The Americans arrive in mysterious and dangerous Tehran

The trek with the Bakhtiari lasted 46 days. Halfway through the trip, Marguerite became severely ill with malaria, forcing the tribe to pause its journey for several days until she could recover well enough to mount her mule.

After crossing a river on a goatskin raft and climbing a rugged snow-covered mountain, Marguerite was relieved when they finally reached the spring pastures and she and her American companions could begin their trip back home.

It took them nearly two weeks to reach Tehran. With electric lights, trams, and movie theaters, the city seemed like the “acme of civilization,” Marguerite later said.

But dark and violent forces swirled in the city as British, Americans, and Russians vied to form alliances that would give them access to Persia’s fabulous oil wealth. For years the British had dominated the market through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and supported rulers who would do their bidding. But by 1924 many proud Persians had grown dissatisfied with the British influence and had invited American firms, Standard Oil and Sinclair Oil, to bid for concessions.

Added to an already volatile mix, the Soviets also began to assert their interest in the region. The Bolsheviks had temporarily abandoned their ambitions in Persia, but—now stronger—the Soviets were looking to reclaim their rights to an old concession in the northern part of the country. The man in charge of the border troops and Soviet Russia’s GPU spy operations was Marguerite’s old nemesis–Solomon Mogilevsky.

Tehran of the 1920s on a postcard.

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