The Superstitions are the largest of the mountain ranges surrounding Phoenix, visible from many miles away along the straight roads through the suburbs east of Mesa. They rise steeply above the flat desert to a high point of 5,024', and are characterized by sheer sided, jagged, volcanic peaks and ridges separated by boulder filled canyons, all covered by saguaro at low elevations, with other cacti and bushes higher up.
Trees are found only at scattered locations, at springs or beside streamways.
Early settlers named the hills on account of the many myths and stories told by the local Pima/Apache Indians about the mountains, and tales such as the fabled Lost Dutchman gold mine.
Most of the mountains are within the Tonto National Forest, and a large part is further protected as the Superstition Wilderness, the closest large pristine area to Phoenix and so a very popular hiking destination, though there are relatively few easy trails, most routes are quite long and strenuous, especially during the hot weather that prevails most of the year.
The wilderness extends eastwards from the Superstition range to other more remote mountains, and for all this region access is limited to two main roads; US 60 past the southern edge and the Apache Trail, AZ 88, to the north.
There are four trailheads for the most visited western half that includes the Superstition Mountains; at the end of Peralta Road, FR 77, a good quality 8 mile gravel track starting near Gold Canyon, First Water Road, FR 78, branching off AZ 88 near Goldfield, Canyon Lake Marina, and FR 213, a rough track south from the Apache Trail a few miles beyond Tortilla Flat.
For an introduction to the mountains, several short trails start from the Lost Dutchman State Park near Apache Junction.
The mountain has been called many different names, by a handful of different cultures, over the years.
The Crooked Top Mountain, Thunder Mountain, & Mountain Of Foam, just to name a few. But it was the local farmers, in the late 1860s, who tabbed this mountain with it's name of Superstition.
Through the Pima Indians, the farmers of the Salt River Valley had heard stories about strange sounds, people who disappeared, mysterious deaths, and an overall fear of the mountain. influenced the farmers to believe the Pimas were superstitious about this particular mountain, and thus the name Superstition Mountain was born.
There is also the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s gold, which is another ingredient to the Superstition Mountains' mix. Many people believe there is a fortune to be found, and they are willing to risk everything to be the one to finally find it.
Even though they couldn’t do anything with it, if they do find a treasure. The Superstition Wilderness is one of eight congressionally designated wilderness zones, which prohibits people from disturbing, leaving, or taking anything from the preserved areas. There is a strict leave no trace policy within the nearly 200,000 acres of protected Superstition Wilderness.
The Superstition Mountains have certainly had their share of casualties.
There do seem to be more disappearances here, than on other mountains, on average, about four to five hikers die each year.
In addition to the severely rugged nature of the terrain consisting of sharp drop offs, cliff and deep canyons, hikers can also encounter extreme changes in temperature, harsh winds, and dangerous wildlife. Even the forest service has said that it’s the most rugged within the United States wilderness system.
But explorers trek on regardless.
No matter what they are told, people still go in unprepared, here is an example of individuals who went missing.
A few years ago there were three guys, thought to be from Utah, that went missing. They weren’t found for months, until one day another hiker happened to discover the skeletal remains of the three men, still fully clothed, shoes and all. Just clothes and bones.
A little more information on the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine:
The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in the United States. The details of the Dutchman treasure has all the makings for a ghost story, hidden treasure, mysterious deaths, and lore passed down from generation to generation.
The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is a fabled gold mine located in the southwest, though it's exact whereabouts are unknown. Many believe it's hidden in the Superstition Mountains, and it's rumored a curse falls upon all those who try to find it. The path to these riches is paved in mystery and death. Many say at least 600 people have lost their lives trying to find the treasure.
A man named Jacob Waltz, A German immigrant known as the dutchman, cemented the land’s fate as a great American mystery. Waltz came to America in search of gold in the late 19th Century. Waltz claimed he located a rich vein of gold in the mountain range. He then fell gravely ill and delivered clues to his caregiver Julia Thomas about where the gold might be found. Unsure of what to make of his scribblings, she sold the map for $7, since then, people have been disappearing off the face of the earth in hopes of finding what could be nothing more than ramblings of a dying man. Or, perhaps, riches beyond their wildest dreams.
More people who vanished in search of The Lost Dutchman:
What’s now referred to as the Peralta Massacre occurred sometime around 1848. A Mexican family was allegedly slaughtered by Apaches after searching the land for gold. The Peralta family was said to have discovered the famed Dutchman’s gold mine within the cursed Mountains. It was here during what should have been a routine gold expedition that the family was allegedly ambushed and murdered by Apaches. According to legend, the Apaches hid all the gold the family had on them and covered up the mine. The area where the killings took place is now called the Massacre Grounds.
