What is the Dead Man’s Hand?

On August 2, 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota. Suddenly, a pistol fired. Hickok died instantly. His hand at the time, “aces and eights,” has become known as the Dead Man’s Hand. But is that a legend? Or is it real?

Wild Bill Hickok

James Butler Hickok was originally known as “Duck Bill,” apparently due to a large nose and an upper lip that jutted out from his face. Eventually, he grew a mustache and in 1861, adopted the moniker, Wild Bill.

His exploits in the Old West were legendary. He was a skilled scout and an expert marksman. He fought and killed a bear with his bare hands, suffering severe injuries in the process. He killed Davis Tutt in the first known “quick draw duel.” He acted in a play called Scouts of the Plains with Buffalo Bill Cody and Texas Jack Omohundro. Calamity Jane, the famous American frontierswoman, claimed to have married him.

In July 1876, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota via wagon train. Some say he had a premonition of sorts regarding his impending death.

“Well, as to that, I suppose I am called a red-handed murderer, which I deny. That I have killed men I admit, but never unless in absolute self-defense or in the performance of an official duty. I never in my life took any mean advantage of an enemy. Yet, understand, I never allowed a man to get the drop on me. But perhaps I may yet die with my boots on.” ~ Wild Bill Hickok to Mrs. Annie Tallent, Several months before his death, Pioneer Days in the Back Hills, John S. McClintock

On August 2, 1876, Wild Bill Hickok entered Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10. He usually sat with his back to the wall. However, the only available stool required him to put his back to the door. He sat down and started to play five-card-draw. But he was uncomfortable with the arrangement and twice, asked another player named Charles Rich to switch stools with him. Rich refused.

Dead Man’s Hand

During the game, a former buffalo hunter named John McCall strode into the saloon. He parked himself a few feet away from Hickok and drew his pistol. “Take that!” he shouted as he fired it. The bullet careened through Hickok’s skull and Wild Bill died instantly.

According to popular legend, Hickok held two black aces and two black eights at the time of his death. The fifth card, or kicker, is a source of mystery. Some claim it was the queen of clubs. Others say it was the nine of diamonds, the jack of diamonds, the five of diamonds, or the queen of hearts. Still others say no fifth card ever existed, suggesting Hickok was in the middle of drawing a new card when he was murdered.

But what about the “aces and eights” part? Is that accurate? Well, no contemporary sources exist that indicate what cards Hickok was holding at the time of his death. “Aces and eights” was provided by Frank J. Wilstach in his 1926 book, Wild Bill Hickok: The Prince of Pistoleers. Wilstach quoted “Doc” Peirce, the town barber, who was asked to serve as an “impromptu undertaker.”

“Now, in regard to the position of Bill’s body, when they unlocked the door for me to get his body, he was lying on his side, with his knees drawn up just as he slid off his stool. We had no chairs in those days — and his fingers were still crimped from holding his poker hand. Charlie Rich, who sat beside him, said he never saw a muscle move. Bill’s hand read ‘aces and eights’ — two pair, and since that day aces and eights have been known as ‘the dead man’s hand’ in the Western country.” ~ Ellis T. “Doc” Peirce, Wild Bill Hickok: The Prince of Pistoleers

This account was published 50 years after Hickok’s death. It has yet to be collaborated by any outside source.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

If Peirce was right, then aces and eights was known as the dead man’s hand in “the Western country.” However, newspapers from that location and period tell a different story. The first known mention of a Dead Man’s Hand, a July 1, 1886 article in the Grand Forks Daily Herald, not only disagrees with the Hand itself but also its origin.

“I was present at a game in a Senator’s house one night and saw him win $6,000 on one hand. It was the dead man’s hand. What is the dead man’s hand? Why, it is three jacks and a pair of tens. It is called the dead man’s hand because about forty seven years ago, in a town in Illinois, a celebrated judge bet his house and lot on three jacks and a pair of tens…When his opponent showed up he had three queens and a pair of tens. Upon seeing the queens the judge fell back dead, clutching the jacks and tens in his hand, and that’s why a jack-full on tens is called the dead man’s hand.” ~ Grand Forks Daily Herald, July 1, 1886

Later accounts show different versions, including jacks and eights, tens and treys (threes), and jacks and sevens. Regardless, none of these articles connect the Dead Man’s Hand to Wild Bill Hickok.

