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Loren McIntyre  

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Percy Fawcett  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
21 Oct 1998

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NPR/National Geographic Radio Expeditions
Don Smith/Loren McIntyre Interview
October 21, 1998

.... Cuts in midsentence

LM
00:00:04 He's a controversial character but I liked him very much. I was never close friends with anybody down there because I kind of made it a point not to be. Not to be geared into anybody in particular. [DS-Good idea ... ] I had problems with Garrett because I was the only one who would talk back to him in a slide session

DS
00:00:28 He didn't like that? 00:00:29

LM
00:00:30 I think in the long run he did like it because I was one of the few that would.
DS 00:00:36 Say who you are ... identify yourself.. 00:00:44

LM
00:00:45 I'm Loren McIntyre and I'm identified by the name Loren.

DS
00:00:52 What do you do? 00:00:53

LM
00:00:54 I'm a writer, photographer and sort of an ex-filmmaker although I did work on an IMAX film last year that was up for an Academy Award I'm happy to say and I now work more in Brazil than I do in the United States.

DS
00: 01: 14 What do you think that you are best known for? 00: 01: 15

LM
00: 0 1 : 16 For the discovery of the ultimate source of the Amazon. The lake up there that is now on the map carrying my name. It's kind of neat after having spent most of my life in South America to have been put on the map so to speak.
DS 00:01 :37 Percy Fawcett? Most people have never heard of him but at the time of his disappearance it was a famous case right? 00:01:49

LM
00:01 :50 I first heard about it when I was a youngster listening to a crystal set radio on my
pillow in Seattle when I was a school boy.

DS
00:02:03 How famous was it at the time? 00:02:06

LM
00:02:07 Well for me it was because I was an addict of the Sunday supplement of the Seattle Post Intelligence. It had all kinds of sensational stories. Not as sensational I suppose as they have these days but at that time it was such things as the Hungarian suicide song and the baroness in the Galapagos and their deceased lovers and Percy Fawcett having been lost in the wilds of Brazil with his wife presumed spiritualist and in contact with him somewhere while he ruled as the white king of a lost savage tribe and such things as that were pretty neat for a kid in grade school.

DS
00:02:55 A newspaper group launched a search. 00:02:58

LM
North American Newspaper Alliance, yes. I believe it .. Fawcett was being partly financed by them at the time that he managed to lose himself and the search was financed by the North American Newspaper Alliance who sent a famous explorer George Diet to look for him in 1927.

