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Sunday, April 21 2019 @ 08:13 PM UTC

"The Strength to Move a Mountain" - W. Storrs Lee

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By DON WINNER for - This book, "The Strength to Move a Mountain" by W. Storrs Lee, was published in 1958 and it gives a better than usual look into life in Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal. The book starts just before the US-backed revolution that created Panama as a country, formerly a Department of the Government of Colombia, and it ends with the opening of the Panama Canal. The book was written at a time when there were still a ready supply of first hand witnesses and those who had actually participated in the revolution of Panama and the construction of the canal. From this book I take a couple of interesting snippets which help to illustrate little things that shaped Panama as it is today. (more)

Chapter 1: "I took the Isthums, Started the Canal." The off-season run on Winchester rifles extended all through the summer of 1903. It was a spotty, unaccountable trade. A sports shop in New Orleans was cleaned out. Hardware dealers in out-of-the-way towns had to place new orders. In New England, in New York, in cities along the Atlantic seaboard a stranger with a foreign accent dropped in at gun stores, paid cash for a dozen Winchesters, and ordered them shipped to - of all places - Morgan City, Louisiana. A single big purchase to a town was the rule, and the purchases were widely enough dispersed so that a clerk in one store never had reason to compare his sales with those in another. It never crossed the mind of the man behind the counter that he was supplying an arsenal for a revolution in Panama.

"Then just before dawn one morning late in August, a derelict schooner that had been tied up for weeks at a ramshackle wharf of Morgan City put out into the Gulf. She was low in the water, had a surly, pick-up crew of Spaniards and half-castes, a skipper who didn't talk, and a top-heavy deck cargo of Southern pine. Nothing particularly unusual about her; it was the kind of vessel, the kind of cargo, and the kind of crew that was commonplace in the sleepy fishing and lumber port between New Orleans and Galveston. The Customs House officials cleared her in routine fashion for Progresso, Yucatan; her papers were in order, her declared cargo was lumber."

"Only the silent captain and a few of the well-paid crew knew that the schooner had stowed below her decks a stand of 4,000 Winchesters and 1,500,000 rounds of ammunition - 'enough rifles and cartridges to oppose any army in Central or South America.'" And the skipper alone knew that before they touched Yucatan, they were to pick up a steamship from Kingston and transfer the arms and ammunition for shipment to Colombian rebels at Portobello, a few miles east of Colon."

Wonderful Blow-by-Blow Details: Lee's "The Strength to Move a Mountain" provides wonderful details of the minute by minute events of the creation of Panama as a nation, the Revolution of 3 November 1903, the actions of the Colombian generals who came to put down an insurrection, and the Panamanian revolutionaries who were ready to throw in with the Americans who wanted to build a canal. There are hundreds of books that provide the boring date and action time line, but this book is one of my favorites for being able to bring moment in history to life.

Copyright 2008 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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