At this point, the definitive origin of the Dead Man’s Hand remains an unsolved mystery. If the Wild Bill Hickok story could be proved by contemporary sources, it would be the oldest known version of the legend. For those of you in the New York area, consider taking a trip down to the New York Public Library. That’s where Wilstach’s papers are located. Perhaps there’s some additional information in “Doc” Peirce’s letter. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s some other evidence waiting to be found. If you find anything, let us know and we’ll cover your discovery right here on Guerrilla Explorer. Who knows? You just might solve one of history’s most puzzling unsolved mysteries!


Guerrilla Explorer’s Wild West Coverage

The Lost Declaration of Independence?

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. It declared the 13 original colonies were no longer part of the British Empire. The original Declaration is probably the most important document in U.S. history. And amazingly enough, no one knows where it is.

The Declaration of Independence: The Official Story

On April 19, 1775, British troops stormed Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Colonial minutemen, warned by Paul Revere, Williams Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, lay in wait for them. The Battles of Lexington and Concord broke out and thus, the Revolutionary War began.

A little over a year later, in June 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The document went through numerous changes. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from the British Empire. Two days later, the Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Today, the Declaration of Independence is one of the most famous documents in history. It resides at the National Archives. Its encased in titanium and aluminum and surrounded by inert argon gas.

Or is it?

The Declaration of Independence: The Real Story

The copy of the Declaration that sits at the National Archives is known as the Engrossed Copy. It’s basically a final version, crafted several weeks after the debate concluded. It was then postdated to July 4, 1776. Most scholars think it was penned by Timothy Matlack, who served as clerk to the Secretary of the Continental Congress.

But if that’s the case, then what did the Congress ratify on July 4? Well, in 1823, Thomas Jefferson penned a letter to James Madison in which he described writing the original Declaration of Independence. He said that the Committee of Five “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.”

So, it appears this “Fair Copy” was the version used by the Continental Congress. It was probably edited during the debate by Charles Thomson, who served as Secretary to the Congress. And it was most likely the document which was considered during the vote. In other words, the marked-up Fair Copy is, for all intents and purposes, the original Declaration of Independence.

Where’s the original Declaration of Independence?

The Fair Copy has been missing for over two hundred years. But what happened to it? Some researchers think it was accidentally destroyed by John Dunlap. Earlier in 1776, Dunlap had secured a printing contract with the Continental Congress. On the evening of July 4, John Hancock asked him to produce the first official “broadsides,” or printed copies, of the Declaration. These Dunlap broadsides were then distributed throughout the 13 colonies. So, it seems possible the Fair Copy was destroyed in the process.

Another theory is the Fair Copy was intentionally destroyed. Many delegates were in favor of keeping their deliberations a secret. This was a contentious issue at the time and was opposed by both Jefferson and Ben Franklin. Nevertheless, the Congress eventually decided to invoke a secrecy rule. So, perhaps the Fair Copy was destroyed so no one could see the changes made to it.

However, this is slightly problematic. Several draft versions of the Declaration exist, at least two of which were kept by Thomas Jefferson. Why would delegates keep those versions and yet order the destruction of the Fair Copy?

There is another possibility. Perhaps the Fair Copy survived July 4. Perhaps it’s still out there somewhere, waiting to be found. It could be lost in the National Archives. Or maybe it was kept by Thomas Jefferson or Charles Thomson. We should note that Jefferson’s “Rough Draft” wasn’t located until 1947.

One more thing. Remember those broadsides printed by John Dunlap? Well, one of them fetched $8.14 million at auction in 2000. If a printed copy of the Declaration generated that much money, just imagine what the Fair Copy would be worth. For all you fellow treasure hunters out there, happy hunting!

“The Declaration originated as a spoken thought, expressed on June 7, 1776, by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, who moved that ‘these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.’ A written version was produced on June 28, primarily the work of Thomas Jefferson, who left at least seven rough drafts, one found as recently as 1947. On July 2, Congress approved the first paragraph of the Declaration, officially separating from England.

Then, on July 4, the rest of the text was approved. Jefferson claimed that a ‘fair copy’ of the document was in the room that day, and John Hancock possibly signed something, making it legal. If this manuscript still exists, it is the holy grail of American freedom.” ~ Ted Widmer, Looking for Liberty, New York Times, July 4, 2008

December 21, 2012: Doomsday? Or just another Day?

On December 21, 2012, the Maya Long Count Calendar will reach an end. What happens next? The 2012 Doomsday? Or will it be just another day?

The 2012 Doomsday Phenomenon

We’ve talked about the 2012 Doomsday phenomenon before, but here’s a quick background. According to the Maya codice Popol Vuh, we’re currently living in the fourth world of creation. After the first three worlds failed, the Maya gods created the current version of mankind.

