Fawcett: Fact & Fable


Letters, manuscripts, and other records written by Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett were compiled by his son, Brian, in Lost Trails, Lost Cities (Funk & Wagnalls, 1953; also titled Exploration Fawcett). In this chronicle, the Colonel detailed his adventures in Mato Grosso, South America, as he searched for the ruins of an ancient lost city ("I call it 'Z' for the sake of convenience," he wrote) between 1906 and 1925. Though his journal ended with his strange disappearance sometime after 29 May 1925, his story continued long after.

Other books about the Fawcett saga quickly followed. George M. Dyott searched for Fawcett and wrote an account in Man Hunting in the Jungle: Being the Story of a Search for Three Explorers Lost in the Brazilian Wilds (The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1930). Waggish travel writer Peter Fleming wrote of his search for Fawcett -- and his criticism of Dyott -- in Brazilian Adventure (Scribner's, 1933). Robert Churchward collected his observations of all the fuss in Wilderness of Fools: An account of the Adventures in Search of Lieut-Colonel P. H. Fawcett (Routledge, 1936), and later, and in a children's book, Explorer (Thomas Nelson, 1957).


Fawcett's interest in the occult insured that more speculative accounts of his adventures would ensue. Fawcett had in his possession a black basalt stone idol, given him by none other than Sir H. Rider Haggard. He wrote, "I could think of only one way of learning the secret of the stone image, and that was by means of psychometry -- a method that may evoke scorn by many people but is widely accepted by others who have managed to keep their minds free from prejudice." The psychotometrist, holding the idol in the dark, told Fawcett of "a large irregularly shaped continent stretching from the north coast of Africa across to South America... Then I see volcanoes in violent eruptions, flaming lava pouring down their sides, and the whole land shakes with a mighty rumbling sound... The voice says: 'The judgment of Atlanta will be the fate of all who presume to deific power!' I can get no definite date of the catastrophe, but it was long prior to the rise of Egypt, and has been forgotten -- except, perhaps, in myth." Fawcett asserted that "the connection of Atlantis with parts of what is now Brazil is not to be dismissed contemptuously, and belief in it -- with or without scientific corroboration -- affords explanations for many problems which otherwise are unsolved mysteries." (Lost Trails, Lost Cities, pp. 15-17)

In a letter to his son Brian, Colonel Fawcett wrote of the city he sought:

I expect the ruins to be monolithic in character, more ancient than the oldest Egyptian discoveries. Judging by inscriptions found in many parts of Brazil, the inhabitants used an alphabetical writing allied to many ancient European and Asian scripts. There are rumors, too, of a strange source of light in the buildings, a phenomenon that filled with terror the Indians who claimed to have seen it.

The central place I call "Z" -- our main objective -- is in a valley surmounted by lofty mountains. The valley is about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it, approached by a barrelled roadway of stone. The houses are low and windowless, and there is a pyramidal temple. The inhabitants of the place are fairly numerous, they keep domestic animals, and they have well-developed mines in the surrounding hills. Not far away is a second town, but the people living in it are of an inferior order to those of "Z." Farther to the south is another large city, half buried and completely destroyed.

Of this information, Brian Fawcett wrote, "At that time I questioned none of this, even if I felt a shade of wonderment as to how he came out so pat with the details about 'Z.' I had no idea in those days how much was based on research, how much on personal knowledge, and how much on the babblings of clairvoyants; but the thought of what he might find thrilled me considerably." (Ruins in the Sky, p. 48)

Margaret Lumley Brown recorded some of her correspondences with Fawcett in her book Both Sides of the Door: A Psychological Sketch (1918, under the pen name "Irene Hay"). It was her interest in the lost continent of Atlantis that compelled her to write the Colonel. In a reply dated 9 September 1924 Fawcett wrote:

Your query suggests that you have been getting communications purporting to be of an Atlantean nature. Such is not impossible as Atlantis is very much "in the air" just now. Such communication might certainly come through sensitives; that is to say waves of released information are picked up, or a deliberate plan is being developed. Are you by any chance getting strange characters? I happen to know a good many of these, albeit I am only aware of the meaning of very few. Such evidence would be very interesting, a good deal more so than general statements. If you are not, try to get them... To attempt to get into communication with an Occult Community depends so absolutely upon the Hierarchy of the latter as to be very improbable. You could never be quite sure that you were not being deluded without other proof of some kind. It might however occur if conditions were suitable and a purpose were being served -- for mere curiosity probably not... Psychics may give very genuine information, but it has to be carefully sifted as there are so many cross currents, particularly when not in trance. Time of course they know nothing about. In fact it is subject to acceleration and retardation by laws they know nothing about. I may be in London before long and if you are in touch with anything Atlantean might possibly be able to help you."

