Mound Builders: Fastest Builders in the Americas?

New research suggests the Mississippian culture, aka the Mound Builders, built at least one of their giant earthen mounds in just 90 days and maybe even as quickly as 30 days. An astonishing feat from a collective point of view. But can you imagine being one of the poor workers who had to carry the dirt? Like many other civilizations, the Mound Builders probably collapsed due to excessive centralization. Here’s more from

Nominated early this year for recognition on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which includes such famous cultural sites as the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge, the earthen works at Poverty Point, La., have been described as one of the world’s greatest feats of construction by an archaic civilization of hunters and gatherers.

Now, new research in the current issue of the journal Geoarchaeology, offers compelling evidence that one of the massive earthen mounds at Poverty Point was constructed in less than 90 days, and perhaps as quickly as 30 days—an incredible accomplishment for what was thought to be a loosely organized society consisting of small, widely scattered bands of foragers.

“What’s extraordinary about these findings is that it provides some of the first evidence that early American hunter-gatherers were not as simplistic as we’ve tended to imagine,” says study co-author T.R. Kidder, PhD, professor and chair of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.  “Our findings go against what has long been considered the academic consensus on hunter-gather societies—that they lack the political organization necessary to bring together so many people to complete a labor-intensive project in such a short period.”

(See the rest at

Happy Birthday Income Tax (Now, go away already!)

It’s been one hundred years since the modern income tax was created, via the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Back then income tax rates ran from 1% for annual incomes over $3, 000 to 7% for annual incomes over $500,000 (that’s $11.6 million in today’s dollars!). Current tax rates run from 10% to 39.6%. Meanwhile, the income tax code has gone from a hefty 400 pages to a whopping 44,000 pages. My how times have changed. Here’s more from Delaware Online:

Pop Quiz: What book has more than 7 million words in multiple chapters, attempts to influence our behavior toward good ends, is complex and often contradictory, and requires interpretation by learned studiers of its texts to distill its basic principles for the masses of us for who this tome is supposed to provide benefit? It’s not the King James version of the Bible. It’s the current United States Tax Code.

The giveaway: While the U.S. Tax Code has more than 7 million words, The Bible is a relatively slim pamphlet at only 774,746 words. It wasn’t always this way. In 1913, the year the personal incomewe now labor under was instituted, the number of pages contained in the entire Tax Code stood at 400 (most of those dealing with tariffs). The Bible actually was longer at 1,291 pages.

As of 2010, the United States Tax Code stands at a whopping 71,684 pages (according to CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, though in fairness, that includes repealed or modified portions of earlier versions of the tax code. The current, live portion runs a mere 44,000 pages.) The original 1913 Tax Form 1040 blissfully topped out at a rate of 7 percent – the “fair share” due of the uber rich in the eyes of then President Woodrow Wilson who obviously never had been a community organizer at any point in his career…

(See the rest at Delaware Online)

King Richard III: Has his Skeleton been found under a Parking Lot?

Shakespeare mocked him. The Tudors reviled him. Historians painted him as a bloodthirsty monster. But they couldn’t get rid of him. Now, almost 530 years after his death, a skeleton belonging to King Richard III has been found under a parking lot in Leicester. Here’s more from Fox News:

He wore the English crown, but he ended up defeated, humiliated and reviled. Now things are looking up for King Richard III. Scientists announced Monday that they had found the monarch’s 500-year-old remains under a parking lot in the city of Leicester — a discovery Richard’s fans say will inspire new research into his maligned history.

University of Leicester researchers say tests on a battle-scarred skeleton unearthed last year prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that it is the king, who died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and whose remains have been missing for centuries. “Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, has been found,” said the university’s deputy registrar, Richard Taylor…

(See the rest at Fox News)

The Lost Treasure of Machu Picchu?

