In December 1998, San Antonio Express-News reporter Philip True vanished during a solo backcountry trek in western Mexico, home of the reclusive Huichol Indians and the Chapalagana, the Twisted Serpent Canyon, a 150-mile long gash that twists and plunges through the heart of the Sierra Madre. Five days later his editor, Robert Rivard, was part of a small search party that, nearly miraculously, tracked a trail of feathers that had leaked from True's sleeping bag to find his body.
Trail of Feathers is the story of the search for True and of the quest to bring his killers to justice. It is also the story of another perplexing mystery: Why had True taken such a dangerous trip, into such a raw, uncivilized wilderness, alone and without sufficient safety preparations, in the first place? After an unhappy and unsettled youth, True was at the age of fifty finally settling down to a career and a wife he loved. His first child was about to be born. What was he running from, or to?
Rivard's search for answers to these questions leads him deep into the Sierra Madre Occidental, one of Mexico's last true wildernesses, and deep into the secrets of Philip True's past. It also leads him into his own past, and an acknowledgment of the ways in which his life and True's mirrored each other. Suspenseful, atmospheric, and moving, Trail of Feathers is more than a true crime tale; it's a classic tragedy about how the past reverberates destructively into the present for individuals, for cultures, for nations.
Reviews for Trail Of Feathers: Searching for Philip True
No rating provided
Justice may be blind, but she knows where you live. And if it’s in another country, you better weigh your side of her scale with the most pesos. This is illustrated vividly south of the border, where much of Robert Rivard’s new book takes place. In it, he recounts his physically and emotionally grueling foray into the remote canyons of Mexico in search of his vanished colleague, Philip True, a San Antonio Express-News correspondent who made the controversial decision to attempt a ten-day solo foot trek through territory that would deter all but the most Spartan of adventurers. True had always been a model of self-sufficiency and stoicism throughout his rough life; paradoxically, he often relied, perhaps naively, on the inherent kindness of his fellow man to survive, and planned to camp with the primitive Huichol Indians who had inhabited the land for hundreds of years. His impetuous journey didn’t exactly surprise his wife, who knew better than anyone of her husband’s affinity for nature and the solace he took in hiking. But she secretly hoped that this would be his last dangerous hurrah into the wilderness before settling down to his new family. When word reached Rivard that True’s return date had come and gone, the story evolved into a reporter-as-detective narrative, as he saw it as his editorial duty to locate the whereabouts of his missing employee. Both men are spurred on by a journalist’s idealism and relentless thirst for knowledge, and as we learn more about True’s life and family secrets through Rivard’s meticulous research, intriguing parallels emerge and the fate of the two become inextricably intertwined. But the obstacles that spring up at every switchback on the trail of Rivard’s surrealistic odyssey are formidable. Mysterious Huichols, brazenly corrupt authorities; crossing the border becomes akin to crossing through Alice’s looking glass, which, like a funhouse mirror, reflects back America’s own democratic and judicial shortcomings and magnifies them into grotesque distortions. Retracing True’s footprints, we feel as though we’re stepping back in time, our gringo presence and notions of justice appearing increasingly anachronistic the less civilized the lands become. We learn about True’s motivations through his enigmatic journal entries, as Rivard does, and while we gain a deeper understanding of the complex man, the great insight as to why he left behind his family in their time of need remains frustratingly elusive; I wasn’t sure whether he was heroic or hubristic, and felt a bit like Marlowe tracking Kurtz up the river. The “terrible beauty,” as Yeats might say, of the harsh terrain that they have to contend with becomes almost like a character in the book as well, complicit in True’s death. Rivard’s search party eventually locates True’s body in a shallow grave outside a Huichol camp, and the Mexican investigation begins. But CSI, this ain’t. If you think the wheels of justice turn slowly in America, wait until you see them on a Mexican jalopy. Two suspects, an obsequious Huichol and his domineering friend, who reminded me of the killers in that most famous of true-crime novels by Capote, are soon apprehended, and deliver unrepentant confessions. Yet each time the case against them appears crystal clear, the waters are promptly muddied darker than the Rio Grande. Rumors of coercion surface, and soon international politics, bureaucratic red tape, and nationalistic media are all further postponing justice. Mexicans see it as hypocritical that one lost American receive such attention when locals go missing all the time without a trace, much less a trial. Ever-resentful of foreign intervention into their affairs, many of them view the writer’s mission as just one Texan “trying to refight the battle of the Alamo,” as Rivard memorably puts it.The more we begin to understand the psychology of the people who killed True, the more we begin to understand why the Mexican judicial system resists upsetting its stultifying lack of inertia. Miraculously, due to Rivard’s perseverance, he and several other key players manage to not only achieve closure for True’s widow, but also to throw some much-needed light on the withering judicial wasteland lying in the shadow of our own “Tree of Liberty,” and write a riveting story in the process.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.