Rachel Saint: A Star in the Jungle

Chapter 1
A Dangerous Task

Tidonca’s son is dead,” Rachel Saint overheard one of the Waorani women say.

Rachel had been expecting the bad news, as the child had been sick for several days. Rachel rose wearily from her desk and went to find Tidonca.

Toucans squawked in the branches of the ironwood trees above and monkeys squealed in the distance as Rachel made her way along the trail that led to Tidonca’s hut several hundred yards away from the main village clearing. By now the morning sun had burned away most of the cooling mist that had crept up overnight from the river. What mist remained diffused the scant rays of light that made it to the jungle floor.

Soon Rachel reached a small clearing beside the trail and found Tidonca sitting on a log outside the small thatched hut he called home. He was sharpening a spear made from a chonta palm, honing the barbs to sharp points. Rachel was surprised; she had expected Tidonca to be preparing a burial site for his dead son. “What are you doing, Tidonca?” she asked.

Tidonca looked up from sharpening his spear and replied flatly, “My son has died. Why should my worthless daughter live?”

A shiver ran down Rachel’s spine. She knew that Tidonca was serious. Aucas often killed their daughters when a son died or buried children alive with their dead fathers. Rachel stepped back; her mind began to whirl. She had to do something. She could not stand by and let an innocent child be speared to death. But what could she do? She was a middle-aged American woman in the dense Amazon jungle, surrounded by a tribe of people with a reputation for being ruthless killers. But before she even realized it, Rachel was moving. She ran toward Tidonca, snatched the spear from his hands, and sprinted off into the jungle. It was a desperate move, and Rachel waited for the sting of a poisonous dart in her back from Tidonca’s blowpipe, but it did not come. Instead Tidonca called after Rachel, “Nimu, leave me my spear.”

“No, you are not going to kill your daughter with it,” Rachel called back over her shoulder as she kept running.

Rachel wandered along tangled jungle tracks for several hours before finally deciding to return to her thatched hut with the spear. When she got there, she found Kimo, one of the other men of the tribe, standing outside. She expected him to be angry with her or, worse, use his own spear against her. Instead, when Kimo saw Rachel, a smile animated his weathered, coffee-brown face.

“Tidonca is very angry with you,” Kimo reported. “But I have told him you are my friend. To spear you, he will have to spear me first.”

Rachel hardly knew what to say. For the first time ever, she was witnessing one member of the tribe standing up to another over the way things had been done for generations. She could only hope that Kimo’s brave stand did not get him killed.

Thankfully Tidonca went ahead with the burial, and no blood was shed.

The following morning Rachel picked up Tidonca’s spear and made her way along the trail to his hut. She found him once again sitting on the log outside. Rachel walked gingerly toward him, the spear in her outstretched hands. Would he use that spear to kill her? After all, Rachel had humiliated him when she snatched it away in the first place. He was a Waorani warrior, and she, a foreign woman, had taken his spear. Tidonca nodded grudgingly, took the spear, and walked into his hut. Rachel stood there for a moment. The crisis had passed.

Rachel breathed a sigh of relief after the incident. Innocent life had been saved, and she hoped that her actions would serve as an object lesson to the Waorani that a human life was a sacred thing to be protected, not mindlessly and brutally destroyed. Rachel herself knew from firsthand experience the devastating effects of the Waorani’s brutal killing sprees. Now, with God’s help, she was determined to stop the killing and show the members of the tribe that there was a better way to live. It was a treacherous task that she had embarked upon, a task that she could never have anticipated as a small girl growing up on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

Chapter 2
A New Home for the Family

In November 1918, Rachel Saint sat quietly on a box in the curved driveway of her grandparents’ mansion. This was more than could be said for her four brothers. Her two older brothers, Sam and Phil, were playing hide-and-seek among the various trunks and bags stacked in the driveway, while younger brothers Dan and David cried because they were too small to join in the game.

Rachel felt like crying herself. At four years of age she was aware that she was leaving behind everything that was familiar to her. Born in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, she had spent her life thus far living with her parents and their growing brood in a small cottage on her grandparents’ estate. She loved her grandparents’ mansion, with its deep Persian rugs and pale, velvet furnishings. Most of the time Rachel was the only grandchild allowed in the house. Her grandmother had banned the boys from the place after they had used the davenport as a springboard to fly into the air and out through an open window onto a pile of feather cushions they had placed on the front veranda.

Rachel’s grandfather Josiah Proctor had been an inventor who in the late nineteenth century had invented machinery that made woolen mills operate more efficiently. Josiah had founded a company called Proctor and Schwartz (which later became known as Proctor Silex) to make and market the machinery. But Josiah had recently died, and after the funeral Rachel had overheard her parents discussing the fact that the family of four boys and one girl was getting too large for the small cottage. If the family moved out into the country, her parents reasoned, everyone would have room to grow and stretch. And that is how Rachel came to be sitting among the trunks and bags in the driveway of the Proctor estate. This was the day the Saint family was moving to Huntingdon Valley, a small country town outside of Abington. Rachel hardly knew what to expect, but her mother had tried to make the move into an adventure. So when Rachel was not thinking about how much she was going to miss her grandmother, she had to admit that living in the countryside sounded interesting.

