LOOKING FOR SPONSORS
Dejected by their rebuff from the Mexican government, the Le Plongeons decided to head further south to British Honduras. In early 1878 they set sail from Cozumel aboard a dilapidated 12-ton schooner. It was captained by a smuggler known as Antonio, "as unclean a specimen of the Spanish sailor as we have ever had the misfortune to see."
On the first night out, Alice had to share the boat's tiny cabin with the resident cockroach colony and a shipment of turtles. She was suffering from a severe cold. "From a second troubled doze upon my turtle pillow I was awakened by a shout and, going to the foot of the scuttle, saw my husband holding the tiller, giving orders in not sweet Spanish" (1886a:66-72).
Roused by the sound of breakers only a few yards ahead, he had found the helmsman fast asleep and was barely able to veer the boat away from disaster. In the dark they could not be sure of their course.
"Not even a star glimmered over-head; we therefore went back about half a mile and hove toBahia de la Ascension was but a few miles from the capital of the Cruzob at Chan Santa Cruz. To land on any part of the coast would have meant certain death. The hapless boat finally arrived in Belize City, but waited offshore until after dark to allow Antonio to "smuggle in a few thousand cigars" to the local tobacconist.
till morning. Daylight showed that we were entirely out of our course, and had been close upon
the reefs at the entrance of Ascension Bay, where the water is very deep and alive with sharks."
Once on land, the Le Plongeons began exploring the British colony. The abundance of Englishmen in government and lumber company positions gave them a new audience for their Yucatan adventures. Among those who were fascinated by the stories were Governor Henry Fowler, Lieutenant Governor Frederick Barlee, and Chief Justice William A. Parker. They became lifelong friends of the Le Plongeons.
Several of the notables of the colony persuaded Alice to give a lecture on Yucatan as a fund raiser for a local Catholic school. The lecture, publicized as "Notes on Yucatan," illustrated by Augustus' photos, raised a good sum of money for the school. Alice sent the text of the lecture to Stephen Salisbury, who published it in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society the next year.
Augustus was quite happy that Salisbury was taking his advice about publishing Alice's work as well as his own. In several previous letters to Salisbury, he had been emphatic about Alice's role and the credit she should receive. "Please do not forget that the scientific world is as much indebted to Mrs. Le Plongeon as to myself and that I decline receiving all the honors and see her deprived of her part she so richly deserves. So be kind enough not to publish my portrait unless hers is also published" (1877b).
The Le Plongeons spent four months exploring the ruins of northern British Honduras and even attempted to see the sites further north in Quintana Roo near Bacalar. They petitioned Crescencio Poot, leader of the Cruzob, for permission to enter their territory. They hoped that rumor of their sincere interest in the Maya might have reached him. Reach him or not, the Maya general was unmoved.
Instead they planned a visit to the site of Copan in Honduras, which Augustus had been hoping to see since marvelling at Catherwood's drawings of the elaborately carved stelae there. They met with a Honduran General, Don Luis Bogran, and acquired a number of small artifacts from the excavation. The pieces were later deposited at the American Antiquarian Society.
By this time, the Le Plongeons were beginning to suffer financial difficulties, and things would not improve for them in the years to follow.
In 1878 Augustus wrote to Stephen Salisbury, "I have taken more views of Belize, in order to dispose of them here and pay our daily expenses." A new friend, Mr. Benar, was asked to help find a buyer for some of their pictures in London, and was given a letter of introduction to Alice's father, Henry Dixon. It could not hurt for Mr. Dixon to be given a first-hand account of his daughter's accomplishments and perhaps nudged to lend some support.
In another letter to Salisbury, Augustus thanked him for all the assistance he had given them in their efforts to publicize their research. He added that they were very short of funds and were prevented from doing anything further, unsupported as they were by any private or public institutions.
Augustus also suggested to Salisbury that he contact United States President Rutherford B. Hayes to see if Hayes could convince the Mexican government to provide armed protection for the Le Plongeons to return to Chichen Itza. Augustus provided the scenario. Salisbury would tantalize Hayes with knowledge of a hidden cache of important sculp-tures whose whereabouts were known only to Le Plongeon. Anyone who assisted Augustus in presenting them to the world would gain great renown. Their reputation might rival Heinrich Schliemann who excavated Troy, or General Luigi Palma de Cesnola, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art who amassed a great collection of art objects.
In that same letter to Salisbury, Augustus brought up another issue that had haunted him since the early 1860s in Peru--the unauthorized publication of research findings and photographs by E. G. Squier. Augustus had just received a copy of an article published by Squier in the February 1877 Harpers New Monthly Magazine. The article contained several pages of photographs taken from the glass-plates Le Plongeon had entrusted to Squier to deliver for publication in New York.
Augustus had known since he first brought Alice to New York that Squier had illegally claimed ownership, but it was especially irksome that the problem surfaced again just after the Chacmool incident. And furthermore, Squier's only mention of Le Plongeon in reference to mapping and photo-graphing the Peruvian sites was that he, Squier, was "accompanied by a friend who was both a draftsman and photo-grapher," a "Mr. P." (McElroy 1977:737).
Le Plongeon leveled another charge against Squier in his letter to Salisbury. He accused Squier of robbing "Mrs. Centano's collection--keys of which had been entrusted to him as a gentleman by that lady--of the celebrated parietal bone on which a trepan operation had been performed." According to Le Plongeon, Squier received some fame for presenting the Peruvian bone to the New York Ethnological Society and to specialists in Paris whose opinions were later published in the proceedings of the New York Ethnological Society. The bone, according to Le Plongeon, was retrieved from Squier by a member of the diplomatic corps and returned to Mrs. Centano.