Now, the Classic Maya civilization used something called the Long Count Calendar. As best as we can determine, each date was described using five separate numbers. The largest number they used was a b’ak’tun, which was equivalent to 144,000 days, or roughly 394 years.

Each of the previous Maya worlds supposedly lasted 13 b’ak’tuns, or a grand total of 5,126 years. Some scholars have attempted to match up the Gregorian calendar with the Long Count calendar. They think the current world of creation started on August 11, 3114 BC. The end of the 13th b’ak’tun (and thus, the end of the fourth world of creation) is supposed to take place on December 21, 2012. Some consider this to be the 2012 Doomsday.

What’s New?

Several months ago, archaeologists Marcello A. Canuto and Tomás Barrientos were excavating a building at “Site Q” in Guatemala which had been seemingly stripped by treasure hunters. They unearthed 22 carved stones. And when added with other stones recovered from the black market, they were able to piece together 264 hieroglyphs.

Dr. David Stuart deciphered the text and found it covered about 200 years of history at “Site Q.” One portion of text commemorated a visit in 696 AD by a Maya king named Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’.

The ancient text refers to Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ as the “13 K’atun lord.” But what does this mean? Well, each b’ak’tun is made up of 20 k’atun, which are equivalent to about 20 years apiece.

In 692 AD, the 13th k’atun cycle of the 9th b’ak’tun came to an end. Based on the text, it appears Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ was king at that time. It was a fairly significant date. But not nearly as significant as, say, the end of the 13th b’ak’tun cycle.

Canuto and Barrientos theorize that Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ decided to connect these two dates via the number “13.” If true, it seems safe to assume he viewed the end of the 13th b’ak’tun cycle (and thus, the so-called 2012 Doomsday) as something to be revered, not feared.

“This new evidence suggests that the 13 Bak’tun date was an important calendrical event that would have been celebrated by the ancient Maya; however, they make no apocalyptic prophecies whatsoever regarding the date.” ~ Marcello A. Canuto, Maya archaeologists unearth new 2012 monument

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Truthfully, this new evidence appears pretty flimsy. We can’t know for sure why Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ called himself the “13 K’atun lord.” Maybe all rulers referred to themselves in this fashion. So, while the text itself is a tremendous archaeological find, we’re not sure it tells us much about how the Classic Mayas would’ve felt about the 2012 Doomsday theories. The Mayas were fascinated by time. According to the available evidence, they seem to have viewed it as a continuous cycle of worlds. However, there’s no evidence they saw December 21, 2012 as the ultimate doomsday. In fact, researchers have discovered references to post-2012 dates on several ancient Maya ruins.

“Recently, archaeologists discovered some very old Mayan astronomical tables at the Xultun ruins (well, they actually stumbled on them while chasing off treasure hunters). They discovered four long numbers on a wall which appear to reference a date 7,000 years past 813 AD.” ~ David Meyer, The Mayan Doomsday Prophecy?

All in all, the Classic Maya civilization was highly advanced for its time. But there’s no reason to believe they were capable of predicting anything. After all, if they were such great prophets, then how come they never saw the ending of their own civilization?

“And maybe the most important question to ask was voiced to me by Bill Saturno, discoverer of the San Bartolo murals. If the Maya were such skilled prophets, how could they have missed the Conquest? “Didn’t see that one coming, did they?” The single most devastating disaster to befall the peoples of the Americas of all time, and not a word about it in the entire corpus of Mayan prophetic literature.” ~ Mark Van Stone, 2012 FAQ

Tweeting…to Aliens?

On August 25, 1977, Dr. Jerry Ehman detected an odd radio signal that appeared to be of alien origin. He circled the signal and wrote “Wow!” next to it. Now, almost 35 years later, mankind is finally preparing a definitive response to the Wow Signal.

Replying to the Wow Signal?

National Geographic has a new TV series coming out called Chasing UFOs. The series will feature investigators reexamining old, unexplained alien encounters. As part of the publicity, National Geographic plans to collect all tweets from 8pm EDT on June 29 to 3am EDT on June 30 that are marked with the hashtag #ChasingUFOS. The messages will be rolled into one message and beamed back at the constellation Sagittarius.

We first wrote about the Wow Signal back in February. Simply put, Dr. Ehman recorded the signal while working on a SETI project. It was extremely intense, some 30 times more powerful than ambient radiation. It also appeared to originate from outside the Solar System, specifically from the constellation Sagittarius, close to the Chi Sagittarii star group. However, it was a one-time thing and even Dr. Ehman eventually began to question its suggested origin.