A secret treasure trove of gold, silver, and ancient knowledge buried beneath the ancient city of Machu Picchu? Yes, please. Here’s more from Heritage Daily:

Thierry Jamin and his team think they have realized an extraordinary archaeological discovery in the Inca city discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. This discovery was made possible thanks to the testimony of a French engineer who lives in Barcelona-Spain, David Crespy. In 2010, while he was visiting the lost city, David Crespy noticed the presence of a strange “shelter” located in the heart of the city, at the bottom of one of the main buildings…

In order to confirm the existence of cavities in the basement of the building, in December 2011 Thierry and his team submit an official request to the Ministry of Culture in Lima, to perform a geophysical survey with the help of electromagnetic (EM) conductivity instruments. This license was granted a few months later.

Realized between April 9th and April 12th 2012, the electromagnetic survey not only confirmed the presence of an underground room but several! Just Behind the famous entrance, a staircase was also discovered. The two main paths seem to lead to specific chambers, including to the main squared one. The different techniques used by the French researcher(s), (Molecular Frequencies Discriminator) allowed them to highlight the presence of important archaeological material, including deposits of metal and a large quantity of gold and silver!

Thierry Jamin is now preparing the next step: the opening of the entrance sealed by the Incas more than five centuries ago. On May 22nd 2012, he officially submitted a request for authorization to the Peruvian authorities which would allow his team to proceed with the opening of the burial chambers.

Crop Circles: Photographic Proof from 1945?

Greg Jefferys, future crop circles PhD candidate, claims to have found photographic evidence for crop circles in Google Earth’s 1945 overlay. Before you UFO fanatics get too excited, he attributes the circles to natural phenomena, namely ball lightening. Here’s more from The Huffington Post:

Crop circles dating back to 1945 are proof the phenomenon is no modern hoax, a Tasmanian historian claims. The mystery of the increasingly intricate patterns was supposedly solved after several high-profile cases were revealed to be the work of artists and mischief-makers armed with barrels, planks of wood and plenty of spare time. Credit for the hoaxes has been laid largely at the feet of pranksters Dave Chorley and Doug Bower, who in 1991 announced they had been pulling the wool over people’s eyes since 1978.

But research by Greg Jefferys has revealed evidence of the strange circles in the English countryside at least 33 years before Chorley and Bower took credit for the phenomena – which until then had been attributed to UFOs and alien activity. Jefferys, who has a degree in archaeology, was prompted to research the matter after reading a report on crop circles in an 1880 edition of the science journal Nature.

The 59-year-old’s research focuses on images from Google Earth’s new 1945 overlay, which Jefferys studied for more than 300 hours. The overlay is a series of photos taken towards the end of World War II by the RAAF and comprises around 35% of the 1945 overlay of England presently available online…

(See the rest at The Huffington Post)

Captain Henry Morgan & the Lost Inca Treasure?

On January 28, 1671, Captain Henry Morgan led a daring raid on Panama City, which at that time was the richest city in the Americas. In the process, he escaped with one of the greatest hauls in history. What happened to the lost treasure of the Incas? And what does a recently-discovered shipwreck have to do with it?

Captain Morgan: Pirate…or Privateer?

Today is the 324-year anniversary of Captain Morgan’s death. But while much is known of his later life, the early years of Henry Morgan are shrouded in mystery. He was born in Wales, probably in 1635. No records of his life exist before 1655. However, we do know he took his first command in late 1665, under the guidance of privateer Edward Mansvelt. After Mansvelt was captured and executed by Spanish forces, the remaining crew elected Captain Henry Morgan to take his place.

In this role, Captain Morgan was a privateer, or a government-sanctioned pirate, similar to the infamous Captain Kidd. Outfitted with letters of marque from Britain, he began a series of daring raids that rocked Spain’s tenuous grip on the New World.

Captain Henry Morgan sets his sights on Panama

By 1670, Spanish forces were starting to threaten Jamaica, which was under English control. The legendary Captain Morgan was given extensive authority to wage war on Spain. Since the commission was unpaid, Captain Henry Morgan had extra incentive to attack high-value targets. He assembled a mighty fleet of thirty-six ships and some 2,000 men. Then he set out to pick a target. He considered several cities before finally settling on the infamous Panama City.