DS
00:03:20 And so they kind of guaranteed that this had a lot of media attention. 00:03:24
LM
00:03 :25 Yeah they took.. They had complicated radio equipment with them and they talked to the states everyday and their eventual escape from Indians that had presumably, 2 years earlier had done away with Fawcett.
DS
00:03:44 Let's back up and talk about who Percy Fawcett was and what brought him to South America.00:03:50
LM
00:03:51 Percy Fawcett was a British army officer who was posted in Salon when he met his wife, Chicy who survived him. In about 1960, he was elected by the Royal Geographic Society to go as an army officer and a surveyor, which he was, a trained engineer, to help in the surveying of boundaries between Bolivia and the adjacent Peru and Chile. Sort of the result of the War of the Pacific, as it was called at that time in 1879, between Chile
and Peru in which Bolivia lost it's Pacific coast and Chile took over the nitrate fields and occupied actually Peru for about four years until 1884. And something had to be done about the boundaries and Fawcett got picked for the job.
DS
00:05:02 Well England was in the middle of a war at that time. 00:05:03
LM
00:050:04 No, 1906 is when he went. Actually that's interesting that you mention that because he worked on his boundary searches and explorations really they were, until the outbreak of World War II and then he returned to England and didn't come back to South America for his famous final trips until after World War II.
DS
00:05:44 Tell us a little bit about what you know about Percy Fawcett second had. What sort of person do you suppose he was? 00:05:46
LM
00:05:47 He's a fellow I would have liked to have known because he's a great story teller. His book, he published quite a bit but then he had accumulated quite a few notes and his book was finally put in shape by his son, Brian and published in '53 I think, Exploration Fawcett and it is absolutely fascinating reading he tells stories like they don't tell anymore, like they don't dare tell anymore. There's a .. he creates scenes that beat anything that's in the Indiana Jones sets of the things that he's seen and the things that
he's done. I think he would have been a nice guy to know, he was very proud of his manhood, the fact that he didn't smoke or drink and the fact that he could out walk and out hike and out explore anybody else and he even bragged on his last expedition that his son was virgin in mind and body which to him was a great tribute, evidently. It wouldn't weigh very heavily on people today but the thing I like, I would have liked about him was his storytelling.
DS
00: 07: 03 There were some really fantastic things in those stories. Do you suppose that they were all true? 00:07:07
LM
00:07:08 Most all of them were based on truth. Fawcett was a genuine explorer in the sense that exploration means seeking knowledge, geographical or scientific and he was very good at that, but he had a vivid imagination and he managed to embellish almost every experience he had everything he saw with a considerable exaggeration but very neatly told. For example, if he saw a snake and it was a big one by the time he got done telling the story it was a .. it had 20 some feet or it when he raised his rifle and smashed a bullet into his skull when it writhed and almost overturned his canoe and so on and he
finally figured out that it was 47feet which is about twice as long as any Anaconda or any other snake has ever been measured. And was given to that type of storytelling but so
convincingly done but if you went into it with an innocent mind it's hard not to believe .
And I'm sure that his son and his son's friend that disappeared with him believed in
everything that the old boy had to tell.
DS
00:08:20 Do you suppose that's where a lot of the fabulous stories about South America got started that we hear now? 00:08:26
LM
00:08:27 I think so. A lot of them begin with Fawcett who claimed, at the time that he disappeared that a veil of silence had fallen over South America and that he was going to penetrate it and find the lost cities. By this time, of course, Macchu Picchu, in Peru had already been stumbled on or found upon by Hiram Bingham who actually, again, didn't know what he had found anymore than Columbus did but was a true explorer and they made discoveries in the sense that ... and I think that this is important in Fawcett's case that
discovery really means to make known. You can stumble on things and if nobody knows about it, like the first arrivals in the new world. They may have been explorers in a sense but they certainly weren't discoverers because if you don't make it known it isn't a discovery and Fawcett did a very good job o/that.
DS
00:09:23 What was his connection with Conan Doyle? 00:09:25
LM
00:09:27 Well, there was a place not far from Quioba where he started his last trip into the interior heading north. Quioba is in the southern edge of Amazonia as a matter of fact, it's just out of Amazonia over a ridge of hills called the Ricardo Franco Mountains or hills and they're tepuis, they're flat on top like those in Venezuela that Angel Falls descends from. And he told Conan Doyle that ,uh, about these hills and Doyle said .. I can't clearly remember whether it came out of Fawcett's imagination or Doyle's but there certainly must be a lost world there with possibly descendants of dinosaurs. And as much as Fawcett had speculated on such possibilities, and a couple other people of the same period had written about it, Doyle picked it up and wrote the Lost World, somewhat ahead of the current Lost World of.. What's his name? Michael ... [DS-Crichton?] ..Michael Crichton.

DS
00:10:45 How did he know Conan Doyle? Do you know? 00:10:47

LM
00: 10:48 All I know is that they are both English and they both lived in London.

DS
00:10:52 You call Fawcett a mystic and a dreamer. Why is that? 00:10:57

LM 00: 10:58 Well, possibly because .... [dead space ... coughing .. DS asks if LM would like water etc ... ]
DS repeats question at 00: 11 :51

LM
00: 11 :53 Partly because his son, Brian, when he wrote the book Exploration Fawcett opened the book with the explanation that a lot of people called his father a dreamer and others called him a mystic. And he was a dreamer because he dreamer of things that humanity should accomplish and hadn't and in his terms that meant penetrating into wilds that nobody had ever explored before .. presumably hadn't and a mystic because he attached a lot of extracurricular meaning to a lot of the things that he saw. Fawcett believed in ghosts he uh, somebody told his a story about how at this certain place that they didn't dare sleep at night because somebody was always throwing rocks in the window but there weren't any rocks of that kind in that part of the country and they could never find out who did it. And of course Fawcett believed and said of course, it was ghosts and things of that nature.

