A son is born, in the American state of Indiana, to a Scottish anthropologist and his wife during the late 1800s. The boy goes on to spend his youth and young manhood in Africa, the Himalayas and Europe both before and during the World War One era. Soon after, he explores the native cultures of tropical South America. During World War Two, he helps the Allies to fight Rommel’s forces in North Africa. This same man also went in search of the lost Ark of the Covenant.
A Gentle Reader of the DMR Blog could be forgiven if he guessed I was talking about that other guy (and his dad). You wouldn’t be off by much. The man in question just might have been an inspiration for Indiana Jones.
Gordon MacCreagh was born August 8, 1889, just over one hundred and thirty years ago. He didn’t simply live a life of pulp-style adventure. He wasn’t just blessed with a perfectly good pulp hero name. No, Gordon MacCreagh actually wrote for the legendary pulp, Adventure, as well. In fact, he was one of the founding authors of Adventure, first being published in its pages in 1913 and publishing his last tale for them in 1955 (he had died in 1953). MacCreagh bridged the gap between the original pulp version of Adventure and its later “Men’s Adventure” incarnation, a feat that very few of his pulp brethren from the ‘20s and ‘30s could match. I don’t believe there is another Adventure author that can claim such a run.
Like any good pulpster, MacCreagh did not limit himself to just one pulp market. He splashed the field, selling stories to Argosy, All-Story, Weird Tales and other pulps during his forty year career. All in all, he is said to have sold around one hundred and fifty works of fiction. You can find a fairly good listing of MacCreagh’s pulp tales here.
Gordon did not write only pulp fiction. As noted above, he actually lived a life of adventure. There was a nonfiction market for books about such things and so MacCreagh obligingly published accounts of his real-life escapades and explorations. He journeyed up the Amazon in search of undiscovered tribes and pharmaceuticals in the mid-1920s. The resulting book was titled White Waters and Black. Explorers Journal pronounced it, "[An] amusing, often exciting and ever icon-shattering book. . . . [A] classic in explorational literature.” White Waters and Black is still in print and available from the University of Chicago Press.
As soon as White Waters and Black hit the streets, MacCreagh and his wife embarked on a quest for the Ark of the Covenant, exploring the wilds of East Africa and making friends with the Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie. MacCreagh wasn’t wandering aimlessly. Abyssinia, now known as Ethiopia, is generally considered one of the most likely places to find the Lost Ark, since the ancient Ethiopian town of Aksum claims to have it . Gordon’s account of his explorations is called The Last of Free Africa.
MacCreagh’s nonfiction is cool, but I got into his work because of his pulp tales. His biggest claim to fame in that realm are his stories of Kingi Bwana. Kingi Bwana is the Swahili name for a man only otherwise referred to as “King” in the stories. King’s past is murky, but he is apparently an American who abandoned the rapidly-civilizing West of his home country to seek his fortune and wilder climes in East Africa. He works as a guide and manhunter, while sometimes also clashing with slavers, poachers and other ne’er-do-wells. His relationship with the local British Imperial officials is a complicated one.
As you might suspect from his name, there are a few resemblances between MacCreagh’s King and Talbot Mundy’s Athelstane King of King—of the Khyber Rifles. However, there are just as many similarities to Haggard’s Allan Quatermain. When all is said and done, Kingi Bwana is his own man. He has more than a trace of a hardboiled attitude, while also showing MacCreagh’s trademark eye for the absurd. I recommend the Kingi Bwana stories, but don’t just take my word for it. James Reasoner and Paul Bishop—men whose opinions I value when it comes to good pulp adventure—both agree that the Kingi Bwana tales are worthy. Altus Books have done pulp adventure hounds a favor by reprinting all the Kingi Bwana stories in four snazzy volumes. Find them here.
Remember when I mentioned in my first paragraph above that MacCreagh was born in Indiana? That was thought to be true for over a century. However, there is a new biography on MacCreagh by Roderick Heather—just in time for MacCreagh’s one hundred and thirtieth birthday—that challenges several “facts” regarding Gordon’s first two decades, including whether Gordon was born in the USA or Scotland. The biography is titled Indiana MacCreagh and I just learned of its existence. Since I’ve had no chance to read it, I can’t vouch for everything in it, but judging from its title, I’d say that Mr. Heather does think that MacCreagh’s life story exerted some sort of influence on the character of Indiana Jones. I plan on checking it out by this fall. You can order a copy here.
Most of Gordon MacCreagh’s fiction and nonfiction can be found at the website of the estimable Roy Glashan.