The Secret of San Pedro la laguna

For the last twelve years, I have been researching Guatemala for my latest novel, “The Secret of San Pedro La Laguna.” My research on Native American Historical Trauma here in America convinces me that the folks of the second and third generation of Northern Guatemala Maya people are most certainly faced with the consequences of domination and depredation by outside cultures.

Before my first trip to Guatemala in 2007, I began researching safety and health issues for travellers and discovered the CIA claimed it was a dark and dangerous place for tourists. In further research I discovered the slaughter of the Mayan Ixtl people that happened in the 1970’s while I was in college, when America’s attention was focused on getting out of Viet Nam. When I arrived in Guatemala City and toured up to Lake Atitlan, those fears were confirmed, indeed it seemed this country was not a safe place. But once we arrived at Lake Atitlan, I began to feel compelled to understand more about these people and the land they live in.

Before each subsequent trip I continued to read everything I could find and no longer wondered why Guatemalans are willingly offering themselves up for sacrifice in the long and arduous exodus to the United States of America. I read about the long history of conflicts between warring nations with exotic names, prior to the Spanish intrusion. Tragic social devastation and subsequent enslavery of the native population of Central America followed that conquest. For hundreds of years, the indigenous people of Guatemala were suppressed by various governments of their country and companies like the United Fruit Company or private finca owners who wrested land and resources away from the campesinos (farmers).

There are so many sources to finish, and many I have yet to find. I have read “I, Rigoberto Menchu.” This is a Nobel Peace prize winner’s story of her experience as a Mayan woman during the Civil War in Guatemala. Dr. David Stott wrote a anthropology book rejecting her story. On the other hand I read Erna Ferguson’s 1937 book, “Guatemala.” This woman was an ardent traveler and friend of American governors and presidents who loved Guatemala. I read dozens of other books, papers and reviews of the history, archaeology and anthropology of Central America. Along with my bookshelves filled with historical references, I have scrounged You Tube and dug into internet sites. With the help of my friends Carmen, Tiffany and Linda, I spent a delightful and rewarding afternoon in the Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology in Guatemala City.

I have wandered the dirt paths and ancient stone streets of small villages in the highlands and travelled into the hinterland with my dear friends Tiffany and Cecy. I worked shoulder to shoulder with Tz’utujil and K’iche kids like Ruth Gomez Simaj, hard-working Domingo Navichoc Puac and ‘tourista guide’ Olinda Cabrera. I visited with Mynor Mazariegos, about his desire to work in America and how he got his VISA to work in the USA. I sat in the dirt and learned words from children, while hearing about their dreams for the future. I chatted to the elders and visited the Ketchikel folks of Chuyquel, a small puebla north of Panajachel. I listened to their music and visited their markets, I have munched hand-made corn tortillas, eaten the Van Gogh colored, exotic fruits, and slurped the flavor-filled soups of this wonderful country. I will return to hear their stories and I hope to synthesize these experiences into my third Jewell Johnson mystery to preserve what I have discovered is the Secret of San Pedro la laguna.

A painting from Galleria del Arte, San Juan la laguna.


Hayward Photographer George McElroy

by Eldon M. Marple

George McElroy’s subject were universal; each class in school aligned itself next to the concrete block foundation of the schoolhouse to be limned in history, the prom queen daintily wiped her yes from the sting of the acrid power exploded in his flash holder, and no confirmation could pass without his attention. He traveled to the camps and the mills to record the work and the men he found there. Every high school graduate dressed in the best of the day came to his dark studio with the skylight to the north to pose stiffly while he peered through his aged glass-plate camera with a black cloth over his head, then, after a warning not to move, to wait immobile with bated breath for an interminable moment while the mechanism clicked and growled.

The negatives of the photographs taken by Mr. McElroy were on glass plates and he kept them to use for the sale of duplicates. After his death in 1938 the studio passed to other hands and uses, and the thousands of stored plates of incalculable value to a historian were hauled to the dump and buried. When Tony Wise moved the building to Historyland a few years ago, we recovered a few plates from digging in the debris. Were these negatives available today, a continuous and inexhaustible source of information would be available for the study of the region in the early days.

