The Des Moines Register - Morgue


The Des Moines Register had several articles as well as photos which they had never used of Bessie with a Jaguar Pelt and a Tapirape head dress. I asked permission to scan and publish these images on my website and was told that Gannett (which is the company that owns the Des Moines Register) NEVER, under any circumstances, allows any use of pictures or articles which are its property.

Thus it becomes even more important to locate the original files of Bessies photos and notes. I might add here that Bessie was frustrated with the press and its tendency to overstate and romanticize the stories she brought back from Brazil, and the articles which I site below are no exception. 

The Register sent articles from February 1930, March of 1930, and December of 1930. A Feburary 1932 article was also sent. Filled with bravado, I wonder how accurate Elizabeth would have felt they were.


The first Miss Elizabeth Steen will seek lost tribe of Brazilian Jungles suggests that she will depend greatly on a woman's small conceits for protection when she attempts to penetrate the heart of a Brazilian jungle from which no white man has ever emerged alive. The very spot, in fact, upon which the famous explorer, Colonel Fawcett met his death at the hands of Indians almost four years ago will be the region sought by this Iowa explorer, who insists she's "feminine, purely feminine."

She was visiting her brother, Bert Steen. The address listed 3906 East Thirty-second Street is the addess that Harcourt Brace gave me for the current copyright holder for her book!

Couched in terms that would come from an old movie script starring Clarke Gable and Vivienne Leigh

the article goes on about how the vivacious young womanis letting her hair grow and sewing skirts so that no one will mistake her for a man and that she hopes this will provide her protection. The first article also suggests that upon returning she will be granted her Doctors Degree and that the University is sponsoring her trip, which of course is untrue.

The article concludes, "Elizabeth Steen, will be the first of her race to study the strangest, most uncivilized people now living--a clan of which other Indian tribes dare speak only in frightened whispers.


AIMS to study Primitive Tribe published from New York is somewhat more realistic describing her route and the fact that she is funding her own trip and that she hopes to publish her results upon her return. This article gave this description of her travel;

On her arrival in Rio de Janeiro two weeks hence, Miss Steen who will travel alone; will proceed by train to Sao Paulo and Thence to Vianapolis. From there she will go on a several weeks journey, either by Ford truck or ox cart to Goyaz. From Goyaz still traveling by ox cart, she will continue to Leopoldina on the Araguaya river. At Leopoldina the Indian guide and the young Negro maid who are to attend her will join her expedition."



Iowa Born Woman_______________From Tribe describes how some of the harrowing experiences that Bessie had on this trip. The story indicates that Bessie spent seven months traveling in Brazil. The story mentions Col. Alencarliense Fernando da Costa who accompanied her on the expedition. Reporting that she remained in the interior of the states of Goyaz and Matto Grosso and found the Tapirape Indians who had never seen a white woman before"and were planning to attack Colonel Da Costa when he flashed a light in their faces and they fled."

Previously, they had been unable to enter her tent due to the zipper fasteners. "After a strenuous trip through regions where the dry season had made travel difficult we arrived at the Tapirape village in a weakened condition due to lack of food." Miss Steen said, in telling of the adventure of her party, in charge of the Indian protection service and ten natives."our long walk in the broiling sun over open stretches left us parched and our canteens were empty. I have never desired a drink of water more in all my life. The indians showed us a small, dirty black stream, but it looked like flowing gold to us..

The story reports that Elizabeth shot and killed four alligators and many birds and deer on the trip, remarking that hunting was easy.



Thought Fast to Lose Chief

This article is really a report on the lecture she gave to the State teachers of Iowa.She is quoted as saying "The Indians of South America are so much more interesting than the American Indians," she explained. "They are unspoiled by the white man's culture, while our own Indians have been decultured. That is, the white man has taken from them what they had and given them nothing in return."

An interesting aside, "Don't put me down as a doctor or professor when you write about me, she continued, "I am neither. All I am is a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of California. My lectures are part of my work for a doctor's degree." Miss Steen was born in Washington, Ia., and spent her early years in Knoxville. The year of her birth or of her graduation from Knoxville High School are secrets she was unwilling to share.

"A New York newpaper man asked me my age two years ago. I told him if he put it down at 29, I would be very content. If he used 27, I would buy 10 of his papers and if he used 25, I would take our a year's subscription. Use your own discretion, therefore." Asked if it would be safe to say she was in her early thirties, she smiled approval.

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