Searching for the Truth
The Lost Dutchman - Peralta Stone Maps - Travis Tumlinson
by Ryan Gordon
Challenging assumptions has been a part of my life since I was a child. Let me take you back to when I was about 8 years old. It was Christmas time and my family was over at Grandma’s house. We were going through old photographs, and sitting on my grandpa’s lap, I saw a photo of an old car parked in front of a train car. I looked at Grandpa and said, “the colors are wrong, they are missing...” I looked outside and said “look, the trees are supposed to be green...they are grey in this photo!” Since that day, I have always looked at things differently. It was a personal task that I took upon myself, to notice differences in photographs, in writing and in stories handed down over time. Since then I have worked as a photographer for some of the world's most elite companies. Photography took me all over the country; times I will never forget. Most recently I’ve been involved with TV production - I've created and pitched a handful of TV series.
I got involved with the Superstition Mountains after watching the TV series “Legend of the Superstition Mountains” on the History Channel. It captivated me. The mountains were beautiful and the camera operators did a brilliant job of capturing the ominous essence of the mountains.
Since I questioned a lot of what I saw on the show, which is typical for me, Dad and I ventured out into the mountains to find the black hand prints, medicine wheel and other oddities that we had seen on TV. With some help, I was able to find these locations and created my first video. It went live March 20, 2015. To my surprise, the video went viral! This was the first time I had ever created my own film, which generated a stir within the Dutch Hunting community. I started to get a lot of emails from people commenting, “You should go check out this spot! Or... “Your hunch was the same as mine, thank you for doing this”. The most valuable email that I received came about two months into my video making. It read “Ryan, those mountains were my home for many years. I miss them terribly. In 2004 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and I haven’t been able to get out in the mountains at all anymore. Now I can live through your adventures. Thank you!”
After video 1, I took on one of the greatest challenges of my life. I wanted to go to the “Bat Cave” where the season of “Legend of the Superstition Mountaines” ends. I had researched the coordinates online and plotted a course with my iPhone. In the series, the cast began their hike from one of three possible routes, Canyon Lake. I didn’t have a boat that I could leave parked, unattended, so I decided to take the 2.5 mile hike instead. I'm an avid hiker; I do 13-mile hikes at South Mountain with my two small dogs three times a week, so I wasn’t too concerned. It was still cool outside, in the mid-60s, yet I wasn’t prepared for this hike, physically or emotionally. I haven’t ever mentioned this publically, but the first time I went out, I landed myself in serious trouble! Looking at the trail on Google Earth, it looked simple. Seeing it in person was quite different; I was faced with boulders the size of city busses...intermixed with 60 foot drops...wild animals...and dead silence.
It was the silence though that really got to me. Walking for hour upon hour, being alone on a path that I was forging myself, was not like anything I had ever done. When I finally got to the bat cave, I was 7 hours into the 2.5 mile hike. Looking up, I saw the bat cave and was too exhausted. I’d lost the desire to film it or document it. Instead, I wanted to get out of the area as soon as I could. Knowing I didn’t have the strength or willpower to make the 7-hour trek back to my car, I walked to Canyon Lake instead. Standing on top of a boulder, about 75 feet tall, in the distance I could see a family enjoying the weather. The dad was teaching his kids how to swim, and music was playing and echoing throughout the inlet. The contrast between what they were doing, and my feeling of being the closest I had ever been to physical failure, was as vast as the cliff walls that surrounded us. I climbed down the boulder to try and get closer to them and in the process split my jeans wide open! I stood there, looking down at myself...and thought.....”You look terrible, in fact you look scary!” Not only was I exhausted, but I was filthy from head to toe. About this time it dawned on me I was standing there in front of a family with small children...pants ripped open and leaving nothing to the imagination. Desperate, I began yelling, trying to overpower their music....I must have yelled, “HEY!”, at the top of my lungs at least 10 times, and they didn’t hear me!
