My friend Henry Schnautz told me he had dated the daughter of the famous Mexican novelist B. Traven. In fact they had been close. I didn't know who B Traven was, but I knew he had written the book "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" made in to a movie with Humphrey Bogart. I believe it was in the 1980s I first heard the story. Towards the end of Henry's life, in 2008, I read the wikipedia page for B. Traven and I was interested in learning more. The B. Traven identity was one of the great literary mysteries of the 20th century. I had no reason to believe Henry's version was not true, though quickly reading a few books, I found his story was completely unknown.
Traven had no daughter, none that he claimed anyway. He had a translator in Mexico, his business agent, the same woman Henry had known, Esperanza Lopez Mateos. She was legendary, a mountain climber, said to converse and translate in several languages, her brother became President of Mexico after her death, she was cousin and sister in law to the famous Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, lived in the same house with him, her house, friend and speech stenographer to Vicente Lombardo Toledano, "el jefe marxista mexicana". Esperanza died of her own hand in 1951, a mysterious incident seldom described in detail.
Henry's wife told me to go out to Henry's house, now vacant, and look around. At first I thought there was no use. Thieves had been all through it on multiple occasions. After Henry left someone had made attempts to clean it up. Moving and throwing out items. I had lived in the neighborhood earlier and liked to walk around on Sunday mornings through the field up to the house from the back. In the old summer kitchen, a large barn like building detached from the house, now leaning badly but the massive timbers still holding, I found a barrel of old letters. The first one I picked up was a postcard from Germany during world war two to his mother. Henry wrote how depressingly futile it was to see the heritage of the buildings destroyed. ("the work of a thousand years is nothing but rubble." - qtd in William Shirer) Henry's grandparents were all from Germany. I thought this should be saved, not thrown out to be dumped on a fire. But that was several years before I got involved.
In spring 2008, Ben Labudde, Henry's true friend, met me there, even hid a key for me for a while. He laid his hand on a box and said this looks like Trotsky stuff. Henry was a packrat. He saved things. Lucky for me there was a pile of groundhog shit in the attic right in front of the cabinet that held a satchel that had been tucked far in the back and apparently forgotten and not opened since 1946. Those were heady days finding angry letters from B. Traven, love letters in spanish. I will never know how much was lost, but it was amazing to find what was still there.
Everyone who knew Henry well knew that Esperanza was Traven's daughter, but all were like me and did not know who Traven was. Esperanza was not Traven's daughter. There is no evidence that Traven and/or Esperanza concocted this lie for anyone's benefit except Henry. But the story fits perfectly with Traven's paranoia that his German heritage would be found out and he would be expelled from Mexico during world war two and returned to Germany. Traven had enemies in Mexico and certainly in Germany. He wrote of brutal wage slavery of the Indian people. He wrote a book called Government, not flattering the authorities. In his first Spanish translation, made by Esperanza, where he introduced Esperanza to the literary world, Traven says he is an American and his first name is not Bruno. Previous bootleg spanish translations were in error, he said, for instance when he wrote about a government in the south, he was not talking about Mexico. Esperanza is curiously put on a pedestal in this book with her own logo on the title page.
What seems like a preposterous story that only a buffoon would believe, seemed plausible to me. One - Esperanza is blonde. She is European looking. She does not look like she has any indigenous bloodlines, from her photos. In fact she looks like Traven. Two - her own birth is shrouded in total mystery. Three - Traven gave her some copyrights to the spanish editions and there was that curious unexplained beginning of their relationship. The first Spanish translation has her logo on the title page and a dedication to mothers, possibly the only Traven book with a dedication. On the other hand, even the most casual reading of the Traven attempted biographies showed that he was an habitual liar, that he was almost certainly in Germany when Esperanza was born, and no one else had even a single line of support for this theory.
The details of Henry's story of Esperanza's parentage change over time. The first story is that her mother and father are who they are supposed to be, but her father was killed in revolutionary conflict. This was the first story he wrote home to his mother in 1941. The next story in 1942 is just a snippet, because you were adopted, he wrote to Esperanza, does not make you slave. You do not have to sacrifice your life to pay back a debt. In other words, the woman who raised Esperanza is not her biological mother. What is curious about that story, is that it is essentially the same one that Gabriel Figueroa told and he believed all his life, lending it a lot of credence. The next and last story told by Henry apparently he learned from Esperanza in December 1942, after her trip to nurse the very sick Traven. Traven had been in Mexico, he married an English woman, details, as a German navy captain he left for war, and his wife died in childbirth. The child was taken by the doctor and his wife. It's a very dramatic story. At some point I felt bad that Henry was telling that story in a letter still yet in 1992.
