Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Juan Peralta Story

                                                       The Juan Peralta Story
                                                               A true Story
                                      Written 6/2011 rewritten 05/24/2016 unedited
                                                             Howard Yasgar

    When I first met Juan Peralta, he was a young mulatto boy about 14 years old. He was living with his mother and father in a small agricultural village called Isabella in the Dominican Republic. Juan had a dream, he wanted an education but there was little hope of him ever being able to get one living in his rural community. Then, just by chance, in 1968 I met Juan, and I had the opportunity to help him realize his dream.
    This is the story of how it happened.       
     In 1968, I had become extremely interested in searching for the gold of Christopher Columbus. I just knew that the gold was still in the Dominican Republic where Columbus had built his second Colony he called Isabella, The colony of Isabella was located on the countries north coast.
    I had read that once Columbus had established the colony, he, and his fellow colonists exploited the native Indians for as much gold as they could.  So after my studying in detail what had happened at the colony, I was totally convinced that there was plenty of gold that had been left behind by the colonists, as well as by Columbus and his family. I was absolutely sure there were caches of gold that had been buried by many of the unruly Spaniards, and I was sure that it was somewhere in the vicinity of the colony of Isabella.
    But, by the time I got there in 1968, with my friend Miguel, we couldn’t even find where the original colony had been. The maps all now showed a farming village that was called Isabella.
     I had read that when Columbus first established the colony of Isabella, he had to contend with a lot of young Spanish adventurers and former soldiers that had come with him. The adventurers were called “Los Hidalgo’s”, which meant the gentlemen in Spanish, but they were no gentlemen. They were a bunch of rich kids, the sons of the wealthy families in Spain, they came with Columbus only for the adventure and for the gold. Eventually many of these unruly colonists left the colony of Isabella just to get away from Columbus, many moved nearby, but to areas where Columbus couldn’t rule over them. So my theory was that those unruly colonists buried all their gold near where they lived, and over the years, very few of them survived long enough to be able to dig the gold up and return to Spain with it, so that’s why I believed that their  buried gold has never been found, and was still there.
    When I decided to make our first trip to the Dominican Republic, I enlisted the assistance of my good friend Miguel Marquez, He was a Cuban refugee that had escaped from Cuba in 1963. Miguel came to work for me, in Miami, and over the years, we became close friends. If it wasn’t for Miguel’s darker complexion we probably could have been taken for brothers. When Miguel first arrived in Miami he spoke only Spanish, so I had taught Miguel to speak English and he taught me his Cuban Spanish.
    Little did we know that on our first 1968 trip to the Dominican Republic the military would think that we were communist infiltrators sent by Fidel Castro to stir up trouble. I certainly couldn’t tell them that we were just there looking for Spanish gold, as removing antiquities without official permission was also illegal. So thinking to avoid problems I told the Government Officials that I was studying the history of Christopher Columbus, and Miguel was my assistant.
I don’t think they believed us, but they eventually let us go. After that, we were sure they were watching our every move.
     Using a Texaco gas station map, and several maps I had copied out of books, we drove from Santo Domingo to the City of Santiago de los Caballeros and then from there across the Cordillera mountain range to the town of Puerto Plata.
     From Puerto Plata we followed the maps to the village of Isabella. However once we arrived there, we determined that the present village of Isabella was not the original Columbus colony.
We asked several people, but it was almost like they had been told not to talk to us, thus we just wasted a lot of our time looking around. We then returned to Miami, but I knew I needed more exact information if I ever intended to find Columbus’s original colony.
     Over the past few years, I had developed a good relationship with Dr. Marc Bulliet, Marc was the chief archeologist of Haiti. I had decided to ask Marc for help, so I flew over to Port Au Prince in Haiti to see Marc, and he was nice enough to illegally borrow a map from the Haitian archives and give it to me. It was a copy of a 1776 map of the entire island of Hispanola made by the Spaniards for the King of Wales. Once I obtained that map, it was my key to locating the original Isabella colony, and once I found that, I was sure I could then find out where the rebelling colonists had moved to, and then using a metal detector, I could hopefully find their buried gold, and that was my plan.
