History or Hyperbole?

The History Channel has outdone itself, if you count hyperbole and sensationalism. The video is episode one of Legend of the Superstition Mountains. Watch it, it is interesting, if not factual or accurate.

The so-called documentary meets all of the criteria for “reality television” in that it is based loosely on history, and even more loosely on historical fact.

The sensationalistic interpretation of Jacob Waltz’s life is one-sided, and even defamatory. Of the many accounts of “the Lost Dutchman” (he was never lost), none refered to him as a “madman”, as alluded to in this video.

There is no doubt that he came into possession of gold, gold that has not yet been traced to any operating mine or gold vein. He was elusive, and by accounts, a braggart. There is absolutely no evidence that he actually ever killed anyone.

Having explored the Superstitions, and camped in the mountains, I can assure you that most of the episode is hype. Nobody is following “Dutch hunters”, as the current stock of prospectors seeking Waltz’s lost mine are called, let alone murdering them.

They cite one of the recent cases of a group that perished in the mountains – and incorrectly allude that the group was murdered for getting too close. in fact, people die in the Superstitions every year – and in every case the untimely demise was due to novices and greenhorns taking unnecessary risks. The Superstition wilderness is in fact one of the most rugged areas in America. You do not hike without water, and you do not hike without protective gear such as a thermal blanket. Most important, you do not hike in the summer when the temperatures reach 120 degrees, and the natural creek beds are dry.

Wayne Tuttle claims, in the video, to have known Clay Worst for many years, and yet Clay says he never met this guy until they filmed that segment.  These men misrepresented themselves in procuring the assistance of local historians, in that the guests thought this was going to be a factual and historical documentary.

The gold match case is real, and it has in fact only been displayed publicly once. It resides in a private collection by an unknown owner. The stone maps are real, although of dubious origin.

There is no evidence the Peraltas ever mined in the mountains, with a silver mine having operated east in Superior, AZ, and other mines west of the mountains in Goldfield.

To boot, even if a mine were discovered, you would not be allowed to mine or take gold from it – the Superstitions are federally protected land. You might find fame, but never fortune!

I love the camera angles when they are climbing a rocky mountainside – they were never more than twenty feet above the flats below, with filmmaking trickery being utilized to make the climb appear more treacherous than it is. Not that even a climb such as that cannot be dangerous – if you were alone and slipped you could break an ankle and perish.

The two other characters, a bombastic former cop and a wannabe prospector claim to have been working a claim for a year. yet all of their equipment and attire appear to be brand new, showing none of the wear that even a month in the desert would show.

The cop was at the local historical museum, and tried to impress the volunteers and employees with his vial of gold.  He said, “I’ll bet you never saw real gold before” or something along those lines, when one of the employees directed him to a shelf that contained dozens of similar vials, and offered to sell him some.  That probably deflated his ego a bit.

In some scenes the crew are traveling east to west, and then further along they are traveling west to east – maybe they are truly lost?

Near the end of this episode they come to a clearing where Weaver’s Needle is in view.  Wow!  They decide this is evidence that they are on the right path – I have dozens of photographs of the Needle from my many hikes, visible from most of the many well-marked trails in the mountains.

Yes, the Apache consider the mountain to be sacred ground. Every local tribe considers mountains to be sacred. The Apache also feared the mountain, believing it did contain the portal to the netherworld, according to legend. Other tribes resided in the mountains for hundreds of years, petroglyphs and the foundations of ancient structures still exist today.

There was a massacre, and legend that has some factual bearing suggests it was the Peralta family and miners that were massacred – skulls and bones have been discovered.  One of the skulls had a gold crown on a tooth, suggesting they were Spanish.

Caches of refined gold have been found as recently at 1911, but never any evidence of a working mine, despite the hundreds of mine shafts that still scar the hills.

Still, the series is something to watch; just take it all with a grain of salt. If you want an accurate history of the Lost Dutchman, the Superstition Mountains and an unbiased scrutiny of the legends and myths, I suggest you start with Superstition Mountain: A Ride Through Time by Jim Swanson and Tom Kollenborn. Kollenborn has more than 70 years of experience in the mountains, as a cowboy, ranch hand, and gold hunter. Their evenhanded approach to the legends would be more becoming for the History Channel.  In my opinion, the History Channel has lost all credibility with this spurious documentary.

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