Hayward and the Big Mill

Hayward and the Big Mill…The Landmark!

by Eldon M. Marple

Anthony Judson Hayward must have come to the site of the town named in his honor well before November 11, 1880, the date the North Wisconsin Lumber Company was organized. Later on, commentary stated that he realized the immense potentialities for a water-powered mill on the Namekagon if control could be gained of the vast stands of white pine surrounding this ideal site. It also pointed out that he was aware of the great savings that could be made by shipping manufactured lumber out from the mill by rail instead of driving the logs downriver to be sawed, an unnecessary cost, often greatly increased by the vagaries of the spring flood. Obviously, he also knew that a railroad was shortly to be extended up the Namekagon Valley, so he laid his plans well.

The ideal place to build a dam for a mill depending on water power was situated below the present bridge across the Namekagon, where the banks were high and close together and where there was a good fall in the river bottom. Upriver from this natural narrows was a broad swampy area perfect for a pond to store water for the wheel and logs for the saws. However, this site where these desirable features were located, was in Section 27 and owned by the Omaha Railroad, as was most of the timber he needed to make his plan feasible.

Mr. Hayward, a practical man who had built and operated several mills before this, found that he could not acquire the site he wanted so he did the next best thing. He moved to gain control of as much of it as he could to forestall development by anyone else, and then bided his time. He bought the eighty-acre tract with its northeast corner in the street north of the Co-op store (now Second St.), giving him control of the damsite on Bradley Brook and where the brick company office was later built. He also bought the eighty which now includes the county shop and most of the downtown area. He included a forty at the outlet of Lake Mindamoga (Smith Lake) which has an ideal damsite, in his purchases. Clearly, his idea was to control the flow of Bradley Brook so that it could be used to turn the saw of a small mill installed below a dam at Florida Avenue.

About this time, Mr. Hayward met Robert Laird McCormick in Minnesota. He told McCormick of his dream of controlling the harvest of the pine tributary to the site on the Namekagon and that he did not have the necessary capital to do so. Mr. McCormick became enthused about the opportunity here and took Hayward to his employers, the Laird Norton lumber interests. They struck a deal, and the North Wisconsin Lumber Company formed with Hayward as president and McCormick as secretary and general manager. Their acumen and patience was rewarded when on November 14, 1881, the Omaha Railroad sold them the land in Section 27 necessary for the development of the site for the Big Mill.

Hayward’s new town was the location of a lumber camp as far back as 1864 when Albert C. Stuntz, the government surveyor, had reported in his diary that T. Mackey housed a small crew here. When the Omaha Railroad pushed up the Namekagon Valley in 1880, this old log bunkhouse was the only structure know to be in the vicinity. It was on the flat west of the Historical Marker and was later torn down to make way for the lumber yard. The railroad honored Hayward’s site by establishing a stop there in his name – a platform of stacked cross-ties served as a station. They also erected a water tank and pump house on the north side of the tracks between Bradley Brook and Florida Avenue – the circular brick foundation is still in place. A small cabin was built for the attendant at Florida Avenue which may have been the first new home in Hayward although Al Blaisdell, who supervised the construction of five dams for the company during this period, is reported to have had the first house in town. Since he did not purchase any land here, its location or the date of its erection cannot be recovered from the records.

The new company set up their headquarters in the old lumber camp to which had been added a frame building. The frame portion was used by the Congregational church to hold the first formal church services in the new town. When the old camp was torn down, it was moved up to the railroad tracks at Florida Avenue. It served as the office for the company until the new brick edifice was erected across the tracks in 1889 when it was moved to a site beside this building. In 1891, the old office was moved again, this time to its final location on the northeast corner of First and Dakota, to be used as a workshop and home by Jack P. Mann who added a second story as family living quarters. A picture of that period, dated September 15, 1893, shows it essentially as it is today where it now serves as the front part of the structure used as a bar.