As it turned out, Rachel loved her new home in the country from the moment the family arrived there. The new house was three stories high, with a ledge along the roof on which the children were allowed to sleep during the summer months. A fifty-foot length of rope, on which Rachel loved to swing, hung from a tree in the backyard. As well, Rachel’s father, Lawrence Saint, built a roller coaster that led down from the third story of the house and was the swiftest way to get from upstairs to the kitchen.

Surrounding the house in every direction were places where the children could play and make up all kinds of games. The Pennypack Creek flowed nearby and was a perfect spot for swimming in the summer and ice skating during the snowy winter months. Although Rachel liked to ice skate, her favorite winter activity was leading a tobogganing expedition each year on her birthday, January 2.

Another activity that Rachel liked was riding in the old electric car the Saint family had inherited from Grandfather Proctor. The great, lumbering vehicle was powered by enormous lead acid batteries mounted in the front and the rear and was controlled from the backseat, where it was steered by a tiller rather than a steering wheel. From time to time Rachel’s father would back it out of the barn and the family would all clamber in for a ride through the countryside. Most of all Rachel liked the times when just she and her parents got to ride in the car and the boys stayed behind at the house to play.

With so many children to care for and no maids to help her, Rachel’s mother, Katherine, developed a unique system of feeding and clothing everyone. She cooked an enormous quantity of one food and kept feeding it to everyone until someone complained. Then she would make a change and prepare another dish. Rachel, being the only girl, had her own clothes, but the boys all shared what they had. Katherine Saint would wash and dry the boys’ clothes and then hang them in a large downstairs room. From there the boys helped themselves to whatever fit them, and Rachel soon noticed that the brother who got up first seemed to be the best dressed for the day.

Rachel’s childhood in Huntingdon Valley passed in a whirl of activity and possibilities. The family’s Christian beliefs were at the center of everything the family did. They attended church at least twice on Sunday, and then there were the Wednesday-night prayer meetings, which they often walked miles to attend. The family also had daily Bible readings and prayer times, which all of the children joined in. The prayers were often about the family’s need for food and other material things. There never seemed to be quite enough money to pay for all the necessities, since Lawrence Saint was a struggling stained-glass artist. But despite the lack of money, Rachel’s mother did the best she could with what she had. She patched and repatched clothes and could stretch a pound of beans to feed the entire family. Sometimes there was nothing to eat in the house but milk and peanuts for a week or more at a time.

By the time Rachel was twelve, her mother had given birth to three more boys—Steve, Nate, and Ben. Rachel and Nate shared a special bond, despite the fact that Nate was nine years younger than Rachel. Katherine and Lawrence Saint had brought up all of their children to be God-fearing, but Nate seemed to especially delight in the Bible stories and missionary tales that Rachel read to him, and he was always begging her for just one more story.

Reading these stories to her younger brother and sometimes acting them out was one of Rachel’s favorite activities, as were the Sunday-afternoon family get-togethers. When the weather was good, Rachel’s father insisted on leading everyone on hikes through the surrounding wheat fields and among groves of tall cedar trees. On rainy or snowy Sunday afternoons, the family settled in the parlor to sketch portraits and paint various landscapes. Drawing was a perfectly normal part of the Saint family’s activities, and Rachel especially loved to hear her parents tell stories of their artistic heritage.

Rachel’s grandfather James Saint had been a gifted portrait artist back in the 1860s in Pittsburgh. But since there had not been much demand for oil paintings back then, he had eked out a living traveling around to fairs and expositions, cutting out silhouettes of faces and selling them for a penny each. As a result of this itinerant lifestyle, Rachel’s father had grown up in poor surroundings and had left home at fifteen to make a living selling newspapers, with the hope of one day becoming a successful artist. Lawrence Saint had moved to Philadelphia, where he volunteered his spare time teaching at a gospel mission in South Philadelphia. It was while volunteering there that he had met Rachel’s mother, Katherine Proctor. Katherine had recently become a Christian, and as a result she, too, was volunteering her time at the mission school. It was the classic tale of a struggling, penniless young artist and a rich, beautiful young woman falling in love with each other, and Rachel never tired of hearing the story.

After some time Lawrence won an art scholarship to study in Europe, and Katherine suggested that she go along with him—as his wife. A hasty wedding was organized, and the couple spent their honeymoon in Paris. It was while he was in Paris, Rachel knew, that her father discovered his destiny in art—recreating the medieval stained-glass windows of Europe using the ancient techniques. The trouble was that no one was sure exactly what these ancient techniques were. So while Lawrence sketched countless stained-glass windows, Katherine translated numerous French texts in the hope that they might provide some clue as to how craftsmen using just a few simple tools had created such stunning windows.

Soon after moving back to the United States and into the house in Huntingdon Valley, Lawrence set up an art studio and began experimenting with various techniques for making stained glass. His quest was driven in part by the fact that the color and texture of the glass he could buy commercially was not of good enough quality for the windows he wanted to make. He experimented with combining various ingredients in a furnace he built in the backyard, with the goal of making the highest quality glass possible. Many times Rachel watched the disappointment in her father’s eyes when a particularly promising recipe rendered inferior glass, dashing his hopes. But Lawrence was not a man to give up easily. His experimentation eventually paid off, and he began to produce high-quality glass. The glass was so superior that a crew from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City came to the studio in Huntingdon Valley to film Lawrence Saint at work.