The History of Jimmie Angel
© JAHP Jimmie Angel’s parents Glenn Davis Angel and Margaret Belle Marshall Angel with three of his younger brothers – Henry Parker on the left, William Edward “Eddie” center, and baby Clifford Esby on the right - Jimmie standing on the right was about eight years old.
Jimmie Angel was born in the Cedar Valley area of the mid western state of Missouri on 1 August 1899. His full name was James Crawford Angel. To avoid confusion in the Angel family, he used the name Crawford in his childhood and teenage years because his grandfather was named James Edward Angel. He started using the name Jimmie with its unconventional spelling in his early twenties.
Although a United States citizen, he spent much of his fifty-seven years of life outside of the United States. He lived for adventure and the love of flying.
There are many unsubstantiated stories or legends about Jimmie Angel that have been reported in the books and articles of writers and journalists. That Jimmie taught himself to fly at age fourteen, or younger, is part of the legend. The stories that he was a Royal British Flying Corps Ace in World War I, created an air force for a Chinese Warlord in the Gobi Desert, or worked as an aviation scout for Lawrence Arabia have not been verified. What is true is that Jimmie Angel was a gifted pilot and loved Central and South America, especially Venezuela.
© JAHP Jimmie Angel with his youngest brother Clyde Marshall Angel on the day of their sister Goldie’s funeral in Hominy, Oklahoma, May 1921.
Following World War I, he was a civilian pilot in the United States working as a barnstormer, test pilot, movie stunt pilot, and flight instructor. He considered the life of a commercial airline pilot too routine, too structured. “It would be like driving a bus.” he responded to his youngest son Rolan when asked late in his life why he didn’t have an airline pilot’s job.
He first flew south of the United States’ border in the 1920s where his pilot skills found him employment in the remote and unexplored regions of Mexico, Central and South America. Working throughout the 1930s and 1940s for natural resource companies – gold, diamond, and oil – and with scientific and government expeditions, Jimmie Angel found the freedom and excitement that he craved.
Some of his work, particularly in Venezuela, has had a lasting impact. His explorations of the Gran Sabana of southeastern Venezuela from 1933 through 1942 developed international interest in the region and led to scientific exploration by the American Museum of Natural History of Auyántepui in 1938. The vast Gran Sabana was explored, mapped, and opened to systematic scientific evaluation, in part, due to Angel’s work for the Venezuelan Ministry of Development and the Venezuelan-Brazil Boundary Commission in 1939.
As a consequence of international interest and scientific exploration of the region, Venezuela’s vast Canaima National Park has been preserved and saved from the deprecations that have destroyed many other forests and savannas in South America.
According to legend, Angel’s first trip to Venezuela was in the early 1920s with an American mining geologist known as McCracken. The two met in a bar in Panama and had agreed that McCracken would pay Jimmie $5,000 to fly him to a location in southeastern Venezuela. They landed on a mysterious Gran Sabana tepui and removed many pounds of gold from a river on the plateau. McCracken later died in the United States and Angel spent the balance of his life looking for the lost river of gold.
© JAHP Jimmie Angel, center in dark jacket, with his parents and four brother rebuilding a Fokker D VII airplane at their Compton, California home in 1927.
Documents or informants have not verified the legend of the River of Gold. The first person account by Jimmie Angel cannot be verified. Certainly Angel told the story frequently. Many of his friends and family members believed the story. Whether it actually happened is unknown. We do know that the story was a successful means of attracting investors to his search for gold. It was a quest that lasted for the balance of his life.
Jimmie Angel was obsessed with Auyántepui; a 348 square mile heart-shaped tepui not shown on the official maps of the region prior to his explorations. He believed that it was the home of the lost river of gold.
It is difficult to know when any geological feature is actually discovered. Perhaps they are never discovered. Rather, the knowledge of their existence gains recognition by a larger, more diverse audience.
Angel Falls may have been known to the indigenous Pemón people of the Auyántepui region of the Kamarata Valley for thousands of years. Or, because of its remote location in an interior canyon of Auyántepui and their avoidance of this tepui, the waterfall may not have been known to them prior to his discovery by air.
© Freeman/JAHP Members of the Venezuelan Ministry of Development Gran Sabana 1939 Expedition. Jimmie Angel is seated on the left, his wife Marie Angel is next to him, Carlos A Freeman is standing on the left in the back row in front of Angel’s Hamilton airplane.
Perhaps it had been reported in the journals of earlier explorers. There are many seasonal waterfalls flowing from Auyántepui so it is difficult to know for certain if its existence had been recorded prior to Jimmie Angel’s announcement that he had discovered the world’s tallest waterfall. One thing is certain about the discovery of Angel Falls. Its existence was recognized by the world and thus it was discovered because of Jimmie Angel’s explorations.
© JAHP Jimmie Angel
Jimmie Angel sustained a head injury from loose cargo while landing his airplane 17 April 1956 in David, Panama. Soon after the landing, he suffered a heart attack. He had various health problems for the next eight months. He was admitted to Gorgas Hospital, Canal Zone, for the treatment of pneumonia where he died 8 December 1956 from a cerebral hemorrhage. His cremated remains were initially entombed 15 December 1957 in the aviation memorial Portal of Folded Wings in Burbank-North Hollywood, Calfifornia. In fulfillment of his stated wish, his ashes were removed from the Portal and scattered over Angel Falls 2 July 1960 by his wife Marie Angel, his sons Jimmy and Rolan, and his friends including Gustavo Heny and Patricia Grant.
© K. Angel/JAHP The Jimmie Angel Memorial Plaque in Canaima National Park.
Karen Angel © JAHP 2010 For additional history, references and bibliography, please see Research Papers
Auyántepui, Auyántepuy, Auyán-tepui or Auyán-Tepui: Unless quoting from another source or writing a paper in an historical context, the JAHP attempts to consistently use Auyántepui.
Tepui or Tepuy: According to the Royal Academy of Spanish Language (Real Academia de la Lengua Espanola) the correct Spanish spelling is tepuy, in plural, tepuyes. In English the spelling should be tepui; the plural is tepuis. Tepui is the correct form to write the Pemón word “tepú” when it is used on compound words in possessive case, i.e., Ptari-tepui, Auyán-tepui, Wei-tepui.