In another letter dated 12 October 1924 he wrote:

No doubt Atlantean dress varied a good deal, as does national dress in Europe and changed frequently through the ages of its development and decline. During what one may call the post-catastrophic period, men wore a species of short full knickerbockers, sandals, a hat rather suggestive of the biretta and were naked from the waist up. Climate of course permitted this. Hair was a long thick bob reaching to the shoulders. Women wore a robe suggesting Grecian style hanging from the shoulders, sandals, very long hair controlled by a fillet -- usually of gold -- and a necklace of square cut stones varying in nature but usually blue in the upper classes -- a stone that I am doubtful if we know today. But it may have been blue diamond (were that not so rare), for it was extremely fiery. Relics of these people still exist and statuary and some relief work in good preservation shows this dress very clearly. Colour of dress was fawn, yellow or white and the texture was extremely silky. But it was neither cotton nor silk of the silk worm. I do not think your experiences should be abandoned but rather carefully controlled. They will certainly not lead to any disagreeable quality of the World of Effects. On the contrary you may be assisting the purposes of the occult Hierarchy in some way, for "Atlantis" is destined not before long to revolutionise many branches of science and bring religion to its senses.

In his book Mysteries of Ancient South America (1947), Harold Wilkins expressed one commonly held theory regarding the fate of the colonel:

No one knows what happened to the Fawcetts -- father and son -- and young Mr. Rimell. In fact, the Matto Grosso swamps and jungles are such queer places, with records of white men detained by Indian tribes for twenty-five or thirty years and then returning to civilisation, that one would not deem it impossible, if improbable, that Colonel Fawcett himself is still alive, perhaps in the recesses of the White Mountains, or the hinterland of the Serra do Roncador, even today, 1945. (p. 67)

Subsequent Fawcett "sightings" were inevitable. In April 1933, a Dominican missionary, relating what an Indian woman told him, said, "The Fawcett party are held prisoners in a camp between the Rios Kuluesene, Kuluene, and Das Mortes. Colonel Fawcett has been forced to marry a daughter of an Indian chief." In July of the same year, Monsignor Coutouran reported a statement made by Signor Virginio Pessione, who visited an estate on the Rio Săo Manoel, many miles northwest of Dead Horse Camp (Fawcett's last know camp). Pessione said that an Indian woman of the Nafucua tribe told him, "When my son was still at the breast, there arrived in my village three white men and Indians, descending the Kuluene in a large canoe. One white man was tall, old, and blue-eyed, also bearded and bald. Another was a youth, said to be the son of the first; the third was of greater age. The elder wore a felt hat and colonel helmet ... About a year ago I saw them last." In 1934, an American missionary, Paul Guiley, saw a young boy with white skin, blue eyes, and close-cropped hair, and was told that the child was a son of one of the Fawcett party. Another missionary, Marthe Moennich, told the same story in a book she published in 1942. Soon, it seemed every Indian boy in the area born with fair skin was said to be Fawcett's son.

In April 1933, a theodolite compass belonging to Fawcett was found near the camp of the Bacaari Indians in the Mato Grosso. The excellent condition of the compass led Fawcett's wife Nina to believe he was still alive. In a letter to Wilkins dated February 1940, she wrote:

To me that is reason to believe that Colonel Fawcett was still alive and working with his surveying instruments -- in the Mato Grosso jungle -- as recently as April 1933. My husband was then alive and working, and probably had a certain amount of freedom, though under constant surveillance of the Indian tribe which, I believe, captured them about 1926 or 1927, and with those people they were obliged to remain.