DS
00: 12:54 The picture I get from reading your article and other thing I've read about Fawcett is a picture of a kind of wanna be explorer is that a fair characterization? 00:13:03

LM
00:13:04 I don't think that it is. He's a wanna be .. yes, I'll reverse myself in the sense that
he wanted to be an explorer but he was and explorer and a very good one and he died trying to extend explorations into what he termed the unknown interior of South America. It really wasn't as unknown as he fancied it to be. Every inch of it had been trampled by somebody else over the last couple of hundred years but he imagined himself as an explorer and in that sense he was and he did, as his son reports and his boundary studies show, he did a lot of valid research in seeking the truth of the geography of the places where he worked

DS
00: 14:02 Was he extending his level of confidence when he moved from mapping to exploring? 00:14:07

LM
00:14:10 Well he improved his ... [muddled interlude ... DS repeats question ... ]

00: 14:27 I think that he went beyond it in the sense that he began going into regions that nobody sent him into and he decided that he was going to go there on his own because he was sure that there were wonderful and magical things to be found and hidden cities such as Macchu Picchu but the jungles of Brazil and his competence was good enough in that he learned to handle himself in the wild but I think that he was very short on it in his final
trip in his penetration of the interior.

DS
00: 15: 11 Fawcett thought that polar expeditions were a waste of time. What did he mean
by that? 00: 15 :20

LM
00: 15:21 His expression was that polar expeditions were a waste of time because why would anyone run around counting penguins on the ice or just looking at frozen water when in other parts of the world such as the interior of the Amazon Basin there were wonderful cities ruled by priests waiting to be found.

DS
00: 15:49 Let's talk about his last expedition. What was the Secret City of Z supposed to be? 00:15:56

LM
00: 15: 57 This is a city that ... [pauses for a drink ... ] 00: 16:07 The secret city of Z Fawcett first ran across, he claimed, in an old manuscript in the library in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil which he likened then as to the coming country of the Americas after the United States, and he was probably right as it's turning out today .. but anyway .. he found this yellow document and it described in considerable detail which is reported on 6 or 8 pages of Brian Fawcett's book on a, an explorer which of the ... they called him "Bante Ranches" those who went out from San Paolo and conquered the interior of South America for Portugal as later turned out to be for Brazil, of course, in the 17th and 18th centuries. And his was a group who went onto the jungle, he tells it in the most wonderful way. And finally found a stone city with bats flying in and out and all sorts of portents of doom in one side or another and they didn't dare sleep in there at night and brought some gold out but feared to go back for various reasons and uh, ... This place Fawcett got completely carried away by and he had the latitude and longitude so he figured he was going to get there someday.

DS
00: 17:31 Were those coordinates correct? 00: 17:33

LM
00: 17:34 They certainly weren't because having been given in the book, I made a point, at one time, of going directly to the latitude and longitude which, as he said, is in the state of Baieha in the interior. And he had, before his trip where he lost himself, he had made a trip to Baieha into the interior but he turned South for some reason and wandered around and complained, as usual, that the people he had hired had done him wrong and came out of there and never went back and then decided later that he was going to discover the Secret City of Z but working north from the south and he started out at a place about 1,500 miles to the south of where it really was. Well I went in there not so long ago and drove in and found at the end of a dusty road a place called Gentia de Oro which means
more or less gold of the gentile and it's a town now, I think of around 11,000 people and its been there for several hundred years.

DS
00:18:34 Not exactly a lost city. 00:18:35

LM
00: 18:36 Not exactly a lost city and not the sort of thing that Fawcett had in mind.

DS
00: 18:40 As we are talking about his last expedition give us a picture of what he looked like. What Fawcett looks like. 00: 18:49

LM
00: 18: 50 A man in a .. he probably wore a typical cork helmet the pictures of him show him wearing patees or boots and a military coat, even in warmer climates. A man probably about six feet tall and slim 170-180 Ibs., at best.

