I’ve been trying to locate this in the file ever since we spoke last fall. This is in relation to my friend, Paul Dix, shown here with
his son, Patchen Miller. They stopped by for a couple of nights on the drive from Montana to Nicaragua. This was years ago just as the Contra war was terminating.
Tim Cahill, wrote the article. He and Dix lived in Livingston, MT
and knew each other as friends and project collaborators at the time. Dix spent 10 years in Nicaragua as a photographer documenting the abuses of the US backed Contras against the FSLN, govt. and people of Nicaragua. He was supported by a program known as, Witness For Peace.
His book of photography and text is easy to order online.
Paul Dix –
NICARAGUA : Surviving the legacy of U. S. Policy
Spanish and English
photo by Matt Wells
Patchen Miller & Paul Dix
Outside magazine, November 1995
What the son found in the Peruvian jungle was a terrible truth. What his father found there months later was a way to begin again.
By Tim Cahill
The Marañón River drops out of the Peruvian Andes and spills into the Amazon 600 miles to the east, near Iquitos. Just below the foothills of the Andes, the Marañón is wide and fast. Between the towns of Imazita and Santa María de Nieva, beyond the place where the Cenepa River flows into the Marañón from the north, there is an island about a quarter of a mile long and perhaps 100 yards across at its widest. On the evening of January 18, 1995, two 26-year-old Americans, Josh Silver and Patchen Miller, floated past the island on a large balsa-wood raft they had built several days earlier. They tied off in the eddy at the downriver tail of the island. About 9:30 that night, they were shot and left for dead.
Josh Silver survived and was treated for his wounds at an army base and then transferred to a hospital in Santa María de Nieva. The American consul general in Peru, Thomas Holladay, was informed that two Americans had been attacked. One was alive; the other was missing and feared dead.
Holladay notified Patchen Miller’s parents, Sandra Miller, a New Hampshire naturalist, and Paul Dix, a Montana photographer and human rights activist. At the time, Dix was in Nicaragua. He’d driven down from the United States with a truckload of clothing and medical supplies for the poor.
He immediately flew to Peru. The arrangements he’d made were a blur. Had he flown from Managua to Houston first? Or to Miami? He was caught in a spiral of obsessive thinking: Patchen was an experienced traveler. He’d been to Central America with Dix; he’d been to Nepal and Thailand. He was sensitive to the people he met. He made lasting friends everywhere he went and he was 26 years old and he couldn’t be dead.
The Peruvian army, the police, and many of the good people of Santa María de Nieva searched for Patchen’s body. By the time Paul Dix arrived in Lima there was no longer any hope.
Dix checked into a youth hostel: a 59-year-old man living cheap in a ten-bed dormitory room. He needed to be close to Holladay, who was receiving occasional reports from Santa María.
Holladay’s office was set on a side street blocked off to traffic by large cement pillars and guarded by soldiers with automatic rifles. There was still a lingering threat of car bombs and attacks by the remnants of the Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist rebel group whose 12-year-long campaign of terrorism stalled in 1992 when its leader, Abimael Guzmán, was finally captured.
Dix made his way past the pillars, shoved his passport through an opening in a bulletproof window, received a numbered visitor’s pass, and was escorted to Holladay’s office. The consul general was a burly man with a full beard, just turning gray. He wore an immaculate suit, combed his hair straight back from his forehead, and had the slightly pugnacious look of an Irish bar fighter.
Holladay didn’t have much information yet. The assailants were said to have been Indians, but they could just as easily have been armed revolutionaries or drug traffickers. In addition, tensions were building between Peru and Ecuador, its neighbor to the north. War was a very real possibility. If it came, it would be centered around the Cenepa, not far from the place where the Americans had been shot. It was possible that they had been caught in the cross fire in some unreported border conflict. Or mistaken for spies. Or shot by spies from Ecuador in an effort to discredit Peru.
Holladay was a busy man, but he began researching the incident and made time to see Dix often. Together they planned to go to Imazita and then travel downriver to the island where Josh and Patchen had been shot. Meanwhile, newspapers in the United States had picked up the story. “New Hampshire Man Feared Killed in Peru,” read one headline.
Paul Dix lives in Montana, in my hometown, and I’ve known him for many years. We’ve traveled together on numerous magazine assignments: kayaking in Glacier Bay and Baja, sailing in Hawaii, climbing and hunting dinosaurs in Montana. We’re friends. When I heard that Paul was in Peru, I called the American embassy there and was connected to Holladay.