Arizonan Legends

Move over, Nessie, because Arizona has its own creepy legends!

Pradyoth Velagapudi, Columnist

Arizona: a state known for its lovely weather (if sometimes a little hot), wide-open spaces, and a rich history of cattle ranching and cowboys. But there is also another side to the Grand Canyon state, one not always known about by non-Arizonans and found in its own legends.

One of these many popular Arizona legends is the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a lost gold mine said to be located in the Superstition Mountains, near Phoenix. It is said that the mine is extremely rich in gold, and there have been many who have gone searching for it; it will suffice to say that not all of them made it back, leading to stories of a “curse” surrounding the mine.

There are many variants of the story, but there are three main versions that are all incorporated together in the “official” history of the mine. In one, the family of a man named Michael Peralta was supposedly mining for gold, only to be ambushed and massacred by members of the Apache Native American tribe. Years later, a man named Dr. Thornton was said to have given medical aid to an ill Apache chief and in return was blindfolded and taken to the mine to take as much ore as he could carry.

In another, two U.S. soldiers allegedly discovered a large vein of gold in the American Southwest, based on the story told to them by Dr. Thornton. They were said to have presented some of the gold but soon mysteriously disappeared.

Another, most widely accepted story of the mine is as follows. Two German men Jacob Waltz, and Jacob Weiser saved one of the members of the Peralta family from the Apache massacre and were told the location of the mine in gratitude. Later, a greed-driven Waltz attacked Weiser, who survived long enough to tell a man named Dr. Walker of the existence of the mine. Waltz, the only other man who knew about the mine, also drew a (barely legible) map while on his deathbed.

The Lost Dutchman’s mine isn’t the only legend unique to Arizona. There’s also the tale of the Mogollon Monster, a bigfoot-esque creature said to prowl the forests around the Mogollon Rim.

In a popular version of a story told by the Boy Scouts, a Native American chief went through a magic ritual to give himself heightened strength and fighting abilities in order to get back at a warrior who took over the tribe and stole his wife. However, he ended up turning into a vicious beast and massacred everyone in his tribe. Years later, a man named William Spade and his wife were said to have been brutally attacked by the monster on their wedding day and had their severed heads left hanging from a tree. Today, Spade Ranch, the area of land supposedly claimed by William Spade years ago, is part of a Boy Scout camp called Camp Geronimo.

Another supposed encounter with the Mogollon Monster is also told by the Boy Scouts of Camp Geronimo. A boy scout troop hiking along the Mogollon Rim, not far from Camp Geronimo, were said to have stumbled upon a cave in the cliff (visible today from the camp) in which they found the beast, sleeping. A few of the members of that troop still hold today that their encounter with the monster was real (although it is a little dubious that one of them is now a cryptologist, someone who researches mythical creatures such as bigfoot).

In addition to the Mogollon Monster, there have also been a number of alleged UFO and alien sightings in Arizona, one of the most famous being the Phoenix Lights. On Thursday, March 13, 1997, several (or one, it’s debatable) alleged alien spacecraft were spotted over Phoenix at night. They (or it) were reported to be in the shape of an inverted “V” with several lights (the exact number is unknown) were present along the underside of each craft. They floated along for quite a long time before mysteriously disappearing. There have been at least two similar reappearances in 2007 and 2008; however, the 2007 incident was reported to be a series of flares dropped by F-16 aircraft at the Luke Air Force Base, and the 2008 sighting was found to be just a prank by a man who released several balloons with flares attached to them.

Another alleged alien encounter of Arizona is the Travis Walton incident. On November 5, 1975, Travis Walton, while working with a lumber crew in Sitgreaves National Forest, noticed a bright light in the sky not far from the truck. After he went closer to investigate, he was knocked back by a beam of light and then disappeared. He turned up days later at a gas station, naked and traumatized. He described being observed by short, bald creatures in a hospital-like room, before blacking out. He wrote a book about it, which was later adapted into a film called “Fire in the Sky,” which has become a cult classic for many science fiction fans (it also has the scariest alien abduction scene ever).

These aren’t all! There are many other stories and legends unique to Arizona (check out the chupacabra and Navajo skinwalkers) that, all together, help to define our state’s unique culture and history.