Another building constructed near the old lumber camp was used as a schoolhouse, church and printshop. It was later torn down and rebuilt for a billiard saloon, then moved to the townsite and occupied as a home by Thomas Jordan. The company built a store across the track from the water tank in the fall of 1882 and stocked it fully with lumbermen’s supplies. It was torn down in 1893 and called “the oldest building in town” in a news item.

The J J Mysteries


In the spring of 1971, Jewell Johnson graduates from high school, and spends her summer at The Linger Inn, in Northern Wisconsin near Hayward. Her grandparents built up the lakeside bed and breakfast and their farm over many years–and now it hides many secrets. Jewell is the catalyst as the mystery in her family’s history unravels and the truth about her father’s early death is revealed. The first in the trilogy, “Let the Secrets Die” introduces Jewell and her family. “Done Running” will reveal the historical the warp and the weft in the fabric of her own life. “The Secret of San Pedro la Laguna” will reveal the facts of her father’s secret life in Guatemala as she collects the threads to understand him.

Andrea Marple Wittwer is an educator, longtime historian and pastor from Hayward, WI. She works for the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College.

Am I White?

Enoch Marple1790-1886
My great-great Grandfather, a typical Englishman named Enoch from the mid 1700’s

I sent my DNA spit-sample to and discovered I am:

  •  36% Scandinavian
  •  28% Europe Western
  •  20% Irish
    • 9% Ibero-European-mostly centered in France and Spain
    • 1% Mali
    • 1-2% South Indian
    • 1-2% Caucasus

I’m mostly white. That is, if the Western European percentage is still considered mostly white. I imagine they were swarthy. Some of my ancestors came from the Middle East…is that white or not? If not; then I am about two-thirds white. That is, my family is mostly Swedish, some English and a little Irish. That is certain from my father’s careful forty-year study of our genealogy. So I’m pretty white, I suppose. Actually, my skin is pretty transparent-you can actually see my blue veins through my skin… I am pasty white-like plaster, the underside of a mushroom white or a fish’s belly. I am so white I’m reflect-the-sunshine-white. I should be called “Snow White”. When I go out in the sun I burn bright red and blister within minutes…I don’t tan. I am actually allergic to the sun. So I live in the north where most of the year is colorless like me (except my odd, blue-green eyes).

I guess I take after my mother’s, mother’s, Eichman family who  came from somewhere in Austria-Hungary but more likely they were generally Celtish. Her father’s Conklin forebears were Irish and Welsh. My short, tough, feisty little mom, with her tiny feet was of nominal Welsh/German ancestry. They came to America to escape the Great Potato Famine and the rigors of mining. Poor, and decrepit they washed up on the shores of the American East Coast- met and married in Prescott.

Still, all in all, I really look white. Even my hair is now grey, streaked with pure white. I like to eat white foods like sugar, fish, potatoes, cake and bread. I’m allergic to shellfish. I speak Spanish and French haltingly-those are “white” languages. My red-headed gramma, Elin Ackenbohm, was from the southern plains of Linkoping, Sweden. Her people were probably farmers. My very tall, dark-haired and hawk-nosed aunt, Ina, was a dark Swede (my dad said) but she spoke fluent Swedish. My grandad Charles Marple’s ancestors were Quakers who came from England and Wales.

But go figure! The DNA test shows that I have genetic ancestors in Mali, Africa. Like a classic Mediterranean soup, I am also 1% black and 2% South Indian. Some people say that if I have any other racial characteristics, I am not white.

Is it a coincidence that all of my life I have wanted to sojourn to Timbuktu, an ancient dusty city in the African desert? The Mali Empire was a center of Muslim scholarship. It is still a wonderful and mysterious desert place. The Kingdom of Tombuto was probably founded in 1213 or 1214. Maybe my relatives could have wandered through there in those days.

South Indian? Like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. I long desired to take the Orient Express and adventure the mountain ranges of the Himalaya, & Hindu Kush. Twenty years ago I planned to be a hospital missionary in Kathmandu, a city high in the Himalayas. Going more south, perhaps I am a distant relative of the famous Indian Mahatma Gandhi! Oddly, I thought my mom even looks East Indian and we shared an inordinate interest in ancient Buddhist beliefs. I mentored a little girl Nayani from Sri Lanka for many years and I just love two elaborately decorated elephants like those from S. India on the shelf in my kitchen. They are very out-of-place there among my other artifacts. Could my genes have travelled to Europe via a Mongolian Sherpa family from the steep slopes of the Himalayas or perhaps through the daughter of a fierce Gurkha fighter? My luck? More likely members of the lowest Indian caste, the Dalit, and total outcasts of society.

