Wednesday, 23 April 2014
Know Your Indians
True Fact Feature
by A. Hyatt Verrill
From Double Action Western, May 1953, Vol. 20, No. 5. Digitized by Doug Frizzle; April 2014.
This title is a construction just to enable differentiations between subjects in this periodical's column. This particular column had no special title, unlike most of them so far./drf
BEFORE the coming of the white men, the only North American Indians who took scalps were the Iroquois, Muskohegans, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks. None of the eastern Algonquin tribes, or the plains tribes, scalped their slain enemies. But when the white men began offering high bounties for Indians’ scalps, the Indians reasoned that—if the white men prized the scalps so highly—scalps must possess some magic or “medicine”, or must hold or control the spirits of the dead. For this reason they regarded scalps as valuable prizes and surrounded them with ceremonials and mystic rites.
Among the plains tribes, it was not essential that the warrior who killed an enemy should take the scalp. As long as the trophy fell to the victors it was sufficient. The main personal honor was the “coup”, or first to strike an enemy or to touch his body with the “coup stick”. Few tribes took the entire scalp. As a rule, each tribe took a certain part of the scalp—such as the crown, a strip over one ear, the forepart of the head, a strip along the center, etc.
Many white men who were scalped survived, and lived to a good old age. One of my own uncles, who pretended death when his party was wiped out by the Utes, was scalped by the Indians and lived until five years ago. Custer was not scalped. According to the Indian chiefs who took part in the
of the Little Bighorn, Custer committed suicide, and a suicide’s scalp was
taboo to the Indians.
FEW PERSONS realize how many words of our language are Indian. Tuxedo, caucus, pow-wow, squash, skunk, moose, potato, tomato, chile, tabacco, cigar, maize, muskeg, cayuse, and many familiar words in daily use were borrowed from the Indians.
The Indian greeting. “How” is not—as is generally supposed—the white man’s “How”, but is an Indian word: “Hau” or “Haoh” meaning “it is well”, “all right”, or “good”. “Tomahawk” is not an Indian word, but is a corruption of “Tommy-axe”—the old English term for a small axe or hatchet. The word “Squaw” is a corruption of the Indian “An-a-es— achuah” or “Companion of man”.
THE CONSTITUTION of the
States, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was
modeled after the Constitution of the Six Nations of the Iroquois.
MANY OF the most famous leaders of the Indians were not chiefs. Osceola was never a chief and was half-white; Sitting Bull was not a chief, but a Shaman or Medicine man. Many, such as Iron Tail, Rain-in-the-Face, Lone Man, and others, were war-chiefs but had no political or tribal powers.
THE ONLY North American Indians who have a written language are the Cherokees, whose 86- letter alphabet was invented by Sequoya, an Indian who could neither read nor write.
ALTHOUGH we refer to the Pueblo Indians as if they were all of one tribe, this is not the case. There are four separate races among the
Pueblos. The Hopis are of Shoshonean lineage;
the Zunis are of the Zunean group: the people of Taos are Tanoan: while the
pueblos of San Felipe, Santa Ana, Acoma, Cichiti, Santo Domingo, and Laguna are
inhabited by Indians of Keresan stock.
THERE WAS no Apache tribe. the so-called Apaches being a number of distinct tribes and ancestral stocks, who often fought one another. Strangely enough, these Indians spoke a dialect of the Athabascan tongue of our Northeastern Indians. Among the many tribes commonly referred to as “Apaches”, were the Mescaleros, Jicarillas, Chricahuas, Kiowas, Mohaves, Walapais, Maricopas,
Havasupais, Cocopas, and others.
THE SIOUX Indians—or Dakotahs, as they called themselves—were a confederation of several tribes: The Oglalas, Brules, Tetons, Yunkipapas, Arikaras,
and Yanktons. who often fought one another. The Lakotahs—or true Siouxs—were
originally Indians of the Carolinas and Georgia, where a number of the
race—the Catawbas—still remain.
IT WAS VERY seldom that Indians killed or tortured their prisoners of war. Many white men and women, captured by the Indians, refused to be freed, and preferred living with the Indians to life with their fellow whites. A Mrs. Malloy, who was captured by the Mohawks, married and buried three Indian husbands—and insisted that Indians made much better husbands than did the white men. Another white woman, Eunice Williams of
Deerfield, Mass., who was captured by the Indians and taken to Canada,
married an Indian. Although she occasionally paid short visits to friends and
relatives in Deerfield, bringing with her a number of her adopted tribesmen,
nothing would induce her to remain among the white people of Massachusetts.
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Know Your Indians
Department of Special Features
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Double Action Western January 1954, Vol. 21, No. 3. Digitized April, 2014 by Doug Frizzle.
STRANGELY enough, the staunchest allies of the
(Sioux) were not of the same racial stock, and were not even distantly related.
The Cheyennes, Blackfeet and Arapahoes were all
Algonquins, closely related to the tribes of our Eastern and ,
and were originally sedentary, agricultural tribes with permanent villages of
well-built houses. Like the Middle States Cheyennes,
the Blackfeet and Arapahoes trekked westward and, abandoning their previous
mode of living, took to hunting the buffalo and leading a semi-nomadic life.
Although they spoke languages entirely different from that of the Dakotas, yet through long association the various dialects became merged until all could converse readily, the Sioux adopting many of their friend’s words and they, in turn, using innumerable Siouian terms. And when at a loss, they had the sign-language to fall back upon. Many persons are under the impression that the sign-language of the plains tribes consisted of a few gestures and was very limited in expressing ideas. As a matter of fact, persons familiar with the sign-language could converse as freely, and almost as rapidly, by its means as by word of mouth. Basically, it is quite simple; but as there is a gesture or motion of the hands for every possible action, name, place and idea, and as many of these do not at first appear to have any connection with their meaning, it developed into a very complex series of rapid motions; and when any new word or idea was required, a new gesture was invented to express it.
Near neighbors of the
Dakotas were the Blackfeet who, like
the Sioux, were a confederation of three bands or subtribes: the Siksitas,
Bloods and Piegans. For a time after their arrival in the Dakotas’
area the two groups were at war. but later became fast friends and allies.
Although they depended mainly upon the buffalo for a livelihood, became thoroughly “horse Indians” and dwelt in the plains-type skin tipis, yet—unlike the true plains nomads—they often maintained large villages for long periods, and cultivated some crops in the river bottoms. Physically and mentally, as well as in their character, the Blackfeet were (and are) a very fine people, good-natured, inclined to be peaceful and friendly, fond of jokes and laughter and gaiety, and enjoying the white men’s dances as much as their own. And they were famous for the beauty of their women.
A great many white men married Blackfeet girls and became adopted members of the tribe; and all who have lived among them, speak most highly of them. The author-naturalist, George Bird Grinnel, lived for a long time with the Blackfeet, and wrote a most interesting account of his experiences, “My Life With The Blackfeet”. They were the favorite tribe of the later Charles Russell, the famous painter of Indians, who lived so long with the tribe that he actually came to look like an Indian. And James Schultz, who married a Blackfoot girl and lived for thirty years with the tribe, wrote an excellent book, “My Life As An Indian”, in which he tells of his experiences with the people he admired and loved.
Although, like all of the plains Indians, the Blackfeet used the typical feather bonnet, they also had many other forms of headdresses, some of which were most elaborate affairs. Their “full dress” costumes consisted of loose tunics, leggins, and moccasins of buckskin and the inevitable breech-cloth. Famed for the excellent quality of their buckskin, their garments were often completely covered with beautiful bead and quill work, the designs consisting usually of the typical geometrical patterns of the Sioux, combined with floral figures such as their ancestors in the Middle West used—although quite often these were omitted.
Essentially sun-worshippers—or, in other words, regarding the sun as the visual manifestation of the one great God—the most sacred of all objects was a white (albino) buffalo.
