The Squaw Hollow Sensation: Part 2 – The Search Begins

“Mountain Democrat,” June 14, 1879 (continued)

“From New York I went to San Francisco, and from there, getting a good outfit of horses and camping conveniences, I retraced my way to the Rocky Mountains, and thence southerly and easterly until in less that three years I crossed the Valley of the Mississippi several times, besides going straight to Chihuahua and working my way up. Humboldt, in the inscriptions of the Aztecs which he speaks of, had a theory that the migration was from the south, as he makes mention of the oft recurrence of a palm tree in their pictures; sufficient evidence, in his mind, that they were monuments of a people not unacquainted with tropical flora. But this, to me, with my new theory, was a simple matter. I find a startling resemblance between the hieroglyphics of the African Taurisks and your Aztec pictures, even down to a similar recurrence of the symbolic palm tree. Humboldt erred in calling all the ancient inhabitants of this country Aztecs, as I am of the opinion that they were but descendants, degenerate ones of the grand old Incas, the builders of the Casas Grandes of the Mississippi Valley. In following up my researches I have been as thorough as possible, authenticating my illustrious countryman whenever I could. The theory that these aborigines emigrated from Egypt is very probable. Not only do I find them in both countries resembling each other in their most distinguished passion for building, but all along the suppositious rout, through India, China, Kamschatka (Kamchatka), and then again down through this continent, we find abundant traces of their camps, where they were delayed for periods of not exceeding twenty or thirty years, but we also find records showing the successive changes their manners and customs underwent, and shadowing, perhaps, the causes. And so we find among the descendants of the Talhuaticans now living in lower Mexico distinct traces of the pure Buddhist religion which they picked up in India. They have moreover traditions recounting their wanderings, one also relating to the confusion of tongues, another in regard to the deluge, and what is more wonderful, today in their ruins of Palenque you may see pictures of the trip across the ocean in immense canoes (Note: Palenque is a ruin city in Mexico that is part of the Maya civilization. It dates back to 100 BC and was abandoned around 800 AD). The colors are identical with those used in decorating the tombs of Egypt. In the canoes the majority of the passengers are of the same aspect as the Egyptians, but there are slaves represented in the act of rowing, who bear unmistakable Isralitish and Nubian countenances. This may surprise your readers, but consult Prescott (Note: William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) an American historian and chronicler of the conquest of Mexico) and the published travels of Humboldt and you will find something more startling still, for they discovered mummies or embalmed bodies of these ancient Americans, prepared exactly as the Egyptians. In the Mexican exhibit at Philadelphia there were several of these mummies, wrapped up in their linen cases, and in the department of Egypt, not one hundred feet away, were others so near alike that had they been changed during the night the difference could not have been detected (Note: The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia was a world’s fair celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). I spent part of last Summer near the ruins of Palenque, and found many of these mummies, corresponding with those of Egypt in this additional respect that there were two classes, those that had been disemboweled, and those that were perfect. I took the trouble to dissect two of these, one of each kind, and found one in a perfect state. This I brought up to San Francisco and shipped to Berlin. It was hardly out of my hands, though, till I wished it back. Just then Professor Nichtken’s translations appeared (Note: the German Archaeological Institute’s offices in Berlin and Cairo have no record of a Professor Nichtken. They pointed out that Nichtken could be translated to “no-know” ). In regard to these perfect bodies, he claimed that they had not died, but were embalmed alive, and that according to their superstition the priests had expected to some day revive them. In one of the Bilingual Tablets, similar to the Rosetta Stone, he had found the grave assurance that a certain Sethos could be brought to life by “heaven’s fire” only (Note: the Rosetta Stone has the text of a 196 BC decree by Ptolemy V written in two Egyptian languages, hieroglyphic and demotic, and classical Greek. It was the key to deciphering hieroglyphics). This “heaven’s fire” had puzzled him. To me it was a revelation, for in one of the tomb paintings of the Incas I remembered a representation of several mummies, on one side, and on the other a like number of persons leaping from their shells, while a thunderbolt was in the act of descending amongst them. This then – lightning – was what was meant by “heaven’s fire.