In my backpack, I had brought a small white rag. I took it out of my backpack and began waving it in the air. I was hoping they would hear or see me. The desperation in my voice was frightening, so much so I was starting to even scare myself. I thought, if Mom only knew I was doing this – she would never let me go out in these mountains again.
Eventually the family saw me. It was one of the happiest moments of my life! I picked up my backpack, jumped into the lake, and swam toward them. I still remember the look in their eyes, fear. I am sure they were thinking, “Who is this guy? Where did he come from?” They helped me get in their boat and offered me a place to sit down. Just as soon as I was in the boat, they moved all the small kids to the front of the boat; I knew that this had to be out of concern for their safety. After all, they had literally just picked up a “hitch hiker”. One that had appeared out of the vast caverns, pants ripped open, dirty, thorns stuck to his clothing and barely able to talk due to exhaustion and screaming for their attention.
On the way back, the father said, “do you need to call anyone?” to which I replied “Yes, let me get my cell phone”. Taking my iPhone 6 out of my pocket, I noticed that it was dripping wet, completely ruined. The jump into the water short-circuited all of my electronics. The father offered me his cell phone and I called my dad. Dad picked up the phone, not recognizing the number, and was shocked to hear me on the other end. I told him I needed help and to pick me up at the marina at Canyon Lake. He kept asking me if I was okay, what happened to my cell phone and whose phone was I using? As I got off the family's boat at the marina, the mother handed me a beach towel and said, “you may want to keep this”. I knew what she meant; I couldn’t be walking around in public the way I was.
Dad arrived at the Marina in about 40 minutes. The look on his face was of pure shock. For the next 20 minutes, I explained to him what had happened. I could sense the fear in his voice as he talked to me, questioning my motives and what my goals were moving forward. Truth is.....if it were not for that family, I would have not made it out that day. So if you folks are reading this by chance.....THANK YOU!
It wasn’t that I went out there unprepared. I had brought ample water, electronics and I had memorized the trail. What I didn’t take into account were the mountains. It was my first time hiking the Superstitions and I didn’t realize how intense they really are.
I was faced with a problem, however. I had given my word on an online forum that I would be going to the bat cave and would be reporting back with my findings. I am not one to back down on my word, especially when my word has gone out to thousands of people. So, I went to the Apple Store, got a new cell phone and within a few days I was back on that trail again. I wasn’t going to let it defeat me. That was video 2 – and as of today, my post popular video yet.
Within a few weeks, I had teamed up with Frank Augustine, “Sarge” from the TV series. To my surprise, he and I really hit it off. After all, my first three videos concentrated on debunking the show in which he played a major part. Frank has a lot of experience in the mountains. He knows all about prospecting and knows the trails like the back of his hand. He also has an arsenal big enough to make anyone wary. (video 3)
He and I made an agreement to create new videos and I loved that idea. We ended up getting sponsored by Tesoro Metal Detectors and Leupold Optics within a matter of days. He introduced me to Woody Wampler and told me a bunch of stories about adventures that he had within the mountains. Frank has been a knowledgeable companion for me in the Superstitions. I am much more adventurous than he is....always wanting to push things harder and harder. He keeps me reigned in and insures that we always go out into the mountains with enough gear to keep us alive should something ever happen. I’m pretty lucky to have him around.
Now don’t laugh, but when I started all these adventures....I didn’t even know the name of the Dutchman. First name Dutch....last name Man. Today, I have debates with some of the most elite Dutch Hunters. I have enjoyed spending time with Tom Kollenborn, Jack San Felice and many others.
As I moved away from focusing on the TV show, and began focusing on the legends within the mountains, the Peralta Stone Maps quickly drew my attention. Frank had told me of the legend and I looked at him and said, “You actually believe that? That sounds ridiculous!” The thought of someone finding a set of treasure maps, carved on stone, on the side of the highway seemed absurd.