The man who killed one of these rare animals was supposed to be under the protection of the Sun God and, together with his band, was greatly honored. The hide, carefully dressed and tanned, was dedicated to the Sun God and was given to the Shaman or Medicine Man who, after the prescribed ceremonies, suspended the hide on a pole erected over the “medicine shrine” where it remained until it fell to pieces. As a special favor, the man who killed the sacred beast was permitted to use some of the scraps and trimmings for his “medicine bundle”. Even enemy Indians who might pass near would never have dreamed of molesting the shrine and the sacred hide, for fear of bringing down the vengeance of the Sun-God.
Like the Sioux, the
and the Arapahoes, the Blackfeet were hereditary' foes of the Crows and were
almost constantly at war with them. Just why these tribes should have so
greatly hated the Crows is a puzzle. According to the other Indians, the Crows
were thieves, liars, trouble-makers, and altogether worthless, and many of the
white traders and frontiersmen declared that the Crows did not possess a single
redeeming feature. Whatever the truth may be, and whatever faults were theirs,
lack of courage was not one of them. Time and time again they fought their
enemies to a finish and came out the victors. The greatest wonder is that, with
three of the largest, most powerful tribes pitted against them, the Crows were
not completely exterminated. Still, they managed to survive and hold their own.
As far as the whites were concerned, the Crows regarded them as inferiors and
seldom troubled them, considering them as beneath their notice. Today all the
old enmities are forgotten and Crows, Sioux, Blackfeet and the others
NOW THOROUGHLY civilized, most of the Blackfeet dwell in well-built houses and are well-to-do farmers and ranchers. But some of them almost always don their old tribal costumes and take part in Rodeos and similar events. Also, a number have their old-time tipis in our national parks, where, arrayed in all their finery, they prove an added attraction to tourists and gather in the latters’ shekels in exchange for curios, handiwork, and posing for photographs.
They were always inclined to be friendly toward the whites, and never caused any serious trouble except during our long disgraceful warfare with the
when a small number of the Blackfeet joined the Cheyennes for a time.
Also firm friends and allies of the Dakotas,
and Blackfeet, and friendly toward the whites, the Kiowas and Comanches, but
enemies of the Crows, the Utes, Pawnees and Shoshones, were the Arapaho. Among
themselves, they recognized five divisions or groups, each with a slightly-
different dialect, and probably representing five original tribes. Their common
name: Arapaho, is a corruption of the Pawnee “Larapihu” meaning “Traders”. They call themselves the “Inu-nya-ina” or “Our People” while to
the Sioux and Cheyennes
they are known as “The Blue Sky People”. They are now divided into two groups:
the Southern Arapahoes of the Arkansas River
valleys and the Northern Arapahoes of Wyoming.
Although they took to buffalo-hunting after wandering westward from their original home in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, and became seminomadic “horse Indians”, yet like the Blackfeet they often maintained large villages of tipis in one locality for considerable periods of time, and cultivated their gardens of food plants during the summer and autumn. Unlike most of the other plains-tribes they buried their dead in the earth instead of placing them in trees, or on raised platforms above the ground.
Always inclined to be peaceful, and friendly toward the whites, the Arapahoes never caused any serious trouble, although during the
Cheyenne war a few joined the latter with
whom they were closely affiliated. In their customs, religion, home life,
weapons and costumes they differed little from their Cheyenne, Blackfeet and Sioux neighbors,
although they had a number of distinctive headdresses.
Among the other friends of the Dakotas were the
the Hiditsas and the Arikaras who, having been greatly decimated by warfare and
epidemics finally combined and later became merged with the Dakotas.
Of Siouian stock, the Hidatsas were known to the
Minitari or “They Crossed The Waters”
owing to their traditional crossing of the Mississippi
when they moved westward from their original homes in the vicinity of the Great Lakes. The Sioux knew them as tire Hewak-tok-tou or “Tipis in a row”, by
which name they were also known to the Arapahoes and Cheyennes. To the Crows they were the Amashi or “Earth lodge people”, owing to
their lodges of sods and earth used in winter. A peaceful tribe, friendly
toward the whites, they never caused any serious trouble.
QUITE DIFFERENT were the Arikaras, the name being a corruption of “Ariki” meaning a “horn”, owing to their custom of wearing the hair twisted into horn-like shape on each side of the head. Belonging to the Caddo group, the
Ankara language is almost identical with that
of the Pawnees, with whom they were at one time affiliated. Originally
inhabiting the Missouri Valley as far south as the present city of Omaha, they migrated northward, after an intertribal war
with the Pawnees, and settled in Sioux territory near the Cheyennes. Aside from one occasion, when for
a short time they were at conflict with the whites over the treatment accorded
them by some white traders, the Arikaras were always friends of the white men.
Today the few still living are prosperous ranchers and farmers and are scarcely
distinguishable from their white neighbors, although the majority—like my very
good friend, Walks His Horses, still retain their tribal regalia and costumes
for use at ceremonials, at Rodeos, and similar functions.
Mandans are, or rather were, a Siouian tribe that occupied
the upper . Prior to the
Lewis and Clark Expedition, the tribe dwelt in villages of log and earth lodges
that were partly underground, the whole village being enclosed in a stockade of
logs. They were a peaceful, sedentary, agricultural tribe, and have always
remained friendly with the whites. Almost exterminated by smallpox introduced
by the white men, the tribe was reduced from several thousand to less than one
hundred. For self protection, the survivors joined the Hidatsas and Arikaras;
the three tribes became merged, and later were affiliated with the Sioux. It is
doubtful if there are any of the living members of the three tribes who are of
Valley Mandan, Ankara or Hidatsa blood, for they have
intermarried for many years. Even my very good friend, Walks His Horses, who
considers himself an Arikara, had grandparents of both Hidatsa and Sioux blood,
while my friend Red Bear, who calls himself a Mandan, had a Cree grandmother.
At the present time, most of these tribes are living in their original homeland
on the northeastern side of the Mississippi,
but others are in the Dakota territory. They
are very fine, progressive and proud people, inclined to jollity and
good-nature, fond of jokes and dancing, and although outwardly thoroughly
civilized, many still retain their old tribal costumes and carry out the old
tribal ceremonials and traditions. Many are prosperous farmers, while others,
like Joseph Walks His Horses, and Red Bear, maintain large horse and cattle
When the first white men (an expeditionary force of British troops) met the Mandans, and found them dwelling in stockaded villages in a type of house not previously seen— and as some of the Indians were partial albinos with light hair—the Englishmen jumped to the conclusion that the Mandans were the descendents of survivors of some “lost” European expedition. Also, a Welsh soldier of the party claimed that the
spoke Welsh and that he could converse with them. Although this was not
confirmed, the Mandans
were believed to be the descendents of a Welsh expedition led by Prince Madoc,
which was supposed to have reached the eastern coast of our continent in the
twelfth century, and heading inland, disappeared.
As a matter of fact there is no linguistic similarity between the Mandan and Welsh dialects, and it is almost beyond all reason to believe that a handful of Welshmen, unfamiliar with the country and unable to converse with the Indians, could have made their way for any considerable distance through the forests of the eastern area, even as far as the Mississippi. It would have been an incredible feat for even a few survivors to have penetrated to the far northwest.
Even had this almost superhuman feat been accomplished, all traces of European ancestry would have disappeared in the four centuries that had elapsed between the time that Madoc's party vanished and time when the Mandans were “discovered”. If, as the explorers assumed, there was any admixture of white blood among these Indians, it is far more reasonable to suppose it was that of the Vikings, who are believed to have penetrated as far west as Minnesota, Wisconsin and probably farther.
