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Was It Cannibals or the Desert That Killed the Explorers?

Updated on February 5, 2020

Gulf of California, Tiburon Island

Gulf of California
Gulf of California
Tiburon Island
Tiburon Island

Tiburon Island Island

The Gulf of California, also known as The Sea of Cortez, is home to hundreds of islands. Among those islands is the mysterious, and they say deadliest of all. There is a small strip of land connecting the island to the mainland of Mexico. This strip was only accessible during low tide. The sea surrounding the island was so dangerous it was nicknamed "Little Hell."

Tiburon Island was home to the Seri Indians. They were the indigenous Indians of long ago. The Seri fiercely defended their home, resisting both the Spanish and the Mexicans who were trying to subdue them.

They certainly learned to hate other people as the ranchers in the area shot them on site. By the year, 1850 there was a small number of Seri Indians left. They were rounded up and moved to a ghetto in Hermosilla. Years later, the island was made into a preserve after the government built Siri a community at Punta Chueca and El Desemboque. Finally, in 1975 the Mexican government gave Tiburon back to the Siri people and the exclusive right to the channel.

Indians of Tiburon Islands

Tiburon Indians
Tiburon Indians
Tiburon Indians
Tiburon Indians

Disappearances of the Explorers

There have been other disappearances of explorers before the most famous departure of the Grindell Expedition.

One was of CaptainGeorge Porter, along with a sailor, John Johnson, who was sailing on the Schooner World to cruise the Mexican coast. Porter was the owner of a shell store in Sandiego, California. Hw was 39 and had lived in San Diego, Ca for about twelve years. A newspaper account in the San Francisco paper 1897 listed him as unmarried, leaving a mother and sister of Cleveland, Ohio. Mexican authorities searched and found a shoe and the makings of a campfire. Porter was believed to have been killed and eaten at the spot. The Siri Indians were known to eat their fish, man, or animals without cooking.

In 1894 an American writer, R.E.L. Robinson, wanted to do an article on Triburon island and the Indians. He told his colleagues at the Associated Press he wanted the public to be told Indians killed him. Joining his guide, they traveled down the Columbia River, and the guide stopped to check out a path. Robinson had gone ashore when the guide hears gunshots. Turning around, he saw Robinson falling to the ground full of arrows.

The Grindell Five-Man Expedition

The most famous lost expedition of Tiburon Island was of Thomas F. Grindell and others joining him. On this particular expedition, there was one survivor. a Jack Hoffman. Within this group were a guide and two assistants. Thomas Grindell was an educator, teacher, and principal and served as a clerk for the Arizona Supreme Court in 1898.

The group was low on food; the desert and sun were taking their toll on the men. One by one, they started drifting off, searching for a way back. By the time Jack had found his way to Hermosilla, Mexico, he was naked, blackened by the sun and had been gone for four months, was almost incoherent having traveled some 150 miles through barren land and swamps. Thomas had intended to be back by August 1905.

Edward P. Grindell, brother of Thomas, set out to find his brother. He was later to write of his rescue party to find the men. That book was called The Lost Explorers: The Mystery of a VanishedExpedition. Traveling to Hermosillo, he got necessary paperwork from Governor Izabal and provided a few rules to help. He also sent for the Papago guide Delores Valenzuela who was afraid of the government. There was an unwritten Mexican law of the offense of a guide returning without getting his people back safely.

He agreed to help Grindell in his search. Many did not trust Valenzuela and called him a "bad Indian." At Hermosillo, Grindell paid twelve heavily armed Papago scouts to join him on the search party. At Coyote Springs, they picked up a trail. Somewhere they found a campsite and another campsite farther in. They did find some artifacts and dead pack animals.

The Arizona Rangers even agreed to help on a search because they had fought with Thomas Grindell with the Rough Riders. The Rangers were unsuccessful in their quest.

The Boston Evening-Post dated 27 December 1906 stated, "Bones Found. Prospectors found the remains of Thomas Grindell. It indicated that his brother Edward could now collect the insurance money. But because the rescue expedition cost far out-weighed any insurance money Edward got. One of the artifacts found was a book on marine science belonging to one of the men.


Seri Indian Baskets, Carvings

Seri Basket
Seri Basket
Seri Basket
Seri Basket
Seri Carving
Seri Carving

Seri indians

No one will probably ever know what happened on Tributron Island or if cannibalism was responsible. But the island was inhospitable with poisonous snakes, scorpions and, shark-infested water.

Today, the Siri Indians trade with their beautiful hand-made baskets, jewelry, and carvings. Baha California and cities in Mexico offer museums depicting the Siri Indians their struggles and culture. Their baskets are some of the most beautiful made today.

Belsa Boat of Seri indians

Belsa Boat of the Seri indians
Belsa Boat of the Seri indians

Comments

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    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      3 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      thanks for the comment!

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      3 months ago

      This is an interesting article about whether explorers in Tiburon Islands fell prey to cannibals or it was simply because of the lack of food and water and lost directions in the desert that they never returned. That Seri Indians could have been the cannibals is quite intriguing. It is further amazing that today they trade handicrafts and carvings. Also, there are museums now depicting their struggle and culture. Very informative hub.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 months ago from UK

      It's fascinating to go back to the early explorers and speculate about how they met their fate. In terms of UK history, the times you write about don't seem that long ago.

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