Recently in these pages a brief discussion appeared (Reporter June 27, July 4, August 1) regarding Mexico’s Huichol Indians. Inevitably, this meant references to ill-fated American journalist Philip True. As many long-stretch foreign visitors and residents may recall, True wrote for the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News, headquartered in Mexico City. He was murdered in Huichol territory December 16, 1998, aged 50.
True, a habitual hiker, was an enthusiast of Mexico’s culture and people, and was married to a Mexican woman. He took an interest in the Huichol Indians, an indigenous tribe scattered in the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental range where it meets the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Zacatecas and Durango. Huicholes call themselves the Wixaritari (“the people’”) after their language, Wixarika. Rough history has taught them to be suspicious of outsiders. In modern time, “intruders” had to have official written permission from local tribal elders to enter their territory, and it was widely known they loathed photographers.
True carefully planned a ten-day, 100-mile trek. But, his employers noted, he was a stubborn man. And on this occasion insisted on going alone – not employing a guide, which was considered de riguer – and without written permission from Huichol elders to enter the tribe’s territory. He started his journey December 1, 1998 in Tuxpan, Jalisco, and was last seen December 2 in Chalmotita, Jalisco. True spoke Spanish well, but not Wixarika.
Years before this sad event my wife; Lea Rosser, the wife of an anthropology professor; and I made a very different sojourn into Huichol country to witness a Wixaritari religious ceremony.