The first reported beheading in the Superstitions, the victim being Elisha M. Reavis, brother to the famous forger James Reavis, who lived the life of a hermit on Iron Mountain and sold garden produce to locals, was quite the character. He’d convinced the local Indian tribe he was crazy by running around naked through the canyons with guns or knives. They decided to steer clear of Reavis and so did just about everyone else. He settled in wilderness of the Superstition Mountains back in 1872 and became known as the Madman of the Superstitions. In 1896 his decapitated and decomposed remains were found. Allegedly, two Easterners were out looking for the lost mine the same year Reavis’ body was found and they were never seen again.
In 1910, the skeletal remains of a woman were found in a cave high up on Superstition Mountain. Allegedly, she had a small sack of gold nuggets with her but there were no signs of what possibly could have killed her or remnants of any type of clothing. It appears as if the naked woman found some gold and just dropped dead.
In June 1931 Dr. Adolph Ruth set out on a two week voyage through the legendary Superstition Mountains in search for the lost treasure. He never came home. The initial search party found no trace of him, but then, in December of 1931, they found a human skull with two bullet holes from a .44 caliber. They determined it was Ruth and that he'd been shot at almost point blank range and somehow his head detached from his body. The rest of his remains, some personal items, and a fully loaded gun were discovered in January 1932 about three quarters of a mile away from where his skull was discovered. Investigators at the time figured Ruth had committed suicide, but many believed he was murdered. One authority questioned how the purported gun used to kill Ruth had no bullets missing. Ruth's checkbook contained a handwritten note claiming he discovered the mine and ended with the phrase: Veni, vidi, vici.
In the 1940s, 62 year old treasure hunter James A. Cravey made an attempt to locate the gold mine but was later found dead in the wilderness of the Superstition Mountains. His headless body was discovered first, it wasn’t until six months later that his skull was found. His journey to find the mine was a huge spectacle at the time, he traveled to the mountain via helicopter. Before leaving, he purportedly told his friends he knew exactly where the gold was hiding. He set out for 10 days to find the treasure and asked the pilot to come back for him, but when the pilot arrived, Cravey was nowhere to be seen. His camp was intact and only two days worth of food had been eaten. No one knows why Cravey was beheaded or who killed him.
The only thing shrouded in more mystery than James Kidd’s death is his life. He had no family and a ridiculous sum of money, mostly from investments but where he got the cash to invest in the first place remains unknown. He spent a considerable amount of time poking through the east edges of the Superstitions. It’s possible he found the lost treasure and was making pickups from his stash as needed. He was secretive and standoffish, which is why no one knows much about him. His disappearance was reported on December 29, 1949, but probably would have been reported sooner had someone cared enough to notice he was gone. Several years after Kidd’s disappearance it was discovered he left a half million dollar fortune behind. An ardent believer in ghosts, Kidd specified in his will that his entire estate was to be awarded to anyone who could prove ghosts existed. Some believe he was murdered for his gold, another story tells of a man who dropped him off in the Superstitions and continued to check on him each month until he died. His body was never found.
It was early in 1952, when Joseph Kelley of Dayton, OH, decided to go out in search of the lost fortune and he was never seen alive again. Kelly’s body was eventually found near Weaver’s Needle two years after he disappeared. He had been shot in the head, there are no leads on the identity of the shooter. That same year two California boys named Ross Bley and Charles Harshbarger vanished out in the Superstition Mountains. Their bodies were never found.
The identity of the person, or persons, who disappeared in April 1958 remain a mystery. That year a deserted campsite was discovered over on the northern outskirts of the mountain and the scene was grim. Things like cooking tools, gun cleaning supplies, a Geiger counter, and some personal letters were left behind but most disturbingly was the bloodsoaked blankets. Strangely, someone had torn the names and addresses from the letters and no trace of the occupants was ever found.
The fall of 1961 marked the beginning of the search for prospector Jay Clapp. He’d spent over a decade and a half working through the Mountain before simply vanishing in July 1961. The police search that fall was thorough, though no trace of Clapp could be found so they called off the hunt. Three years later they found his headless skeleton. His skull still hasn’t turned up.
Jesse Capen was obsessed with the legendary Dutchman Gold Mine and was convinced he could locate the treasure hidden deep in the Mountains. Sadly, the 35 year old became another victim of the fables when he disappeared from the Tonto National Forest in 2009. Hundreds of books and maps were found in his apartment after his disappearance showing he extensively researched the subject. According to files found on his computer, he’d already attempted to locate the treasure on at least two other occasions and told no one of either excursion. It was his third trip that he never returned from, and it would be close to three years before his remains would finally be found. Volunteers with the Superstition Search and Rescue organization found Capen’s remains wedged in an impossibly tight crevice, about 30' off the ground. He may have fallen from a ledge above the crevice and somehow got wedged in, but his official cause of death remains unknown or at least unreported. There was no trauma to his skull, his skeletal remains were returned to his family whole, and his bones were wedged in such an inaccessible spot that flooding and animals couldn’t touch him.