Nina Fawcett's optimism was no doubt reinforced by the claim that she received telepathic messages from her husband as late as 1934. By 1952, Harold Wilkins (Secret Cities of Old South America, pp. 21-22) believed he had the true story of the fate of the Colonel. According to his unnamed German informant, who visited an Indian village near the Xingu River, east of Dead Horse Camp, in 1932. After insistently questioning the chief about Fawcett, the chief left for several hours and returned:

The door of the hut opened. He carried a torch in one hand. In the other, he had a bag made of some sort of tree bark. He loosened the strings with his mouth. Then he said: "You, my blood brother, ask me of Colonel Fawcett. El Colonel was good man. He, too, was my blood brother ... I now show you something, but you must swear on white man's God to keep silent the name of me and my tribe..." I solemnly promised. "Look!" said the chief. He drew forth from the sack a small and horribly shrunken head. I started back in horror and nausea. The features were those of Colonel Fawcett!

Fawcett's son Jack, he was told, had broken one of the tribe's taboos, the penalty for which was death, and Fawcett died in his defense. No mention was made of Raleigh Rimmell, but in 1949, a man named Ehrmann reported that he saw the shrunken heads of both Jack Fawcett and Raleigh Rimmell.


In Brian Fawcett's book, Ruins in the Sky (Hutchinson Ltd., London, 1957), he wrote of his two visits to Brazil to probe the disappearance of his father and further investigate the existence of the ancient city "Z." These expeditions were prompted by the supposed discovery of Col. Fawcett's bones in a forest grave between the Kuluene and Tanguro Rivers. The bones were found by Orlando Vilas Boas, who claimed that the explorer was murdered by the Kalapalo Indians. (The bones were examined by both Brian Fawcett and by the Royal Anthropological Institute, who agreed that they couldn't have been the Colonel's remains.) In 1952, Brian Fawcett visited the Kalapalos, where he met with Vilas Boas, but found only dubious tales of his father's demise. He also flew in search of "Z" and the legendary Sete Cidades, or "Seven Cities," only to find limestone formations that had eroded to resemble ancient cities. He wrote:

Was I right in coming to this conclusion? Was it not possible that here in fact were remains of a very ancient occupation site -- a huge metropolis of some forgotten civilization? No, we had seen clearly enough how the thin top soil had gradually fallen away to disclose a belt of conglomerate, and we had seen the progressive erosion of this until it culminated in the seven pseudo 'cities.' The formation, probably deltaic, incorporated those convincing courses of masonry; wind and rain had slowly carved them up into the semblance of manmade edifices. Sete Cidades, the city linking Brazil with Atlantis, was an illusion. My father had believed implicitly in its genuineness, and I wondered if he would have pursued his quest to his undoing had he visited it before the fatal expedition. (pp. 295-295)

And what of the city "Z?"

Yes, it was all here, exactly as described -- from the strategically placed forts by the river to the pectinated summits of the cliffs, it was all here -- but our vantage point showed us clearly enough that man had no part in its making... Thirty years is a long time. Had so many years not passed since my father's disappearance I might have felt more bitter than I did about the futility of his fate and that of the others -- three lives lost or ruined in the quest for an objective that never existed in fact... One part of my mission was accomplished; I now know the secret of the Brazilian 'Lost Cities.' (pp. 300-301)

Brian Fawcett also heard various tales containing details concerning his father's disappearance. An Austrian by the name of Richter "claimed that my father was prisoner of a tribe in the Chaco, and had sired twenty daughters and eight sons, the eldest of which always carried a golden spear." There was also a Brazilian with a German name "writing weird and wonderful articles in a popular weekly, claiming that my father and brother were 'advanced souls' who were worshipped as gods by the Indians, and who were actually alive in a subterranean city called Matatu-Araracauga, in the Roncador section of Mato Grosso. There were several of these underground cities in Brazil, where dwelt the great spiritual avatars who ruled the world's events, and from these secret places issued flying saucers to make global reconnaissance flights." (p. 276)


In his journal, Fawcett wrote, "In the forests were various beasts still unfamiliar to zoologists, such as the milta, which I have seen twice, a black doglike cat about the size of a foxhound. There were snakes and insects yet unknown to scientists; and in the forests of the Madidi some mysterious and enormous beast has frequently been disturbed in the swamps -- possibly a primeval monster like those reported in other parts of the continent. Certainly tracks have been found belonging to no known animal -- huge tracks, far greater than could have been made by any species we know." (Lost Trails, Lost Cities, p. 187) were elaborated upon by others:

