By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Ron Feldman first heard of the Dutchman legend while growing up in Buffalo, New York, then started exploring the Superstitions when he lived in California. In 1968, he opened his stables, mostly so he could finance his hunt for the Dutchman. Feldman's oft-repeated quip about his first quarter-century of searching is that he followed the typical threads and "became an expert on where the mine wasn't."
Then Feldman started poring over the notes of Ted Cox, an old-timer whose father claims to have known Waltz and who himself purports to have overheard plotters discussing the murder of Adolph Ruth. That led Feldman to an abandoned mine far east of where most Dutchman hunters concentrate. To explore that mine, Feldman had to assemble a team and file a "treasure trove permit," which had never been done in the Superstitions before. The Feldmans got the permit in 2004 and started digging without power tools, using basically the same technology the mine would have made do with in the 1850s. Officially, they were digging under the auspices of an archeological expedition, trying to prove the Spanish made their way into the Superstitions, far north of where most historians believed they'd been.
After taking five years to fill out a mountain of paperwork, plus months of digging, a highly paid archeology consultant gave the Feldmans what they wanted, declaring that the timbers in the abandoned mine were Spanish. This gave more credence to any Peralta-related story, which holds that a Spanish family discovered the mine. This is what the Feldmans believe about the Dutchman.
As serious treasure hunters, the Feldmans are cagey about how their discoveries fit in with the Dutchman, even after writing three books on the subject. They imply that they believe there was a Dutchman mine and that it's been emptied — and that's okay with them. "Whether the Lost Dutchman Mine has gold dripping from the walls or not is immaterial to anyone who hunts it, basically," Ron Feldman says. "To a Dutchman hunter, if you found the mine and there was gold dripping from the walls and there was a blinking neon sign that said 'Lost Dutchman Mine,' other Dutchman hunters would say, 'No, that's not it,' because they don't want their dream squashed. The search is more important than the find if you're a true treasure hunter."
What the Feldmans do say, without reservation, is that geology and archeology, not cryptography and cartography, are the sciences important to real Dutchman hunters. "You can't find anything if you follow the stories and the clues and the riddles and the arrows carved on saguaro cactus," says son Josh Feldman. "You're not going to find your ass with two hands."
Perhaps that's where Jesse Capen went wrong. Jesse took a studious approach to his Dutchman research — his mother calls it his "doctoral thesis" — highlighting and underlining certain things concerning codes and cairns in the stories told by old-timers. Books are what his family found in his apartment — not rocks.
Though he's certainly not the first prospector to go missing on a hunt for the Lost Dutchman's gold, Jesse Capen's disappearance does mark the dawn of a new era. Capen is, after all, the first high-profile disappearance of the Internet age. Though they're still intensely secretive, Dutchman hunters now use the web to keep tabs on each other, spreading news, lies and rumors.
Likewise, there's a glut of information from people who claim to know this or that about the search for Capen — which is good and bad, say Robert Cooper and Cynthia Burnett. On one hand, people are interested, and some kind folks have gone online to provide search support and to offer Burnett a shoulder to cry on. On the other hand, there's a lot of misinformation. It used to take several years and access to a printing press to widely circulate variations on a Dutchman story; now anyone with a computer can do it instantly.
One poster says Capen staged his disappearance and is working on a book. Several vehemently assert that he must've been caught in a storm and tried to hurriedly make his way back to his Jeep, running recklessly down the wash. He fell, they suppose, and the water carried him away, the rushing current pummeling his body against rocks until there was nothing left to find. Some say he probably went into a tiny cave that no one will ever find and was bitten by a snake. Others look at his flabby countenance in the driver's license photo and surmise it was a heart attack. There are cruelly imaginative posts, too, including one that suggests hungry animals ate Capen's body as he was alive and incapacitated. His family, understandably desperate for any information, reads this kind of stuff, and it's hard on them.
All told, thanks to Superstition Search and Rescue, the hunt for Capen has probably been the longest organized search in the history of the Superstitions. He's part of the lore now, and the stakes are high.
At her home in Denver, Cynthia Burnett mostly mourns but sometimes worries. She still frets about anything unusual, even though she's 99 percent sure her son was killed in a run-of-the-mill mishap, his body somehow ending up somewhere searchers haven't yet thought to look. Still, doubts pop into her head. A mysterious cashier's check turned up in the mail a while ago, inspiring her to dream up a long list of dark, far-fetched theories and causing a week of panicked agony before some of her friends 'fessed up to sending it, worried that she needed money.