Among other friends of the Sioux, although at one time their enemies, were the Winnebagos. Of Siouian stock and by nature peaceful, agricultural Indians they had their villages and fields in
But, as usual, the white settlers cast covetous eyes upon the Winnebagos’ land
and, claiming the Indians were a potential menace, demanded that the Government
remove them to a reservation. Evicted from their homes they were deported to a
reservation in Dakota where lack of adequate food, ill treatment, and other
conditions were so unbearable that the Indians broke away and sought refuge
among their former enemies, the Sioux. At the present time about 7,000 of the
tribe are on reservations and allotted lands in Nebraska. There are about 2,000 in Wisconsin in addition to
others in various localities.
ALTHOUGH they had many friends and allies, the
Dakotas had fully
as many—if not more—enemies. And just as some of their firmest friends were
tribes of alien stock, so, among their most implacable foes, there were Indians
of Siouian stock. Among these were the Osage, the largest and most important of
the southern Sioux group who were almost constantly at war with other tribes,
but were friendly toward the whites. In 1808 they ceded all of their lands to
the Government, the territory including almost all of what are now Missouri and Arkansas,
retaining only a portion of northern Oklahoma.
It was not until 1870, however, that the present boundaries of the Osage
territory were definitely established. In 1906 this consisted of 1,470,058
acres in Oklahoma.
Unwittingly, the Osages made a very good bargain with Uncle Sam, for rich oil
fields were discovered on their lands and today they are the richest tribe in
the United States.
For that matter they are probably the wealthiest persons, per capita, of any
people in the world. An Army officer, who, during World War I, was in command
of a company of Osage, boasted it was the richest group of soldiers in the
allied armies, for every member was a millionaire.
A fine race physically, tall, muscular and perfectly proportioned, many of the men were several inches over six feet in height. Naturally of a peace- loving nature, and good tempered, yet when necessity arose the Osage were as valiant, courageous, and savage fighters as any of the Siouian tribes.
In their costumes, weapons, and life they differed little from their relatives—although maintaining more or less permanent villages for considerable periods of time and, like the Blackfeet and Arapahoes, cultivating some crops.
Totally unlike the Osage, and often at war with them—although they forgot enmities and joined forces against the northern Sioux and the Comanches—were the Skidi or Pawnees. Although inclined to be friendly toward the whites, and rarely causing trouble, they were implacable foes of most of the neighboring tribes. Of Caddoan stock, they dwelt in permanent or semipermanent villages and carried on a certain amount of agriculture—although also hunting the buffalo—and were fully the equal of other plains tribes when it came to horsemanship and fighting. Many of them were employed as Army scouts by our Government, and were always considered the best and most reliable of all Indian scouts. However, they were most widely famed as notorious horsethieves. Many of their raids were for the sole purpose of stealing horses, and they seem to have had an almost uncanny ability in this direction.
To the Pawnees, horse-stealing was more of a game than an act of hostility, and they carried their raids as far north as the Dakotas, as far west as the
Rockies, and as far south as the Mexican border. Over and
over again they would make away with other Indians’ horses, regardless of the
keen-eyed guards; and on one occasion they even stole the entire herd of horses
and mules of an Army post under the very eyes of the sentries. Later they
returned the animals, telling the commandant that they had made off with the
herd just to prove how inadequately it was protected. “If we were hostile,”
said the Pawnee spokesman, “we could destroy the settlement and post, and you
wouldn’t be able to chase us.”
Practically all Indians consider dogs’ flesh excellent eating (as it really is) but the Pawnees were especially fond of dog, and their dog feasts are time-honored and most important institutions, and are almost rituals.
A very intelligent and mentally-adaptable race, they were quick to adopt any innovation that would benefit them, and were seldom at a loss when it came to facing something new or strange. Mr. S. G. Goodrich, who in 1844 wrote a book telling of his experiences among the Indians, described a Fourth of July feast, given by the officers of
, at which a
number of Pawnee chiefs were invited guests. Fort
“We had spent an hour or two in festivities,” he wrote, “when one hundred and fifty Pawnees arrived under the guidance of Mr. Dougherty, the Indian Agent. Upon invitation of the officers, fourteen of their chiefs came into the mess room. I already had seen many Indians but none so wild and unsophisticated as these. They entered the room with ease and dignity, however, shook hands all around and sat down comfortably to cigars and champagne. I was astonished at the tact and self-possession of these Indians, who had never been in a settlement of white men before, nor had ever seen a table, chair, fork or tableware in their lives; yet without asking questions or appearing to observe what was passing, they caught the idea with intuitive readiness, and during the whole dinner were not guilty of a single absurdity of breach of decorum.”
In the old days the Pawnees practised cannibalism as a religious ceremony, and it was their custom to put women prisoners to death and devour their flesh—a practice that was brought to an end in a most romantic and unusual manner. A captive Comanche girl had been bound to the stake in preparation for torture and death while the Pawnees gathered in a circle to witness the ceremony. Then, just at the last minute, a young warrior dashed forward, slashed through the girl’s bonds, and seizing her in his arms ran with her to two ponies he had tethered nearby. Swinging the girl onto one horse, he mounted the other, and before the amazed Indians could recover from their astonishment the two galloped at full speed toward the Comaches’ camp. After three days’ travel the Pawnee brave pointed out the way to the girl’s home, provided her with enough food to last her for three days and returned to his village. To his surprise nothing was said or done regarding his courageous act, for the Pawnees had decided that it was done by the guidance of the Great Spirit, who had been displeased at the sacrifice; the ceremony never again was repeated.
ALLIED with the Pawnees and closely related were the Caddos together with the
Omahas and the Poncas,
the two latter of Siouian stock, who were all bitter foes of the northern Sioux
bands. Like their cousins, the Pawnees, the Caddos were a confederation of
related tribes whose original home was the lower Red
River Valley in Louisiana, but who later
spread north and west. They were peaceful, agricultural people with fixed
villages, friendly toward the whites and aided the latter in their warfare with
During our Civil War, they stood by the
Union. Most of
the whites in the area were Confederates, and hated the Caddos for their
loyalty to the Government, and a number of them plotted a wholesale massacre of
the tribe. Word of the impending slaughter reached the Government officials,
however, and, with a great deal of difficulty, the tribe was safely transferred
where some 2,000 or more members of the tribe remain, while others are
scattered elsewhere. They are mainly farmers and are a quiet industrious and
prosperous lot. Although the Poncas are mainly famed for their Sun Dance, with
its self-inflicted tortures, yet this dance was common to a number of tribes,
including the Cheyennes
and Sioux, and is still celebrated, although the voluntary tortures of the
participants have largely been done away with. At one time both the Poncas and Omahas were almost completely exterminated by the northern
Sioux, but after becoming allied with the Pawnees they managed to hold their
own; today there are over 2,500 Omahas in Nebraska, with about 1,000 Poncas in Oklahoma
and a few hundred in Nebraska.
No account of the Indians of the far west would be complete without some mention of the Kickapoos, whose common name was made famous by the wide-spread publicity given the so-called “Kickapoo Indian Remedies" and the innumerable “Indian shows” held throughout the east—although, as a matter of fact, few of the Indians who took part in these were Kickapoos. The name is a corruption or adaptation of Kiwi-gapaw-ah meaning “He moves about, standing now here, now there,” which is a very appropriate name for the tribe that has “stood now here now there” over a very wide area. Of Algonquin stock, the Kickapoos are related to the Sauk and Fox,
Miamis, Shawnees and
Menonimes; as early as 1667-70 they were reported by Allouez as being in what
is now Columbia County, Wisconsin,
while other early explorers mentioned them as inhabiting parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Then, in 1765, the majority moved to Illinois
and from there spread south and west, abandoning their former sedentary and
agricultural mode of life, and became true “horse Indian” nomads.
