Houston Matters

How Ruth Robertson’s expedition to the world’s tallest waterfall succeeded when many men failed

The story of the photographer, who spent her later years in the Houston area, and her historic 1949 expedition is told in “Angel Falls,” a new historical fiction novel from writer Kathryn Casey.

Ruth Robertson in front of Venezuela’s Angel Falls in 1949.

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Angel Falls by Kathryn CaseyIn the first half of the 20th century, many intrepid explorers yearned to be the first to reach the base of Angel Falls by land and measure the massive waterfall deep in the jungle of Venezuela.

And many expeditions with that goal that were led by men failed.

But it was a female photographer named Ruth Robertson who ultimately succeeded in 1949, measuring the falls at 3,212 feet and taking photographs that would be published around the world.

A famous photo taken by Ruth Robertson shows a view of Angel Falls from an airplane. Another plane on the left side offers some perspective of the size of the falls.

That made Robertson a well-known name for some time, but she spent the later years of her life in Greater Houston along the San Bernard River in Brazoria County.

Decades after her expedition, Houston writer Kathryn Casey saw a blurb about Robertson in National Geographic and was fascinated.

MORE: Kathryn Casey discusses her book about The Texas Killing Fields

Casey, who's the author of numerous true crime books and several mystery novels, eventually would pore through a collection of Robertson's papers and belongings and tells her story in a new historical fiction novel called Angel Falls.

In the audio above, she tells Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty why Robertson captivated her imagination, why Robertson’s expedition succeeded while so many others had not, what she found in Robertson’s personal effects, and what elements of the story she fictionalized.

Houston writer Kathryn Casey holding her historical fiction novel, Angel Falls.
Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media
Houston writer Kathryn Casey with her historical fiction novel, Angel Falls.