Between 1910 and 1940, when Frank Buck, the big jungle man, did most of his work, cruelty toward wild animals was generally condoned in the name of "hunting" or "sport."
That his trademark motto, "Bring 'em back alive," made him famous, however, indicates that even in his day human consciousness was high enough to appreciate his respect for animals. Today this consciousness is so widespread that no one could become a hero of his stature by trapping jungle animals for profit.
But he understood animals and respected them, even displayed toward them the care of a mother for her child. When they were injured or sick, he personally tended them, a risky business. A 600-pound tapir he was treating almost killed him. A python saw him as a meal, and a cobra spewed deadly venom in his eyes. Attacked by another cobra, he threw his coat over the snake and pounced on it. He held it beneath him as it wriggled to get free until aides could get a grip on its head and pull it out, like a bird extracting a worm from the ground. The python that had him in its grip was one of the very few he had to kill. He managed to get one arm free enough to reach his sidearm; then he put three rounds in the giant reptile's brain.
From his headquarters at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, he operated a collecting network that spanned the lush jungles of Malaya, Borneo, Sumatra and India. Over the years, he brought back hundreds of thousands of birds and animals of all kinds for sale to zoos, circuses and private collectors. In 1922, he provided Dallas with an entire zoo of more than 500 specimens. In 1948, he returned to his hometown of Gainesville, Texas, to dedicate the Frank Buck Zoo and the Frank Buck Zoological Society.
From Mr. Buck's eight books, Steven Lehrer has selected the "best" of the material. He has fine sensibilities as an editor. However, the books are so full of good, old-fashioned, movie-serial-type adventures in wild, exotic settings, that Mr. Lehrer could have closed his eyes and picked 19 chapters that would make a good collection. The surprising thing is that, until now, no one else has.
What few could have done better, however, is write the illuminating introduction summarizing Mr. Buck's early interest in animals and birds as a boy in Plano and along Turtle Creek, and his brief dalliance with crime, marriage and other enterprises before setting out on his lifelong search for "the source of the wind, the mouth of the river, the oceans to which the fish swam, and the far lands to which the birds flew."
Free-lance writer and reviewer Tom Dodge lives in Midlothian; his new book is Tom Dodge Talks About Texas.