"'TWAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS." PHOTOGRAPHING A CHARGING ELEPHANT. CORNERING A WOUNDED ELEPHANT IN A RIVER JUNGLE GROWTH. A THRILLING CHARGE. HASSAN'S COURAGE.
On the night of December the twenty-third I sat out in a boma watching for lions. None came and at the first crack of dawn my two gunbearers and I crawled out of the tangled mass of thorn branches, and prepared to return to camp two miles away. We were expecting my sais to arrive with my horse soon after daybreak, and while waiting for him to come, and for my gunbearers to get the blankets tied up, I went across to a neighboring swamp in the hope of getting a bushbuck. I was about three hundred yards from the boma when my attention was drawn to a movement in the trees about a quarter of a mile away. I looked and saw what I first thought was a herd of zebras coming toward me. They looked dark against the faint light of early dawn and seemed surprisingly big. Then I realized! They were elephants! I had only my little gun and my big double-barreled cordite was at the boma, three hundred yards away. Breathlessly I ran for it, fearing that the elephants might cut me off before I could reach it. There seemed to be from seven to ten of them, but they soon disappeared in the trees, going at a fast swinging walk. Hassan, my first gunbearer, stopped to slip a couple of solid shells in the gun while I ran to the top of a hill in the hope of catching sight of the herd. But they had disappeared entirely. We soon found the trail strongly marked in the dew-covered grass. My sais then appeared with my horse. He had seen two elephants and they had taken alarm at his scent and were rapidly fleeing. So I galloped back to camp to tell the rest of the party and to prepare for a systematic pursuit.
After breakfast, with Akeley, Stephenson, Clark and our gunbearers, the trail was again picked up where I had left it. It was then a little past nine and the elephants had two hours' start of us. Their trail indicated that they were moving fast and so we prepared for a long chase. For nearly two hours we followed, Akeley tracking with remarkable precision. Sometimes the trail was faint and merged with older trails, but by looking carefully the fresh trail was kept. Soon we began to see newly broken branches from the trees which indicated that the elephants were getting quieted down and were beginning to feed. It must have been about eleven o'clock when Stephenson saw the herd far across on another slope. There were two of the animals distinctly visible and another partly visible. They were resting under some of the many acacia trees that dappled the slope of the hill. We stopped to examine them with our glasses. One seemed to have no tusks, but we finally saw that it had very small ones. The other and larger one had one good tusk and one that was broken off. After about twenty minutes we left our horses and with only our gunbearers moved across toward them, thinking that there must be others that we had not yet seen. The wind was bad, sometimes sweeping up in our direction through the depression between the two slopes and a moment later coming from another direction. At one time the wind blew from us directly toward the elephants and we expected to see them take alarm and run away. But they did not. We circled around and approached them from a better direction and advanced to within a couple of hundred yards without being detected. We then stopped for a conference. If there was a young bull I was to kill it for the Akeley group; if there was a large bull Stephenson was to kill it for himself; if there were only cows we were not to shoot unless absolutely necessary. In this event, Akeley was to take his camera, and with "Fred," "Jimmy" Clark, and I as escorts with our double-barreled cordite rifles, was to advance until he could get a photograph that would show an elephant the full size of the plate. If the elephants charged we were to yell and try to turn them without shooting; if they came on we were to shoot to hurt, but not to kill.
Fred was on one side of "Ake," Jimmy on another, and I on Fred's left. Thus we slowly moved toward the elephants. A reedbuck was startled out of the grass and noisily ran away, giving the alarm. The elephants began feeling in the air with their trunks and their ears began to wave uneasily. Finally they turned and seemed about to go away. Then Fred saw, a short distance to the right, some more elephants that had previously been hidden by the trees. We both whispered to Ake to stop, but he either did not hear us on account of his heavy sun hat or else was too intent upon the elephants in front to heed.