Although they aided Tecumseh in his campaign against the
United States, and fought as allies
of Black Hawk in 1832, yet in 1837 about 100 Kickapoo warriors were employed by
our Government to fight the Florida Seminoles. As early as 1809 the Kickapoos
had ceded their lands on the Wabash and the Vermilion
Rivers to the United States, and in 1819 they made over all
their lands in Illinois.
They then “moved about” into Kansas and Missouri and in 1852, together with a number of the
Pottawottomis, they migrated to Texas and
thence into Mexico
where they became inveterate raiders and a terror to the inhabitants. However,
in 1873, apparently still intent on living up to their name, a large number
returned to the United States and settled down to a peaceful existence in
The remainder of the tribe, amounting to about one half of their numbers, remained in Mexico, and having concluded a peace-treaty with the Mexican Government, settled on territory granted them in the Santa Rosa Mountains of eastern Sonora. At the present time there are approximately 500 Kickapoos in
between five and six hundred in Kansas,
with the remainder “Standing now here, now there.”
Saturday, 12 April 2014
Now with perhaps 400 of Verrill's stories included in this blog, we are beginning to exhaust the 'easy' finds. This story as is mentioned below, has twice appeared in The Wide World magazine which was published in the
UK and . The
illustrations are different in the two versions and the end point of 'part 1' is
different in each edition. Link to Part 1 just below./drf USA
The Lost Mine -Part 2
By A. Hyatt Verrill
from The Wide World magazine, July 1952, Vol.109. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2014.
Somewhere in the little-known interior of Panama, lost to the sight of civilized men for centuries, lies Tisingal, reputed to be one of the richest gold-mines ever worked by the Spaniards when they ruled the New World. Many expeditions have set out to seek the vanished bonanza, but all have ended in failure and disaster. When the Author went into the jungle to study the wild Indians everybody assumed he was in search of Tisingal, and before long he found himself involved in some very strange experiences. We originally published this story in 1929. The first instalment described the start of Mr. Verrill’s upriver journey and his meeting with various people who told him of the existence of a mysterious native “king,” whom, with the aid of an Indian guide called
Chico, he determined to
THE following morning we left the General’s home in a torrential shower, and, until he was hidden from sight by a bend in the stream, could see the old Spaniard standing motionless in the drenching rain wistfully watching us. I had been the first white man to visit him for ten years or more; our short stay had evidently been an epoch in his solitary, hermit-like existence.
At the end of a week it seemed to me we must have traversed the entire length of Central America, but
Indian-like, would not commit himself. It was always “Un poco mas lejo” (“A little farther”) to all questions as to the
distance to the Comisario’s home. And
then, quite suddenly and without a word of warning from our guide, we were
No one but an Indian would have dreamed any human beings were within a hundred miles. No boat was drawn up on the bank, no opening showed in the fringe of dense jungle, no tell-tale smoke rose above the trees, and no sounds of voices issued from the forest. A scarcely-distinguishable trail led from the verge of the stone-strewn playa into the bush, and with
Chico in the lead we
trudged along it.
Half a mile inland we came upon a small clearing, and were vociferously welcomed by yelping curs which rushed towards us from three thatched huts. As we reached the largest of these the Comisario himself appeared. A dignified-looking, keen-faced Indian, he was—much to my surprise and momentary disappointment—clad in a white home-spun cotton coat and trousers.
His appearance, in fact, was far more that of a well-to-do native planter than a wild Indian, but I soon found that his more or less conventional costume was a mere veneer; he and his family were at heart as primitive and unspoiled by civilization as I could wish. All of them, men and women alike, wore clothing, but the garments of the women were a blaze of gay colours. Their necklaces and other ornaments were of teeth, bones and shells; and there was not a single “civilized” article or utensil in the houses.
Finely-woven hammocks swung between the palm-wood timbers; baskets, calabashes, and peculiar pottery vessels were scattered about; beautifully-finished bows and long arrows rested on the rafters overhead; and two young Indians were occupied in painting each other’s faces. Upon a fire of glowing coals a great earthern olla was boiling, sending forth appetizing odours, and one of the women was busily crushing cacao beans on a wooden slab by rolling a heavy oval stone backwards and forwards.
No one exhibited the least surprise at our arrival, and
Chico informed me that the sphinx-faced Comisario had been aware of our approach
for the past four days. How he had received the news our guide did not reveal,
but I have no doubt that couriers telling of my plans had been sent overland
from the Indian hut where we first stopped. Toluka, as the old fellow was
called, seemed quite friendly, but did not appear at all enthusiastic over my
proposed visit to his king.
Under the influence of presents to himself and family, however, he presently unbent, and not only gave his official permission for
to guide us to the king’s palace, but even volunteered to send one of his own
youths with us, so that we should be under Government protection, so to speak.
And once Toluka had discovered the contents of my trade-box, his bartering
instincts were aroused and he brought forth innumerable articles of great
During the remainder of the day we rested, and I made good use of my time by acquiring a lengthy list of Shayshan words, with the result that I became convinced these Indians were actually of Mayan ancestry, or at least of a race which had come under Mayan influence in the past.
We made an early start accompanied by a bright-eyed youth, who gabbled incessantly with
Chico and performed most
amazing acrobatic stunts in balancing himself on the gunwale of his cranky cayuca as he poled the craft along. He
was a cheerful, willing fellow, a great help in portaging, and seemed to take
everything as a huge joke. And we certainly needed someone of an optimistic
All that had gone before was as nothing compared with the following three days. It was all up-grade, and the river, although very low, tore along its rocky bed like a mill-race. Often the united strength of the whole party was required to drag our canoe against the current, and I tried to picture what the passage would be like in the rainy season, with the stream in full flood. Then it would fill the bed from bank to bank, a distance of nearly half a mile; and the water-worn bluffs and rounded boulders on either side showed that the torrent must rise fully fifteen feet above its present level.
Here and there great trees were stranded high and dry upon the playa, and at one place we passed an uprooted tree over sixty feet in length and five feet through at the base, which had been carried down by the raging waters and left firmly wedged between two enormous boulders ten feet above my head. Bad as the going was now, I thanked my lucky stars that I had not attempted to reach the Shayshans’ territory during the rainy season.
If current tradition and history were true, and Tisingal actually lay somewhere in this wild, untamed land, then super-human indeed must have been the labours of the old Dons. It seemed utterly impossible that human beings could have transported supplies and equipment, machinery and tools—even a bell and cannon—over this route to the lost mine, or that they could have built a road through such an impenetrable wilderness.
But they worked with slave labour, loss of life meant little or nothing to them, and suffering and hardship were forgotten in their lust for gold. As we toiled onward I wondered how many exhausted and tortured men had died along the route, and how many millions in precious metal had been carried down this selfsame river to enrich the coffers of the King of Spain or to fall into the hands of the dare-devil buccaneers who lay in wait for the gold-laden galleons.
A NIGHTMARE JOURNEY
Meanwhile the country grew steadily wilder and rougher. The river-bed became a canyon, and huge masses of grey, pink, and green porphyry took the place of boulders. On every side rose lofty mountains, covered with dense forests. Often we worked for hours, lifting and carrying our canoes over impassable cataracts or through foaming rapids.
To traverse the dry river-bed was like scaling the walls of some ruined castle. Scrambling and climbing, with bruised and barked shins and hands, we surmounted the barriers of glass-smooth rocks, leaped—with fear gripping our hearts—across the yawning chasms between them, or crawled, crept, and wormed our way through cavern-like interstices. To portage our stores necessitated Herculean efforts.
No living man could force his way for a hundred yards with a load on his back or shoulders; every bundle and package had to be carried piecemeal from one rock-barrier to the next. Finally it became obvious that our craft could go no farther. The river-bed in front was barred by a great dyke of jagged, razor-pointed, black lava. Through a narrow break in this the water poured in a roaring, plunging torrent, and on both sides the mountains rose in sheer thousand-foot precipices to the low-hung clouds.