So if I am Caucasian, I’d come from the Caucasus region- extending from the Anatolian Peninsula and the nation of Turkey, (bordered by the Mediterranean), to the Caucasus Mountains, which form its northern boundary along Russia’s southwestern edge. There, the nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are nestled in the highlands between the Black and Caspian Seas. In the south, it stretches from Syria to Iran, reaching all the way to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.

A historical fascination I had as a child was the archaeological excavation of Troy. Remember the story of Troy in the Iliad- Homer’s retelling of when Mycenaean Greeks laid siege to the ancient Lydian city of Troy? This was most likely part of the ancient Hittite Empire. Am I related to powerful King Cyrus who freed the Jews from slavery in Babylonia? Is my blood linked with Cyrus’s descendants Darius and Xerxes? The arrival of Turkic peoples from Central Asia brought the Turkish language and Islam to the west.

Am I white? Probably not in “essence”. I am mongrel. I am a typical American, a product of thousands of years of miscegenation, of global culture-clashing and washing. Imagine a cosmic genetic mixing bowl or a DNA blender. My RNA and DNA are multi-colored and multi-directional. If I transplant to Mars, am I still American? If I am on a wandering space-ship, does it matter if I am white, yellow, red, brown, or black? Does my skin color define my essence? I’ve read about sloths that have changed their behavior and thus color by slowing down and absorbing green chlorophyll in their fur so they can camouflage their real color. Maybe that’s why young people are tattooing themselves and dying their hair in crazy colors. It is their camouflage.

I am a Jesus follower by my choice but not by my birthright, since a few of people in my genetic line were most likely Mohammedans. Some would say I need to split my fractured body and soul and send it back where it came from like small splintered shards of glass from a broken vase. Do you?

History’s Little Mysteries

One of the things I love about studying history is the sense of how interpretations are overlapped by time. So often what we think is “truth” is opinion, even when we are looking at “facts”.

In my Jewell Johnson Mysteries I hope to recreate the past and then several possible interpretations. In book one, “Let the Secrets Die”, I introduce the central character, Jewell Johnson’s father. In Epitaph, Sigurd Johnson meets his untimely end. Do we know why? Maybe.

You meet Sven, Mary and Jewell Johnson who each will play a big part in his life. Sven and his brother Nels come to Northern Wisconsin from Sweden and the things they see are real, from Minneapolis’s Depot to Lake Makoons. By the way, Makoons is the Ojibwe word for ‘Little Bear’. When I was a girl swimming at Round Lake there was a big old resort that sat on the side of Hinton Bay. I used to swim out into the lake and stare at that big ol’ place. It is no secret that Anthony Judson Hayward and Philetus Sawyer were very important to the past in Hayward. The man who did most to begin the town is Robert Laird McCormick and there is not a street or a monument of any kind left to remember him…why? That remains history’s mystery.

I studied local history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology all of my life, digging into local history in towns and villages all over America. I love the little inside stories and I will sit and listen for hours when elders tell their personal history. Have you ever seen a swarthy guy and wonder why he is so angry looking? I did-and I would make up stories about him in my mind. What about teachers, waitresses, clerks, bank tellers, bag-ladies and everyday people you meet and chat with? I am always interested in their stories no matter how big or small. Gangsters, lumberjacks, a sheriff or Tribal Elders are all fascinating to me. Those collected stories have become part of Jewell Johnson’s story.

Jewell’s next adventure again begins with a chapter called “Epitaph” and more details about how Sigurd died. In “Done Running” and book three, “The Secrets of San Pedro La Laguna” the reader will uncover deeper and deeper levels of the peculiar secrets of Sigurd Johnson and how events led inevitably to his death.



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