Percy Harrison Fawcett
Percy Harrison Fawcett
Percy Fawcett went to South America to survey the borders of several countries and to search for the legendary City of Gold and other lost cities. He made numerous trips into South America's interior during a two-decade period. In 1925, he set out on what was to be his last expedition with his son and his son's friend. The party was never heard from again.
Fawcett was born in 1867 in Torquay, England. A young man of 19, he joined the British army for what would become a 20-year career in the military. About halfway into his service, he put his army surveying training to work by accepting a position with duties in South America.
During his first trip to South America in 1906-07 to survey the changing boundary between Bolivia and Brazil, he became intrigued with the stories he heard about the lost civilizations of South America. In one of his reports (to the Royal Geographical Society in 1910), he said: "...I have met half a dozen men who swear to a glimpse of white Indians with red hair. Such communication as there has been in certain parts with the wild Indians asserts the existence of such a race with blue eyes. Plenty of people have heard of them in the interior."
Despite the perils of travel into the forests of South America, including an encounter with a 65-foot-long (20 m) anaconda, Fawcett took to the life of adventure and accepted the job of surveying the Rio Verde in eastern Bolivia. For this trip into the unexplored wilderness, Fawcett could find few men to accompany his team and settled for a group made up of a waiter, a silversmith, a baker, and two Indians. Shortly into the trip, they abandoned their plan of navigating the river due to extreme rapids and proceeded on foot. They also left behind their store of food, assuming they could catch fish for sustenance, but the river water soon became unsuitable and the teeming fish populations dwindled. The team members survived on palm tops and hard nuts for most of the trip, and suffered innumerable bites from insects, including inch-long poisonous black ants, before reaching civilization. Five of the porters died shortly afterward. Despite the arduous journey, the team completed its task and mapped the river.
Fawcett remained undeterred and took additional commissions in South America. In 1910, he struck out to conduct a survey of a region along the border of Peru and Bolivia. Previous expeditions into the area had resulted in the deaths of most team members, including army troops, at the hands of antagonistic native people who would kill intruders by ambush or by poisoning the team's water supplies. Fawcett made his trip with a half dozen men, three of whom were soldiers. Part way into the journey, his team met the enemy warriors, who sent a flurry of 6-foot-long arrows at the men. Instead of returning fire, one of the soldiers played the accordion during the attack. When the arrows stopped, Fawcett addressed the warriors in their native tongue. The attacking men responded by welcoming the Fawcett party, and even helping to set up camp for the guests. As an added bonus, the native group relayed a message up the river requesting that the team be given safe passage.
Fawcett left his explorations during World War I, but returned in 1920 and again in 1921 to explore the western region of Brazil. Both expeditions experienced numerous problems in the field and failed. Still lured by the hope of discovering lost civilizations, he set out on another adventure in 1925, this time with his 21-year-old son Jack and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimell. Their specific goal was to find the city of "Z," which Fawcett believed lay hidden in the Amazon basin. They left Cuiabá, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, on April 20. A month later, they arrived at a camp near the Xingu River, and Fawcett sent what was to be his last message. He wrote: "Our two guides go back from here. They are more and more nervous as we push further into the Indian country." The team then disappeared.
In 1928 another expedition set out in an attempt to follow Fawcett's trail. It found some items that belonged to the party, but never located any of the men. Rumors abounded of sightings of the Fawcett group, including one in which the men were alive and living with a hostile native group, but most people familiar with the region and the hostile native populations had little doubt that the men were murdered.
LESLIE A. MERTZ