MEETING COLONEL ROOSEVELT IN THE UTTERMOST OUTPOST OF SEMI-CIVILIZATION. HE TALKS OF MANY THINGS, HEARS THAT HE HAS BEEN REPORTED DEAD, AND PROMPTLY PLANS AN ELEPHANT HUNT
After one has been in British East Africa two months he begins to readjust his preconceived ideas to fit real conditions. He discovers that nothing is really as bad as he feared it would be, and that distance, as usual, has magnified the terrors of a far-away land. In spite of the fact that he is in the heart of a primitive country, surrounded by native tribes that still are mystified by a glass mirror, and perhaps many days' march from the nearest white person, he still may feel that he is in touch with the great world outside. His mail reaches him somehow or other, even if he is in the center of some vast unsettled district devoid of roads or trails.
How it is done is a mystery; but the fact remains that every once in a while a black man appears as by magic and hands one a package containing letters and telegrams. He is a native "runner," whose business it is to find you wherever you may be, and he does it, no matter how long it may take him. A telegram addressed to any sportsman in East Africa would reach him if only addressed with his name and the words "British East Africa." There are only four or five thousand white residents in the whole protectorate, and the names of these are duly catalogued and known to the post-office officials both in Mombasa and Nairobi.
In the Forest
If a strange name appears on a letter or despatch, inquiries are made and the identity of the stranger is quickly established. If he is a sportsman, the outfitters in Nairobi will know who he is. They will have equipped him with porters and the other essentials of a caravan, and they will know exactly in which section of the protectorate he is hunting. So the letter is readdressed in care of the boma or government station, nearest to that section. The letter duly arrives at the boma, and a native runner is told to go out and deliver the message. He starts off, and by inquiry of other natives and by relying on a natural instinct that is little short of marvelous he ultimately finds the object of his search and delivers his message.
If you look at a map of British East Africa you will be amazed at the number of names that are marked upon it. You would quite naturally think that the country was rather thickly settled, whereas in fact there are very few places of settlement away from the single line of railroad that runs from Mombasa to Victoria Nyanza. The protectorate is divided into subdistricts, each one of which has a capital, or boma, as it is called. This boma usually consists of a white man's residence, a little post-office, one or two Indian stores where all the necessities of a simple life may be procured, and a number of native grass huts. There is usually a small detachment of askaris, or native soldiers, who are necessary to enforce the law, repress any native uprising, and collect the hut tax of one dollar a year that is imposed upon each household in the district.
Other names on the map may look important, but will prove to be only streams, or hills, or some landmarks that have been used by the surveyors to signify certain places. In our five weeks' trip through Trans-Tanaland we found only two bomas, Fort Hall and Embo, and three or four ranches where one or more white men lived. In our expedition to Mount Elgon we encountered only two places where the mark of civilization showedEldoma Ravine and Sergoi. In the former place the only white man was the subcommissioner, and in the latter there was one policeman, and a general store kept by a South African. A number of Boer settlers are scattered over the plateau, trying to reclaim little sections of land from its primitive state.
Between Sergoi and Londiani, on the railroad, ninety miles south, there is one little store where caravans may buy food for porters and some of the simpler necessities that white men may require. All the rest of the country for thousands of square miles is given up to the lion and zebra and the vast herds of antelope that feed upon the rich grass of the plateau.
Yet in spite of the sparsity of settlement the native runner manages to find you, even after days of traveling, without compass or directions to aid him.
An Askari Who Looked Like a Tragedian
Hunters who come to East Africa usually are sent to certain districts where game is known to be abundant. These districts are well defined and oftentimes there may be a number of safaris in them at the same time, but so large are the districts that one group of hunters very rarely encroaches upon the others.
Some parties are sent to Mount Kilima-Njaro, in the vicinity of which there is good hunting. Others are sent out from points along the railroad for certain classes of game that may be found only in those spots. Simba, on the railroad, is a favorite place for those who are after the yellow-maned or "plains" lion. Muhorini, also on the railroad, is a favorite place for those who want the roan antelope; Naivasha is a good place for hippo, and south of Kijabe, in what is called the Sotik, is a district where nearly all sorts of game abound. The Tana River is a favorite place for rhino, buffalo, nearly all sorts of antelope, and some lion; Mount Kenia is an elephant hunting ground, and the Aberdare Range, between Kenia and Naivasha, also is good for elephant. North of Kenia is the Guas Nyiro River, a rich district for game of many kinds. And so the country is divided up into sections that are sure to attract many sporting parties who desire certain kinds of game.