At that time, Panama City was the richest place in the Americas, thanks to endless loads of Inca gold taken by the Spanish conquistadors. It was also considered invincible. It sat on the Pacific Ocean, which was defended with heavy fortifications. On the other side was the Chagres River and miles of nearly impenetrable jungle. In addition, the entrance to the Chagres River was guarded by the Spanish fortress, Castillo de San Lorenzo. To make matters worse, the Spanish government had become aware of his large fleet. So, Captain Morgan was forced to act quickly.

Captain Morgan decided on a land attack. While he waited for the rest of his fleet, he sent Colonel Bradley along the Chagres River with orders to seize Castillo de San Lorenzo. Colonel Bradley took 3 ships and 470 men. They landed in secret and on January 6, 1671, launched an attack on the fortress. They set it on fire using firebombs and grenades and then killed the survivors. However, the cost was steep. Colonel Bradley, along with about 100 other men, died in the battle.

The Lost Fleet of Captain Henry Morgan?

Five days later, Captain Morgan and his fleet arrived at Castillo de San Lorenzo. However, their excitement was short-lived as four to five ships, including Captain Morgan’s flagship Satisfaction, met an untimely end.

“The cheers from those on the cliff and those on board the ships soon turned to horror as Satisfaction ran head on into Lajas Reef, which lay in the path of the river covered by a mere few feet of water. Three to four more ships followed the Morgan onto the reef. The ships were shattered and none was recovered.” ~ Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project Press Release

Amazingly enough, a team of archaeologists led by Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann and funded by Captain Morgan Rum may have recently discovered one of these lost ships.

In September 2010, the team discovered six iron cannons at the mouth of the Chagres River. In 2011, they located a 17th century wooden shipwreck. This year, they discovered other artifacts, including a sword, several chests, wooden barrels, and cargo seals. The team’s next step is to confirm the identity of these artifacts and hopefully, determine whether or not they came from Captain Morgan’s lost fleet.

Captain Morgan reaches Panama

After arriving with reinforcements five days later, Captain Morgan and his men repaired Castillo de San Lorenzo. He left 300 men behind to guard it. Then he paddled up the Chagres River with the rest of his fleet and about 1,400 men. On the way, they passed four small forts, which were guarded by a total of 400 men. The Spanish hoped to use these forts to drain Captain Morgan’s forces. However, the Spanish soldiers fled instead and Captain Henry Morgan passed through without a single shot fired. On January 28, 1671 Captain Morgan reached Panama. He caught the Spanish defenders by surprise, outflanked their counterattack, and seized the city.

The Lost Treasure of the Incas?

Captain Henry Morgan spent several weeks in Panama and eventually left with 175 mules loaded with gold, silver, and jewelry. The haul was relatively light due to the fact that a few treasure-laden Spanish vessels managed to flee the harbor. Still, many of the privateers were suspicious that Captain Morgan had cheated them.

“However, since Henry Morgan paid his men just ten pounds apiece for their help in the raid, many researchers speculate that he took the rest of the treasure for himself and hid it before returning to Jamaica.” ~ David Meyer, The Lost Fleet of Captain Morgan?

Did Captain Henry Morgan abscond with the lion’s share of the Lost Inca treasure? If so, where did he hide it? In the jungles of Panama? Somewhere else? These questions, at least for now, remain unanswered.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Captain Henry Morgan left behind a fascinating legacy, including the recently-discovered shipwreck as well as the possibility of lost treasure. However, his raid on Panama City and other Spanish targets had a much larger impact. Captain Morgan changed the course of history by helping to bring an end to the Spanish Empire and the “Old World”, which had been driven by religion, laws, and birthrights. The British Empire and a “New World”, driven by money, free trade, and democracy, rose in its wake. In that respect, Captain Morgan remains one of the least known, yet most influential people in modern history.