In the Beni Swamps of Madre de Dios, Fawcett saw snake tracks which led him to estimate their length up to 80 feet. In the Beni also, the Colonel saw an animal he believed might be Diplodocus, the 80-foot reptile of twenty-five tons. This animal he thought might still be in existence as it was an eater of aquatic plants, which grow profusely in this region. The Diplodocus story is confirmed by many of the tribes east of the Ucayali, a region covered by Clark. (Louis Gallardy in the introduction to The Rivers Ran East by Leonard Clark, Funk and Wagnals, 1953)

Irish medium and psychic Geraldine Cummins strayed yet further from reality in The Fate of Colonel Fawcett: A Narrative of His Last Expedition (The Aquarian Press, 1955; reprinted: ISBN 0-7873-0230-9) by using her special powers to solve the mystery. Cummins reported in 1936 that she was receiving mental messages from Fawcett. She said that he had found relics of Atlantis in the jungle but was ill and semiconscious. After four such messages, Fawcett fell silent until 1948, at which point he reported his own death.

Things get stranger. In The Secrets of the Mojave: The Conspiracy Against Reality (7th edition, compiled by an entity calling itself "The Group" and edited by "Branton," published on the Internet of course), relate the revelations from "'Commander X', the mysterious anonymous U.S. Intelligence official who has revealed much about 'inside' government knowledge of alien civilization both beyond and beneath the earth." Commander X writes:

Of all the countries on the face of the Earth, none is more mysterious, or less explored, than is Brazil. Miles upon miles of this country have never been set foot upon by white man. In these areas live whole tribes of savage Indians whose civilizations are said to be akin to those existing at the time of the Stone Age. Many of those who have dared venturing into these pockets of unexplored jungle have never come out. Perhaps the case of Colonel Fawcett will be familiar to readers as an example of what I mean. He supposedly was captured by a tribe of wild Indians while in search of a 'hidden city' said to be located in the confines of the dense jungle. Before his death, Dr. (Raymond) Bernard had sent this writer many personal letters regarding his findings related to...under- ground civilization(s). We quote from these communications in the following:

I arrived in Brazil in 1956 and have been carrying on my research since I met a Theosophical leader who told me about the subterranean cities ... that exist in Brazil. He referred to Professor Henrique de Souza, president of the Brazilian Theosophical Society, at Sao Lourenco in the state of Minas Gerais, who erected a temple dedicated to Agharta, which is the Buddhist name of the subterranean World. Here in Brazil live Theosophists from all parts of the world, all of whom believe in the existence of the subterranean cities.

Professor de Souza told me that the great English explorer Colonel Fawcett is still alive, living in a subterranean city in the Roncador Mountains of Matto Grosso, where he found the subterranean city of Atlanteans for which he searched, but is held prisoner lest he reveal the secret of his whereabouts.

He (Col. Fawcett) was not killed by Indians as is commonly believed. Professor de Souza claimed he has visited subterranean cities, including Shamballah, the world capital of the subterranean empire of Agharta. I then went to Matto Grosso to find the subterranean city where Fawcett is claimed to be living with his son Jack, but failed to do so. I then returned to Joinville in the state of Santa Catarina, and there continued my research.

Our explorer J.D. (name on file - Commander X), who is a mountain guide of the Mystery Mountain near Joinville (where there is supposed to be an entrance), said that several times he saw a luminous flying saucer ascend from the tunnel opening that leads to a subterranean city inside the mountain, in which he heard the beautiful choral singing of men and women, and also heard the 'canto galo' (rooster crowing), a universal symbol indicating the existence of subterranean cities in Brazil. He said that the saucer was so luminous that it lit up the night sky and converted it into daylight. On one occasion he met a group of subterranean men outside the tunnel. They were short, stocky, with reddish beards and long hair, and very muscular. When he tried to approach them, they vanished. Often he saw strange illuminations in this area at night which were probably produced by flying saucers (We use the name 'Mystery Mountain,' rather than reveal the true name of the mountain, so that unwanted outsiders will not come here to locate it). Throughout my many years of research I have accumulated a vast amount of data which would indicate that these entrances to subterranean cities abound throughout the region.