Apparently all our labours had been for nothing. We had come to the end of our tether. Further progress was impossible!
Chico and his
fellow-tribesmen merely grinned, as, calmly and deliberately, they hauled their
canoes out of the water, began packing the contents of the boats into portable
packages, and gave obvious evidence of intending to continue onward. Evidently
they knew of some way out of the impasse, and, encouraged by their attitude, Cordova
and Pepe likewise fell to work. But Chico
promptly interfered. Only the lighter and most essential articles could be
taken, he declared; the rest must be left in the canoes. In reply to my
questions he pointed toward the frowning, multi-coloured wall of stone that
rose on our right.
“Road too narrow,” he announced. And then, as though stating a most ordinary and familiar fact, he added: “Not any farther. The king’s house here.”
Was it possible? Had we actually reached our goal?
I was not to be kept long in doubt. Shouldering their loads, the two Indians picked their way across the stony river-bed toward the precipitous cliff. At the very base of the overhanging wall a narrow, scarcely-visible trail had been cleared, cut, and cleaned from among the debris fallen from above. It wound about enormous masses of rock, passed through a tunnel-like aperture under piled-up fragments of precipice, zigzagged this way and that, and finally came to an end. Pointing dramatically ahead,
exclaimed : “Look, sir! The house of the king!”
Before us the bare, rocky playa came to an end. The river flowed in a broad, swift expanse stretching from bank to bank, burbling musically over miniature rapids. Above our heads rose the cloud-hung precipice. On the farther shore the land sloped gently upward to a high hill crowned with jungle, and then, rising tier after tier, to the distant mountains.
Up from the pebbly beach stretched a broad sweep of smooth greensward dotted with clumps of lime, palm, and orange trees, and upon the summit of the grassy hill stood a large hut, its thatched roof of palm-leaves gleaming like gold in the afternoon sunshine.
Chico explained, was the
“palace” of the Shayshan king, and, gazing at it, all the hardships we had
suffered were forgotten, for we had accomplished the seemingly impossible and
arrived safely at the home of the mysterious cacique of the Shayshans.
Our arrival had obviously been expected, for a group of Indians had gathered at the water’s edge below the palace, and already a long, narrow canoe was being poled toward us, its bronze-skinned occupant balancing himself upon the after-end, and handling his frail craft with incredible dexterity.
He was a stocky, sturdy youth and, as I learned later, no less a personage than the Crown Prince. Truly we were being received with high honours! He was thoroughly democratic, however, and having greeted me in his own tongue—not a word of which was intelligible to me—he commenced chatting volubly with my two Indian boys.
We were to cross the stream in his canoe, it appeared, though it seemed impossible that our party and our dunnage could be ferried across the swirling river in such a tricky craft. But it would not do to show my doubts in the presence of royalty, and so, as it was a case of trusting to the canoe or swimming, I followed my men and belongings into the dug-out.
I hardly dared to breathe, for the water was within two inches of the gunwales, and a dozen times I felt certain the canoe was on the point of capsizing. But the Indians, and especially the Prince, were as unconcerned as though on dry land. Standing erect, he poled his craft against the swift current and performed feats of balancing that would have shamed an expert performer on the slack wire. And, almost before I realized it, the canoe grated on the opposite bank and we stepped safely ashore just below the home of the Shayshan king.
Like all Shayshan “houses,” the palace was open on three sides, built upon posts several feet above the earth, and floored with strips of black palm-wood. Its steeply-pitched roof was of thatched palm-leaves, with low eaves.
A hearth of baked clay held an ever-smouldering fire, and the furnishings consisted of several carved wooden stools, a number of bark-cloth mats, several large earthenware pots, baskets of various sizes, a platform-like affair of split palm-strips on which stood calabashes and baskets of provisions, and three or four hammocks. Squatted near the hearth were several women and girls, while baby princes and princesses, completely naked, played and rolled about like brown kittens.
THE SHAYSHAN KING
The king himself reclined in a hammock. He displayed no signs of either curiosity or surprise at my appearance, but, through the medium of
Chico as interpreter, received me most
hospitably. He had carved wooden stools placed for myself and my men, and put
the palace and all it contained at my disposal with almost Castilian
politeness. Then the welcoming calabash of thick, unsweetened chocolate was
passed round, and, having solemnly drunk this with due ceremony, I explained
the reason for my visit.
Almost instantly I discovered that King Polu understood Spanish perfectly, and after this our conversation proceeded in that language. I soon found that the King of the Shayshans was a most remarkable man for a Central American Indian. Unlike his fellows, he was as stoical and reserved as any Sioux or Apache, and he possessed all the eloquence, the love of the dramatic, and the power of simple, poetical expression of a North American Indian.
When I asked him how long his family had ruled the Shayshans he rose and led me to the open side of his house facing the river. Stretching out his arm, the king pointed to the towering mountainside high above the rushing stream.
“Once,” he said, raising his hand towards the water-worn crags hundreds of feet in air, “the river flowed on top of the mountain. But even then my fathers were kings of the Shayshans.”
Despite all that had been told me, he proved to be a most amiable and friendly fellow. He assured me that to find all the members of his tribe would be a long, weary, and probably hopeless task, for they were scattered throughout the mountains, miles apart. But, to save me trouble and help me, he would send a messenger to the outlying tribesmen with orders for all of them to gather at his house, bringing in such of their possessions as they were willing to trade.
My theory that the Shayshans were of Maya stock and perhaps the oldest of existing Central American tribes was rapidly confirmed. Not only was the language distinctly Mayan, but the feather head-dresses were precisely like those depicted on Mayan sculptures and figuring in the engravings and paintings made in the days of the Spanish Conquest, and unlike those of any other known tribe.
Even more remarkable was the fact that the Shayshans’ bows were designed to be bent round side outwards, thus differing from the bows of other races. Apart from their bows, the Shayshans used blow-guns, ten or twelve feet in length, and here again the tribe differed from all their neighbours, for instead-of darts the Shayshans used spherical clay pellets, which, at a distance of thirty or forty yards, were as effective as a small-calibre rifle for bringing down large birds.
Except for maize and a few plantain, banana, and cacao trees, these Indians raised nothing in the way of foodstuffs. An almond-like nut, the boiled fruit and young flower-buds of the palm, and a wild tuber resembling a potato were their mainstays. Corn was eaten whole, and the cacao beans, instead of being fermented and made into chocolate, were roasted and ground to a powder, from which a beverage resembling thick black coffee was made. The Indians drank this in inordinate quantities, taking it, boiling hot almost incessantly from morning to night.
The Shayshans appeared so shy, so friendly, and so docile that I could not imagine them in the role of hostile savages. When I mentioned this matter, Polu and the others declared that the tribe had always been peaceful, and that while they distrusted and disliked the Spaniards, by whom their ancestors had been enslaved, they had merely sought protection from these traditional enemies by moving farther and farther into the wilderness.
By this time I had come to the conclusion that Polu was a wily fellow, and that his sphinx-like face concealed a great deal more guile than one might suppose. When I asked about the other tribes who were reputed to inhabit the even more inaccessible mountains, Polu seemed reluctant to answer, professing the greatest dread of them, although claiming to be at peace with all his neighbours.
Learning that I proposed visiting the Doraks, as the Shayshans called them, the king and his friends showed the greatest concern. They declared it would mean my certain death, explaining that though a Shayshan might enter and pass through the Dorak country, provided he did not linger, no white man would be permitted to set foot beyond the recognized boundary of Shayshan territory.
When pressed for reasons for this attitude, the king and his retinue evaded the question. I felt certain they were trying to keep something from me, and as I puzzled over this I remembered Señor Toro’s words, the tales of the old General and others, and the universal belief that the Shayshans held the secret of the lost Tisingal mine. I also recalled Polu’s evident anxiety that I should not attempt to visit his subjects, and his suggestion that I should remain with him while a courier summoned the tribe.