I launched my own investigation of the stone maps, which was video 4. I was introduced to a gentleman named Garry Cundiff, who was known around town as the ultimate historian when it came to the stone maps. He had met with the Tumlinson family on a number of occasions and had put up a website that was full of hard to find information. Garry and I spoke on the phone for several hours that first day. He took me under his wing and guided me on a path to get to the bottom of the legend. I was really fortunate to use his research in video 4, it made a big difference.
In video 5, we focused on Hermann Petrasch. After all, he was known as one of the first Dutch hunters in history. Petrasch had traveled the mountains with his brother Reinhardt and Julia Thomas, shortly after Jacob Walzer (Waltz) died. Frank took me out to the location where Hermann had lived, and we used our new Tesoro detectors to see what we might find. According to some accounts, Hermann had buried his life savings around his property. Unfortunately, Frank and I didn’t find any money....but we did find a small female shoe heel buried under his front cement porch. Could it have belonged to Julia Thomas? We don’t know for certain, but regardless it was a cool find.
In video 6, I wanted to focus back on the Peralta Stone Maps. I contacted a good friend of mine from Gold Canyon and inquired if he could assist Frank and I with a private viewing at the Superstition Mountain Museum. This gentleman got a hold of George, the president of the museum, and he agreed to our request. We were so thankful, because this was really a rare opportunity. I studied the maps, photographed and even videotaped them. I couldn’t help but wonder if these maps really are what legend says they are? I was split... On the one hand, they looked “too perfect”, but on the other, I have to admit there was a part of me that wanted them to be real. It’s the treasure hunter within each of us, I suppose. Frank and I devised a theory in video 6, which we still feel is possible today.
My next step was to get in contact with the Tumlinson family. I had heard rumors of a manuscript that Travis had written before he passed away in 1961. All the legends told today are hearsay. No one has ever heard from Travis himself and I really wanted to be that person. The accounts of the discovery of the stone maps are as wild as some of the reality TV show plots we see today. There are stories that range from Travis stopping at the US60 to photograph Weaver’s Needle, then tripping over the stones; to him finding them near the Adolf Ruth bridge on Camino Viejo. It brought me back to when I was 8 years old and looking at the photograph Grandpa showed me. Things just didn’t make sense.
With the help of Garry Cundiff, I was able to get in touch with Travis’ cousin Joe. I introduced myself to Joe and told him of my desire to buy the manuscript. I had no idea if he was even interested, and by most accounts, the Tumlinson family didn’t talk to strangers.
To my surprise, Joe was extremely friendly. I could hear his passion for the legend, and his love for his cousin in his voice. He told me first hand accounts that he remembered about his cousin, and his family’s expeditions into the mountains with Travis to look for what they called “The Peralta Treasure Room”. After a few weeks, and a lot of conversations with lawyers, we were able to finally come to an agreement.
Just this past week I drove out to southern Texas to meet with the family. Holding the manuscript in my hands, I felt honored. I was, in fact, the first non-family member to ever hold it.
That day, Joe took my Gold Canyon buddy and I all around Stockdale, Texas. We stopped at the homestead where Travis grew up and saw the carvings he made as a 13-14 year old boy. He showed incredible talent carving a bicycle, an automobile and a Colt 45 firearm. All these drawings were focused around his self-portrait, with lines connecting him to all of his dreams. It was fascinating.
The next stop was the house where Travis’ parents lived at the end of their lives. Joe said, “You see that tree there, that is where Travis’ mother told my mother, that he carved portions of the stone maps.”
Now he shouldn’t have told me that, because that got my head spinning. I said, “Joe, does your family believe that Travis hoaxed this entire legend?” He looked at me and in a stern voice said “No! My granddaddy went up with Travis into those mountains and on his deathbed, he told all of us ‘Travis found those maps, you all must believe. Travis would never lie to me, he would never pull me into the mountains if what he said wasn’t true’.” Joe then went on to explain that his father and grandfather were extremely close to Travis. Travis wouldn’t have done that to them. His family wasn’t that way.
But.....he just told me that Travis’ mom said he carved some of the maps?