Our first expedition out from Nairobi was across the Athi Plains to the Tana River and Mount Kenia, a wonderful trip for those who are willing to take chances with the fever down the Tana River. In five weeks we saw lion, rhino, buffalo, and elephantthe four groups of animals that are called "royal game"; also hippo, giraffe, eland, wildebeest, and many varieties of smaller game. It is doubtful whether there is any other section of East Africa where one could have a chance for so many different species of game in such a short time as the Tana River country.
For our second expedition we selected the Guas Ngishu Plateau, the Nzoia River, and Mount Elgon. It is a long trip which involves elaborate preparation and some difficulty in keeping up supplies for the camp and the porters. It is the most promising place, however, for black-maned lion and elephant, and on account of these two capital prizes in the lottery of big game hunting occasional parties are willing to venture the time and expense necessary to reach this district.
We disembarked, or "detrained," as they say down there, at a little station on the railroad called Londiani, eight miles south of the equator and about eighty miles from Victoria Nyanza. Then with two transport wagons drawn by thirty oxen, our horses for "galloping" lions, and one hundred porters, we marched north, always at an altitude of from seventy-five hundred to ninety-two hundred feet, through vast forests that stretched for miles on all sides. The country was beautiful beyond wordsclean, wholesome, and vast. In many places the scenery was as trim, and apparently as finished as sections of the wooded hills and meadows of Surrey. One might easily imagine oneself in a great private estate where landscape gardeners had worked for years.
One of the Transport Wagons
At night the cold was keen and four blankets were necessary the night we camped two miles from the equator. In the day the sun was hot in the midday hours, but never unpleasantly so. After two days of marching through forests and across great grassy folds in the earth we reached Eldoma Ravine, a subcommissioner's boma that looks for all the world like a mountain health resort. From the hill upon which the station is situated one may look across the Great Rift Valley, two thousand feet below, and stretching away for miles across, like a Grand Cañon of Arizona without any mountains in it. Strong stone walls protect the white residence, for this is a section of the country that has suffered much from native uprisings during the last few years. We called on the solitary white resident one evening, and, true to the creed of the Briton, he had dressed for dinner. The sight of a man in a dinner-coat miles from a white man and leagues from a white woman was something to remember and marvel at.
Northward from Eldoma Ravine for days we marched, sometimes in dense forests so thick that a man could scarcely force himself through the undergrowth that flanked the trail, and sometimes through upland meadows so deep in tall yellow grass as to suggest a field of waving grain, then through miles of country studded with the gnarled thorn tree that looks so much like our apple trees at home. It was as though we were traversing an endless orchard, clean, beautiful, and exhilarating in the cool winds of the African highlands. And then, all suddenly, we came to the end of the trees, and before us, like a great, heaving yellow sea, lay the Guas Ngishu Plateau that stretches northward one hundred miles and always above seven thousand feet in altitude.
Far ahead, like a little knob of blue, was Sergoi Hill, forty miles away, and beyond, in a fainter blue, were the hills that mark the limit of white man's passport. On the map that district is marked: "Natives probably treacherous." Off to the left, a hundred miles away, the dim outline of Mount Elgon rose in easy slopes from the horizon. Elgon, with its elephants, was our goal, and in between were the black-maned lions that we hoped to meet.
It would be hard to exaggerate the charm of this climate. And yet this, one thought, was equatorial Africa, which, in the popular imagination, is supposed to be synonymous with torrential rains, malignant fevers, and dense jungles of matted vegetation. It was more like the friendly stretches of Colorado scenery at the time of year when the grasses of the valley are dotted with flowers of many colors and the sun shines down upon you with genial warmth.
A Night on the Equator
Each morning we marched ten or twelve miles and then went into camp near some little stream. In the afternoon we hunted for lions, beating out swamps, scouting every bit of cover and combing the tall grass for hours at a time. Hartebeest, topi, zebra, eland, oribi, reedbuck, and small grass antelope were upon all sides and at all times.