I AM PUZZLED
Was there, after all, some truth in the rumours? Could it be that the wily chieftain was trying to prevent any possibility of my stumbling upon the jealously-guarded secret of the lost mine? Was I “getting warm,” as they say in the game of “Hunt the Thimble”? It was a fascinating conjecture, and it seemed by no means impossible nor even improbable, I reflected, that the fabulously-rich Tisingal might be located not very far from King Polu’s palace.
But I was not there to investigate mines, old or new, and I had no intention of searching for Tisingal, especially if to do so might result in arousing the resentment or even the suspicions of the Indians, and thereby thwart my purpose in visiting them. Nevertheless, the romantic aspect of the matter appealed to me; my exploring instinct was aroused and—well, I doubt if there is anyone who would not be somewhat thrilled at the thought of being almost within stone’s throw of a long-lost and incredibly rich mine which countless men have sought in vain and whose history is one of tragedy, mystery, and romance.
The most adroit and roundabout questioning, however, failed to elicit any definite information from Polu and his fellows, even though I felt sure I had convinced them that I was not searching for gold. It might be, they agreed, that the Doraks knew of the old mine.
They themselves had heard from their fathers, who had heard it from their fathers, that long ago the Spaniards had a mine somewhere in the mountains, where they forced the Shayshans to labour as slaves. But, they added, they themselves knew nothing. They had no knowledge of gold. It was valueless to them, and if they knew where the mine was they would gladly tell me, for was I not their friend? Had I not given them presents, lived with them like a brother, and dwelt in the king’s house?
Eventually, deciding my imagination had over-ridden my common sense, and that, in all probability, the Shayshans knew nothing definite about Tisingal, I busied myself with my scientific work and forgot the lost mine.
Then, as so often happens, Fate intervened and opened the sealed lips of the Shayshan King. His daughter, a chubby brown princess of eight, was seized with a most agonizing but far from dangerous fit of colic, the result of eating too many oily proa-palm nuts. Her shrieks and screams in the middle of the night aroused everyone, and the Indians, firmly believing some evil spirit had taken possession of her, added their wails, lamentations, and incantations to the uproar.
At first Polu and his copper-coloured queen would have none of the white man’s medicine. But when the most powerful of Shayshan potions, the beating of drums, the application of “magic” wood and fungus, and even the slaughter of a cock failed to exorcise the “devil,” the Shayshans, as a last resort, turned to me.
The little princess’s trouble quickly responded to proper treatment, her screams of agony changed to sobs, the sobs to whimpers, and soon she was sleeping quietly and soundly on her mat of pounded bark beside the queen. I very much doubt, however, if Polu slept again that night. When I tumbled into my hammock he was sitting motionless, staring into the black, starlit night, and when I awoke at dawn he was in precisely the same position, immobile as a bronze statue, his mind evidently concentrated on some deep and important matter.
Not until the inevitable chocolate was passed to him did he come back to earth. Then, having swallowed the steaming mess, he rose, took down a long and powerful black-palm bow and sheaf of wicked-looking six-foot arrows and very carefully examined each one in turn. Evidently, I thought, the king was preparing to go out on a hunt. Then, to my unbounded surprise, he requested me to accompany him.
For a time he walked on in silence. Not until we had passed beyond sight and hearing of the house and were well within the jungle did he speak. Then, halting, he turned, beckoned me to his side, and grinned. His Spanish was somewhat crude and limited, and my recently acquired knowledge of Shayshan was even more exiguous. But we had always got along famously, and there was no possibility of misunderstanding him.
Rubbing his stomach, he twisted his face into an agonized expression. “Child sick; very sick,” he said. Then he closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. “I am grateful; you were good to my daughter,” he added. “I am glad the child is well again,” I replied, using his own dialect.
Polu narrowed his eyes; the half-quizzical expression I had often noted—an expression suggestive of crafty shrewdness came over his face. For fully a minute he studied me. Then he turned abruptly and pointed towards the sombre green mountains, their sides still streaked with shreds of the night mist, their shadows purple and mysterious.
“Come!” he ejaculated, suddenly, “Tisingal!”
I could scarcely believe my ears, hardly convince myself I heard aright. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Polu did know the secret of the lost mine! He was about to reveal it to me, was taking me to it as proof of his gratitude for curing the little princess!
For seemingly endless hours we climbed the mountain through a misty, penetrating drizzle. Mile after mile I followed Polu into the shadows of the vast, impenetrable forest, until I lost all sense of direction. I was drenched to the skin and heartily sick of the whole business when the king suddenly halted and beckoned me to him. Carefully parting the drooping ferns and interlaced creepers, he pointed to a pile of rotting, moss-grown masonry rent by the snakelike, twisted roots of great trees, and almost hidden in the accumulation of decaying vegetation.
Here, buried in this untrodden jungle, was the age-old work of civilized man, and unquestionably, as proved by the mortar, of Europeans. Polu walked a few paces farther, and, stepping aside, showed me a stretch of roughly-paved roadway, beside which were the almost vanished hard-wood logs of what once, centuries before, might have formed a stockade or a massive gate. Was it possible that I was actually gazing at the remains of the approaches to Tisingal?
THE GUNS OF TISINGAL!
Then, while my mind was still a chaos of sensations, Polu, with furtive glances about him, as though desecrating a tomb, bent low, and pressing through a thicket, halted among the trees. Before him lay two large cylindrical objects half buried in the earth. At first glance I took them for moss-covered logs, and then, with fast-beating pulse, I realized my mistake. There was no doubt about it—they were cannon! Cannon of bronze; ancient guns of small bore, ornately ringed, bell-mouthed, and thick with the verdigris of countless years of drenching tropical rains and ever-dripping moisture.
Carefully scraping away the growth of moss and tiny ferns, I could distinguish raised figures and letters upon the metal. Corrosion had almost obliterated them, but here and there a letter was decipherable, and on one the date—“1515”—was quite plain.
I had thought that ancient mines, real or imaginary, held only a passing interest for me, and yet, as I knelt there beside those centuries-old guns, in the heart of that unknown forest, I felt a wave of exultation such as I have seldom known.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt I was looking upon objects that many a man would have given half his life and thousands of dollars to behold—the ancient Spanish cannon that once guarded the way to the richest mine in the New World: the long-lost, long-sought, almost fabulous Tisingal! And, strangest of all, that which no other civilized man had been permitted to see had been revealed to me through a child’s attack of colic!
Unquestionably, I was the first European to view those relics of the past and live to tell of it during all the centuries that had passed since Tisingal had been lost to the world. Somewhere nearby, hidden in the rank growth, was wealth beyond one’s wildest dreams, but if I had dared to enter that ominous jungle alone a Silent arrow might have sped from some lurking, watching savage, and my bones might have been added to those of other seekers for the elusive Tisingal.
As I stood there in that shadowy forest and looked upon those ancient bronze weapons, the whole tragic story of the mine came vividly to my mind. I could revisualize the Dons—mail-clad, ruthless, cruel, caring nothing for life or bloodshed where gold was to be won—murdering the simple Indians who resisted the invaders, enslaving those who were peaceful.
I could imagine them hewing their way through the jungles as they penetrated farther and farther into the mountains. I could see them in their cumbersome craft conquering the rapids, falling by the wayside, suffering martyrdom in their lust for gold, until at last they reached the Shayshan country and, by inhuman tortures, wrung the secret of Tisingal from some captive Indian.
And, having come that way myself, I could appreciate the Herculean labours of the Spaniards and their slaves as they transported their goods and equipment up the river, made roads through the jungle, built forts and bridges, and erected their dwellings, their barracks, and even their church, deep within these forests. And I could picture the savage exultation of the long-oppressed and enslaved Indians when, at last, they squared accounts and, massacring the Spaniards to the last man, destroyed every vestige of the Dons’ work.
