Colonel Percy Howard Fawcett: Tale of a Lost Explorer and Lost City

Updated on February 20, 2018
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Archaeology is one of Kelley's great passions. He's read many books on the subject, as well as every issue of "Archaeology" since 1987.

Colonel Percy Fawcett
Colonel Percy Fawcett

From time to time, famous people disappear. Recently, adventurer and aviator Steve Fossett went missing while flying over Nevada and the wreckage of his plane and his remains were later found. In times past, others have vanished: Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, Michael Rockefeller and D.B. Cooper. And way back in May 1925 British explorer Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett disappeared in the wilds of Brazil.

You may ask yourself who in the heck is Colonel Fawcett? Well, now it's time to find out about this fascinating fellow, who, some think, may have been the inspiration behind the creation of movie character Indiana Jones.

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was born in 1867 in Devon, England. Fawcett acquired the military appellation, Colonel, while working in the British armed forces, including service during World War I. Fawcett's first expedition to South America took place in 1906. While working as a surveyor for the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett mapped an area between Bolivia and Brazil. In the following years, Fawcett developed an interest in the legendary lost cities of South America. In 1920 he visited a library in Rio de Janeiro where he found manuscript No. 512, which showed a record of a Portuguese expedition to the Amazon in 1743. The expedition discovered the ruins of an immense stone city, apparently abandoned and, on some of the stone monuments, hieroglyphs were found resembling Celtic Ogham, an extinct Irish language.

The city of Cuiaba in Brazil - Fawcett's last stepping off point in 1925
The city of Cuiaba in Brazil - Fawcett's last stepping off point in 1925
The Mato Grosso region in Brazil
The Mato Grosso region in Brazil

Fawcett surmised that this lost city existed in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. He figured the city was perhaps 11,000 years old and contained much gold. Perhaps this fabulous place was one of the Sete Cidades (Seven Cities), for which the conquistadors had searched in vain for centuries. Fawcett called the place Z. He hypothesized that Z might be the capital of fabled Atlantis, and/or that it may also have had some connection to the ancient Celts, a fair-skinned, red- or blonde-haired people, the descendants of which Fawcett claimed to have seen during his travels in the area. Fawcett made seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924, exploring mostly the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. But, alas, Fawcett found nary a stone block of his fanciful jungle metropolis.

Colonel Fawcett's son Brian wrote about his father's exploits in the book Lost Trails, Lost Cities, a scrapping good adventure story published in 1953. (Colonel Fawcett's autobiography, titled "Travel and Mystery in South America," was lost while sent to publishers in 1924.) Fawcett's early adventures inspired such writers as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the famous science-fiction novel The Lost World, and H. Rider Haggard, author of She and King Solomon's Mines, among others.

On Fawcett's last journey to the Mato Grosso in the spring of 1925, he brought along his eldest son Jack and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimmell. (T. E. Lawrence - a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia - wanted to go, but Fawcett said no). The trio was last heard from at what Fawcett called Dead Horse Camp, near the upper Xingu River.

Kalapalos Indians
Kalapalos Indians

There are plenty of theories regarding Fawcett's fate. He and his companions could have been killed by hostile Indians, perhaps the Kalapalos. Wilderness explorer Orlando Villas Bôas reported back in 1951 that chief Sarari of the Kalapalos had confessed to him about killing Fawcett. Apparently Fawcett and/or his two companions had offended the Indians, so they ambushed and killed the trio.

In April 2011, on the PBS program Secrets of the Dead: Lost in the Amazon, the producers theorized that Fawcett's trio could have been attacked and murdered by rebel soldiers active in the area at the time. Perhaps that's how Fawcett's gold signet ring eventually ended up in the possession of a shopkeeper!

Or they could have starved to death, been killed by wild animals, eaten by cannibals or succumbed to injury and/or disease. Or maybe Fawcett lost his mind and lived the remainder of his life in some peaceful village, fathering children. People claimed to have seen Fawcett or Rimmell many years after their disappearance, though none of those reports were substantiated.

Since Fawcett's vanishing act, 13 rescue expeditions have searched for him, ending the lives of 100 people. Fortunately, these treks yielded discoveries of one sort or another. East of Dead Horse Camp in 1932, an unnamed German man reportedly saw the shrunken head of a white man resembling Fawcett. In 1933, Fawcett's theodolite was found near the camp of the Bacaari Indians in the Mato Grosso. Even Fawcett's bones were supposedly found by by the aforementioned Orlando Bôas, but this episode turned out to be a hoax.

In a more speculative vein, Fawcett was a theosophist or mystic, who had studied the teachings of Madame Blavatsky, famous psychic and founder of the Theosophical Society. Fawcett believed his eldest son Jack was a reincarnated spirit destined to become some kind of messiah. Before Jack was born in Ceylon, Buddhists and soothsayers correctly predicted that Jack would be born on the Buddha’s anniversary, May 19, 1903, one month later than the expected date of birth. They also predicted that Jack would have a birthmark on his right foot, unusual toes, and that his eyes would have an “obliquity,” all of which turned out to be true. (Fawcett wrote about this revelation in an article for the Occult Review.)