“Morgan had helped, in his own way, point a path toward the future. Some historians have even argued that without Morgan the Spanish would have been able to settle and defend Florida more vigorously and even extend their control along the Gulf Coast, creating an impregnable empire stretching to Texas. Without him, who knows what the map of the Caribbean and even of the United States might look like. He battled a divine empire on behalf of men interested in trade and gold and rational society (but certainly not freedom for every member, as the pirates had insisted on). The next great world empire, the British, would be a mercantile, not a religious, one. The world had turned Morgan’s way, and he’d nudged it along.” ~ Stephan Talty, Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign

The Search for Amelia Earhart Nears an End

For the last few days, the Niku VII expedition has been scouring the reef off Nikumaroro, hoping to solve the 75 year old disappearance of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan. Unfortunately, the expedition appears to be coming to a premature end. But why?

Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance?

We first looked at Amelia Earhart’s famous disappearance back in July 2011. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to attempt a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in her Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery(TIGHAR – pronounced “tiger”) has searched for answers to this mystery. They believe Amelia and Fred landed on a reef off Nikumaroro’s west end and safely evacuated the aircraft. A few days later, rising tides swept the airplane over the reef edge. Although they’ve uncovered some circumstantial evidence that might support their case, they have yet to find definitive proof for their theory.

Troubles and Setbacks?

On July 16, the expedition experienced a “frustrating and crazy day.” Its Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) collided with land, necessitating time-consuming repairs. The Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) experienced technical difficulties. Then the boat’s throttle controls went haywire.

On July 17, the AUV got stuck twice underwater, the second time at a depth of 2,368 feet. They sent the ROV after it and recovered the AUV…but just barely. The ROV was forced to go to the edge of its maximum depth. Fortunately, the operator was able to use its claw to extract the AUV from a cave. And of course, this necessitated more repairs, this time to the ship’s power train.

On July 18, TIGHAR was able to resume its search for the plane. They decided to use the ROV to check out two strong targets. After a closer look, one target turned out to be a “large coral boulder.” The other target was manmade. However, it was determined to be a piece of wreckage from the British freighter SS Norwich City.

“Adding to the problem are the limitations of side-scan sonar. It works best when utilized over a flat, sandy floor. And the reef slope is not flat nor is it sandy. In addition, the wreckage of the SS Norwich City is strewn about the area, which will make it difficult to distinguish aircraft parts. So, even if Amelia did crash on the reef, TIGHAR will be hard-pressed to locate the aircraft.” ~ David Meyer, The Earhart Expedition: And so it Begins…

A Premature Ending?

Last night, TIGHAR reported “there is very little point in extending the trip.” Apparently, the expedition failed to find anything on the initial shelf, 250 feet below water. The next shelf lies 1,000 to 1,200 feet under water. This is where the wreckage of the SS Norwich City lies. For all intensive purposes, this appears to be the expedition’s last hope. Barring a miracle, they plan to give up and return to Honolulu later today.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

And that’s all she wrote.

It’s a disappointing and strange ending for an expedition that began with such high hopes. TIGHAR has been trying to fund this trip for years. They experienced some early setbacks, but just a day ago, there was talk of extending the trip an extra day or two. Now, they’ve decided to completely abandon it instead.

We’ve been a bit skeptical of success for awhile now. The odds that Amelia reached Nikumaroro are fairly low. The supporting evidence is interesting, but quite thin.

The biggest difficulty with the TIGHAR hypothesis has always been the lack of falsifiability. In other words, it’s impossible to test. In a proper scientific expedition, researchers attempt to refute their own hypothesis. That’s the essence of the scientific method. But due to the nature of this problem, there’s really no way to do that. Simply put, unless Amelia Earhart’s plane is found elsewhere, it’s impossible to prove she didn’t crash at Nikumaroro.