No wonder, I thought, that the Doraks maintained an endless vigil and prevented all intruders from rediscovering Tisingal! Gold and the white man’s greed for wealth have always been the curse of the Indians, and I was thankful that the secret was so well and so effectively guarded. My only regret was that I had no camera. I had not brought it with me when I left Polu’s home, for I thought I was merely accompanying the king on a hunting-trip.
And now Polu was becoming nervous. He was impatiently urging me to go, meanwhile peering furtively about him, searching the surrounding jungle as if in fear of stealthy, hostile savages. Perhaps it was pure imagination, or perhaps the king’s fears were contagious. At any rate, I felt that we were being watched, that unseen eyes were upon us, and that I stood very close indeed to death. So, with a last glance at the mute guardians of the old mine, I turned, and, in Polu’s footsteps, threaded my way along the indistinguishable trail that led back to the domains of my silent companion.
At last we emerged from the jungle with the king’s house in view, and instantly I halted in amazement. Gathered in a little knot before the thatched hut were half-a-dozen wild-looking naked Indians!
Who were they? Had the hostile Doraks swept down on the Shayshans to demand satisfaction for the king’s action in betraying the secret of Tisingal to a white stranger? Before I could ask a question, or utter a word, however, they caught sight of us, and, in the twinkling of an eye, had vanished!
Oddly enough, Polu did not seem at all surprised or disturbed. He could not or would not understand my queries, and merely grinned amiably as we hurried across the few rods of open grassland to his palace.
Then I understood. Seated in the house were the Shayshans the king’s courier had summoned. They were wild-faced, shockheaded, shy-looking tribesmen, but each and all were garbed in ragged shirts and much-patched trousers. At sight of the white man they had hurriedly transformed themselves from untamed savages to semi-civilized Indians—at least outwardly!
Not until much later did I learn the real facts, however. When I was leaving for the long and laborious trip downstream Polu, with a twinkle in his keen eyes, revealed the great secret. The Shayshans and the Doraks were one and the same people! A Jekyll and Hyde tribe—peaceful, quiet, friendly, and with an external veneer of civilization, or wild, savage, and hostile, as the conditions called for—the Shayshans were the sole guardians of the long-lost mine!
Sunday, 6 April 2014
THROUGH THE INTERIOR BY MOTOR CAR
by A. Hyatt Verrill. Panama
By motor into Coclé. Villages and towns. The German colony. Roads and bridges. Hills and llanos. The cattle country. Progressive towns. Schools. The volcano. Natá the oldest city in
The old church. A fortress and church combined. A marvelous contrast. The city
of salt. Onward into Veraguas. Side trips. Silicified forests. Bird life. The
capital of Veraguas.
Having visited the ruins of that once "Goode and
City,'' and having seen all there is
to be seen around and about Panama,
the visitor will do well to take a trip into the interior.
A few years ago this was a difficult thing to do and even a short journey into the country was filled with discomforts and hardships. But today, one may travel for over two hundred miles into the interior by motor car over roads that, with a few exceptions, are by no means bad, and many miles of which would be a credit to our own country.
But the visitor planning this trip should be provided with camping outfit, food and all other necessities and luxuries, if the journey is to be taken in comfort. There are, it is true, little fondas or so-called hotels in every town of any size in the interior. But these are, with few exceptions, impossible for those travelers who are not inured to roughing it. They are dirty, often vermin infested, lacking in nearly every necessity and convenience, and the sleeping accommodations consist of hard native cots. As a rule, too, anywhere from two to ten persons are crowded into one room and there is no privacy. The meals are of the coarsest native food, badly cooked and worse served, and the charges, considering the accommodations, are ridiculous. It is a far better plan to camp out and cook one's own meals. But in selecting a camp site be sure and do not make the mistake that so many Americans make, of camping on low ground near a stream, on lands where there are cattle or in the jungle. If you do you will be eaten alive by mosquitos, devoured by ticks or made miserable by other insect pests. And be sure not to drink river water unless thoroughly boiled. At nearly every village and town there are driven wells from which pure water may be obtained, and the larger towns are provided with a water supply which is safe, although in the height of the dry season it cannot be relied upon. The best places to camp are the sides of the road, and if near a village so much the better, for some fruits, vegetables and other food may usually be purchased, and eggs, pigeons, chickens and turkeys are always obtainable. If fond of hunting by all means carry a shot gun, for quail and wild pigeon are abundant and will greatly help out the menu. But fight shy of the native beef and pork. Cattle are seldom killed in the interior until they are far too old for breeding purposes, or for shipment to
Panama City, and the beasts are slaughtered
and the meat sold and eaten the same day.
If the trip is taken during the height of the dry season,—from December until April, practically no shelter will be required. There will be no danger of rain; but as a strong wind blows constantly a protection from this and the accompanying dust is necessary. And be sure to provide blankets and mosquito nets. The nights are cold in the interior and while, during the dry season, mosquitos are not numerous, it is well to provide against any chance of contracting malaria by being bitten by the pests. In the tropics an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure. For this reason no traveler should venture into the interior of
without a supply of quinine and other simple medicines and a first aid kit. As
there are gasoline filling stations where fuel and oil may be had, at every
town, the traveler need not worry on that score. Leaving Panama or Ancon, the route is to
Pedro Miguel where a ferry carries the automobiles and passengers across the
Canal. Then, over a road that is a disgrace to our government, the way leads
through Empire and Camp Gaillard, where the Porto Rican Regiment is stationed,
and hence over a roughly-cobbled road through charming hilly country to
Panamanian territory. The first portion of the new Panama highroad is far from perfect
and, in many places is so narrow, so tortuous and has such sharp, blind curves
that it is positively dangerous. The first good sized settlement is Chorrera,
an old Spanish town sprawling over the rolling country with its glaring red
earth. But it is of little interest, as is Capira, the next village of any
size. From here on, the road is wider, straighter and, in some places, is
fairly good. Here the highway climbs a number of small mountains or high hills,
covered with jungle and affording wonderful vistas of the Pacific and the
islands in the offing. Here, too, one passes a little village of the typical
wattled, mud-walled, thatch-roofed native huts, but which appear quite
different from the others we have seen. They are neat and tidy; about them are
flower gardens, and, most incongruously, the windows are furnished with muslin
curtains and flower boxes. And the inhabitants seem just as incongruous. They
are white skinned, blue eyed and tow headed, for they are Germans, brought out
by the Panama
government with the mistaken idea that they could make the wilderness blossom
like the proverbial rose, and would,—by some miraculous means,—induce progress
and prosperity in the district. Unfortunately, the poor colonists, who were
entirely ignorant of the tropics and tropical agriculture, have proved a dismal
failure. The few crops they have raised, in a spot wholly un-suited to
gardening, have been either destroyed by the natives or have proved unsalable,
while such products as were harvested and were salable could not be sold except
at a loss owing to the high cost of transportation.
As a result, the Germans became poverty stricken and were actually suffering from want until their plight was brought to the attention of charitable persons on the Zone and in
Thus partially provided for, and by earning a few dollars serving coffee and
light refreshments to passing travelers, the colonists who have remained have
managed to eke out an existence; but by far the greater number have migrated to
more promising fields and are working as laborers. Had the Panama government selected peasants from
southern Europe instead of Germans, they might
have succeeded, though it is hard to see how any one could succeed as an
agriculturist in the district and under present economic conditions.
Beyond here the road swings westward towards the coast to Chame, and hence to Bejuco, both small but rather neat little settlements where orange trees laden with fruit are on every side, and where the traveler may fill his car with the sweetest of juicy oranges at a cost of a few cents.
Beyond Chame a branch road runs to
while the main thoroughfare continues on to Antón. This district is the
beginning of the plains or llanos that sweep inland to the distant mountains.