    I went out and bought the best metal detector I could find and along with Marc’s map we took it to all to the Dominican Republic. Sure enough after using Marc’s map, Miguel and I were able to pinpoint exactly where the original Columbus colony of Isabella was located. But what we found was that the whole area had been bulldozed over by the government, and now it was part of a private farm growing some kind of crops. After discovering this, I thought about possibly digging a few holes to see if we could find some of the original Isabella colony building stones. I wasn’t expecting to find any artifacts of value, I just wanted to verify the colony’s existence. The sun was beating down on us so my good friend Miguel volunteered to do the digging and I didn’t argue with him, as the temperature was probably in the high ninety’s and the ground was very hard and dry. Miguel started digging and in a few minutes we had attracted quite a few local people watching us. I was standing there with a big pad and pencil, to make what we were doing look official.
    That’s when I noticed that one of the onlookers was a young mulatto boy that I took to be about 14 years old. He stood there sternly with his arms folded across his chest and a scowl on his face. After watching us for a few minutes, he asked us in Spanish, what we were doing. I told him we were trying to determine where the original Village of Isabella was. Then he became very serious, and he sternly advised me that we could go to jail for disturbing any historical relics. The boy spoke to me only in Spanish but I understood every word he said loud and clear.  I advised him, that we knew all about the antiquities laws and we had no intentions of disturbing anything. I became very concerned, because I knew we had no official permission to dig, and the last thing I needed was this kid calling the police over, we could end up in jail.
    It was noon time and we took a break, Miguel was sweating pretty heavy, so I suggested that we walk to the ocean to look for a place to slip into the water and cool off. At the ocean’s edge, we found a sandy spot and we both stripped down to our underwear and got in the water, but the water was very shallow and hotter than a bath tub. So we quickly got out of the water, and as I was dressing I could see the same young boy, he was about thirty feet away from us, squatting behind a bush and watching. He wasn’t hiding from us,  he was just sitting there and looking at us. Miguel, said hello, and asked him what his name was, and he replied that his name was Juan Peralta. Now, Miguel was always quite the comedian, so he started a friendly conversation with Juan, and before I knew it, Miguel and Juan were joking around. Juan’s face had changed he was now smiling. He asked me where we came from, and what we were doing there, I told him that I was a student of Christobal Colon (Christopher Columbus). And I was traveling with my friend Miguel who had originally escaped from Cuba. Juan was fascinated, he wanted to know more about America and more about us and Miami. I could see that he was really a very intelligent fellow, and I think we must have been the first foreigners he had ever spoken to. I could see that Juan was very curious if we had found anything yet pertaining to Columbus and the Spaniards.
I told him that we had brought a metal detector to look for old Spanish coins, but I could see he had no idea of what I was talking about. So, I asked him if he had ever seen a metal detector and he said no. So we all walked to where I had parked the car and I opened the trunk up, and assembled the metal detector. To test it, I threw two quarters on the ground, Miguel had himself just learned how to use the detector, but now here he was acting like he was an expert showing Juan how it buzzed when he put the round wand over one of the quarters. After a few minutes, I asked Miguel to let Juan try it I could see Juan was excited, he put on the head set and I could hear it buzz every time he passed the wand over a coin. Juan started walking all around the area picking up bottle caps and beer can tabs.
    After a while, he tired, and came back all smiles. I knew then that we had made a friend out of him. We sat down under a big tree and I told Juan what I had read regarding Columbus’s colony of Isabella. Juan said he learned about the colony from going to school and also from reading books and the newspapers. He said he had also learned about it by listening to local stories. Juan said that the original Columbus colony had been abandoned years ago after a hurricane and the local people came and removed all the original stone to build other buildings the nearby town of Puerto Plata. I then told Juan how I had read that Columbus had built a stone warehouse at the water’s edge. And how he had a window overlooking the sea so he could watch for ships with supplies coming from Spain. Juan smiled, he said that was all true and the floor of the warehouse was still there. He asked, “Did we want to see it”. I couldn’t believe it, and I said yes. So we walked along the water’s edge all the way back to where we had first met Juan. It was now low tide and sure enough Juan pointed to a hand laid stone floor with lots of broken Spanish roof tiles laying on it. I picked up a piece of roof tile and I could clearly see the finger and palm print of the Spanish colonist that had made the tile for Columbus 500 years ago. I saw Juan watching me, so I threw the piece of tile back down. As Miguel and Juan climbed back up the embankment, I picked up a smaller piece of the roof tile and put it in my pocket.