“Given what we now know about this place, is it reasonable to think that an airplane which sank here 75 years ago is findable? The environment is incredibly difficult, with nooks and crannies and caves and projections; it would be easy to go over and over and over the same territory for weeks and still not really cover it all. The aircraft could have floated away, as well.” ~ Niku VII Expedition, July 19 Update

See what we mean? The plane could’ve crashed at Nikumaroro and drifted anywhere. Or maybe not. It’s just impossible to know without finding the plane itself.

TIGHAR is trying to make the best of a bad situation. They claim the data will be useful, not just to them but also “to anyone doing ocean and reef research in the area.” Still, it’s difficult not to look at this as a major disappointment.


Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Amelia Earhart

The Earhart Expedition: And so it Begins…

Yesterday, the Niku VII expedition landed on the tiny island of Nikumaroro. Over the next 7 to 10 days, the members hope to solve a spectacular mystery that has baffled experts for 75 years…the disappearance of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan.


We first looked at this mystery back in July 2011. Amelia Earhart was a famed aviatrix and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to attempt a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in her Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR – pronounced “tiger”) has searched for answers to this mystery. They believe Amelia and Fred landed on a reef off Nimumaroro’s west end and safely evacuated the aircraft. A few days later, rising tides swept the airplane over the reef edge. Although they’ve uncovered some circumstantial evidence that might support their case, they have yet to find definitive proof for their theory.

The Niku VII Expedition

On July 3, TIGHAR launched it latest expedition to Nikumaroro from Honolulu on the R/V Ka’Imikai-o-Kanaloa. The goal is to search the underwater reef slope for any remaining debris from Amelia’s Lockheed Electra 10E.

The voyage took a little longer than anticipated and arrived yesterday rather than the scheduled date of July 9. Based on the updates provided by TIGHAR, the voyage itself was rather uneventful. The crew used much of the time to prepare for its mission.

“The atmosphere aboard is rather like the mood aboard an LST as it approaches an island the troops have to take. They are going into action soon; all ‘weapons’ have been cleaned and checked and rechecked, plans refined and massaged. There is a palpable sense of pressure and stress, but in a good way; everyone is impatient to get started with the mission.” ~ TIGHAR Update, Dateline: At Sea, July 11, 2012

During the voyage, the crew finalized a search grid for the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Upon arrival, they mapped the ocean floor using SeaBeam sonar technology. They will use this information, along with “local knowledge,” to work the edge of the reef slope over the next 7 to 10 days.

Afterward, the crew sent the AUV into the water for a four hour test in order to get a feel for the area and do some “micro-planning.” Unfortunately, the AUV malfunctioned and the crew lost many hours diagnosing the problem, namely a non-turning prop.

While the problem was being fixed, the crew deployed its Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) for a test run over the wreckage of the SS Norwich City. On a side note, the SS Norwich City ran aground on Nikumaroro’s reef in November 1929. It was still quite visible at the time of Amelia’s disappearance.

Much of the search will be done using the AUV. The AUV is essentially a robotic submersible that operates on programming rather than on human manipulation. At the end of each search mission, the data is collected and batteries are switched out. Then the AUV is launched again. As it conducts another mission, the crew will have the opportunity to analyze the data and flag any potential areas of interest. Later, these areas of interest will be explored by the ROV. Unlike the AUV, the ROV is operated by human hands. It contains a manipulator arm to move objects. It also has strong lights and video cameras in order to provide images to its operator.

This is not a salvage expedition. Instead, TIGHAR merely hopes to test its hypothesis that large pieces of wreckage survived the crash and subsequently sank into the extremely deep waters off the reef slope. Thus, the objective is to “locate, identify, and photograph any and all surviving aircraft wreckage.” If any debris is located, it will most likely be left untouched…for now. But the images of it will be used to fund and mount a salvage expedition at some point in the future.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

And so it begins.

