The mysterious life and death of Dr George Mott, in Iquitos, 1927

by Captain Bill

george-mott-photo

Dr. George Mott photo from his passport in Guatamala

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.”

george-mott-guatemala

Dr. George Mott's republic of Guatemala passport. The date appears to be 1921

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.

george-mott-death-certificate

The Death Certificate for Doctor George Mott

We know from the Death Certificate Dr. George Mott died in Iquitos, April 8th, 1927.

american consulate-iquitos-1927-george-mott

The American Consulat report on George Mott in 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,…”

american-consular-report-page-2-george-mott

This is page two of the American Consular report on the mysterious death of Doctor George Mott

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.”

george-mott-June-2nd-1921-columbia

The stamp on the upper left is dated June 2nd 1921 Columbia

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…

george-mott-sketch-fingerprint

Sketch of George Mott, with his signature, fingerprint, gray eyes, profession seems to read chemist, passport number 426, Bogata is crossed out and what appears to be Valencia (?) is written , May 1924, in Columbia

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;

Steamships Of The Rubber Boom: Recovering History in the Peruvian Amazon;

Follow the Course Of History on the restored Amazon Riverboat Clavero, Since 1876;


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Martin Green September 26, 2011 at 8:52 am

Bill;
Tell Mr. Maldando that he will have to go without reading now that he has lost the third pair of glasses that I gave him. Look forward to seeing you and the Boulevard Gang in Nov.

2 Captain Bill September 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

I’m very sorry this comment box was not working for a few days. There is no way to know what we missed, but thanks to my friend Martin for commenting as soon as I got it working again and thanks to another good friend of mine Glen Short, who felt strongly enough he went to the trouble of emailing me his comment

Hi Bill
that story about Dr Mott was very interesting. I love those kinds of stories. Seems to me we may never find out the circumstances of his death, but two scenarios crossed my mind while reading your story.
1. His grand-daughter said he deserted his third wife, backtracked between several countries, and one of the documents says he was in debt for his board. Maybe he faked his own disappearance, or paid the consequences for not paying his debts, from what I have read, in the Amazon region back in those days scores were settled like in the Wild West (Sir Roger Casement’s reports make interesting but depressing reading in this regard).
2. By the looks of his photo in the passport, he was already quite old, and in those days if you made it to 50 you were doing well. Maybe he died of natural causes, drowned or fell victim to one of the jungle’s many predators or fevers on one of his butterfly catching expeditions.
When I went to the Iquitos cemetery it was quite an experience. I think there is room for someone to conduct tours there, if someone could tally up all the interesting characters buried there, beginning with Fitzcarraldo.
bye
Glen

Glen David Short knows a thing or two about good stories. He is the author of An Odd Odyssey, a collection of stories from Glen’s extensive travels. An Odd Odyssey is one of my favorite books. I know he must be working on volume two because Glen’s Odd Odyssey has continued ever since…

3 Crystal September 30, 2011 at 9:13 am

Thank you, Bill, for posting this. George Mott not only left behind seven children, but also left more than 30 grandchildren and countless more descendents with more questions than answers. The last memory my own great-grandfather (who was about 10-11 years old at the time) has of his father was George turning to throw a casual wave behind him as he drove his horse and wagon down the dusty road in East Texas before he disappeared into the woods of the Big Thicket.

So far, we have at least one representative descendent (that we know of!) from nearly all of George Mott’s children now researching this mysterious man.

Any information anyone can provide, whether seems useful or not, would be most helpful and appreciated. Bill has most of our email addresses and can keep us updated, or feel free to send me an email at crystalrawls@ymail.com.

Thank you!

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