DS
00: 19: 17 Well, on this last expedition there were some problems with his general plan of the expedition weren't there? 00: 19:22

LM
00: 19 :24 Yes, his main plan was that he decided from the beginning that he would turn around and instead of going from Baehia, which he tried before, he would this time go to Quioba, in a place where he'd made an earlier expedition. Quioba, is a big, uh ... place in southern Madagrosa which is a sort of crossroads of modern air traffic today. It's a good sized tow~. Then It was just a dusty village. He was going to go north over the Ricardo Franco hills and then down into the waters of the Shingoo River which flows about 1000 miles later into the Amazon. It's the next to the last river that flows into the Amazon before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. And then after going into this hidden territory and then working downriver he would turn right at someplace along the line and come out at the lost City of Z. And he took along his, plenty of horses and oxen and his usual helpers and so on but he divested himself of them when he got to a place called Dead Horse camp where his, where he later had to give up and earlier expedition. He continued ahead with only his son and his son's friend. And just these two young men who were in their early twenties and presumably loaded with energy and going on a great hike into Amazonia and didn't have much of an idea of what they were about at all.

DS
00:21:05 How smart was that? 00:21:06

LM
00:21 :07 Well it was pretty dumb. He was, .. the area was loaded with Indian tribes, the upper Shingoo today is still fairly well cut off from the rest of civilization all of the Villa Spos brothers had looked after through most of the 50s and 60s. The tribes there were not originally .. not necessarily ready to kill any aggressor because a fellow named Karl Bandensteinen, a famous German explorer, had come in from Malaysia had gone in from the same route that Fawcett was following and had visited the Shingoo in 1884 and had come out again and made a voluminous report, well illustrated with sketches, but that report is still in German today and I'm sure that Fawcett had never seen it.

DS
00:22:04 Were they well equipped? 00:22:07

LM
00:22:10 Not for the kind of expedition that they were making because they would have had to take along a tremendous amount of food. They expected to live off the country, not knowing what the country is going to be like. It was unlike Fawcett's earlier trips as an explorer because he traveled in his boundary explorations and surveying on the fringes of civilization, so there was always some hut that you could stop at for the night or somebody from whom you could ask information or someplace to get a canoe and this time he was going into an area that was totally unknown and he was completely caught up in his imaginary fancies of finding a lost city and the great contribution that it would make to human knowledge.

DS
00:22:59 Would you say he was underequipped? 00:23:00

LM
00:23 : 02 Yeah, both mentally and physically I think at that point.

DS
00:23 :06 Urn .. but he had some musical instruments. 00:23 :08

LM
00:23:09 Yeah, he had his banjo ... one of his son's had a .. or his son's friend, Rawley Rimmel had a piccolo, I think. And they, along with one of their guides, the only one they retained with them until toward the end, he had a banjo and so they entertained one Indian tribe and an account of that was in the last letter that Fawcett sent out, which was carried by the banjo player and when he left Fawcett and his, the two youngsters were on their own. And also Rally Rimmels feet by that time, probably wearing new boots or whatever, were already blistered and in bad shape so he wasn't in too good a condition to walk 1500
miles through the forest.


DS
00:23:57 Let's talk about that last letter a moment. He seemed to think everything was
going fine. 00:24:02

LM
00:24:03 Yeah, he said that he was going to make a, don't worry about me were some of the words, I know what I'm doing and don't try to follow me because it's too dangerous. And rest assured that this is going to come out all right.

DS
00:24:20 Famous last words?00:24:21

LM
00:24:22 Famous last words.

DS
00:24:24 Was it a good idea to not tell anybody where he was going or where he would be? 00:24:28

LM 00:24:30 He couldn't have unless he was carrying somebody with him to run back notes
because he didn't have a radio as did Commander Diet, the man who looked for him two years later.

