Panama, is a country that has been forged by tough adventurers. People that haven’t been afraid to hack their way through endless miles of steaming humid jungle, or climb over enumerable rocky-mountain peaks. This is the story of one such Panama pioneer, Alois Stasil Hartmann: The legendary mountain man of Chiriqui.
Born 20th June 1891, in Moravia, Czechoslovakia. Records show that he and his mother, Cresenz arrived on New York’s Ellis Island, on October 23, 1907. His first job in the US was as a bellboy in a hotel in Philadelphia.
In 1912 he arrived in Chiriqui, Panama, where he worked first at the Hotel Panamonte in Boquete, and then Hartmann’s first foray into the coffee business started when he was employed by Frenchman, Fred Lambert on his coffee farm at Tizingal, north of Volcan.
Arrested as a German spy.
With the start of the First World War, the American soldiers stationed in Panama made a search for possible enemy aliens. The name, “Hartmann” sounded German, and Alois’s thick European accent were all the evidence the soldiers needed to brand him as a spy, and he was promptly arrested. He languished in various prison camps, first on the Panamanian island of Taboga, and finally he was shipped to a prison camp in the US. In 1918, with the end of hostilities, Alois was released and returned to Panama.
His first attempts to grow coffee ended when coffee blight destroyed his entire crop. Not to be outdone Hartmann moved several miles away and tried again. Little did he then realize but the coffee blight traveled with him in the coffee seeds, and once again, his entire crop was destroyed. Successive disasters such as these would have finished any other man, but not the inimitable, Alois Hartmann. Eventually, despite all the hardships that life could throw at him, he did start a successful coffee business. During this time his first wife bore him eleven children, children that he personally delivered.
National Geographic comes to Chiriqui.
In conversation with Rattibor Hartmann, Alois eldest son, I learned that Hartmann senior was an inveterate hunter and explorer. For many years he tried, unsuccessfully, to find the site of the legendary Estrella gold mine in the mountains of Chiriqui. What he did discover however, was hundreds of precious pre-Colombian artifacts. Although not a trained archeologist, his knowledge and deductions on the early people of Panama amazed the professionals of the National Geographic Society. In the late 1940’s, when they explored Chiriqui, they described Hartmann as the “Daniel Boone” of Panama.
Rattibor Hartman, told me that his father was a man of extraordinary kindness and generosity. He recalled times when spare food would be taken off their table and given to some unfortunates that had none. If he saw someone without shoes, he would scratch around and search until a pair was found for that person.
Hartmann coffee started.
In 1940, Finca Hartman was founded. True to the ideals laid down by the founder, to this day, the farm produces internationally renowned, award winning coffee. Hartmann coffee is enjoyed today, all across the United States and around the world from Europe to Japan and Iceland. Hartmann was a man that loved, respected and cared for the natural things in life, in a time when such things weren’t fashionable. He died on May, 25, 1970 and is buried on a hill within sight of his farm.
A different kind of treasure.
Alois Stasil Hartmann, never did discover the yellow treasure that glistens in the sunlight, but ironically, he will be remembered for another kind of treasure; the green coloured kind that blossoms in the shade of a Chiriqui mountainside. And true to the generous nature of this Panama pioneer, people all over the world, share and enjoy this Hartmann treasure, every single day.