I found these felt tip pen sketches last night in a Mexican textbook on the Olmec Civilization. I don’t think that I have seen them since August 1970 and had completely forgotten that they existed. As our bus was entering Villahermosa, Tabasco right after sunrise, it hit a young man on a bicycle. The bus driver was arrested and taken to the police station. There were no witnesses other than a few passengers on the right side, who happened to be awake at the time. However, for about two hours, we sat in the sweltering heat and humidity of Villahermosa, waiting to be interviewed by the police. The whole time, his body lay uncovered next to my window.
I was the only Gringo on the bus, so they eventually brought a high school English teacher to translate questions from the detectives. By that time I could navigate around Mexico with a simple form of Spanish, but certainly was not fluent and had a limited vocabulary. All I had seen were specks of blood and pieces of the bicycle hitting the side of my window as I was waking up. The bus driver was eventually released because a couple of passengers had seen the young man suddenly swerve into the path of the bus. I drew these three crude sketches while waiting in the bus.
WELCOME TO VILLAHERMOSA ~ 6:30 AM
THE HAND-OUT ~ About 10 minutes after the accident an elderly indigenous woman dragged an old fruit crate next to the body and sat on it. She intermittently wept and then begged for donations in a indigenous language, mixed with Spanish religious words . . . I guess to pay for the funeral. Apparently, she had been deformed at birth. her legs were exceedingly short and small. Her left arm was shriveled and didn’t move. Her right arm was the length that her legs should have been. Her right hand were skeletal and her finger nails uncut. She was still sitting by the body when the ambulance finally came to take him off. At the same time, our bus drove away.
GRINGO TURISTOS – This is a style of art popular during the Hippie Era that probably looks bizarre to POOF readers today. I was never a hippie, never took part in a political demonstration and was thought of as being quite conservative by most people until some federal, Georgia and local “law enforcement” officers declared war on me in 1997. The sketch was my impression of most of the arrogant, affluent tourists from the northeast, stoned students and spaced-out archaeologists from the United States that I met at the archaeological sites in Mexico. Tourists my age typically stayed stupefied from a cocktail of illegal drugs and mushrooms. The major exception was David and Linda Schele, who sat in front of me on the bus going to Palenque. David was a young architect, who had received a grant to photograph several Maya cities. I was doing the same thing for all of Mexico. At the time Linda was an artist, but after visiting Palenque, she went on to become an internationally respected archaeologist, specializing in the Maya art and writing system. I ran into David and Linda again at several other Maya cities.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.
Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.