Le Plongeon's analysis of Squier's research methods was direct and blunt, following the pattern he used throughout his life when attacking opponents. He told Salisbury that Squier had little to contribute to scientific research and that observation of him in the field led to the opinion
"that he is a most unscrupulous and superficial man. I have not read his last work on Peru (heSquier's apparent success using Le Plongeon's material became even more exasperating as their financial situation worsened. By now Augustus had expended the money acquired from California land dealings and from the Peruvian ventures in photography, publishing, and his medical clinic. The expenditures for travel, living, and the payment of Maya workers were great, even by the standards of the day. It was becoming clear that it was time to actually look for sponsors.
might at least send me a copy in part payment for my negatives)--but I feel certain that many pages
are mere plagiarism, as we find in his book on Nicaragua."
In 1879 The Nation carried a letter to the editor which discussed Augustus Le Plongeon's work. It was signed "A.D.," Alice Dixon's perhaps? It suggested that the "courageous, hard-working, enthusiastic field archaeologist" be given financial support.
In April 1880, the Le Plongeons returned to New York to secure political and monetary support. By all accounts they were successful. Pierre Lorillard, a well-known cigarette manufacturer, provided some financial backing. After dis-cussions about their research, Stephen Salisbury arranged meetings in Washington with United States Secretary of State S. M. Everts.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field, an old friend of Augustus from his gold rush days in Marysville, also applied his influence in Washington. The outcome of the meeting with Everts was his agreement to see that Le Plongeon got permits to work again in Yucatan. The resulting intercession of the new American ambass-ador, Judge Phillip Morgan, paved the way for the Le Plongeons to receive Porfirio Diaz' blessing to continue their work in Yucatan. The one compromise they were asked to make was to drop all claims to the Chacmool. Everts, Morgan, and Salisbury made it clear to Le Plongeon that he could make fine progress in Mexico if that issue was settled.
The Le Plongeons also became acquainted with General Cesnola of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who requested that Augustus make casts of his moulds for an exhibit at the museum. Since such an exhibit could lead to purchase of the entire collection, the Le Plongeons reasoned, they readily agreed to the proposal, even though preparation of the casts would cost them a sizeable sum in advance. These moulds and accompanying photographs of Uxmal were delivered to General Cesnola before Alice and Augustus returned to Yucatan, with the understanding that the casts would be made under his direction.
Shortly before his departure from New York, Lorillard discussed the possibility of an exploration of Tulum with Augustus. As Augustus explained, the political circumstances made it impossible. Somewhat displeased and suffering from gout, Lorillard agreed to more limited objectives, and provided money. Six years later when Augustus published his second major work on the Maya, Sacred Mysteries Among the Mayas and Quiches, 11,500 Years Ago, he dedicated it to Lorillard in gratitude for his assistance.
The Le Plongeon's three months in New York was a welcome break from Yucatan. Despite the many meetings and inter-views about money, they renewed old friendships and enjoyed a whirl-wind of social events. But when the promise of assistance was in hand, they were ready to return to the fieldwork they loved. They left New York on July 1, 1880 bound for Yucatan.
After eight days at sea they landed in Progreso, and soon traveled to Mexico City, via Veracruz, at the request of Judge Morgan to discuss their research plans in Yucatan. According to Le Plongeon, Judge Morgan was "a perfect gentleman in every sense of the word." On September 25, Augustus went to his first meeting with President Diaz, escorted by the judge. Augustus was well pleased with the reception the President gave them. "He received us, I must say with opened arms, and appeared gratified that I should have come to Mexico and have paid my respects to him. I told him what I wanted from the Mexican government" (1880a).
Augustus requested permission to excavate the ruined monuments of Yucatan and make moulds of the inscriptions and bas-reliefs they found. As Augustus told it, General Diaz was impressed that the archaeologist would ask for "so little." He readily gave permission to export the moulds. And he promised, "All objects that you may find underground will be yours provided you leave a small part for our Museum"(1880a).
Near the end of October, Alice and Augustus again met President Diaz, this time socially at his house. "Then and there," Augustus wrote to Stephen Salisbury, "he repeated his offers spontaneously made in the presence of the American Minister" (1880b).
Before the Le Plongeons left Mexico City to return to Yucatan, Augustus gave several lectures at the National Museum, and made a cast from the head of the Chacmool which was now displayed in a prominent spot at the museum. They were also feted by the diplomatic corps and prominent members of the American community over the course of several months. On one such occasion Judge Morgan gave a ball in honor of Alice. The Le Plongeons arrived late, because Alice, "with the help of her lady friends," had to fix one of her dresses for the occasion. When they finally arrived, around 10 pm, Judge Morgan began introducing them to his guests. One guest invited to meet Dr. Le Plongeon was Desire Charnay, the French photographer who had first come to Mexico in the late 1850s. Judge Morgan supposed that Charnay, who had photographed the ruins in Yucatan in the 1860s, would have much in common with the Augustus.
When Charnay, who was conversing with a corres-pondent
of The New York World, heard Le Plongeon being introduced to someone behind
him, he turned and asked Augustus if he was indeed Dr. Le Plongeon.
Apparently Charnay was not as thrilled with the meeting as the host had
expected him to be. Augustus recalled, "On being answered in the
affirmative, he soon rose and was seen no more in the ballroom or any where
else in the legation during that night" (1880b). There were other
times that their paths crossed, but Charnay always found an excuse to avoid
Augustus. He was not a man of "manners and good breeding," Le Plongeon
concluded. This was only the beginning of a rivalry between the two
that would go on for years.