And so on. It might be added that Fawcett & Son are still living, as "they possess remarkable longevity when compared with the longevity of surface humans." Commander X notes that he knew "an explorer named N.C. who said that he had visited a tunnel near Rio Casdor and had met a beautiful young woman appearing to be about 20 years of age. She spoke to him in Portuguese and said that she was 2,500 years old. He also met a bearded subterranean man."

Atlantis, flying saucers, and hollow earth theorists have seized Fawcett's tale, but not all of the later investigations were of such a speculative nature. In 1999, the BBC broadcast a special, "The Bones of Colonel Fawcett," a segment of the Video Diaries series. The show recounted the efforts of Benedict Allen, self-described "maverick adventurer," as he retraced the steps of Fawcett with a camcorder. Jane Hughes wrote of the program in London's Sunday Independent (28 February 1999):

In 1927, a US Navy commander found Indians wearing a nameplate from one of the colonel's cases as an ornament, but 16 further expeditions failed to discover his fate, although it is claimed that his bones are housed in a museum in Rio de Janeiro. The last attempt, led by a New York banker and a Brazilian businessman in 1996, was aborted after 12 of the 16-man team were taken hostage by the Calapalo and released in return for Jeeps and boats. However, Allen claims to have finally uncovered the truth.

Allen managed this feat by trading with the Kalapalo Indians a Yamaha 80 outboard motor for the needed information. The Kalapalo, with a memory that spanned 70 years, informed him that Fawcett had camped near their village and then departed the next day to continue his journey, despite their warnings of danger. Five days later they spotted smoke in the jungle. “They followed the trail, found where he had camped - then nothing, the forest was undisturbed," Allen said. "And that’s all they said they knew about Fawcett. They wouldn’t speculate further. The inference is that they were killed by other Indians. At the time there was a group called the Iaruna, who had a raiding party sweeping through the area.” The Kalapalo chief, Vajuvi, showed Allen the site of the grave from which Fawcett's alleged bones were taken. The bones, he said, were actually those of his grandfather. Vajuvi explained that in 1951 Villas Boas had approached the tribe, asking them to dig up the bones of the tallest Indian they knew, with the intent to pass them off as Fawcett’s remains.

Since his disappearance in 1925, more than a dozen expeditions have tried to follow Colonel Fawcett's footsteps into the Mato Grosso. None have succeeded. A movie, "Manhunt in the Jungle" (1958, USA, 79 min, directed by Tom McGowan and written by Sam Merwin Jr. and Owen Crump), fictionalized George Dyott's search for the missing Colonel. Filmed in the jungles of Brazil in glorious Warnercolor, it starred Robin Hughes as Dyott and James Wilson as Fawcett. A 1991 pulp-style novel by Rob MacGregor, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils (Bantam Books, 1991), had the archaeologist-adventurer following Fawcett into the lost city of Z. There is also "AmaZonia: A Stage Play in the Footsteps of Colonel Fawcett," written and directed by Misha Williams (yet to be staged). According to Williams, "Hollywood and the BBC have approached the Fawcett family on many occasions over the last sixty years for the rights (and the blessing) for a such a project. The family have always denied them access to the large secret archive of Fawcett's diaries, letters and papers that tell the real story. This was for a very good reason. Brian Fawcett was very careful when writing his best selling work 'Exploration Fawcett' to leave out eighty percent of the real facts. He believed the media and the public were not ready for them. Brian used the more adventurous bits of his father's notes and wove them into a very entertaining and memorable 'autobiography.' The really crucial material he saved in a old trunk for posterity... At last everything, all the tantalizing gaps in the Fawcett Saga, are now about to be filled. And what a story! More astonishing than even an Indiana Jones fiction. There is even evidence about the outcome of the fatal expedition and what actually happened to Fawcett, his son Jack and Raleigh Rimell. More importantly their actual objective was not what the public were led to believe."

Drawings by Brian Fawcett and the photograph are taken from Lost Trails, Lost Cities, Funk & Wagnalls, 1953 and Ruins in the Sky , Hutchinson Ltd., 1957.

© Copyright 2000 by Larry Orcutt.


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