The herds of zebra and hartebeest literally numbered thousands, but, except as the latter were occasionally required for food for the porters, we seldom tried to shoot them. Every Boer settler we saw was interviewed and every promising lion clue was followed to the bitter end, but without result. Sometimes we remained in one camp a day or more in order to search the lion retreats more thoroughly, but never a black-maned lion was routed from his lair. A few weeks later, when the dry grass had been burned to make way for new grass, as is done each year, the chances would be greatly improved, and we hoped for better luck when we retraced our steps from Elgon in December. Before that time it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack to find a lion in the tall grass, and a good deal more dangerous if we did find one. There were lots of them there, but they were taking excellent care of themselves. In July, three months previous, Mr. McMillan, Mr. Selous, and Mr. Williams were in this same district after black-maned lions. They heard them every night, but saw only one in several weeks. This one, however, made a distinct impression. Williams saw it one day and wounded it at two hundred yards. The lion charged and could not be stopped by Williams' bullets. It was only after it had leaped on the hunter and frightfully mauled him that the lion succumbed to its wounds. And it was only after months of suffering that Williams finally recovered from the mauling.
We felt that if Frederick Selous, the world's greatest big game hunter, could not find the lion, then our chances were somewhat slim.
Lion Hunting in Tall Grass
There had been few parties in this district since McMillan's party left. Captain Ashton came in two months before us, and we met him on his way out. With him was Captain Black, a professional elephant hunter, who, three years before, on the Aberdare, had had a bad experience with an elephant. It was a cow that he had wounded but failed to kill. She charged him and knocked him down in a pile of very thick and matted brush. Three times she trampled him under her feet, but the bushes served as a kind of mattress and the captain escaped with only a few hones broken; although he was laid up for five weeks. Ashton and Black did not have much luck in the present trip and failed to get a single lion.
Two Spaniards passed our camp one day, inward bound. They were the Duke of Peñaranda and Sr. de la Huerta, and reported no lions during their few days in the district. Prince Lichtenstein was also somewhere on the plateau, but we didn't run across him. In addition to these three parties and ours, the only other expedition in the Guas Ngishu Plateau was Colonel Roosevelt's party, toward which, by previous agreement, we made our way.
A number of months before Mr. Akeley, who headed our party, was dining with President Roosevelt at the White House. In the course of their talk, which was about Africa and Mr. Akeley's former African hunting and collecting experiences, the latter had told the president about a group of elephants that he was going to collect and mount for the American Museum of History in New York. President Roosevelt was asked if he would coöperate in the work, and he expressed a keen willingness to do so. When our party arrived at Nairobi, in September, a letter awaited Mr. Akeley, renewing Colonel Roosevelt's desire to help in collecting the group.
It was in answer to this invitation that Mr. Akeley and our party had gone to the Mount Elgon country to meet Mr. Roosevelt and carry out the elephant-hunting compact made many months before at the White House.
Kermit, Leslie Tarlton and Colonel Roosevelt
Winding Through Unbroken Country
Our Safari on the March
Eleven days of marching and hunting from the railroad brought us to Sergoi, the very uttermost outpost of semi-civilization. Here we found another letter in which Mr. Akeley was asked to come to the Roosevelt camp, and which suggested that a native runner could pilot him to its whereabouts. The letter had been written some days before and had been for some time at Sergoi. Whether the Roosevelt camp had been moved in the meantime could not be determined at Sergoi, and we knew only in a general way that it was probably somewhere on the Nzoia River (pronounced Enzoya), two or three days' march west of Sergoi, toward Mount Elgon.
So we started across, meeting no natives who possibly could have given any information. On the afternoon of November thirteenth we went into camp on the edge of a great swamp, or tinga-tinga, as the natives call it, only a couple of hours' march from the river. Many fresh elephant trails had been discovered, and the swamp itself looked like a most promising place for lions. A great tree stood on one side of the swamp, and in its branches was a platform which an Englishman had occupied seven nights in a vain quest for lions some time before. A little grass shelter was below the tree, and as we approached a Wanderobo darted out and ran in terror from us. The Wanderobos are native hunters who live in the forests, and are as shy as wild animals. So we could not question him as to Colonel Roosevelt's camp. Later in the afternoon a native runner appeared from the direction of Sergoi with a message to the colonel, but he didn't know where the camp was and didn't seem to be in any great hurry to find out. He calmly made himself the guest of one of our porters and spent the night in our camp, doing much more sitting than running.