We’re extremely interested in this expedition. However, we’re also quite skeptical of success. The odds that Amelia reached Nikumaroro are fairly low. The supporting evidence is interesting, but razor thin. There’s the 1937 Bevington Photo. Also, island residents reported finding aircraft debris in the vicinity around 1940.

RG: Let me repeat this back to be sure I understand. No plane arrived or crashed while you were at the island. But, people said that before the people came a plane had crashed there near the ship. And when you refer to the ship you mean the ship that was on the reef, that was aground.

ES: It is true.

RG: Did you ever see any part of that plane?

ES: Only the frame, a piece of steel. [Mr. Tofiga offers clarification, &“Uh, it’s not a piece. The term she uses ‘afiti,’ it could be this long or this long.” Moves his hands close together then far apart. “ But it’s steel. Only the framework.”]

RG: And where was this piece?

ES: Nearby that wrecked ship. It was not far from there. From about here to that house. [She points to a house across the road.]

Source: Transcript Of Ric Gillespie’s Videotaped Interview With Emily Sikuli, July 27, 1999

Our biggest problem with the TIGHAR hypothesis is it represents a sort of backward approach to science. They constructed the hypothesis that Amelia and Fred crashed on Nikumaroro’s reef. Then they collected evidence and attempted to fit it into their story. They’ve spent all their efforts attempting to prove their hypothesis, stretching the available evidence in the process.

A proper scientific expedition would do the opposite – attempt to refute its own hypothesis. In other words, TIGHAR should’ve tested their hypothesis as severely as possible. They should’ve been trying to refute it, not support it. If it managed to survive every attack on it, then they would’ve been in a position to consider the possibility their original hypothesis was correct.

With that being said, there is a slim possibility TIGHAR is correct and the Lockheed Electra crashed on the reef. If this is the case, it could still prove difficult to locate it. Most likely, it broke up while on the reef and the large pieces slipped down the reef slope. And that presents a problem.

“The water is extremely deep at the slope, plunging beyond 3,000 feet in certain places. The Niku VII expedition will be equipped with high-freqency side-scan sonar and will be able to take ‘photographs’ at that depth. However, any surviving pieces of the aircraft likely took a beating on the reef before they sank. And once that happened, underwater currents might have torn them into shreds.” ~ David Meyer, The Search for Amelia Earhart Begins Today!

Adding to the problem are the limitations of side-scan sonar. It works best when utilized over a flat, sandy floor. And the reef slope is not flat nor is it sandy. In addition, the wreckage of the SS Norwich Cityis strewn about the area, which will make it difficult to distinguish aircraft parts. So, even if Amelia did crash on the reef, TIGHAR will be hard-pressed to locate the aircraft.


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

Amelia Earhart’s Lost Skeleton?

In 1940, a work party unearthed a partial skeleton on the island of Nikumaroro. Several months later, British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher learned about the skeleton and radioed his superiors that it was “just possibly that of Amelia Earhart.” Did this skeleton really belong to the famed aviatrix?

Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance?

We first looked at Amelia Earhart’s famous disappearance back in July 2011. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to attempt a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in her Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery(TIGHAR – pronounced “tiger”) has searched for answers to this mystery. They believe Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed on a reef off Nikumaroro’s west end and safely evacuated the aircraft. A few days later, rising tides swept the airplane over the reef edge. Although they’ve uncovered some circumstantial evidence that might support their case, they have yet to find definitive proof for their theory. Now, TIGHAR is on route to Nikumaroro. They hope to test the hypothesis that large pieces of wreckage survived the crash and subsequently sank into the extremely deep waters off the reef slope.

The Lost Skeleton…of Amelia Earhart?

British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher was the first officer-in-charge of the so-called Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, which was the British Empire’s last real attempt at colonial expansion. In early September 1940, he moved to Nikumaroro in order to establish it as the centre of the new colony.

During his first month, a native work party told Gallagher about a skull they’d discovered on the island. He checked it out and found a number of bones along with some other items. On September 23, 1941, he sent a telegram to the Acting Administrative Officer in Tarawa, David Wernham.