“I still groped in the dark. For convenience in the dissecting-room I had at length composed a liquor which would restore partially the limbs of remains thrown into it. My principle was this: “Here,” said I, “these bodies, true, are old and dry, and have been held in bondage perhaps for thousands of years, but still they are as perfect now as ever. Why not supply the water which they have lost, and be able to dissect as readily as with fresh subjects?” It was a subject for thought. If you take a ripe peach and carefully dry it, you may reduce it to be a hard, black shell with a tight-drawn skin surrounding it. You have merely deprived it of its moisture. Reverse the process and it is possible to reproduce the plump, blooming peach. The time that has elapsed between the two experiments amounts to nothing.  With this idea to work on I proceeded with my experiments and with great success. Often I have taken an arm from a mummy, and after soaking it in my solution for some days have been able to pass it off as a green specimen. I have sometimes even followed up the nerves or removed the skin and traced out the venous system. At such times I know I used often too wonder why it would not be possible to revive a whole body in the same way. This I never thought of really trying till after I read Professor Nichtken’s book last Fall, and then I had no longer any of the right sort of mummies for my experiment. Here I should have rested a while, content that I had solved the difficulty in classifying my Incas, had it not been for some remarks let fall by my esteemed friend, Mr. Brooks, in the Union Club, San Francisco, one night. When I mentioned mummies, he spoke up. “Why,” said he, “when I was mining up in El Dorado twenty years ago, we found some regular mummies in a hole up on Squaw Hollow, near Hangtown.” I jumped at this. I had now and opportunity of testing the Professor’s theory. Binding him to secrecy, and getting as good a description of the locality as time allowed, I struck out. Before I left he gave me a letter of introduction to Hon. F. Collins, who he said was an official of considerable scientific attainments, and could especially assist me in regard to the handling of dead subjects. I arrived, presented my letter to the gentleman, but found that he was not then holding office. He was, however, on good terms with his successor, also a devotee of science, Dr. J. J. Lawyer, to whom the Hon. F. C. introduced me, and at the same time stated my object.”

Note: Frederick K. Collins was elected as the El Dorado County Coroner in 1872 and, after being re-elected in 1875, does not appear to have sought re-election in 1876. In the 1880 census he is living in Placerville with his occupation listed as a butcher-clerk.

Note: Dr. John J. Lawyer did not run for election in 1876, but the winner, Thomas F. Lewis, could not obtain a bond to qualify for the position (the Republicans said he could not get a bond and the Democrats countered, saying he was too ill to leave the house to get one). Lawyer was appointed in his place and took office in May of 1877. At the election in September of 1879, he would be defeated, but only by a small margin. The 1880 census shows him living in Kelsey with his occupation listed as a farmer.

“We spent the first two days in making plans and preparations for the journey, and at last set out on the morning of the 10th of March (1879). I need not describe the ride there, for you will doubtless remember the condition of the roads at that time. Scrambling up the narrow little gorge as best we could, on our hands and knees, clinging to the bushes as the stones gave way beneath our feet, we finally found the opening to the cavern we were in search of. After an hour’s hard work we enlarged the opening and entered, pausing first long enough to light the candles. I found the floor covered with a fine white dust that arose in clouds about as we stepped along. It was a form of soda, corresponding to the Egyptian natron.”

(Note: natron is a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfite. Because it is a water softener, it has been used for cleaning purposes for centuries. But most importantly, it was used as a drying agent and preservative during the mummification process in ancient Egypt).

“The cave seemed to be artificial, and hewn out of the solid granite, but I could see no signs of any further chambers, or of mummies in this. Finally I found an inscription on the wall, appended to which was an arrow, pointing down towards the northwest corner. Stooping down here, and scraping away the dust, I found a slab of stone which seemed to have been cemented, but was now loose.”

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