"Blond Indians of the Darien jungle," by R.O. Marsh, World's Work (2)
"Blond Indians of the Darien jungle," by R.O. Marsh, World's Work (2)
[page number] 486 [end page number]
[page heading] Over Savage Regions by Airplane [end page heading]
breeds. The only exception to the chorus of doubt was General Babbitt, of our Military Service at the Zone. He said he was inclined to believe me, because one of his aviators had brought back a similar story. Lost in a fog bank south of the Canal, this flier had swung low to get his bearings and had come out of the cloud right above a big village in the jungle, and had seen dozens of white savages scurry to cover when this roaring monster from the skies had emerged into their sight. The General had always doubted the aviator's story until he heard mine confirm it.
[crosshead within text] A SCIENTIFIC SEARCH [end crosshead]
RETURNING to the States, I interested new capital in a second expedition - the backers of my first one were polite but skeptical. I was now determined not only to prove that there were good rubber lands in Darien, but also that there were White Indians there. I am not a scientist, and I did not intend to have the credibility of this discovery rest upon my own unscientific observations. I therefore made the following proposition in identical terms to the University of Rochester, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Institution: "If you will detail a scientist to accompany me on a thorough trip of exploration of interior Darien, I will deposit cash to your credit, before I start, sufficient to pay his salary and expenses for the entire time we are gone, and you will pay him yourselves from this fund. He will then be solely responsible to you. Furthermore, I will guarantee that he may leave the party at any moment that he feels the results of the trip do not justify him in continuing, or if he feels any deception is being practiced."
All three institutions declared that this was a proposal that could not be refused. Especially so, because Darien is a sort of "missing link" in the scientists' knowledge of American fauna and flora. The animal and vegetable life of North and Central America is sharply differentiated from the corresponding life of South America, and scientists have long hoped that unexplored Darien would some day reveal the transitional forms that would bridge this gap in natural history. The University of Rochester, therefore, detailed Prof. H. L. Fairchild, to study the geology and biology of this region; the American Museum of Natural History sent Dr. C. M. Breeder, to study the snakes, fish, and invertebrates; and the Smithsonian Institution sent Prof. J. L. Baer, to study the men and apes from the viewpoint of the trained anthropologist.
I secured also the cooperation of the War Department and the Department of Commerce at Washington, the Canal Zone Administration, and the Panama Government. These connections added to my party Major Omer Malsbury, topographer; Major H. B. Johnson, naturalist; Lieutenants Townsend and Rosebaum; and Dr. Raoul Brin, botanist and soil expert, detailed by President Porras of Panama. I took along also a newspaperman, and Mr. Charles Charlton, representing the Pathe motion picture people. Altogether, my party numbered eleven whites and thirteen Negro laborers obtained at Panama.
The War Department placed at my disposal two airplanes, with which I made a reconnaissance flight from Panama City, ascending the Bayano River to its headwaters, and descending the Chacunaque River to a point near its mouth. In less than one day I covered in the air more territory than the expedition later covered in four months through the jungle. I traveled in the first plane as pathfinder, and the second plane followed about half a mile in the rear. When I saw something I wished to have photographed, I got my pilot to sweep low and circle over the spot, which was a signal for the second plane, containing the photographer, to follow our example and take the pictures. An army topographer, in my plane, made notes of the geography of the country as we raced along. In this way we got a very fair record of the mountain ranges and water systems of the whole region.
The first fruit of this flight delighted
[page heading] Blond Indians of the Darien Jungle [end page heading] [page number] 487[end page number]
me very much, for it proved my surmise about the nature of the interior to be correct. There were two mountain ranges, one paralleling the Atlantic coastline and the other the Pacific. Between them lay a level valley, twenty-five miles wide and nearly one hundred and fifty miles long.
But I was even more excited by the evidences of human habitations of a much higher type than those of any Indians I had ever seen before. Time after time we would see a village below us, not a few huts carelessly huddled together but many dwellings set in orderly rows upon a geometric pattern and dominated by a great communal house big enough to foregather all the hundreds of inhabitants of the village. Some of these tribal assembly places were built on hillsides, so that they were in effect three stories high. In several villages, the inhabitants appeared much fairer than Indians I had known; though we never got a close view of them, for when we swooped from a thousand feet to two hundred above ground, they disappeared like gophers into their holes, going doubtless into the jungle to escape this fearsome apparition from the skies. Months later, I talked to inhabitants of these villages, whose recollection of my aerial visit was still a fresh memory of terror.
[crosshead within text] A HAZARDOUS JOURNEY [end crosshead]
I SHALL only sketch the long, disheartening, toilsome journey that led at the very end to the White Indians. We made friends with the Chocoi Indians near Yavisa, and learned much about their customs.. We also learned that our coming on this second expedition had been broadcast by word of mouth throughout the interior, and that we should be opposed at every step of the way. The reason for this antagonism is a high tribute to the character of the Indians. Except for the Chocois themselves, all the tribes of Darien are monogamous, and they have, besides, quite the highest standard of sexual morality I have encountered anywhere in the world. When I say this, I do not except the white men of the United States. These savages rigidly apply the "single standard" of morals, and the only punishment for infidelity is death. Proof, or even reasonable circumstantial evidence of it, is invariably followed by the punishment. The result is that the offense is very rarely given. The story that had preceded us into the jungle was that we were coming to kidnap their women: and the opposition that dogged us all the way through the country was based on this report. After we left the friendly and polygamous Chcoi, no member of our party saw a single native woman until after we had reached the Atlantic coast, and then only after all but three of us had gone on back to Panama and I had proved to the head chief that I was genuinely interested in the welfare of his people.
After we left Yavisa for our plunge into the jungle, we were subjected to continual surveillance of the most trying kinds. Every night our ears were filled with weird forest cries from upstream and below - whistlings that we mistook for bird-calls until we observed that they came in mathematical combinations which clearly proved their human origin and that they were signals between unseen observers. In the morning, we would find their footprints on the river banks, and we would also find wild turkey feathers stuck in patterns in the mud, as witchcraft magic to hinder our progress. At the mouth of the Tuquesa River, we surprised a party of Cunas Bravos who had camped there to ambush us, and of whom we had received warning from a friendly Chocoi chief.
[crosshead within text] DEATH IN THE EXPEDITION [end crosshead]
THEN we had sickness to contend with. Dr. Brin got maleria and I sent him back to Yavisa with one canoe and its crew. He returned to Panama and died the day after his arrival. Farther upstream, Dr. Baer was infected by flies that bit his arm after they had settled on a tumor in a monkey he was dissecting. We were now too far inland to send him back, and for weeks his sufferings were a