“Please obtain from Koata (Native Magistrate Gardner on way to Central Hospital) a certain bottle alleged to have been found near skull discovered on Gardner Island. Grateful you retain bottle in safe place for present and ask Koata not to talk about skull which is just possibly that of Amelia Earhardt. [sic]” ~ Gerald Gallagher, September 23, 1941

Later that day, Gallagher sent a second telegram to Jack Barley, Resident Commissioner, Ocean Island.

“Some months ago working party on Gardner discovered human skull – this was buried and I only recently heard about it. Thorough search has now produced more bones (including lower jaw) part of a shoe a bottle and a sextant box. It would appear that

(a) Skeleton is possibly that of a woman,

(b) Shoe was a womans and probably size 10,

(c) Sextant box has two numbers on it 3500 (stenciled) and 1542– sextant being old fashioned and probably painted over with black enamel.

Bones look more than four years old to me but there seems to be very slight chance that this may be remains of Amelia Earhardt. If United States authorities find that above evidence fits into general description, perhaps they could supply some dental information as many teeth are intact. Am holding latest finds for present but have not exhumed skull. There is no local indication that this discovery is related to wreck of the ‘Norwich City’.” ~ Gerald Gallagher, September 23, 1941

Gallagher was instructed to keep the situation “strictly secret.” He proceeded to provide more information. For instance, he described the shoe  as “a stoutish walking shoe or heavy sandal.” And he reported the “remains of fire, turtle, and dead birds” near the skeleton.

Eventually, Gallagher sent the bones to Fiji. They were intercepted by Dr. Lindsay Isaac who proceeded to conduct what appears to be an unauthorized examination. Dr. Isaac eventually concluded the bones belonged to an elderly Polynesian male and sent them on to Fiji.

Dr. D.W. Hoodless (who apparently possessed no forensic training) examined the remains and ultimately determined they came from a male measuring 5 feet, five and one-half inches. These bones have since disappeared. However, Dr. Hoodless’s notes, measurements, and observations survived.

The 1997 Examination

In 1997, a group of forensic anthropologists conducted a reexamination of sorts, using Dr. Hoodless’s notes as well as modern forensic techniques.

“Based on the information now in hand, Jantz and Burns both concluded that the remains found on Nikumaroro in 1939-40 represented an individual who was:

  • More likely female than male
  • More likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific Islander
  • Most likely between 5′5″ and 5′9″ in height”

Source: Amelia Earhart’s Bones and Shoes?, Karen Ramey Burns, Ph.D., Richard L. Jantz, Ph.D., Thomas F. King, Ph.D., and Richard E. Gillespie

In other words, the bones appeared consistent with Amelia Earhart’s sex, ethnic origin, and height. However, the researchers noted there was no way to be certain without the actual bones.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Although TIGHAR has produced an interesting circumstantial case that Amelia crashed on Nikumaroro, it’s far from conclusive. One way of proving it would be to locate the actual bones from 1940. Another possibility is to locate the missing pieces of the skeleton that were never found. Unfortunately, this could prove impossible due to the presence of large coconut crabs on the island.

“In 2007 we conducted a taphonomy experiment with a small pig carcass to see how quickly the crabs would eat the remains, and how far, if at all, the crabs dragged the bones. The primary answers were ‘pretty quickly’ and ‘all over the place.’” ~ Patricia Thrasher, TIGHAR President

As we mentioned earlier, TIGHAR is currently planning to comb Nikumaroro’s underwater reef slope for Amelia’s plane. Hopefully, this will produce results. If not, TIGHAR’s best bet might be to locate the bones examined by Dr. Hoodless. But do they still exist? It seems possible. After all, the papers revealing the existence of the bones weren’t found until 1997. Who knows? These mysterious bones might still be out there somewhere, waiting for another chance at discovery.