Incidentally, this isn’t mankind’s first attempt to reply to the Wow Signal. But it’s definitely the most complex.

“We are working with Arecibo Observatory to develop the best way to encrypt the transmission. Earlier transmissions have focused on simplicity, whereas this one will rely more on creating a complex but noticeable pattern, hopefully standing out from other random, natural noise.” ~ Kristin Montalbano, Spokeswoman for the National Geographic Channel, Possible Alien Message to Get Reply from Humanity

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, will an alien race receive the transmission? And maybe even respond? It’s impossible to be sure. But just in case, you might want to head over to Twitter on June 29 or June 30 and add your two cents. We’ll see you there!

Student Loans: Crisis…or Conspiracy?

Over the past few months, reports of a “student loan crisis” have erupted throughout the United States. But is this really a crisis? Or a student loan conspiracy of epic proportions?

The Student Loan Conspiracy?

We first visited the student loan issue back in October 2011. To put it simply, the high cost of college and a difficult job market has “created a generation of heavily indebted students with few means to pay back their loans.”

Now, we have some new information to kick around. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average student holds $23,300 in student loan debt. Breaking it down, about 43% of all students have loan balances less than $10,000. The rest owe more than $10,000. Amazingly enough, 27% of eligible payers “have past due balances.”

There are two pieces to this conspiracy. First, why is college so expensive? And second, why do so many people spend so much money pursuing college degrees? We talked a lot about the first question in October. So, we wanted to focus more on the second one this time around.

Why is College so Popular?

America’s intense pursuit of college degrees in a curious phenomenon. Not only are degrees ultra-expensive, but students appear to get poor value for their money. According to Richard Arum’s and Josipa Roksa’s book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, 36% of U.S. college students show “no significant gains in learning” after four years of college. Even worse, there seems to be a mismatch between the skills acquired in college and the skills required for navigating the real world.

So again, we must ask, how did we get into this situation? Why are high school graduates spending money they don’t have in order to obtain college degrees that do shockingly little to prepare them for the real world?

The answer, in our view, is Griggs v. Duke Power. During the 1950s, Duke Power restricted black people from working in all departments except for the low-paying Labor department. In 1955, they started requiring high school diplomas for certain positions.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Duke Power ended its race-based hiring policies. Instead, it instituted IQ tests. At the time, black people were less likely to hold high school diplomas. They also performed worse on the IQ tests. Thus, they were selected for Duke Power positions at a far lower rate than white candidates.

I won’t go into the particulars here. But eventually, a man named Willie Griggs filed a class action lawsuit against Duke Power Company. The case made its way through the legal system. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled against Duke Power. In doing so, it prohibited the use of general IQ tests when screening applicants, regardless of whether there was an actual intent to discriminate. In order to pass muster, IQ tests were required to be a “reasonable measure of job performance.”

“…in 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling (Griggs v. Duke Power) saying that if companies use aptitude testing to screen potential employees, they must be prepared to show that their tests are precisely calibrated to the needs of the job. Otherwise, they will be guilty of employment discrimination if their tests screen out minority workers who might have been able to do the work. Rather than face discrimination suits by the federal government, most employers started using a less precise but legally safe method of screening applicants—college degrees.” ~ George C. Leef, Why on Earth Do We Have a Student Loan Crisis?

Griggs vs. Duke Power had far-reaching impact. It largely ended the practice of aptitude tests. But companies still needed a way to screen job applicants. So, they turned to college degrees, “even for jobs that could easily be learned by anyone with a decent high school education.” As a result, college enrollments (and student loans) exploded.

“In 1940, just 10% of high school graduates went to college. By 1970, that number was at 40%. And by the 1990s, it had risen to 70%. That’s because a college degree has become little more than a ‘signaling game.’ By attending college, students “signal” to potential employers that they’re smart, hard-working, and easily trained. The ability to send that signal to employers, which was once accomplished via aptitude tests, is the sole reason that most students attend college in the first place.” ~ David Meyer, The Student Loan Conspiracy?

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

General aptitude tests aren’t perfect. In fact, they’re heavily flawed. In Griggs vs. Duke Power, it was discovered that those who’d passed aptitude tests and held high school degrees performed their jobs at the same level as those who’d failed the tests and didn’t hold degrees.