Here, too, the road is excellent, and bridge after bridge is crossed. The land,
however, though well watered by the numerous streams, is sterile and thin and
is incapable of supporting anything more than a sparse growth of wiry grass and
thorny shrubs. It is almost wholly volcanic ash and tufa, and often, near the road,
one sees areas of the glaring white ash cut by the rains into weird formations
like innumerable spires.
Antón, the largest shipping town in the district, is a fairly good sized village but with few attractions, and from here the smooth surfaced road runs across the almost level llanos to Penonomé. Penonomé the capital of Coclé province, is the most up-to-date, most progressive and the cleanest and best kept town in the interior of the republic.
It was the first to have a municipal water supply and the first to have an electric light system. Its schools are so numerous that they seem out of all proportion to the size of the town, and everyone appears well-to-do, contented and happy. In fact the better class of inhabitants are apparently of a far superior race to those of other interior villages, and their pride in their town is most admirable.
The streets are smoothly paved and well kept, every house is repainted each year, there are numerous well stocked stores, two or three gasolene filling stations and a good market. But the most attractive feature of Penonomé, the ancient church on the plaza, has been completely ruined by rebuilding and modernizing. Penonomé is the outlet for a large area of country, and quantities of rubber, coffee and other mountain products are brought into the settlement by the Indians who dwell about La Pintada and in the mountainous country of the interior of the province. But the Coclé tribe is thoroughly civilized and the Indians have even forgotten their own tongue. However, they still keep up some of their ancient tribal customs, and they weave excellent hammocks, baskets and bags which may be purchased at very reasonable prices in the Penonomé shops.
Immediately after leaving Penonomé a rugged isolated mountain is seen, rising abruptly from the plain to the north, or right hand side, of the road. This is the Guacamayo volcano which is still slightly active. On its southern side, plainly visible as we pass within a few miles of the volcano, is the great red broken down crater. Here are immense deposits of sulphur with
hot springs and a few fumeroles. From the
summit of Guacamayo a magnificent panorama of country and sea is spread at
one's feet; but the climb to the summit is a terrific undertaking and is not to
From Penonomé the road continues on across flat llanos and over numerous big iron bridges, and passes through the little villages of Coclé,
Rio Grande and Rio Caño to Natá. This town is
mainly of interest as being the oldest occupied town on the American continent,
having been founded by the Spaniards in 1520. The church, however, is the only
remaining building of the original town, the present houses being mainly
miserable native shacks, while the town itself is filthy, badly kept and wholly
unattractive. Here, as in so many instances, the priests, with more zeal than
common sense, have attempted to rejuvenate the splendid old church. But here,
fortunately, they only got as far as one tower and left the rest of the
building in its original condition. Built of brick and rubble, the old church
covers an immense area and was originally surrounded by a stout loop-holed wall
which also enclosed the fort. Much of the wall has been destroyed and the fort
has vanished, but the church itself is in a fair state of preservation. It
contains some priceless Old Masters and some remarkable silver but, like
everything else in the place, it seems run down at the heels and woefully in
need of cleaning and care.
Near Natá a road branches off to the north across the llanos. This road, which is passable for automobiles during the dry season, leads to within a short distance of the Limon waterfall, one of
greatest natural wonders. Here the Rio Caño, flowing across a high plateau,
plunges over the verge of a precipice, and, in a series of gigantic cataracts,
falls for over one thousand feet to the level of the plains. During the dry
season the volume of water is not great, but during the rainy season and the
first part of the dry season, the falls are visible for twenty miles and their
roar is audible for nearly five miles.
Beyond Natá the plains are more fertile and in places are covered with large trees while here and there are fields of sugar cane. Here, too, one first sees the giant nests of termites, hard conical or culumnar objects dotting the plains, and looking from a distance like the kahki-colored tents of an encampment.
Soon the sugar cane patches grow more numerous, we pass the centrál of Don Rudolpho Chiari, president of
and presently reach Agua Dulce.
This town, which is an important port, is the center of the salt industry. Indeed, its entire existence depends upon the salt which is crystallized in immense "pans" on the low mud flats about the town and is shipped far and wide. The visitor is often at a loss to understand how a town several miles inland can be a port, but like many other Latin American cities, the town was built at a distance from the sea to decrease the danger of piratical raids in the old days, while the port itself, or the "playa" as it is called, is at the water side. The town and
connected by a splendid road, but as the port consists merely of a dock and a
shed there is nothing of interest to be seen. Agua Dulce is by no means
comparable to Penonomé or even to Antón, for cleanliness, neatness or
of Agua Dulce
It is dirty and badly kept, it has few good buildings, the church has been thoroughly modernized, and the inhabitants have a greater admixture of negro blood than in the other towns. There are, however, a number of fairly good shops and several garages and filling stations in the town. Also, from Agua Dulce several side trips may be taken to Pocrí, Chitré, etc.
But the main road runs on to
the ancient picturesque capital of Veraguas province.1 Beyond Agua
Dulce the same flat llanos extend, almost deserted except for herds of rather
scrawny, undersized cattle and an occasional native hut. Altogether it is such
a scene as one might expect in South
Africa. There are the same conical ants'
nests, often ten to fifteen feet high, the kopjes, the distant hazy mountains,
the thorny mimosa scrub, and one half expects to see a Kaffir kraal or a herd
of ostriches or giraffes. But the nearest approach to giraffes are the woefully
thin cattle and horses, while there is nothing more resembling an ostrich than
the repulsive vultures and carrion hawks.
Now and then another car is met, usually a delapidated Ford; at times a bus or "chiva" tears by, bound for Panama and intermediate stops, and often we pass the big, lumbering, native bull carts creaking ponderously as they are drawn at a snail's pace by two or four great, long-horned bulls lashed by the horns to the cart's pole on which perches the swarthy, brigandish-looking driver.
1 The name Veraguas is of Indian origin and not Spanish as is generally thought. The ending "agua" is merely a coincidence and has nothing to do with the Spanish word "agua" meaning water. The same ending is found in many other Indian words and names such as
, Comagua, etc. Managua, Nicaragua
Bird life, too, is abundant. Little flocks of ground doves flutter from the roadway. Graceful quaker-gray swallow-tailed flycatchers dart back and forth as they capture tiny insects. Bold-eyed hawks look disdainfully down from the telegraph poles, and sweet-voiced meadow larks sing from fence posts and shrubbery.
At Estrella, a tiny village about ten miles from Agua Dulce, the road forks, the right hand branch proceeding to
But it is almost impassable, even for a Ford, and the main highway stretches
Scenically, however, the old road through the hills is more attractive, and the visitor who is fond of nature and horseback riding, might do worse than take this trip. It leads past the Santa Rosa sugar estate and hence through rugged and picturesque country among the foothills of the cordilleras,—crossing tumbling rivers where one must swim one's horse; meandering through dense thorny jungles; following the verges of deep ravines; passing through narrow defiles with scarcely space for a horse to pass. Here and there are bare areas of brilliant red, purple, yellow and green earth dotted with lumps and boulders of agate, while often one rides for long distances through areas covered with silicified trees. Some of these stumps are standing as if freshly cut; others lie about in short smooth-ended sections as if sawed for cordwood, and still more are scattered about like newly broken sticks and branches. Indeed, one cannot believe that they are flinty hard agate until closely examined and tested.
On the main road also, there are spots where these fossil trees may be seen, but these and the agates are far less numerous than farther back near the mountains. Beyond Estrella the first village worthy of the name is Davisa, about halfway between Agua Dulce and
Beyond here the plains grow more restricted, there are more hills, and
presently one is constantly ascending and descending sharp grades. Then at last
the road comes forth from the broken country and ahead sweep broad plains
stretching to the far off mountains, and with the little town nestling, white
and red, upon the level land.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.