A Nandi Spearman
In the Deep Jungle Growth
As the Elephant Fell
"Ake," whispered Fred, "there's a good bull over there with good tusks. Wait a minute." But Ake, camera in position, continued to advance and so we followed. The elephants, a big cow and a half-grown one, were now facing us with ears wide spread. They looked very nasty. I thought they would turn and run away and was not uneasy about the outcome. But to my great surprise they started toward us, first slowly and then at a rapid trot, steadily gaining in swiftness. It was a real charge and we yelled to scare them off. The big cow was in the lead and she had not the slightest intention of being scared. Her one idea was to annihilate us. We raised our rifles and continued to yell, but on she rushed. She was only thirty yards away when Jimmy fired, Fred fired, and then I. The huge animal sank on her four knees and the half-grown one turned off and stopped, confused and angry. Akeley had got a splendid photograph of the charging cow and now he took one of the smaller beast before we approached the cow. Upon our advance the smaller one ran away but the big cow never moved again. She was stone dead. The three bullets had struck her, Jimmy's high as she was head on, Fred's between the eye and ear as she swung, and mine just behind the orifice of the ear as the head was still further swung by the shock of Fred's bullet. The elephant rested on her four knees in an upright position, quite lifelike in appearance. The small elephant ran off toward those that we had seen on our right. I suggested that we immediately follow the herd in the hope that a young bull might be found among them. So off we went and in a few moments we saw them to our right, apparently returning to where the cow had been killed. It is entirely likely that the big broken-tusked cow was going back to make trouble for us. Colonel Roosevelt had a similar experience with a bull elephant that returned and charged the hunters as they were standing about one that they had just killed.
They Whirled Around
As the elephants moved along slowly we paralleled them and studied them as well as we could. One was the big cow with the one broken and one good tusk. She was leading the group, and was doubtless a vicious animal. She was an enormous beast, probably over eleven feet in height. Another was the half-grown elephant, then a smaller one, and lastly a good-sized elephant with two fairly good tusks. We tried to determine the sex of this last one, I hoping that it was a bull, but fearing otherwise. Ake thought it was a cow with tusks about twelve or fourteen inches long, but the fact that its breasts showed no signs of milk fullness led me to hope that it was a young bull, and I determined to act on that supposition. I at once advanced with my big gun in readiness. The two largest elephants at the same moment whirled around and started swiftly toward us. I rested my gun against the side of a small tree and after their onward rush had brought them within fifty yards I fired as Ake suggested, "just between the eye and ear." The animal swerved but did not fall. Akeley and Stephenson fired at the big cow and under the shock of their heavy shells she dropped to her knees, then sprang up and came on again. Once more they shot and she again went down on her knees, but got up, shaking her head and turned a little to one side. Stephenson started to shoot her again, but Ake shouted, "Don't shoot her again. She's got enough." Mr. Stephenson followed her for some distance and decided that she was going to recover, and so came back. In the meantime my elephant, with the two smaller ones, was moving off to the left, and with my small rifle I fired at its backbone, the only vulnerable spot visible. A spurt of dust rose, but the elephant did not stop. So, accompanied by Hassan and Sulimani, my two gunbearers, I started after the wounded elephant and the two younger ones. The big one was moving slowly, as though badly wounded. The wind was bad, so we circled around to head them off and in doing so completely lost them. Presently we struck their trail and followed them by the blood-stains on the grass.
After some minutes we saw them moving along in the tall grass near the Nzoia River. Again we swiftly circled to head them off before they could cross the river, but when we reached a point where they had last been seen they had disappeared in the dense tangle of trees and high reeds that grew at the river's edge. We thought they would cross the river, so we rushed after them. Suddenly Hassan yelled "Here they come!" and, ahead of us, came the large elephant, its head rising from above the sea of grass like the bow of a battleship bearing rapidly down upon us. The two smaller ones were almost invisible, only the back of one appearing above the reeds. We were out in the open and the situation looked decidedly dangerous. I hastily drew a bead on the big one's forehead, fired, but it didn't stop. There was barely time for us to get out of the way. I ran sideways toward a little mound that furnished some protection, while Hassan, with a coolness and courage that I both admired and envied, stood still until the big elephant was within ten feet of him and then leaped to one side as the three beasts swept by him, carried onward by the impetus of their mad rush. As the big one passed it made a vicious swing at him with its trunk.
The Bull Elephant
Cooking Elephant Meat
Fortunately the elephants continued in their course and we followed them with my big rifle again reloaded and ready. Once more they turned in toward the river and were completely swallowed up in the tall reeds. We again waded in after them and had gone only a few yards when we once more saw the angry head of the big one looming up as it came toward us. I fired point-blank at the base of the trunk and the beast stopped suddenly. Then it slowly turned and as it was about to disappear in the tall elephant grass again I fired at its backbone. The huge bulk collapsed and disappeared, buried in the reeds. Hassan yelled that it was dead, but we couldn't see for the grass. The situation now was perilous in the extreme. The river made a sharp bend at this point like an incomplete letter O, with a narrow neck of land through which the elephants had passed when I had shot. At the narrow neck it was about a hundred feet across while the depth of the "O" was about three hundred feet and the width about two hundred and fifty feet. This small peninsula was matted with a jungle growth of high grass and reeds six or eight feet tall, while the edges of the river were thickly wooded with small trees tangled together and interlacing their branches over the narrow but deep waters of the Nzoia.
