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Obsession with the Dutchman

Walter Gassler in the Superstition Mountains in 1936.

Lust for gold has sent many prospectors to Arizona’s Superstition Mountains in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine. Many followed the enigmatic clues left by the Dutchman himself, Jacob Waltz: “From my mine you can see the military trail, but from the military trail, you cannot see my mine. If you pass three red hills, you have gone too far.” The clues may have been the Dutchman’s way of stimulating people’s greed. So far, no one has been able to find the gold. And an unlucky few have either died in their search or disappeared.
One of the unlucky ones was Walter Gassler, a professional chef from Berkley, Calif. He became interested in the Lost Dutchman Mine after reading about Adolph Ruth, a prospector who died while trying to find the Dutchman’s gold. He was intrigued by the story, and in 1934, began researching it further.
That same year, he took a job as a pastry chef at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. His interest in the Lost Dutchman Mine continued, and he decided to search for the gold himself. He pitched a tent in the Superstition Mountains and became good friends with rancher Tex Barkley from the Quarter Circle-U Ranch. Barkley shared stories about the mine, suggesting various sites where he thought the gold was hidden. One of the sites was an Indian encampment at Peter’s Mesa.
Gassler set out to find the encampment, and, to Barkley’s surprise, located it. But his search ended there. He got married and decided that the Superstitions were no place for a new wife. He returned to California.
Decades later, after Gassler retired, he returned to the Superstition Mountains and began a serious quest for the Lost Dutchman Mine. He had decided that it must be on Peter’s Mesa and that a clue was Waltz’s instruction to find a “rock that looks like a man” in La Barge Canyon.
Gassler, 82 by then, and had not been in the mountains for many years. As he searched, he found that the landscape had changed and some landmarks had completely disappeared. Thoroughly frustrated, he sought the help of two other gold seekers, Bob Corbin, who had served as Arizona attorney general, and Tom Kollenborn, who had guided many gold seekers into the mountains.
Neither Kollenborn nor Corbin had time to help Gassler immediately. But he didn’t want to wait; it was late spring and soon it would be too hot to explore the mountains. When he threatened to take the bus to Apache Junction and walk into the mountains alone, his wife agreed to drive him to First Water trailhead. After two more unsuccessful attempts to get Corbin and Kollenborn involved, on May 2, 1984, Gassler unloaded his pack at First Water and said good-bye to his wife.
Two days later, Don Shade and another guide discovered him propped against a rock near Charlebois Ridge. It was obvious he was dead, and they quickly rode to notify the sheriff.  Because Gassler died on the county line, both Pinal and Maricopa County sheriffs were involved in the case.
Shade informed the sheriffs that he had seen a man darting in and out of the bushes near Gassler’s body, but the Pinal County medical examiner reported that there had been no evidence that Gassler had met with foul play. Gassler’s death was ruled to have been from natural causes — possibly a heart attack.
Not long after Gassler’s death, a man showed up claiming to be his son, Roland. He showed Kollenborn some rich gold ore samples he claimed had come from his father’s knapsack and insisted that his father had found the Lost Dutchman Mine. He asked Kollenborn to return the manuscript and maps Gassler had left with him. Kollenborn readily gave the materials to the man claiming to be Roland Gassler.
Several weeks later when Kollenborn was giving a presentation about the Superstition Mountains, a man in the audience introduced himself as Roland Gassler. He was not the same man who earlier had claimed to be Gassler’s son. Kollenborn checked his identification and confirmed that indeed he was the real Roland Gassler. 
The identity of the man Kollenborn first met, who claimed to be Roland Gassler, is still unknown. And where he found the gold remains a mystery. The real Roland Gassler, however, claimed that his father’s knapsack had disappeared from the sheriff’s inventory. The fake Roland Gassler was never seen again — just another of the mysteries that cling to the story of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. 
Jane Eppinga. Photo courtesy the Superstition Mountain Historical Society.
Sources: T.E. Glover, “The Lost Dutchman Mine of Jacob Waltz” Vol. I and II.; Cowboy Miner Productions, Phoenix, Arizona; Gregory Davis, Superstition Mountain Collection.

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