In Brian Fawcett’s co-called Secret Papers, he wrote that his father wanted to deliver his son Jack to the “Earth Guardians” of the Great White Brotherhood (white for purity not race). Some Fawcett enthusiasts think Fawcett found these advanced people and that he now resides in the subterranean city of Ibez, also called Matau-Araacauga, somewhere in the Roncador section of the Mato Grosso.

But others think Fawcett went elsewhere. Fawcett started off at the city of Cuiabá in Brazil and then traveled northeast toward the upper Xingu, where he sent - via native runner - his last transmittal to his wife, telling her essentially not to come looking for him if he didn’t return. In the novel, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils, Indy also travels northeast, looking for Z - hoping to find Fawcett too, of course - between the Xingu and Araguaia Rivers, where a mountain range supposedly lay. The story takes place in 1926, when the maps of the area weren’t reliable, but the maps of today don’t show any mountain range between those rivers.

The cinematic Colonel Percy Fawcett
The cinematic Colonel Percy Fawcett
Another scene from the movie
Another scene from the movie

In this Seven Veils story, the inhabitants of Z have paranormal powers, with which they “veil” the mountain range from the view of outsiders, so they can’t crash the party. Naturally, Indy crashes the party, as he always seems to do! In the preface to the play, AmaZonia, based on Brian Fawcett’s Secret Papers, the author says that Fawcett trekked northwest from Cuiabá, but just exactly where in the northwest nobody knows for certain. Perhaps Fawcett ventured into the Serra do Tombador, a mountain range northwest of Cuiabá. By all accounts, factual or fictional, Fawcett disappeared in a mountainous area with a nearby river. (The Arinos River lies to the east of the Serra do Tombador).

If Colonel Fawcett didn’t find immortality or at least an extended life span, then he’s as dead as a mahogany table. But maybe his grave could be located – if it’s marked in some way. However, locating Colonel Fawcett’s final resting place could be as difficult as finding the elusive El Dorado.

Regarding the search for Fawcett’s lost city, in 1998 a BBC producer visited a so-called lost city in Colombia, populated by people dressed in white robes who called themselves the Kogi. The Kogi claim to be earth guardians whose purpose is to teach mankind spirituality and how to live harmoniously with nature. This supposed lost city isn’t much of a city - lost or otherwise - just a series of large stone platforms, pathways and staircases, and the Kogi have lived by there for many years. At any rate, that’s in Colombia. As yet, nobody has found any ancient stone-built cities in Amazonia.

But there’s still hope! In the book, Discovering Ruins and Rock Art in Brazil and Peru, the author, G. Cope Schellhorn, wrote about finding the pre-Inca ruins of a stone wall and some kind of ceremonial platform near the Paratoari Pyramids in Amazonian Peru. (These “pyramids” are simply jungle-covered limestone formations that attracted attention in satellite photos taken back in the late 1970s.)

Well, who’s ready to launch an expedition to the Mata Grosso? If you can find Colonel Fawcett, his corpse or his lost city, you’ll be world famous overnight - and the book rights would be worth millions!

The Lost City of Z (Trailer)

Questions & Answers

    © 2008 Kelley

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      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, Htodd. This is one of my first hubs and one of my most popular as well. Later!

      • htodd profile image

        htodd 6 years ago from United States

        Thanks for the nice post....Great

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, joseph backhouse. Fawcett's tale is certainly full of wonder and fascination, enough to make you want to pack up and bolt for Brazil. Later!

      • profile image

        josephbackhouse@hotmail.co.uk 6 years ago

        Amazing would love to pack up and leave the uk tonight just another reason for me to one day get over there and find my own piece of unexplored history. Its. Storys like this that fuel us

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, storytellersrus. I would also like to check out the Kogi. And I'll certainly watch Fawcett-the-movie starring Brad Pitt. Later!

      • Storytellersrus profile image

        Barbara 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

        Fascinating! I would be up for an adventure to Kogi- or to a theater showing the movie starring Brad Pitt! Thank you!

      • MacBradaigh88 profile image

        MacBradaigh88 7 years ago from Buffalo, New York

        Lost City of Z is a very good book. Great hub on the subject!

      • scubadoggy profile image

        scubadoggy 7 years ago

        Great hub, one of my hobbies also is archaeology and exploration, and love to read about it... Keep up the good work!

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 7 years ago from California

        Thank you very much for your comment, Peter von Puttkamer. I can't wait to see this program on "Secrets of the Dead," one of my favorite shows, I must say. Fawcett's tale never stops fascinating. Later!