So, why don’t employers just create new aptitude tests that are “reasonably related” to individual jobs? The biggest reason is the threat of lawsuits. Even a well-crafted aptitude test could backfire in this respect. It’s far easier to just use college degrees as a screening mechanism and avoid the lawsuit risk altogether.

And that’s unfortunate. Aptitude tests hold significant advantages over college degrees. They’re cheap, quick, and can be tailored to fit individual jobs. College degrees are ultra-expensive, ultra time-consuming, and ultra-unfocused. So unfocused in fact, that the 1971 ruling should have invalidated college education screening as well.

“Recall that the problem in Griggs was that the specified requirements for job applicants were not clearly and directly related to the actual demands of the work. If challenged, could employers who have set the college degree as a requirement show that it has anything at all to do with the ‘business necessity’ of the employer or are ‘job-related’? That is very doubtful. Employers have grown to rely upon a new credential that is imperfect and probably rules out many qualified candidates. If the EEOC and the courts were to scrutinize the college degree requirement, they might well conclude that it has a ‘disparate impact.'” ~ Bryan O’Keefe and Richard Vedder, Griggs v. Duke Power: Implications for College Credentialing

The Student Loan Conspiracy isn’t a deliberate one. But the unintended consequences of Griggs vs. Duke Power have been highly destructive all the same. Many people waste years of their lives and accumulate thousands of dollars in student loan debt just to be eligible for basic jobs.

Companies will always need a way to screen potential employees. We here at Guerrilla Explorer don’t favor aptitude tests or anything else for that matter. We just think companies should be allowed to screen in whatever fashion they choose rather than fearing discrimination lawsuits. Without that lawsuit risk, however, we think many employers would switch to specifically-designed aptitude tests. Perhaps then, the Student Loan Crisis would finally come to an end.

Killing an Ancient…Vampire?

Vampires might be mythological beings. But for centuries, people from across the world have feared them. So, how did ancient people deal with suspected vampires?

How did Ancient People deal with Suspected Vampires?

Generally speaking, vampires are mythological creatures who feed on the blood (the essence of life) of living individuals. They’ve been scaring people for centuries, perhaps all the way back to the prehistoric era. Recently, archaeologists excavated numerous skeletons dating back to the Middle Ages. They were found near Sozopol, Bulgaria. Curiously enough, the skeletons’ chests had been pinned down with iron rods.

“These two skeletons stabbed with rods illustrate a practice common up until the first decade of the 20th century.” ~ Bozhidar Dimitrov, Head of the National History Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria

Apparently, more than 100 similar corpses have been discovered in Bulgaria. While belief in vampires was common across many ancient cultures, individual groups of people developed their own ways of dealing with them.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Staking was fairly common, although the choice of stake and its placement varied. In this case, iron rods were hammered into the chest bones (the heart was probably the most common placement elsewhere, with the mouth and stomach being other popular targets). Most likely, the chest was chosen so the rod would deflate the corpse as it started to bloat into a vampire.

Nowadays, vampires have become a significant part of the horror genre. But many centuries ago they were regarded as much more than mere fiction…they were a horrifying reality…a reality that could only be stopped by the most extreme measures.

The Forgotten Walls of China?

The Great Wall of China isn’t really a single wall. Instead, it’s a catchall term to describe the many fortifications built in China over the last ~2,700 years. Recently, archaeologists finished a 5-year project to map these structures. What are the Forgotten Great Walls of China?

The Forgotten Great Walls of China?

China’s first walls sprouted up around the 7th century BC, probably to keep Mongol invaders at bay. Many additional walls have been built over the years and some of them have been linked together. The wall most commonly associated with “The Great Wall of China” is actually a series of structures which were restored during the Ming Dynasty.

Recently, China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping completed a 5-year archaeological survey of China. Back in 2009, surveyors had estimated the total length of the Great Wall of China at about 5,500 miles. Now, Xinhua, China’s government-owned news agency, is reporting the completion of the survey. The wall’s total length has been updated…to 13,170.6956 miles!

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

That’s a lot of walls. But don’t get too excited. Most of these “forgotten” structures are gone. Only the remnants remain. Even the famed Ming Dynasty wall is just a shell of its former self. Only 8.2% of it still stands. And 75% of its surviving sections are extremely dilapidated. Also, some of the walls run parallel to each other. And many of them aren’t so much walls as “earthworks or ditches.”

Interestingly enough, the 13,170 mile figure might still be low. China’s borders have shifted dramatically over the centuries. Back in March, we reported on the discovery of a “lost” section of the Great Wall of China in the Gobi Desert…outside of China’s current borders. Are there more walls out there, waiting to be found? Only time will tell.

