Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Mystery of the Carved Portland Timbers: Tale No. 14

Men and horses among large timbers
Timber Harvesting in Washington State in the Late 1800s
(Image: Darius Kinsey via the Library of Congress)
By David Rusk


Revised December 5, 2021
First written for Black and Red United, August 5, 2018

Preface: This is the fourteenth in a series of Tales from Buzzard Point that explores the rich traditions and myths surrounding the legendary DC United soccer team and its fabled history at Buzzard Point. The Tales from Buzzard Point are historical fiction and parody. 

Devotees of Tales from Buzzard Point will recall that, in preparing the site, DB and Son Infrastructure, Pepco’s excavation contractor, dug up some giant bones identified as those of a long thought-extinct aurochs. (See Ancient Red Bull Bones Found at Buzzard Point).

The contractors also dug up many buried old timbers thought to have been washed up on Buzzard Point after the wreck of the Columbus in January 1854. As reported then by The Daily Evening Star and cited in Tales from Buzzard Point II:

The Columbus was carrying a cargo of valuable timbers from Puget Sound to Alexandria when massive whitecaps and storm surge raised by the storm carried it northward beyond its intended port.

The violence of the storm broke up the Columbus and scattered its cargo of valuable timbers along the Anacostia and as far north as Great Falls on the Potomac.

One of those timbers recovered from the cargo (or perhaps a plank from the wrecked ship itself) has puzzled me ever since. Carved crudely and somewhat indistinctly into the timber was a Spanish phrase which I’ve deciphered.

The inscription reads as follows: "Luchar es mejor que valer."

Literally translated, that means “to fight is better than just to be worthy” but more loosely it might mean “to struggle is better than to rest on one’s laurels” (i.e. when faced with adversity).

The mystery is, "Who carved that phrase into the timber and when?"

Perhaps it was the veiled criticism by some Spanish- speaking deckhand of the dubious seamanship of Captain Gregory Bierholder. After all, though flying an American flag and originating in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbus would undoubtedly have picked up additional hands at Callao or Valparaiso or even Buenos Aires during its long voyage around South America.

Such a seaman might have doubted Captain Bierholder’s skill when confronted with storms common off Cape Horn. After all, the Columbus ship did founder in the midst of a sudden squall off Buzzard Point.

A new finding by the renowned forensic investigator, Sean Joyner, a devoted DC United fan from Reston, Virginia, has added to the mystery. Joyner reports that the actual carving on the weathered timber was not done 165 years ago but is of much more recent vintage – probably soon after the timber was unearthed. He further noted that microscopic evaluation shows that there is no terminal “r” carved into the wood in the first word and that some indecipherable letter may have come at the end of the last word: “lucha es mejor que valer?

Could the carving possibly say? "Lucho es mejor que Valeri."

The possible translation is, "Lucho Acosta is better than Diego Valeri."

The Portland Timbers’ acclaimed enganche? Our Argentinian player is better than your Argentinian player?

I don’t disagree with the sentiment (certainly in the long run). However, who could have carved that into the just excavated 165-year old timber at Buzzard Point? Perhaps it was one of the many Spanish-speaking members of the excavation and construction crews?

As evidenced by the picture below, many of the construction workers are DC United fans who have also joined Barra Brava and other supporters groups.

Construction Helmut

Construction Hat with DC United and Barra Brava Logos

(Image: David Rusk and Doug Barnes)

Whether words were carved 165 years ago or 28 months ago, the message is unequivocal. The Portland Timbers are doomed whenever they dare come to or are carried by ship to Buzzard Point.

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