DS
00:24:43 Well after he disappeared, as you say, there was that one expedition to find him Tell me about that, the Diet Expedition. 00:24:54

LM
00:24:55 Well there are a number of searches for him but the first one was financed by the North American Newspaper Alliance. Commander Diet had made a number of explorations before, two of his stories had published earlier in the National Geographic. He had explored in India and South America and he was the obvious person to hire for the job and he took with him a tremendous amount of equipment and four canvas boats that could be assembled so that he could work his way down the rivers and he took along food and particularly the one thing that is necessary still today in contacting the frontier tribes although their probably none of them are without any contact up to this point but when you still go into places where they are sheltered and don't have contact with the outside you do have to take along a lot of trade goods and trucar presenches, as they call it in Portuguese, or exchange presents with them, you give them something and they give you something and Diet took along all sorts of bells and whistles and knives and guns and shotgun shells and several cases of things that he would be able to win attention from the Indians and get some information from them and get some food and whatever his other necessities were and of course .. that was .. Diets seldom but uh ... mistake in a way that he had so much gear with him that he got surrounded by Indians when he finally spent several days in the Shingoo and he knew that he was trapped and they were finally going to attack him to get whatever he had left and so one night he .. when he thought that everybody was asleep why he popped himself and his crew and the radio into canoes and went on down the river and made it all the way down to the Amazon.

DS
00:27:00 There have been reports from time to time, after this disappearance of people
seeing Fawcett.. like Amelia Ehrhart and Elvis Presley he seems to just have vanished into folklore. 00:27: 17

LM
00 :27: 18 Of course, the sightings of which I recorded in that article, maybe half of a dozen are all well in the past now. The only one that got into Life Magazine was the Villa Spos Brothers dug up some bones and they had been living in the Shingoo at that time for more that 12 years and by the time that they got all the remnants out and they were properly examined they weren't identified as Fawcett's. It's quite likely that Diet found out how he ended because he found some traces of Fawcett's map case and other items in the hands of
tribal Indians in the Upper Shingoo .

DS
00:28:08 What do you suppose happened to him? 00:28: 10

LM
00:28: 15 I think that he got brained from in front or more likely from behind by some Indians moving in on him. It's quite likely that it could have been in another direction. He could have just run out of steam and died of starvation and illness. I think that it's more
than likely that he was killed.

DS
00:28:33 Will this mystery ever be solved? 00:28:36

LM
00:28:37 Only in novels and motion pictures, Hollywood solutions.

DS
00:28:48 I believe that you said in the article that the death of his son and his son's friend were
certainly premature but in a way that Fawcett might have been something of a blessing. What did you mean by that? 00:28:59

LM
00:29:00 Well, only that the region was being crisscrossed constantly by aircraft and more and more so we're talking about the year 1925 there wasn't any part of Amazonia that hadn't been flown over or walked through by that time although nobody went back or flew again for another generation but I felt that the interior would be so well mapped and recognized from the air that if there were any secret city it would have been discovered from the air and that it was better that Fawcett not kind of drift awry in his old age reading about the flights just coming to nothing in the end He sort of died in the way that he wanted but it's a little bit tough on the two youngsters that were with him.

DS
00:29:53 What's the best thing that you can say about Fawcett as an explorer? 00:30:00

LM
00:30:01 Well, he was a good explorer but he had an overactive imagination. He's a good storyteller and if he were alive and functioning today he could probably do very well in various sectors of the media.

DS
00: 30: 19 That's great. .. Let me ask you about yourself. What will you be doing next?

LM
00:30:28 Well, I'm heading for Brazil again at the end of the year we're working on a
book now. I've just finished one. Well, what I've been doing now is coffee table books in Brazil rather than the Geographic. A lot of fun doing them in two languages and now three and some of those are coming up. I'm going to be working on a book about a fellow named Jesco Von Pukamer which is a name that reappears and there's a NASA engineer named that there's some people out in California that and this guy was a Brazilian who was a marvelous photographer and also and explorer or a discoverer in that he made known the things he discovered. He accompanied the Villa Spos Brothers and other people on first contacts with the Indians he was a good friend of mine and the Geographic's and Jon Scheberger and Jesco died four years ago. And a number of us as well as Jesco who was very much concerned about how he would be remembered have accumulated in the Catholic University at Goyania and Goya State in, Brazil a tremendous archive of photographs, and diaries, marvelous diaries and motion picture films and accumulation of his stories of contacts with Indian tribes. Jesco would have loved to have had a book done about him and that's what we're going to do now. It's a little late for him to enjoy it but it certainly merits being done. 32:0l

37:06 END

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