I receive a lot of emails for a lot of reasons, but this one stands out for capturing my attention and imagination. How about yours? If you have any ideas or information, please post it in the comments below.
“I found your site and wondered if you might help me with finding information on my great grandfather. His name was George Mott and he lived and died in Iquitos on April 2, 1927. He was buried there by a Gustav Fleering “ in the panteon” . George was a medical doctor. The papers we found from the American Consular Service states at death he had in his possession 10 cases of collections of butterflies and other animals…We think George may have been doing research. Is there anyone in your town that might have any information or can you tell my who I might contact? Any information you have will be greatly appreciated.”
So we sent one of our top researchers, Juan Maldonado, to the public register, to the cemetery register, and to the cemetery to look in the section devoted to burials from 1925 to 1928. He found nothing pertinent to this mystery, but in the process of his investigation he lost his glasses and his cell phone.
The trail is cold. We have more questions than answers. Why was he in Guatemala? Why was he in Ecuador? Why Columbia? I speculate he was traveling over-land through Central and South America in the 1920′s to Peru. We know he traveled from Illinois to Texas, to Florida.
We know from the Death Certificate Dr. George Mott died in Iquitos, April 8th, 1927.
This document from the American Consulate General, lets us know that George Mott died with “practically nothing of value; no cloths and no money, only 10 cases of collections of butterflies, and other animals, seven of which are stated to be of utterly no value: and three of which have already been sold by the British Consul for twenty soles, to keep them from decay. In addition to this, the assets of the estates consists of such proceeds as may be realized from the sale of 6,000 butterflies to Germany shortly before the death of Mr. Mott. It is stated that some butterflies were sent to New York but the consignment was refused. Inas much as Mr. Mott owed a board bill of 810 soles the British Cousul has been requested to turn over any sum up to that amount to Mr. Gustav Fleering,…”
In Mister Fleering’s letter to the British Consul the former stated he had buried Mister Mott in the “panteon” (cemetery) No further details are known. The death is being reported…to Mr. Tranger of Philadelphia, inas much as he is the only person with whom Mr. Mott is known to have had more than business dealings. I am informed that Mr. Mott repeatedly stated that he had no family in the United States, and inas much as he left no estate, it does not appear useful to pursue the matter further.”
Intriguing. His passport reveals he was in Columbia June 2, 1921, Ecuador August 4, 1925, Guatemala, May 13, 1925 and died in Peru April 8, 1927. He did not travel a straight line. Why did he travel from Ecuador to Guatemala then to Peru? Did he travel overland? Was he was just flitting from country to country chasing butterflies…
And then to add to the details and the mystery, this follow up email;
“Thank for you interest and the beautiful pictures. Sorry I have been a trouble and your friend lost his phone and glasses. Did he find them?
He was born in Yorkville, Illinois in 1854. He came to Hardin county Texas around 1883 and married 3 times, the last wife was my great grandmother, Laura. George became a dr in 1889 after the death of his 1st wife in child birth. He traveled alot to study new medical procedures and when he left home 1912 he signed on as a crew dr for a railroad. He was only going to be gone a short time but had a hotel in north east texas send his clothes home with a letter he would be back soon. He never returned. The family assumed he was killed somewhere. In the 80′s a cousin tried to find him but only found more questions. I started trying to find him about a year ago and found him in Florida on the 1920 census. So then the question was where he was between 1912 and 1920 and then where he died. Another cousin works for an oil company and her job is to find heirs so she decided to find George. She came up with the passport and death certificate and a letter from the American Consulate General. Our interest is why he went down there, what he was doing (except catching butterflies and why) and I guess for closure.
The passport (#42(5)6) is from Guatemala 5/13/1925, Colombia 6/2/1921, Equador 8/4/1925. There is another paper in another language dated 3/3/1924. Thanks again for you interest.”
Mike Collis, editor of the Iquitos Times, Caleb Whitaker author of Jungle Love and I have spent many hours speculating about George Mott’s life and death, and what Iquitos was like to live in circa 1927.
This morning I paid our researcher on the street, Juan Maldonado, S/10 soles to bring a old well spoken man with a good memory. That’s how I came to meet the charming 87 year old Ulises Elespuro. I enjoyed our conversation. According to Don Ulises, poor people with no assets were buried in a common grave. He was only 2 years old in 1927 so his impressions of that date must have his age taken in to consideration. He estimated the population of Iquitos in 1927 at 200 souls.
Caleb and I looked at the aerial photo taken in 1924, attributed to Elmer Faucett, in Scott Humfeld’s excellent article Iquitos Peru, A Photographic Record Of Iquitos Peru; Past and Present. We tried to estimate the population of Iquitos in 1924. Caleb thought 2,000 to 3,000, I think 5,000 to 10,000. Another friend of mine, Bill Park, is trained at estimating the number of birds in a flock or people in a crowd estimated 50,000. So we have guesses from 200 to 50,000. What do you think?
Much has been written about Iquitos during the rubber boom from approximately 1880 to 1912, when the population may have grown to over 20,000 people in the middle of the rainforest where rivers took the place of roads, but what happened after the collapse? I did a little research on the internet and found that only 14% of the most sound businesses continued to prosper into 1927 and beyond. What about the other 86% of the businesses? What was the population in 1927 and what was life like for it’s residents two decades after the economy of Iquitos collapsed?
What about your imagination? What do you think? Leave a comment below to let us know.
The mysterious life and death of Dr. George Mott, in Iquitos 1927
I have the honor to be your obedient servant, Bill Grimes reporting from Iquitos Peru 2012, striving to avoid the fate of Dr. Mott…
Other articles about the history of Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon can be read here. Click the links below;