The Legendary Lost City of Honduras?

In 1526, Hernán Cortés wrote about a fabled lost city. Generations of scholars have considered it a myth. But now, a new expedition may be on the verge of proving otherwise. Did the lost city of Ciudad Blanca really exist?

The Mysterious Lost City of Ciudad Blanca?

In 1526, Cortés wrote his fifth letter to Charles V. In it, he mentions a mysterious province named Xucutaco which “will exceed Mexico in riches.”

“…I have trustworthy reports of very extensive and rich provinces, and of powerful chiefs ruling over them, and of one in particular, called Hueitapalan, and in another dialect Xucutaco, about which I possessed information six years since, having all this time made inquiries about it, and ascertained that it lies eight or ten days’ march from that town of Trujillo, or rather between fifty and sixty leagues. So wonderful are the reports about this particular province, that even allowing largely for exaggeration, it will exceed Mexico in riches, and equal it in the largeness of its towns and villages, the density of its population, and the policy of its inhabitants.” ~ Hernán Cortés, 1926,  Fifth Letter to Charles V

Based on the letter, it appears he first heard of this strange place around 1520. It was probably located in the impenetrable jungle of Honduras’ Mosquito Coast. In 1544, Bishop Cristobol de Pedraza wrote a letter to the King of Spain, describing a mysterious city in the jungle. It was located in a valley and his guides informed him that its people ate on gold plates.

Ciudad Blanca & the Lost City of the Monkey God?

Centuries later, in 1939, explorer Theodore Morde claimed to have found a lost city in the jungle.

“Explorer Theodore Morde Finds in Honduras Jungles a Vanished Civilization’s Prehistoric Metropolis where Sacrifices were made to the Gigantic Idol of an Ape – and Describes the Weird “Dance of the Dead Monkeys” still Practiced by Natives in Whom Runs the Old Blood” ~ Milwaukee Sentinel Headline, Sept. 22, 1940

Morde supposedly went on to write a book entitled, The Lost City of the Monkey God, although I have yet to locate a copy of it. Unfortunately, he was run over by a car before he could return to his city.

Over the years, all these ruins have generally been attributed to one city, the legendary Ciudad Blanca. According to Christopher Begley’s and Ellen Cox’s article, “Reading and Writing the White City Legend: Allegories Past and Future,” the roots of Ciudad Blanca lie deep in Honduran mythology. The Pech and Tawahka peoples tell stories about Wahai Patatahua (Place of the Ancestors) and Kao Kamasa (The White House). According to the Pech, the Honduran gods fled to these places after the arrival of the conquistadors. While the exact location remains unknown, it is generally believed to be in the remote areas of the Mosquito Coast.

The Lost City of Ciudad Blanca – Discovered at Last?

On May 15, 2012, Pepe Lobo, the President of Honduras, announced the completion of “the first-ever airborne light detection and ranging (“LiDAR”) imaging survey of previously-uncharted areas of the Mosquitia region of Honduras.” The work was aided by famous author, Douglas Preston, whose novel The Codex describes a search for Ciudad Blanca. The initial analyses of the data seem to show archaeological ruins in the area.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, is this the famous Ciudad Blanca? Well, it’s time for a reality check. The press release doesn’t claim to have found the White City. As you can see below, it’s couched in far more careful terms.

“Initial analysis of the LiDAR data indicates what appears to be evidence of archaeological ruins in an area long rumored to contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca.” ~ The Government of Honduras & UTL Scientific Press Release, May 15, 2012

This press release was jointly issued by the government of Honduras and UTL Scientific. UTL is a media company and is making a documentary of the search. Both parties have ample reasons to hype up this venture. Also, this is hardly the first modern search of its kind. In the late 1990s, Francis Yakam-Simen, Edmond Nezry, and James Ewing claimed to have discovered Ciudad Blanca using Synthetic Aperture Radar technology. They wrote a paper about it, entitled A Legendary Lost City found in the Honduran Tropical Forest. I have no idea whether they ever actually visited these supposed ruins.

In the end, it’s unlikely these new ruins were that of Ciudad Blanca. It’s even questionable whether Ciudad Blanca ever existed in the first place. Its roots lie in mythology. And neither Cortés nor Bishop Cristobol de Pedraza described their supposed cities in that fashion. The name appears to be a later addition. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ruins in the area. Indeed, Dr. Chris Begley has discovered over 200 archaeological sites in the region, which he chronicles on his website. So, ruins are out there. But do they belong to a massive, undiscovered city? That remains to be seen.