Apparently, stumbling across skulls is a regular occurrence in the Superstitions. From 1955 to 1977, five people were reportedly found dead with bullet holes in their heads. Two more bodies were found without heads and investigators were never able to find their skulls. Many people believe the killings could be connected to the curse, while others hypothesize it could be bandits and thieves taking advantage of gold bearing explorers.
In the years 1927 & 1928, people had reportedly been hiking up the trails when suddenly large boulders rolled down on them from above. In 1970 a long term prospector named Al Morrow suffered the same fate. A boulder fell while he was excavating a tunnel and crushed him to death. In 1964, Robert & Richard Kremis were discovered dead at the bottom of a high cliff. Whether the ground had crumbled beneath them or a boulder knocked them off is uncertain. The integrity of the ground they were standing was most likely the cause, or they were pushed. It seems a bit farfetched that both men just happen to accidently fall off a cliff.
As a timeline, here is a list:
1847ish - See Above
1870s, exact date unknown - Jacob Weiser, partner of the Dutchman Jacob Waltz, died of wounds received by attacking Apaches after escaping the mountains to a nearby ranch.
1880 - Two soldiers who had shown rich gold ore in Florence went into the Superstitions and disappeared, later their remains were found, with a bullet hole in their skulls. This may be an incident which occurred in the Four Peaks region in truth.
1884 - Pedro Ortega was found shot dead some 30' from the home of Jacob Waltz, dead of shotgun wounds. Waltz told the sheriff that Ortega's partner shot him after borrowing Waltz's shotgun, but many believed that Waltz himself had killed Ortega.
1891 - A legend was born the night that Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman himself, died.
1892 - The last known death caused by an Apache attack in the Superstitions, Charles Dobie. Any relation to Frank Dobie?
1896 - See Above
1910 - See Above
1931 - See Above
1934 - The Superstition Mountains claimed the life of Adam Stewart
1936 - Roma O'Hal was hiking in the Superstition mountains, and died from a fall.
1938 - Prospector Guy Hematite Frank was found dead in the mountains with a sack of gold at his side. Another accidental death?
1948 - See Above
1949 - See Above
1951 - The body of Dr. John Burns of Oregon was found with a bullet hole through him. Even though there were no powder burns and a ballistics expert testified the shot had been from some distance, the coroner's jury ruled the death accidental or suicide.
1952 - See Above
1955 - Charles Massey, hunting in the Superstitions with a 22 rimfire, was found dead, having been shot between the eyes with a heavy caliber bullet. The coroner ruled the death accidental, a result of a ricochet.
1956 - Martin Zywotho, a native of New York, was found dead with a bullet hole in his right temple. Although his gun was found beneath the body, the death was ruled a suicide.
1959 - Benjamin Ferreira killed his friend and partner Stanley Hernandez after they discovered what they thought was gold, the find was actually pyrite, Fools gold. Ed Piper shot Robert St. Marie in an old west style shootout after Celeste Marie Jones had hired St. Marie to kill Piper. Just two months after St. Marie was killed, Piper was found dead. An autopsy gave the cause of death as a perforated ulcer. Lavern Rowlee was shot by Ralph Thomas, who was in the mountains on a hiking trip. Rowlee attacked Thomas and in self defense, shot him.
1960 - Yet another beheaded skull was discovered in the Superstitions, this one with two bullet holes in it. The skull turned out to be the remains of Franz Harrer, a student from Austria. Also this year, the skeletal remains of William Harvey Jr. were found, cause of death unknown.
1961 - Some children discovered the skeletal remains of Hilmer Bohen, who had been shot through the head. Walter Mowry's bullet ridden body ws found, the cause of death ruled a suicide.
1963 - Vance Bacon, a hired man working for Celeste Marie Jones, the woman who had a claim on the TOP of Weaver's Needle, fell to his death from the top of Weaver's Needle. According to some sources, there were rifle shots heard and some indications of foul play.
1964 - The skeletal remains of Jay Clapp were found, but his skull was missing and has never been found. Richard and Robert Kremis were found dead at the bottom of a high cliff. Also an elderly couple were found murdered in an automobile this year.
1970 - See Above
1973 - Charles Lewing shot Ladislas Guerrero in self defense, at the Robert Crazy Jake Jacobs camp site.
1976 - Howard Polling was killed by a gunshot while prospecting in the Superstitions.
1977 - Dennis Brown died from a gunshot wound.
1978 - Manuel Valdez was murdered.
1980 - The skeletal remains of Rick Fenning were discovered.
1984 - Walt Gassler, life long searcher for the Lost Dutchman mine, was found dead in the Superstitions. In his pack was found gold ore identical to that from under the death bed of Jacob Waltz.