Never Heard from Again: Percy Fawcett’s Last Journey

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For some people, the allure of a mystery is too enticing to pass up. British explorer Percy Fawcett is one of them. Unable to get past the idea of a lost city in the Amazon jungle. His infatuation would cost him his life.

Fawcett vanished in the Mato Grosso state of west-central Brazil in 1925 looking for a lost city supposedly in the middle of the Amazon rainforest he called “Z.”

Fawcett was a complicated man, and 90 years later, the circumstances surrounding his crew’s disappearance are still unclear.

The English World War 1 veteran and trained surveyor was fascinated with exploring and mapping areas that nobody had ever been. One of the world’s last territorial explorers usually ventured into the unknown with only a machete and a compass. A true badass if there ever were one.

Plenty of books and movies such as Indiana Jones borrow from Fawcett’s legacy and the tales of his expeditions, but let’s dive into the facts below.

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1. Early Explorations

Fawcett began exploring uncharted areas in Brazil and Bolivia in 1906. These expeditions gave him worldwide recognition as his ventures included dodging venomous snakes, disease and hostile tribes. Fawcett was known for his ability to befriend different tribes, which allowed him to map these unknown areas safely. His exploits even won him a prestigious medal from the Royal Geographical Society. Fawcett also inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write the 1912 novel “The Lost World.”

Fawcett’s interactions with indigenous people made him believe that it was possible for city-sized groups to thrive in the unforgiving environment of the Brazilian rainforest. Fawcett found references to advanced settlements in the histories of the European Conquistadors. He was particularly enthralled by a Portuguese fortune hunter’s 1753 account of a stone jungle metropolis of great “size and grandeur.” As the years passed, Fawcett became obsessed with seeking out his modern-day El Dorado, which he dubbed “Z.”

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2. The Lost City of Z

Once Fawcett mind was set on finding Z, he began to organize expeditions. He led two explorations for Z in the early 1920s, but both were unsuccessful as his groups were halted by weather, fever and exhaustion. Never one to adopt the defeatist mindset, Fawcett began to raise money for his third trip into the jungle to find the lost city. The campaigning process took longer than expected, but after three years, Fawcett had enough money to begin his journey. Many of his friends and colleagues told Fawcett that he was wasting his time searching for something that didn’t exist. Fawcett was convinced otherwise.

In April 1925, Fawcett’s crew — which included his son Jack, Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimmell, two Brazilian porters, two horses, eight mules and two dogs — set off into the Amazon. The goal: find the remains of Z at all costs.

Fawcett’s last correspondence was about five weeks into the expedition on May 29, 1925. He had sent the two Brazilian porters back as the journey became too much for them to continue. At this point, it was he, Jack and Raleigh to continue into the forest alone in search of the lost city. Fawcett had left behind strict instructions that should he not return, no rescue missions should be attempted because of the Amazon’s dangerous conditions. However, many attempts were made to find Fawcett’s group—both immediately following his disappearance and in the years that followed—but to no avail.

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3. What Happened to Fawcett?

After Fawcett’s last correspondence, the crew fell off the face of the earth. Since no concrete evidence has surfaced as to what happened to the explorers, the minds of many have run with some wild ideas of the group’s demise. The most logical assumption would be that the group was either killed by a hostile jungle tribe, contracted a jungle disease or starved to death.

These theories didn’t sit well with those who knew Fawcett; no way would he succumb to death like that—he had to have gone out with a bang.

The closest thing to a written history is from the Kalapalos tribe, who have an oral tradition of three white men visiting their home area. According to one theory, there was an older man and two younger men, both of whom were injured. That description certainly fits Fawcett’s party. For the following five nights, the tribe observed the smoke from the expedition’s campfire. On the sixth night though, it disappeared.

Another theory claims the Kalapalos tribe that killed the three men because Fawcett’s group committed three actionable insults towards the tribe. The first, Fawcett’s son, Jack urinated in the river near the Kalapalos village, which is where the tribe sourced their drinking water. The second insult occurred when the explorers killed an animal for food and refused to share with any of the tribe members. The third and final insult was when a child from the tribe began to play with some of the items the explorers brought with them. Someone from the group struck the child, and the Kalapalos tribe never hits their children. The theory says that after these three insults, the tribe let the explorers gain some distance down the trail before ambushing and killing all three men.

According to previously hidden private papers, it appears that Fawcett had no intention of ever returning to Britain. It’s even suggested that he was lured by a native she-God or spirit guide whose beautiful image haunts the family archive. Supposedly, Fawcett planned to set up a commune in the jungle based on a bizarre cult. Fawcett hoped to follow what he privately described to friends and family as ‘the Grand Scheme.’ He wanted to set up a secret community which would be based on a mixture of unusual beliefs involving both the worship of his son Jack and the tenets of the then-fashionable credo of theosophy.

Mystery continues to swirl around Fawcett and how he met his maker in the Amazon rainforest. Maybe Fawcett discovered his lost city, or perhaps the group died shortly after their last correspondence. It’s likely that no one will ever know what happened to the group. Fittingly, the ending is consistent with the obsession that initially started the expeditions: to Fawcett, a lost city that may or may not exist was worth venturing into uncharted, hostile territories — even if it eventually meant he’d be lost to the mystery himself.