The Strange Collapse of the Harappan Civilization?

Some 4,000 years ago, the mighty Harappan civilization accounted for 10% of the entire global population. Suddenly, this once-great society collapsed. What happened to the Harappan civilization?

Why did the Harappan Civilization Collapse?

The Harappan, or Indus, sprouted up 5,200 years ago. It grew into an ancient powerhouse, covering a massive area of 386,000 square miles, including parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Archaeological digs show it contained large cities, plumbing, sea links, trade routes, and a unique writing system (which has yet to be deciphered). But then, after more than 1,000 years of existence, the society began to crumble. People abandoned their homes and moved east.

“Antiquity knew about Egypt and Mesopotamia, but the Indus civilization, which was bigger than these two, was completely forgotten until the 1920s. There are still many things we don’t know about them.” ~ Liviu Giosan, Geologist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Recently, Liviu Giosan and a team of researchers collected vast amounts of data on the area’s geological history. They discovered that monsoon rains caused rivers to once flow through the region. These rivers were initially too wild to support agriculture. However, they started to weaken about 5,000 years ago, coinciding with the rise of the Harappan civilization. But eventually, the rivers dried up and the Harappan shifted east toward the still-wet Ganges basin. Thus, the “collapse.”

Why do Complex Societies Collapse?

The question of why complex societies collapse is an old one. These days, environmental explanations are all the rage. And it’s no accident. Throughout time, collapse theories have served as critiques of the modern world.

“Whereas collapses were once attributed to impious or selfish rulers, or in West’s view to indolent masses, in today’s framework the sin is gluttony: ancient societies collapsed because they overshot the carrying capacities of their environments, degrading their support bases in the process. And since it happened to past societies, it could happen to us too. According to contemporary literature, the next collapse will come because all of us have consumed too many goods, eaten too much, driven too far, and produced too many children.” ~ Joseph Tainter, Collapse, Sustainability, and the Environment: How Authors Choose to Fail or Succeed

Take the Classic Maya for example. The Maya used a complex water management system that depended on regular rainfall. So, when rain decreased for an extended period of time, the Classic Maya were supposedly unable to adjust. They proceeded to abandon their cities, causing the famous collapse of the Classic Maya civilization.

Sounds good right? Ancient climate change wrecks havoc and people move away, seeking better conditions. But that presents a problem. Complex societies are formed to deal with complex problems. So, why didn’t the Harrapan or the Maya find ways to deal with their environmental problems? Well, in all likelihood, they tried to. And thus, we would postulate that there is another reason for their collapses. Collapses, as Joseph Tainter once said, “happen.” They are a natural part of civilization.

“As a society faces problems, it becomes more complex in order to solve them. A central government creates “solutions” which consume resources and cause yet more problems. The society becomes increasingly complex, leading to the necessity of even more complex solutions. Eventually, the costs of maintaining such a complex society outweighs the benefits at the individual level. When problems arise – things like drought or invasion – the collapse of the society is more desirable than the alternative. At that point, the civilization undergoes a process of simplification.” ~ David Meyer, The Mystery of the Vanishing Maya

Interestingly enough, the Harappan didn’t construct new cities once they fled their old homes. Instead, they shifted toward “small farming communities.” This would appear to support the idea of deliberate simplification.

“Cities collapsed, but smaller agricultural communities were sustainable and flourished. Many of the urban arts, such as writing, faded away, but agriculture continued and actually diversified.” ~ Dorian Fuller, Archaeologist, University College London

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The desire for societal collapse might strike some of you as strange. But you have to remember that ancient societies weren’t uniform. Not everyone could be an astronomer or a high priest. Most people were ordinary workers.

As ancient societies got more complex, layers of bureaucrats, academics, and other “elites” began to form. The brunt of supporting these layers often fell on a particular group of people. These people built massive buildings, provided food, were pressed into wars, served as sacrificial victims, and paid taxes for the “privileges of society.” Under those conditions, many people would’ve found view the loss of complexity as a blessing. For example, studies have shown that the health and nutrition of peasants deteriorated during the rise of the Classic Maya. These same factors improved after the collapse.

It’s possible climate change served as a trigger for the collapse of the Harappan civilization. But many civilizations have managed to avoid similar collapses despite horrific droughts and famines. So, it seems quite possible to us that there is another explanation at play here. When the river began to dry up, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The cost of maintaining the complicated Harappan society just became too steep for the average peasant. Rather than stick it out, they decided to seek better lives. While we view this as a collapse, the ancient Harappan may have seen it differently. To them, it might’ve been a new beginning.

