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BULLETpeople archive
People Archive Photo
© Brendan Moore

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Going for the Gold
At 79, Clay Worst doesn't spend much time looking for the Lost Dutchman's gold, but back in the '40s and '50s, he risked his life for the mother lode.

By Roger Naylor

Superstition Mountains In 1963, a mining engineer ventured to the top of Weavers Needle, deep in the sunburned heart of the Superstition Mountains. He'd hoped to verify a rumor that the soaring volcanic plug once served as a sacrificial Aztec altar, and that it was hollow and filled with riches. Unfortunately, the engineer fell hundreds of feet to his death. His partner began to go to pieces, yelling at prospectors on the desert floor. Someone needed to make the treacherous climb and calm him down until the search-and-rescue team arrived. That someone turned out to be Clay Worst.

He did what he had to, but don't be fooled into thinking that treasure hunters in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine were always so neighborly. Worst made the climb because he drew the short straw. Literally.

"There was lots of killing in the Superstitions back then, and groups feuding with each other," Worst recalls. "For a while, we averaged a homicide every 90 days. Everyone packed heavy iron and watched their back trail."

That's what happens when a legendary fortune is at stake. The Lost Dutchman story goes like this: Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant forever immortalized as the "Dutchman," allegedly discovered a staggeringly rich vein of gold, but died in 1891 without revealing the location. Since then, thousands have scoured the mountains searching for the fabled hole.

Worst hit the Superstitions in 1947. Over the ensuing decades, he had a gun pulled on him only once. He talked his way clear. "I was armed, but the fellow had the drop on me. I wouldn't have stood a chance." Another time, Worst acted as the second in a midnight duel, but the opposing duelist never showed. "It was an adventurous time."

Later, Worst became one of the founders of the Superstition Mountain Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the history and folklore of the region.

"We started with $10,000 in borrowed money, and within six to eight years we had the museum built and stocked, and owned it free and clear. We did it without taxpayer money or public funding. We're very proud of that."

At 79, Worst doesn't search for the Lost Dutchman Mine much anymore. He's too busy working his own mine, part of the original Goldfield discovery. That said, he still keeps a mule handy, "just in case."

Upon reflection, Worst admits he wouldn't change a thing. "My father remembered hiding under the bed when Sitting Bull jumped the reservation, while his father sat up all night with a shotgun. He lived long enough to see a man walk on the moon. Can you imagine what kind of life that was?"

An amazing one to be sure. Like father, like son.

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