There's also some small chance Capen faked his disappearance, though no reason for doing so has emerged. There was, however, a rental car with Colorado plates spotted at the trailhead within days of when he was reported missing. A coincidence, cops say, though Cooper doesn't like coincidences.

Another serious possibility, the one searchers hate to think about, is that Capen set up camp, wandered off just before dark and was unable to find his way back. Maybe he fell asleep halfway through his hunt for the tent, Cooper says, then woke up and continued walking. Under that scenario, he could've gone more than twenty miles into the wilderness.

Odds are, though, that Capen had some sort of accident that left him incapacitated, and his body will eventually be found within a rugged half-mile of the campsite. Statistically speaking, people are almost always found within that distance, says Cooper. "The scenario we're going with is that he walks 2½ miles to camp, drops his gear, sets up his tent and throws everything in it. He never unpacked his bedroll, he never broke down food, so it's obvious he turned up missing the first night," he explains. "We're running under the assumption that he took a short walk from his tent and something happened."

The Superstition Search and Rescue squad's hunt for Jesse Capen is the longest in the history of the Superstitions.
The Superstition Search and Rescue squad's hunt for Jesse Capen is the longest in the history of the Superstitions.

All that uncertainty makes for a very, very long search. Of more than 2,000 search-and-rescue operations the team had done before Capen's disappearance, the longest was five weekends. As the guys make their way up the overgrown trail, the search for Capen is at seven weekends — and counting.

"We're not quitting until we find him. We never have," Cooper says. "I've been on the team since '94, and we've never not found someone we've started to look for. We have a perfect record."

This is the Lost Dutchman story that drew Jesse Capen to Arizona, stripped of disputed facts: An old German prospector named Jacob Waltz died in his modest Phoenix-area ranch house with a large pile of gold ore in or near that house, having told at least one person that the ore came from a gold-rich mine hidden in or near the Superstition Mountains.

The variations on that theme are the real heart of the legend, though. There is a seemingly unending list of added details — nearly a printed encyclopedia's worth of stories accompanied by enough crudely rendered maps to fill an atlas. They range widely in veracity. Some tack hard-boiled science onto that bare-bones Dutchman story; others are rooted in plausible but unprovable secondhand information; still other bits revolve around curses enforced by mystical guardians.

There are two main camps of serious Dutchman hunters: Petrasch and Holmes. Helen Corbin, wife of former Arizona attorney general and avid Dutchman hunter Bob Corbin, breaks down the details of the two factions in her book, Curse of the Dutchman's Gold. The Petrasch faction believes the dying Dutchman told the secret of his mine's location to Julia Thomas, a black woman who'd been his caretaker, and her adopted son, Reiney Petrasch. Holmes followers believe Waltz confessed the location to Dick Holmes, who'd previously tried to trail the Dutchman to his mine. The Petrasch faction tends to end up searching on the east side of the Superstitions, where their clues fit, while the Holmes supporters stick to the west. Both stories tie the mine back to the Peralta family of Sonora, Mexico. Both versions are full of riddles about unnamed places and vague references to common natural features. And both stories involve murder, betrayal and misfortune.

But neither has led anyone to the mine. Even the people who supposedly heard the details from the Dutchman's mouth couldn't find it, though Thomas, Petrasch and Holmes all searched extensively, as did their kin.

The fact that nearly every detail associated with the mine is hearsay has done nothing to dampen interest in it. The truth is, legendary lost mines were clichés even in the Dutchman's time. A blurb from an 1892 edition of the Arizona Daily Gazette, a short-lived Phoenix newspaper, barely restrains the reporter's mocking tone about the very first Dutchman hunters, Julia Thomas and Reiney Petrasch, in a story headlined "A Queer Quest in Search of Gold: Another 'Lost Mine' Being Hunted for by a Woman": Mrs. (Julia) Thomas, formerly of Thomas Ice Cream Parlor, is now in the Superstition Mountains engaged in a work usually deemed strange for a woman's sphere. She is prospecting for a lost mine, the location of which she believes she holds the key. But somehow, she has failed after two months work to locate the bonanza, though aided by two men. The story about the mine is founded upon the usual death-bed revelations of the ancient miner usual in such cases.

The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine may have ended up another footnote in Western history if it weren't for retired Washington veterinarian Adolph Ruth.

Ruth went missing in 1931, just after the start of the Great Depression. Though a little more grandiose, his backstory is similar to Jesse Capen's: A naive outsider becomes obsessed with the mine, underestimates the dangers of the Superstitions and goes into the mountains alone. Then, predictably, he turns up missing, and a massive search is launched.

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