The First American Daredevil?

On October 7, 1829, Sam Patch ventured out onto a ladder and leapt 85 into the churning waters of the Niagara River. When he surfaced, the crowd went crazy. Who was the first American Daredevil?

Sam Patch: The First American Daredevil?

Sam Patch was born in Rhode Island in 1807. While still young, he began “to jump for purses of cash.” On September 30, 1827, Patch made his first of many historical leaps. On that day, he dodged a constable and leapt off the cliff next to Passaic Falls in New Jersey. By the time he lifted his head out of the water, he was famous.

Patch’s biography is largely incomplete. Most historians believe he jumped numerous times over the next two years. However, only a few of those jumps have been confirmed. One particularly memorable jump took place almost a year after Passaic Falls. On August 28, 1828, Patch survived a 100-foot jump from a ship’s mast in Hoboken, New Jersey. After that, he was ready to take on his most famous obstacle, Niagara Falls.

In 1829, Patch was invited to jump over Niagara Falls as part of an exhibition designed to bring business to the area. He was one of several acts. As hundreds of people watched, gunpowder was used to detonate large chunks of rock from the Falls. Then an unmanned schooner named Superior was sent over the Falls. The next day, Patch took the stage. Poor weather and the delay in his arrival limited the crowd. Still, he made the jump and the crowd loved it. He became the first person to, in essence, leap over Niagara Falls and live to tell about it.

He repeated the feat ten days later in front of a much larger crowd of 10,000 people. He survived again and came out yelling, “There’s no mistake in Sam Patch!”

“The jump of Patch is the greatest feat of the kind ever effected by man. He may now challenge the universe for a competitor.” ~ Buffalo Republican

Sam Patch vs. The High Falls of the Genesee River?

Patch was famous. His slogan, “Some things can be done as well as others,” became known throughout the nation. He went onto Rochester, New York to test the High Falls of the Genesee River. On November 6, 1829, he climbed onto a rock ledge in the middle of the river. Then he tossed a “begging pet bear” over the Falls. Seeing that the bear had survived, Patch followed suit, successfully leaping 97 feet in front of 7,000 to 8,000 people.

However, Patch was supposedly disappointed with the amount of money he raised. So, he decided to duplicate the jump on November 13. This time, he constructed a 25-foot stand, turning the jump into one that was close to 125 feet high.

“Napoleon was a great man and a great general. He conquered armies and he conquered nations, but he couldn’t jump the Genesee Falls. Wellington was a great man and a great soldier. He conquered armies and he conquered nations, but he couldn’t jump the Genesee Falls. That was left for me to do, and I can do it, and will.” ~ Sam Patch, November 13, 1829, Rochester, NY

Accounts differ as to what happened next. Patch usually dove with his hands plastered against his sides, his toes pointed, and his posture perfectly straight. But for some reason, his body crashed into the water at an awkward angle. He didn’t surface.

At first, Patch’s body wasn’t found. Rumors abounded that it was just another stunt. Eyewitnesses reported seeing him in Pittsford among other nearby towns. It wasn’t until the following spring that a hired hand found Patch’s corpse near the mouth of the river.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

At the young age of 22, Patch was dead. But why did he perform such risky jumps? And why were Americans so obsessed with his feats? In his book, Sam Patch, The Famous Jumper, Paul E. Johnson discusses some possible answers. Johnson sees Patch as a working class hero who mastered the “art of the jump” in a day and age when the individual art of craftsmanship was giving way to industrialization. Also, he postulates that Patch’s success showed working class people that fame could be achieved by anyone in America.

Patch was buried in Charlotte Cemetery with a wooden marker that read, “Sam Patch – Such is Fame.”

“Sam Patch belongs to history. He achieved fame in his day and generation, and his name will go down to posterity. Sam Patch was truly a great man. Not a great warrior like Alexander, or Julius Caesar, or Charles XII, or Napoleon, or lots of others, whom it is unnecessary to name, for ‘Heroes are much the same – the point’s agreed – from Macedonia’s madman to the Swede.’ Nor was he a great philosopher, in the common acceptation of the term, like Pythagoras, or Plato, or Newton, or Franklin. Nor a great statesman like Pitt, or Peel, or Webster. His greatness did not lie in this line. And yet Sam Patch was truly great – he was a great jumper.” ~ Life and Death of Sam Patch, United States magazine