      • profile image

        Peter von Puttkamer 7 years ago

        Well- we've taken up the challenge! We've just returned from Brazil- after an extensive hunt for Fawcett. We are producing a PBS: Secrets of the Dead Special: Lost in the Amazon- the Enigma of Col. Percy Fawcett to air April 20, 2011. We found Fawcett's last camp- Dead Horse Camp...and new clues as to what really happened to him and the motivations of his trip. Plus a newly discovered lost city in the Amazon and what it tells us about Fawcett's belief in advanced civilizations. Peter von Puttkamer, Gryphon Productions Ltd.

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 7 years ago from California

        I read "Lost Trails, Lost Cities" many years ago, but I don't recall the author writing about any such berry, though he certainly could have mentioned such a thing. Anyway, it's my understanding that the Inca didn't use any acidic substance to dissolve stone; they simply used smaller stones to break down larger ones, a process that took lots of time, patience and sweat. Later!

      • profile image

        Murray Rosner 7 years ago

        In Lost Trail Lost Cities It is mentioned that Fawcett allegedly discovered a berry with high acidity that could dissolve stone.He speculated the the Incas used this to work their monolithic stone work.

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 7 years ago from California

        From what I read on the Internet, they'll be making Fawcett's story into a movie starring Brad Pitt. Stay tuned. Later!

      • wingedcentaur profile image

        William Thomas 7 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

        Good Day Kosmo

        Thank you once again for an interesting and absorbing read! You know, this would make a fantastic episode (or series of episodes) on that PBS show 'History Detectives.'

        Well, as Blake4d would say, 'Keep on hubbing.'

      • profile image

        becky 8 years ago

        I read an article about a new discovery of giant prehistoric snakes, someone entered an educated comment about Fawcetts encounter with an anaconda much larger than mentioned in this article. I looked up the story of his snake and was amazed by this mans historical presence. I have tried to saturate my only free time at night (2 special needs children) with info about Fawcett. I have truly enjoyed this article LINKED BY Michael Woods web site. That is a wonderful web site full of valuable information as well. I enjoyed the vivid writing style of this article and all the other very interesting facts that help me fit the pieces of his life together in my mind. I am a dental hygienist but I have always been a history geek. My father travels to S. America often for work and I would love to send these two links to him. Thank you for a great read!

      • profile image

        Ben Hammott 8 years ago

        There is no getting away from it, the Fawcett story is fascinating. It's sad in a way that if the expedition

        returned safely without finding the Lost City of Z, Fawcett may have been forgotten, However, with their

        disappearance they have in a way, been immortalized, capturing the imagination of many as to what happened to them.

        The story, if handled correctly, will make a great film, let's hope Hollywood can bring it off.

        I have a new book about Colonel Fawcett that continues his journey to the Lost City. It is called Amazon Adventure.

        For those who are interested here is the link: http://www.fawcettadventure.com

        Coming in 2010 the new novel that continues Fawcett's quest to find his Lost City of Z

        The date is 1925

        The location is the Amazon Jungle.

        Colonel Percy Fawcett, his son Jack and close friend Raleigh Rimmell, are looking for a lost City rumoured to be

        hidden in the unexplored regions of the cannibal inhabited jungle.

        Dead Horse Camp is situated at the boundary of unexplored territory. Ahead lay the unknown, danger, and perhaps a

        Lost Civilisation.

        The three explorers enter the jungle never to be seen or heard from again. Until now!

        Present day - New information that reveals what befell the Fawcett expedition reaches the civilised world. A team

        is put together to travel to the Amazon jungle. Their task is to unravel the mystery and find the Lost City of Z.

        But the journey to the Lost City is just the beginning. Inside lurks danger and a secret those guarding it will

        kill to protect. Survival will not be easy, escape impossible.

        Fawcett's adventure continues in AMAZON ADVENTURE Journey to Colonel Fawcett's Lost City

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 9 years ago from California

        I'm glad you liked my version of Fawcett's story. And thanks very much for creating a link to my hub. Happy hunting!

      • profile image

        Michael Woods 9 years ago

        I just loved this article. All the salient facts concerning the fascinating disappearance of the last Great English Gentleman, including the whackiest of theories about Colonel Fawcett joining the Earth Guardians in some subterranean world unknown to the rest of us. Great stuff. I've included a link to this hub on my website, www.colonelfawcett.net

      • profile image

        marmmoo 9 years ago from MEQUON, WI.

        Neat, I've never even heard of this guy, and then to find out, Indiana Jones could be the story of this mans life, fascinating stuff.

      • profile image

        Kirk Ingoldsby 10 years ago

        Facinating reading. Congrats Kosmo and thanks for your interesting research.

      • Poetic Knight profile image

        Poetic Knight 10 years ago from Ottawa

        Though I knew of him I had exactly zero details, which you kindly filled in all the blanks for me. Thanks muchly.

        -------===>PK<===-------

      • Hovalis profile image

        Hovalis 10 years ago from Australia

        Wow! What an interesting hub. I've never heard of Fawcett, and the story of his disappearence makes a great read. It does sound like something out of an Indiana Jones movie! Thanks for the great hub. :-)

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