But something is wrong. Gabriel Figueroa, whose credentials to know the truth are very good, believed that Esperanza was adopted. In both his and Henry's story a Spaniard figures large who lives on a Sugar plantation in the south of Mexico, Gonzalo de Murga. This is Esperanza's father, says Gabriel, and it appears to be true. He was an enthusiastic and unapologetic lover of women. It appears to be something of a code of living for him. In 2005 Regina Santago Nunez, a granddaughter I believe, wrote a book on him claiming that he was the father of both the future president and his sister, Adolfo Lopez Mateos and Esperanza. This Spaniard also occurs in Henry's tale, as a friend and his home as a place Esperanza knew as a child. Her book is in Spanish, so I apologize if I missed it, but she does not appear to have the final fact needed to put this story together.
I started putting the Henry archive on-line in spring 2008. I already had a website for my firefly photography, and I had enough training to enjoy the web page process. Worldwide instant publishing. I thought of it as on-line notes that could collect the days work, usually organized by date of the source. Each page dedicated to one document. I knew I had great material but not publishable, not a story, more messy, but more real than a sanitized plot. And I was in the middle of the mystery, not at the end of it. My friend Susan and I read all the Traven books and tried to put two and two together. Change the theory, change the page. Figuring out the Traven mystery is not the cottage industry it used to be, but it was a pretty big deal for a very long time.
Traven did not want to be found out. He lied in his last will and testament. People who thought they had his confidence, who thought they had the truth about him, did not. He was a mystery for so long that most of the literature on him reflects the identity chase. I believe it has been cleared up. A BBC documentary on Traven in 1978 and the subsequent book traced Traven through the London jail to Mexico, and back to his birth in present day Poland. It was not accepted by the Traven experts, but a second researcher, Jan Christoph Hauschild says he has found connections between the Polish guy and Traven. His book is in German, so I cannot read it very well, but I accept his conclusion. Anything Traven said about himself has to agree with this basic biography, and nothing Traven said agrees with it.
Adriana Gonzalez Mateos wrote a book of fiction. I hate it. It's not
a good book. It heavily uses the information on this website but ignores
and even falsifies much of it to tell the story she wants to tell. Men
and women see this story differently, and Mexican and American probably
do also. So it's ok. But the book contains the nugget that Mariano, Esperanza's
official father, died well before Esperanza was born. That was a new theory
to me. Mariano Lopez, it was officially written, died in 1915. In October
2015, Ancestry dot com sent me an email saying millions of new Mexican
records had come on-line. Mariano died in 1904. Esperanza was born in
1907. Her brother's record, the future president of Mexico, says 1908
but it was not recorded for some reason until 1912. This made news in
Searching documentary traces of a Mexican presidential family: Lopez Mateos
I think its clear. Murga is the father, that is not proven, but he is the only candidate, the only name discussed by the family. The women in the family kept the true story alive for more than 100 years. Elena is the mother. She was not allowed to be happy with the circumstances of the births, though she raised two exceptional people. Traven is a recreational liar probably beset with paranoia and other traits. Did he profit from this lie or was it just for fun? What did Esperanza know and when did she know it? I do not know, but the assumption is she lied, which makes the story all the more tragic for me and less interesting frankly. I want to wind it up and put it in its final simpler form. Why did Henry, a smart man, believe this foolish story? Why did Gabriel believe multiple lies? No one was closer to Esperanza. He had the best access and intentions. Why did Esperanza, Traven's closest associate, and Gabriel believe that Traven is actually Mauricio Rathenau, son of the German industrialist, to their last day?
Would it have ended differently for Esperanza if the truth had been told? Henry I believe had never met anyone who lied about their parents. He was in love. It changed with the dramatic results of 1943. He wasn't the same after that. Characters are changed by events. But he always trusted.
A lot of the letters are lost. Almost all of Henry's letters to Esperanza are lost and probably more than half of hers. I don't know what Esperanza wrote in those, but I know she never told Henry that Traven is not my father. Instead of taking her own life, I wish she had sat down and wrote a letter in September 1951 saying here is the truth. I wish I had that letter.
The letters from Esperanza 1950 and 1951 speak for her. They are her last word.
Henry bred peacocks. This is my photo, late 1970's, on Henry's farm in southern Indiana.