What Happened To Percival From 'Lost City of Z' Is The Ultimate Historical Mystery
I had so much excitement when I saw that Lost City of Z, one of the most interesting nonfiction books I've read in recent years, was being made into a movie. The book itself is a fascinating intersection of two men's stories: colonialist explorer Percival Fawcett, whose obsessive journeys through the Amazon in the early 20th century were driven by discoveries of the remains of ancient civilization, and that of the writer of David Grann, who went on a quest to follow Fawcett's path of adventure many years later. The grand, lush film focuses more on Fawcett himself, leading viewers along his adventures as it attempts answer to answer the question of, ultimately, what happened to Percival in his Lost City of Z quest.
One of the most engaging parts of the book version of Lost City of Z, published by Grann in 2009, is the tension that comes from not knowing how far into his many quests Fawcett will get before the many brutal difficulties of traveling through the Amazon prove to be too much. I say quests plural because Fawcett truly was a man fixated, and he returned time and time again to the dense, mysterious landscape and almost impossible (for a European) climate in order to make further progress, to prove that the "City of Z" was real. What Fawcett called the City of Z was what other might recognize more familiarly as El Dorado, an incredibly advanced society hidden deep in the Amazon that was making remarkable technological and cultural progress long before Westerners.
In 1925, Fawcett ventured out on his final mission, determined to come back with irrefutable proof of the City of Z. He took his explorer-in-training son Jack and Jack's best pal Raleigh Rimell, and the three of them sent some letters back to England during the earlier legs of the quest. Spoiler alerts ahead: the men then went unheard from for many, many years. As noted by by History.com in a story about Fawcett's remarkable history, The Royal Geographical Society even sent George Miller Dyott on a recovery expedition in order to find Fawcett and his young adventure partners. No evidence was recovered. Though Fawcett's wife Nina remained convinced until her death in that the men were still going to return from their excavation, to this day, there is no final evidence of what happened to Fawcett and his party.
There are clues though, perhaps the most useful of which is elucidated in Grann's Lost City of Z. In his own quest to find out what happened to Fawcett, Grann met with a group of Kalapalo Indians who had, in their oral history, preserved a story about meeting with Fawcett. According to the Kalapalo history, Fawcett ventured into a territory that Kalapalo had warned him to avoid, where a warring tribe lived. As History.com put it, "When the white men failed to return, the Kalapalos concluded that they had been ambushed and killed."
This is a hugely valuable clue to what happened to Fawcett, but ultimately, the fate of the explorer is a mystery. And it's one that makes the story of his adventures all the more fascinating.