Anyone well versed in the history and prospector lore of the Superstition Wilderness Area has heard of Alva Reser. He prefered to be called Al by his friends. Al Reser devoted almost fifty years to his search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. What would possess a man of Al’s background to pursue such a mythical mine? Al’s faith in the mine’s existence never wavered. Al Reser searched for the Dutchman mine in many different locations in the Superstition Wilderness Area over the years. Reser was a partner with several men at different times including Clay Worst, Monte Edwards, Joe Roider, and others. Reser had met many of the old time Dutch hunters such as Abe Reid, Chuck Aylor, and Roy Bradford. Al and I visited many times at my home in the early 1970s and talked about the different Dutch hunters, clues and stories associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine and Superstition Mountain.
Al often parked his truck above the Quarter Circle U Ranch and hiked into the mountain through Bark’s Draw or the Miner Needle Trail. I first met Al when I worked at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the late 1950s. Al was a good friend of Henry Jones who took care of the Quarter Circle U Ranch for Chuck Backus. Al would contract Billy Crader to pack his camp and mining equipment into a pre-designated location in the wilderness area. Al often spent three weeks in the mountain at a time. One time I recall visiting with him on top of Bluff Springs Mountain in 1984. He was convinced he had found a new location for the mine. One day Al returned to his campsite on Bluff Springs Mountain and found the entire camp stolen. Whoever removed his camp must have had at least two packhorses. Billy Crader told me later that it would have required at least two packhorses to move Reser camp on Bluff Springs Mountain. Al Reser returned to California very disappointed that year.
Al’s first trip away from Kansas was in 1931. This was the same year Adolph Ruth disappeared in the Superstition Mountains. He read stories about Ruth in the newspapers and soon believed a doctor would not spend time searching for a gold mine unless there was some possibility of its existence. The Ruth story led to Reser’s interest in the Superstition Wilderness Area and the Lost Dutchman mine.
Reser had been considering going into the Superstitions about the time of Adolph Ruth’s death in 1931, but choose not to make the venture at that time.
Alva Reser was born on March 25, 1908 in the little town of Grenada, Kansas to James Milton and Alma Reser. Al was the oldest of six boys. Al’s father was a carpenter and small building contractor. His father’s poor health caused Al to drop out of college to help provide for the family.
Al moved to California in 1934 and went to work for the Ford Motor Company in plant security. He retired in 1957, and devoted much of the winter months searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains.
Al spent a lot of time around the Tortilla Ranch. He became a friend of Floyd Stone, the owner of the ranch. Floyd Stone liked Al and never complained about him parking at the Tortilla Ranch. John A. “Hoolie” Bacon also knew Al and talked very favorably of him. Hoolie Bacon was Floyd Stone’s partner and father-in-law. Bacon and Stone owned and operated the Reavis and Tortilla Ranches.
Al hiked out of the Tortilla Ranch for almost a decade. He explored Tortilla Mountain and many of its canyons. There was an old cowboy who worked for Floyd Stone who helped Al once in awhile. He would pack Al’s camp into the mountains for him. Even old Elmer Pope remembered Al visiting at the Tortilla Ranch. Pope was an Apache cowboy who worked for Floyd Stone off and on when he was sober.
When Sims Ely’s book, The Lost Dutchman Mine was published in 1953, Reser’s appetite for adventure was whetted once again. He traveled to the Quarter Circle U Ranch at the base of the Superstition Mountains and was referred to Chuck Aylor as a guide and packed by the Barkleys. Aylor and his wife Peg had come to the Superstition Mountains in 1939 to search for treasure. They staked a claim near the confluence of East and West Boulder Canyons, just beyond Boulder Basin. They named their new camp “Caballo” (horse in Spanish) and a nearby mountain “Palomino.”
Chuck Aylor was a guide and packer for Reser on his first trip into the Superstition Mountains in 1954. They remained for a few weeks. About Aylor, Reser says, “He was a good packer and did a good job of cooking.” During this first attempt at “Dutch Hunting,” Aylor took Reser to the camp of old timer Abe Reid, a long-time searcher of the Lost Dutchman Mine. Reser said, “There was nothing else to do but sit and listen to those two guys talk.” One of the most important things about Dutch Hunting is being a good listener said Al. Since those early days, Al Reser had been a good listener and has collected a substantial amount of “material” from many significant individuals who have roamed the Superstition Mountains looking for gold. “I’ve been at the right place at the right time,” he said.
Reser has been in the mountains every year since 1954 at every opportunity and had known and used probably every packer known to the Superstition Mountains. Well known packers such as John DeGraffenreid, Dallas Adair, Jim Walters, Buck Norad, Tom Daley, Slim Fogle, Bud Land, Billy Crader and Chuck Aylor all have packed Al Reser’s camp into the Superstition Mountains over the years. Al recalls Slim Fogle packing him into lower La Barge in 1966 and Fogle died shortly after this trip. Al believed he was the last person Fogle packed into the mountains. Reser’s longest sojourn into the Superstition Mountains was for a five-week period of time during the early fall of 1970. Al’s enthusiasm for his endeavor has even motivated him to travel in the mountains during the blazing hot months of summer. Al states that “Dutch Hunter” is a solo avocation for an honest man.
Many years ago I rode into La Barge Canyon with Bud Lane to retrieve Al Reser’s drop camp. I believe it was end of March 1984. Bud and I met Al in camp at about 9:00 a.m. We packed up Al’s camp while he began his walk out to First Water. I figured we would pass Al on the trail. As we continued to ride there was no sign of Al Reser. I couldn’t imagine what had happen to Al. When we approached the trailhead there Al was sitting in the shade of his truck. He finally told us he had been waiting for almost an hour for us. Bud Lane had warned me Al would walk almost twice as fast as the horses. Al was eighty-six years old that day. Bud Lane packed Al’s drop-camps into the mountains for more than a decade. Bud looked at me then said, if any man deserved to find the Lost Dutchman Mine it would Al Reser. Bud Lane respected few men and those he respected didn’t know it.
Al Reser’s health failed in September of 1999. A couple months prior to this Al had been by the house and had asked me about a middle ear infection I had in 1991. He recalled how severely ill I was with the problem. Al had been having problems with his equilibrium and wanted to know how I was cured. I explained to him what caused my condition and the resulting diagnosis. I suggested he visit a specialist. Actually that was the last time I visited with Al. Clay Worst reported Al Reser spent the remaining months of his life in the Apache Junction Health Center passing away on May 10, 2000. He was ninety-two years old.
Clay Worst reported Al’s remains were cremated. Half were sent to California where they were buried beside his wife, Martha. The rest of his remains were carried horseback into the rugged mountains he loved so dearly accompanied by several friends. The mountains he had searched in for much of his life had become his final resting- place. Al spirit is free now wandering the trails of the rugged Superstition Wilderness in search of the Dutchman’s gold.