Awaiting the Charge
Down in the jungle depths of this peninsula there was a violent commotion among the low branches of these trees, an indication that the animal was not dead, but was thrashing madly about as if desperately wounded. Hassan said it was the young elephant and that the older one was dead, but this could not be determined without pushing on through the reeds until we would be almost upon them. This course seemed too dangerous to try.
The river at this point was absolutely impassable for animals. The banks were ten feet high and perpendicular. The water was perhaps five or six feet deep and the width of the swift stream not over twenty or thirty feet. The trees had interlaced their roots and branches across the river and in the water. No animal, not a tree climber, could possibly cross the stream on account of the straight up and down banks.
So after a time we crept along through the grass at the edge of the stream until we reached a point probably forty yards from where the elephants doubtless were, although quite hidden from our view. There was still a tremendous threshing in the low branches of the trees and in order to see the animals we had to creep cautiously across the peninsula to a point about half-way, where a large, rotten, dead tree stood. This gave us cover and from its screen we could see the three elephants, only fifteen yards away. The head of the big one was still up and it was turned directly at us. It was so close and so big that the effect was terrifying.
"Mkubwa," whispered Sulimani, and that means "big." So the big elephant, instead of being dead, was still alive, with an impassable river at its feet on one side, a dense tangle of trees on two other sides, and with a narrow open aisle between it and ourselves. The two smaller elephants were at its side. To see to fire I had to step out from the tree and expose myself, and as I stepped out the wounded beast saw me and reared its head as if to make a final rush. I fired point-blank; it swung around and a second shot sent it down. Hassan grabbed my arm and told me to hurry back before the two smaller elephants charged. If they did so it might be necessary to shoot them, which we didn't want to do. So we ran swiftly back to the edge of the river and waited. But all was quiet, and after a time we climbed across the river on the interlacing branches, circled around to where the elephants were visible just across the stream and scared the two smaller ones away. Once more we swung across from branch to branch over the swift waters of the river and reached the other bank where lay the mountainous bulk of the dead elephant. It was a young bull about eight feet high and with two well-shaped tusks twenty-two inches long in the open, or approximately thirty-eight inches in all.
Sulimani was sent to notify Mr. Akeley and Mr. Clark, and after a long search found them, and together they arrived a couple of hours later, followed by gunbearers and saises. Mr. Stephenson had gone back to camp to see that salt and supplies, with one tent, were sent out.
Then began the work of measuring the elephant, a work that must be done most thoroughly when the trophy is to be mounted entire. There were dozens of measurements of every part of the body, enough to make a dress for a woman, and then came the skinning, a prodigious task that took all of the late afternoon and evening. We investigated the position of an elephant's heart which Kermit Roosevelt had said was up in the upper third or at the top of the second third of the body, a spot which must be reached by a shot directed through the point of the ear as it lay back. As a matter of fact, an elephant's heart lies against the brisket, about ten or eleven inches from the bottom of the breast. A broadside shot through the front leg at the elbow would penetrate the heart.
At nine o'clock, Christmas Eve, the tent arrived and was soon put up in the jungle of high grass at the middle of the little peninsula. A more African scene can not be imagined. The porter's fires, over each of which sticks spitted with elephant meat en brochette were cooking, imparted a weird look to the river jungle grass and spectral trees.
At ten o'clock we had our dinner and at eleven we put on our pajamas and with the camp-fire burning before the tent and the armed askaris pacing back and forth, gave ourselves up to lazy talk, then meditation and then sound sleep.
It was a wonderful dayone always to be remembered.
The next day, Christmas, came without the usual customs of Christmas morn. In the forenoon we stuck with the bull elephant, getting its skin and bones ready for transportation back to camp; and in the afternoon came the work of saving the skull and part of the skin of the cow elephant. The porters must have thought the day a wonderful one, for they ate and gorged on elephant meat until they could hardly move.
CHAPTER ONE | CHAPTER TWO | CHAPTER THREE | CHAPTER FOUR | CHAPTER FIVE | CHAPTER SIX | CHAPTER SEVEN | CHAPTER EIGHT | CHAPTER NINE| CHAPTER TEN | CHAPTER ELEVEN | CHAPTER TWELVE | CHAPTER THIRTEEN | CHAPTER FOURTEEN | CHAPTER FIFTEEN | CHAPTER SIXTEEN | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN | CHAPTER EIGHTEEN | CHAPTER NINETEEN | CHAPTER TWENTY | CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE | CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
Copyright © 2008