"I was still in Africa taking pictures and writing articles and sending them back, but money was always a problem. At one point, in order to raise funds, I spent several months hunting crocodiles along the Zambezi River -- the idea being that this was a way to earn money. Crocodile skins were worth between five and ten pounds each, according to size and condition. That was quite a lot of money in those days, particularly if you were spending it in Africa. The thing is, as you travel up the river, you see a lot of crocodiles up ahead, but before you get within three or four hundred yards of them, they all slide into the river and disappear. It turns out the way to hunt them is at night. You have one man in back with the outboard motor and one man up front with a bright light and a rifle, and then you can get quite close. Their eyes shine in the dark, and you can go in and shoot them at close range. It's not so easy as all of that, though -- when you shoot them, they sink. You have to dive in after them... but what if they're wounded?"
Schuyler Jones, a professor of anthropology at Oxford University for the better part of three decades, has led the sort of life that exists only in the movies. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, he trekked across Africa and Asia, working as a photographer, writer, anthropologist, and whatever other job he could scrape up. Given the political climate, ecology, and governance of the modern Middle East and Saharan Africa, it's the sort of life that would probably be impossible to lead nowadays. Professor Jones (the real one, not the fictional one) arrives in South Florida this week to share stories at a fundraiser for the Academy for Five Elements Acupuncture.
The man's astounding biography has led some to call him "the real Indiana Jones." Of course, that's wishful thinking. The fictional character is the invention of George Lucas (original name -- Indiana Smith, changed to Indiana Jones because the original sounded too much like Steve McQueen's Nevada Smith). Lucas has since claimed early 20th Century explorer Hiram Bingham, who discovered Macchu Picchu, as one source, but Schuyler's name hasn't come up. Which is not to take anything away from the good professor.
Following years of wandering the length and breadth of Africa and Asia and stumbling into such strange activities as tiger hunting with the Nepalese royal family, he settled in Afghanistan for the better part of a decade, before Soviet, Taliban, and finally American depredations changed that country forever. Oxford University was his home base for the next 30 years, until he retired in 1997.
"To my surprise, I moved back to Kansas, where I had been born," Jones says. "My wife has urged me to write up some of these adventures. I'm also cutting firewood, repairing lawn mowers, and all the sorts of things one does around the place. It was much safer to travel in most of those places then than it is now. It is a very different world now, but Kansas is similar to what it was. Thomas Wolfe was wrong -- you can go home again."