Today the family is split, pretty evenly, on what actually went on with Travis and the Peralta Stone Maps. Joe is very passionate about his family and to be honest, I haven’t seen a family as close as his for quite some time. They are the type that you would want on your side if you were in trouble, but they aren’t the type of people you would want as your opponent. After all, I suppose that is what Texas is all about; the old saying “Don’t mess with Texas.”
I’ve read the manuscript quite a few times. Each time I read it I see something different. Travis was an incredible writer and paints pictures in your mind on every page. Let me share a section with you:
“A few white clouds in the sky tumbled and rolled, a combination of beauty blended nicely with the landscape. Indeed a bright and colorful picture in the heart of the Superstitions. The night was still as death except for the far distant cries of a lonely coyote. To me, the coyote has always been an interesting creature. Sooner or later you have to evaluate the coyotes howl, it is like some far-gone Dixieland note. One of my most cherished memories of sound is the evening cry of the coyote floating out into the open spaces down from some lonely peak. I think his cry is as close to beauty and nature as any living sound can be. If you have ever gone to sleep to those melodious sounds you will never forget them. He usually starts at the top of some lonely hill and many times behind the bright moon as he has been seen sitting up there with his nose high in the air, wagging his busy tail, practicing a variation of calls. After his silhouette he disappears into the shadows the sun will peep over the mountain and send him to bed.”
I really admire the way Travis writes. He paints things in pictures, the same way I try to illustrate things with my camera. He notices his environment and writes about it in detail. With this same detail he describes the stone maps, his discovery and all the places he went in search of “haunted gold”.
The manuscript describes Travis’ adventures with his wife Alleen. He writes of family and friends that joined them on their search and the places they went to look for the treasure. Travis learns a lot about the mountains through a friend of his uncle, Robert Tumlinson. The journey is his though, and often times it was just he and his wife out looking.
The thing is, someone appearing to perpetrate a hoax didn’t write that manuscript. Travis never speaks of trying to find investors, selling the maps to anyone, or ever trying to profit from them. Travis goes into the mountains with his family, almost exclusively. It wasn’t until Clarence Mitchell and MOEL, Inc. came along that this story grew legs, at least in my opinion. The family kept this secret well guarded for many years.
Joe tells me a story of Alleen selling the maps in the mid 60s. She met up with someone and after this gentleman agreed to the purchase, looks in the rear view mirror and said “Sucker!!” It makes me question if the maps in the museum are the same maps that Travis found? I’m not sure. There are original photos in the manuscript, taken by Travis, and I can admit with all certainty that the maps in the museum don’t match the photos in the manuscript. Which are the real set?
Joe tells me that the maps were all one color, the same color as the Horse / Witch stone. They were not red, but all white. The only exception was the heart insert, which was red. Joe remembers when the heart insert was broken by his grandfather shortly after Travis found them.
Travis talks about the stones being small and Joe recalls them being small as well. Joe hasn’t had the opportunity to see the maps in the museum in person, only through my photographs. He will be coming out here soon, and I can’t wait to see what he says. Joe held the original maps. His family would sit around talking about them for hours, with “Uncle Travis” attempting to decipher them.
I haven’t come to a conclusion on the Peralta Stone Maps, yet. The only thing I have come to realize, with 100% certainty, is that the legend that we all know isn’t what Travis writes in his manuscript. The discovery location is different and the writing on the maps is slightly different, among many other things.
It makes me question everything. The world has waited since the Life Magazine article to know the truth behind these stones, and I will make it my number one priority to get to the bottom of it.
Right now I am working with the family on getting this story on the silver screen. It is a story mixed with adventure, romance, murder, alleged FBI involvement and the company that Clarence Mitchell started which ran into major issues with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The story is fascinating – the manuscript commands your attention – and the family is excited to tell their side of the story. The family has granted me exclusive rights to the story and I accept that with great honor. This story will be told and it will be told authentically, with that you have my word. (video 7)
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