On the morning of the fourteenth we marched toward the river, two hours away, the native runner slowly ambling along with us. We had been on the trail about an hour and a half when a shot was heard off to our left; At first we thought it was our Spanish friends, but a few moments later we came to a point where we could see, about a mile away, a long string of porters winding along in the direction from which we came, it was plainly a much larger safari than the Spanish one, and we at once concluded that it was Colonel Roosevelt's.
Three or four men on horses were visible, but could not be recognized with our glasses. The number corresponded to the colonel's party, however, which we knew to consist of himself and Kermit, Edmund Heller and Leslie Tarlton. A messenger was sent across the hills to establish their identity and we marched on to the river, a half-hour farther, where we found the smoldering fires of their camp.
A transport wagon of supplies for the Duke of Peñaranda's safari was also there, and from the drivers it was definitely learned that the late occupants of the camp were Mr. Roosevelt and his party. In the meantime the messenger had reached Colonel Roosevelt, and when the latter learned that Mr. Akeley's safari was in the vicinity he at once ordered camp pitched forty-five minutes from our camp, and started across to see Akeley. The latter had also started across to see the colonel, and they met on the way. And during all this time the native runner with the message to Colonel Roosevelt was loafing the morning away in our camp. What the message might be, of course, we didn't know, but we hoped that it was nothing of importance. It was only when the colonel and his party reached our camp that the message was delivered. As we stood talking and congratulating everybody on how well he was looking the colonel casually opened the message.
He seemed amused, and somewhat surprised, and at once read it aloud to us. It was from America, and said: "Reported here you have been killed. Mrs. Roosevelt worried. Cable denial American Embassy, Rome." It was dated November sixth, eight days before.
"I think I might answer that by saying that the report is premature," he said, laughing, and then told the story of a Texas man who had commented on a similar report in the same words.
Colonel Roosevelt certainly didn't look dead. If ever a man looked rugged and healthy and in splendid physical condition he certainly did on the day that this despatch reached him. His cheeks were burned to a ruddy tan and his eyes were as clear as a plainsman's. He laughed and joked and commented on the news that we told him with all the enthusiasm of one who knows no physical cares or worries.
Reading the Report That He Had Been Killed
"If I could have seen you an hour and a half ago," he told Akeley, "I could have got you the elephants you want for your group. We passed within only a few yards of a herd of ten this morning, and Kermit got within thirty yards to make some photographs." They had not shot any, however, as they had received no answer to the letter sent several days before to Mr. Akeley and consequently did not know positively that his party had reached the plateau.
The colonel asked about George Ade, commented vigorously and with prophetic insight on the Cook-Peary controversy, and read aloud, in excellent dialect, a Dooley article on the subject, which I had saved from an old copy of the Chicago Tribune. He commented very frankly, with no semblance at hypocrisy, on Mr. Harriman's death, told many of his experiences in the hunting field, and for three hours, at lunch and afterward, he talked with the freedom of one who was glad to see some American friends in the wilderness and who had no objection to showing his pleasure at such a meeting.
He talked about the tariff and about many public men and public questions with a frankness that compels even a newspaper man to regard as being confidential. Our safari was the only one he had met in the field since he had been in Africa, and it was evident that the efforts of the protectorate officials to save him from interference and intrusion had been successful.
Arrangements were then made for an elephant hunt. Colonel Roosevelt was working on schedule time, and had planned to be in Sergoi on the seventeenth. He agreed to a hunt that should cover the fifteenth, sixteenth, and possibly the seventeenth, trusting that they might be successful in this period and that a hard forced march could get him to Sergoi on the night of the eighteenth.
It was arranged that he and Mr. Akeley, with Kermit and Tarlton and one tent should start early the next morning on the hunt, trusting to luck in overtaking the herd that he had seen in the morning. The hunt was enormously successful, and the adventures they had were so interesting that they deserve a separate chapter.
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
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