    Juan said that the government had bulldozed the area over many years ago, but storms and the constant lapping of the water had exposed the warehouse floor again.
    I asked Juan what he knew about the original native Indians that had lived there. Juan said he had heard all about what had happened. He said the Spaniards brought bad diseases that killed thousands of natives. He said the Spaniards also killed thousands of natives for no good reasons other than taking their food and whatever gold they had. Then Juan said lots of natives hid from the Spaniards in the mountains, and he said that he had visited one of their hiding places. I was very curious and I asked him more about it. Juan told us it was on a mountain top and no white man has ever seen it, nor has anyone from the government ever been there. I asked Juan if he would show it to us. He said we should come in the morning and he would take us there. Juan said he had an uncle that lived in the area, and his cousin had showed him the hiding place.
    In the morning we drove with Juan on back roads and trails, deep into the Cordillera mountain range. Then all of a sudden it was there, it was a mountain that looked like a haystack. We got out and climbed a long winding trail to the top. At the top, it appeared someone had been farming there. There were long rows of earth with piles of stones at the ends. I set up the metal detector and started checking along the rows that had been cleared. Immediately I saw a stone with all four sides ground down, it was some kind of Indian tool, so I put it in my pocket. Then I saw Juan and Miguel waving to me. I went over and saw they were standing right in the middle of the Indian village dump site. There were piles of oyster shells, and broken bowls. Some of the bowls had small clay heads all around them, and some had designs etched into them. When Juan wasn’t looking I put a few small clay heads and pottery shards in my pocket.
    On our drive back, I asked Juan if he knew anything about the Isabella colonists rebelling against Columbus, and moving away from the colony. He said he knew that many colonists moved out of the colony and made their homes in the woods. He had heard that some of those colonists had as many as 5 Indian wives. I asked Juan if he could show us where they had lived. But Juan said it would be difficult as it was over 500 years since the colonists had built huts there, and many different families had moved onto the properties over the years, some had even built shacks on them. I didn’t tell Juan that I had a theory about those early colonists possibly having built small gold smelters on their land, and I hoped that possibly the remnants would still be there, and if I could find one furnace, surely with a little luck there would be gold buried nearby. Juan said that most of the old homesteads now had people living on them, but he knew of a couple of places that had been abandoned. On the second site he showed us, there was an old shack falling down, but there was also a suspicious small pile of rocks near it. As Miguel and Juan were walking in what was left of the shack, I looked for a likely place to check with the metal detector. I said to myself, if I had lived there 500 years ago, where, would I have buried my gold. I Turned on the metal detector and swung it near a tree next to a boulder and it started buzzing. I shut it off right away so no one would heat it. I kicked the earth by the tree root and believe it or not a small piece of gold appeared. I put it in my pocket as if nothing had happened.   
    The next day Miguel and I left the Dominican Republic for Miami. I kept in touch with Juan on a regular basis, he wrote me often, his letters were always in Spanish. Then he told me that he could move in with an aunt in the city of Santiago de los Caballeros where he could attend High School so I assisted him financially for clothes and books. Then from that High School it was on to the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. And soon after Juan graduated from the University, he was offered the government position of inspector of rural schools at a salary of $40.00 a month, Juan was so happy, hid dream had come true. A year or so later he wrote to tell me he had saved enough money to rent a small house for his parents. His letter to me was now in English. He invited me to come to his parents new home, Juan said he wanted to have a party for us, so my wife and I went. The house was really just a wooden shack but it was heaven for Juan’s parents. And for the party, Juan had bought a large watermelon, it was wonderful.
    In late 1986, I received a letter from Juan, it was written in beautiful English. The letter said he was in the United States, and would like to visit us in Miami.
    On the very day Juan arrived at our house, we had guests from Australia staying with us, and that evening Juan told us his story. He said that while he was attending college he had a relationship with one of his professors. The professor was now retired and moving to France. So to join the professor, Juan had entered the United States illegally and was working as a press man in a laundry in New Jersey. He said that he intended to buy a phony passport that would allow him to follow the professor to France.
     The next day, we all took a trip to Key West in my wife Katherine’s 1982 Cadillac, Katherine and I were in front seat and Juan in the rear seat between our friends Neil and Rosalyn from Australia. We all had a good time, and when we returned to Miami, Juan said good bye to us all and then left to return to New Jersey, and I have never heard from Juan Peralta since, I hope he made it to France.


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