the book, he says in the preface, is “so the Superstition Mountains no longer claim the lives of fools.”
In his book, Cohn “shines a unique light on the intersection between fact and fiction.” He wrote it in a way “that allows the reader to come to their own judgment” after following him on “an unexpected journey of adventure, discovery, and reflection that’s truly captivating.”
Cohn’s other work includes poetry and an anthology called “Crazy Old Man.” His current work is “a non-religious interpretation of the Bible” called “The Bible According to Harold.”
Cohn’s book “The Lost Dutchmen Mine and the Peg Leg Pete Mine” is available on Amazon, both in paperback and Kindle editions. “Crazy Old Man,” is available for the Kindle. To learn more about Cohn and his work, visit HaroldCohn.com.