 

Henry Ford: Humble Roots to Idealist Capitalist

Henry Ford left behind quite the legacy with Ford Motor Company, his direct contribution to the boom of the automobile industry in the early 1900’s and the assembly line, which revolutionized production speed and efficiency.

Ford was a unique mind when it came to engineering, but his life could have gone a variety of ways and altered history completely. He could have been a farmer, a politician or possibly the creator and leader of a city in the middle of the Amazon. You read that last one correctly — automobile mogul Henry Ford could have ended up in his own city in the Amazon. But we’ll get to that a little later.

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1. Ford and the Farm Life

Starting with his grassroots, Henry Ford’s family owned farmland just outside of Detroit in Dearborn, Michigan. As a teenager, Ford helped his family make ends meet by working on the family farm but that all changed in 1876 when his mother, Mary Ford, passed away. Her death took a toll on Ford, and while his father, William Ford, wanted Henry to take over the family farm, he told his father that he had no interest in doing so. He tolerated farming because he loved his mother while she was on the farm but he hated the inefficiencies of farming.

That would not be the last song and dance between Ford and a life of farming. When Ford was 25, he came back to work on the family farm to support his new wife and family. By this time, Ford had already built a steam engine, and within the next two years, he became the Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company’s main plant. Ford was on-call all day, every day, tasked with keeping the electricity running in the city of Detroit. Ford officially closed the book on his life as a farmer, moving on to bigger and better things.

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2. Senator Ford? President Ford?

Once the Ford Motor Company and his Model T got up and going, the local support for Ford was through the roof. In 1916, Ford won the Michigan Republican Primary without even campaigning. Imagine having that kind of support from the people around you? Zero campaigning and no real intention of running for President, yet he still won the Michigan Primary. In 1924, people were starting Ford-for-President clubs across the country, rallying behind Ford again to run for the Oval Office. Just like the farm work though, Ford had no interest in being President.

The people loved him, and he was getting high praise from the top of the government hierarchy. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson convinced Ford to run for a Democratic seat in the Senate. Ford felt that spending money on a campaign was a complete waste of money, so he ran but just like the Michigan Republican Primary two years prior, Ford didn’t spend a penny on his campaign. Ford ended up losing by only 4500 votes, which is an extremely slim margin. If we’re being honest, Ford probably preferred to lose this election anyway. His interested laid elsewhere and eventually took him into the Amazon.

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3. You Are Building Your Own City? In the Amazon Rainforest?

Ah yes, Fordlandia! Ford was a brilliant mind, and many of his ideas and inventions have revolutionized our lives. But Fordlandia, Ford’s city in the Amazon Forest was one of Ford’s off-the-wall ideas driven purely out of capitalism. In 1927, with plenty of money at his disposal and his idealistic views, Ford bought a chunk of land in the Amazon about the size of Connecticut. This land was to serve a specific purpose though; the people who lived there would harvest rubber to make tires for his automobiles.

Fordlandia, an 18-hour boat trip from the nearest city, was meant to be a utopian paradise while supplying the Ford Motor Company with rubber to make tires. Sounds like a great idea but like many things that look good on paper, this one didn’t work out. Some early revolts and riots required assistance from the Brazilian Army to subdue the violence, many rubber trees were not growing, and insects ravaged the ones that did develop.

Fordlandia never became the rubber resource that Ford had intended it to be. The city had been around for about a decade, but once World War II began, Ford’s focus turned to aid war efforts and Fordlandia started to fall by the wayside. When WWII ended, Ford’s health was diminishing, so the control of Fordlandia was given to his grandson, Henry Ford II. Ford II saw Fordlandia as an underperforming asset and quickly sold the land back to the Brazilian government for a fraction of what his grandfather originally paid for it. And just like that, Fordlandia was no more.

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If Henry Ford was alive, he’d rock VKN.

4. Interesting Ford One-Liners:

  • Built his first steam engine in 1878 when he was 15
    years old. Fif-teen.
  • Built his first gasoline engine in 1893.
  • Started in airline company during WWI but it failed
    due to poor sales.
  • Ford Motor Company was his third attempt at an
    automobile company.
  • Henry Ford Company and Detroit Automobile Company were
    his first two ventures and both failed.
  • Holds 161 unique patents in his name.

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5. Wrapping Up Ford

We all know about Henry Ford and his impact on the automobile industry, but his mind was something that we don’t see today. In a 1928 interview with the Detroit Times, Ford revealed that the source of his inspiration and his work was a mysterious force. He dedicated his brilliance to a ‘Master Mind.’ He said: “Somewhere is a Master Mind sending brainwave messages to us. There is a Great Spirit. I never did anything by my own volition. I was pushed by invisible forces within and without me.”

Master Mind or not, Henry Ford was a badass. Family pressure could have forced him into being a farmer for the rest of his life, but he decided he knew better. Society tried to pressure him into running for political office, and while he gave it a brief shot, he only put his name on the ballot. Even though Fordlandia was one of his failures, it showed Ford was an off-the-wall thinker whose capitalistic views pushed him to do anything to help his company. This was the type of guy, even with his shortcomings, who could do anything he wanted and didn’t care what anyone else thought.