We got word last Thursday that the Coltharp Party, last heard from in 1963 as they stepped off into the Amazon Jungle, had been sighted and may be returning to civilization. I rushed to the scene. 

Landing in Macapa, Brazil, I joined other reporters rushing to the riverbank as two very old boats pulled up.

A grizzled old man stepped out of the first. “Mr. Coltharp?” I inquired.

“Yes, I am Ben Coltharp.”

“Mr. Coltharp, I am Jim Thompson from The Highland County Press, Hillsboro, Ohio, USA.”


“Yes, sir. I remember reading about your expedition in National Geographic in the summer of 1964 when I was 14 years old. They talked about your expedition heading up the Amazon in October of 1963. It was quite a story.”

Coltharp replied, “Well, we have had quite a time of it. Lost six damn – oops, sorry, meant ‘darn’ – piranhas. But three of us managed to survive all these years and my are we grateful to be back.”

“I am sure you are, sir. You were only 20 when the expedition started and look at you now – 73 years old. Do you mind if we talk about your adventure?”

Coltharp looked thoughtful. “Not now – there will be plenty of time for that. I am interested in hearing what has happened to my home – the United States. How is it doing? By my calculations, you just had a presidential election. Who won? Henry Cabot Lodge the VI or another Kennedy?”

I laughed. “We haven’t heard much from the Lodges since the election of 1960. There are a whole group of new players since then. Mr. Donald Trump won the election last week. He beat a woman from Arkansas.”

“Trump? Never heard of him. Who is he? And a WOMAN FROM ARKANSAS? Daisy Mae?”

“You never heard of him because he was only 17 years old when you stepped off into the wilderness. The woman from Arkansas was named Clinton. Hate to break it to you, but Al Capp died in 1979 and we haven’t seen Li’l Abner or Daisy Mae since then.”

“Never mind all of that, how is the country doing?”

“Well, we have over 300 million people now, but over 90 million of the adults are out of work.”

“What!” he exclaimed, “How did that happen? Is there a depression on? What is the state of the country’s finances?”

I went on. “Well, the country is in debt to the tune of $19 trillion and our credit rating has been downgraded, but we’re doing pretty good according to the president who is retiring.”

“Are you kidding me? How can you say the country is doing pretty good when 90 million people are out of work, it is in debt $19 billion and the credit rating has been down graded?! Wait a minute, at $19 billion the debt has gone down since we left – I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t say $19 billion, I said $19 trillion.”

“Trillion? You mean 19 with…” he thought a minute, “12 zeroes after it???”

“Yes. And you were partially right, the national debt was only $306 billion when you stepped off into the Amazon. It is 62 times larger than when you left while the population hasn’t even doubled.”

Coltharp was turning purple.

“What the Sam Hill has been going on?”

I took him by the shoulder.

“Mr. Coltharp, let me buy you dinner and let’s talk about it.”

We walked into a restaurant and sat down.

“Mr. Coltharp, I might as well start here. Barely a month after you started your adventure, President Kennedy was assassinated. Then came the Vietnam War, where over 50,000 Americans were killed. After that, the Supreme Court legalized abortions and we have lost over 50 million future Americans to that…”

I went on for a couple of hours. When I got done, I’ll swear, Mr. Coltharp looked like he had aged more in the four hours I had been with him than in the 53 years he had spent in the jungle.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press.