History Items of the Canal Zone

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The Darien and the "Old Ones"

Thought the moment might be right to recount two tales...

First, I used to do a lot of hunting up near El Baru and in the Darien. Since I was only 11 when I started (circa 1955) few folks ever went there... I had killed a deer and was in the process of cleaning it when out of the corner of my eye I sensed more than saw a movement. It was an Indian. He stood there looking at me with a questioning look, surprised at my youth? That I was alone almost 20 miles from the road to the interior? Now you have to put yourself in the period. Remember that headhunters still roamed Ecuador and had recently absconded with a couple of downed missionaries. Further be it known that my mom had told me the Indians would get me if I went down into the jungle behind my use on Sixth street in Margarita - a belief strengthened by David and Richard Phillips, "big" guys who scared all us little guys on Sixth street, snatched our marbles, stuff like that. My shotgun was leaning against a tree 20 feet away; had I pumped another shell into it? Could I get to it before he stuck me with one or more of the monkey spears he carried? I was prepared to meet my maker for the split seconds before he spoke.

He said in Spanish, "Your deer?" -- as if it was not obvious I had had both my hands up to the elbows in its hind parts.

"Would you like some?" I replied.

"For my village. We will cook it for you."

Thus began a long and lasting friendship. My decision not to bolt for the gun was given added value when four more Indians with machetes came out of the bush next to the tree the deer hung in - not four foot from where I stood. The first Indian went to my gun, picked it up and brought it to me and we went to the village. The deer, yucca, boyo, and nanceberry chica - yummmm!

They took me under their wings and taught me LOTs.. too much to recount here but one thing bears on the subject, archaeology. They taught me how to identify tombs and how to obfuscate them when they were too obvious. I'm not talking about tomb cities but individual tombs of the "old ones" as they called them. Some collapsed as they were simple bell shaped holes dug in the clay with a body length raised tablet left unescavated in the center of the bottom on which to lay the body . The walls were adorned with artifacts of the old ones life - feathered things, arrows, bows, clothes. On the bodies were huacas ('wa-kahs') and jade jewelry. I only saw a couple when they collapsed and the village dug new ones to move the "old one" and their artifacts into.

The meat of the story is that I made the mistake of showing a navy guy from Rodman and a Panamanian from a good family who I trusted where several were located. They told me they wanted the artifacts for the Civil Affairs museum and told me they would put MY name on them. Ego did me in. The night after they had dug two graves I woke with a horrible dream. An "old one" was in my dreams in all his finery and with his curved knife he cut my throat for showing them -- I went to the fire and caught my two "friends" melting down the 6 huacas we had uncovered. I blew up but too late -- I left them there in disgust and walked back more than 10 miles thru the bush alone at night.

The moral of this story comes from their next trip looking for graves. With what I had taught them they found graves. Unfortunately one collapsed burying both alive. I was told that the Navy found them but in a grave with NO artifacts -- the Indians have told me this is never the case. Graves have artifacts or are already collapsed. You figure it -- I never went near another even to help my village friends.

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Author Dale C. Clarke.
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