The Last Word

(is never the last word, but its the most recent - 2-21-2016)


A friend Henry Schnautz told me he had dated the daughter of the famous Mexican novelist B. Traven. In fact they had been quite 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 this was in the 1980s when I first heard that story. Towards the end of Henry's life, in 2007, I read the wikipedia page for B. Traven and I was immediately interested in finding more. The B. Traven identity was one of the most mysterious literary mysteries, if not the most mysterious, of the 20th century. Henry by this time could answer a single question sometimes, but not hold a conversation. The subject made him emotional so I did not feel comfortable trying to ask him questions. I had no reason to believe his 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 herself was somewhat legendary, a mountain climber, said to converse and translate in several languages, sister to the President of Mexico (after her death), cousin and sister in law to the famous mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, friend and speech stenographer to Vicente Lombardo Toledano, a leading labor politician and marxist. 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, I found a barrel of old letters. The first one I picked up was a postcard written during world war two to his mother. Henry wrote how depressing it was seeing all the bombed out buildings, how utterly futile was the whole experience. I thought this should be saved, not thrown out to be dumped on a fire. But that was before, several years before, I got involved.
Ben Labudde, who was Henry's true friend, met me there, even loaned me a key for a while. He laid his hand on the 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 not opened since 1946. Those were heady days finding 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. 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 put the entire Henry archive on-line starting in the spring of 2008. I already had a website for my firefly photography, and I had enough training to enjoy the web page creation process. I wondered why all authors don't just self-publish. I thought of it as on-line notes that could collect the days work. I also wondered why museums and archives don't hire college students to digitize collections. Of course the answer is dollars and recognition. Something not exactly vetted about self-publishing. But I knew I had great material and waiting for a publisher would be futile. 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. 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 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.
Not a lot of people have picked up my material and used it, but some have, which is what I wanted, to put it out there and maybe someone else would help put the true story together. Adriana Gonzalez Mateos published her book of fiction on the life of Esperanza in spring of 2015. She is a distant relative of Esperanza. The story told in her family is that Adolfo, the future president of Mexico, was born after the death of his father, long after. His mother was a widower. This is where Gonzalo appears in the story. This was a new theory to me, I had never read anything except that the man officially Esperanza's father, Mariano, 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. There is still a mystery as to her brother, his record says 1908 but it was not recorded for some reason until 1912.
I think its clear. Murga is the father, that is not proven, but he is the only candidate the family puts forward, the only name discussed. Elena is the mother. She was not happy with the circumstances of the births. Today we would not feel shame or worry so much about that. Traven is a recreational liar probably beset with paranoia and other traits. What did Esperanza know and when did she know it? I do not know. Why did Henry, a smart man, believe this foolish story? Why did Gabriel? Henry I believe had never met anyone who lied about their parentage. He was in love. He trusted. There is a personality who lies constantly. These people sometimes start religions or build personality cults around themselves. They are not often encountered and their talent is real.