Project Gutenberg's Real Soldiers of Fortune, by Richard Harding Davis

Download 0.66 Mb.
Size0.66 Mb.
1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13

enlisted, at one time or another, under his banner 10,000 men. While in

his service, of this number, by hostile shots or fever, 5,000 died.
To describe the battles with the allies would be interminable and

wearying. In every particular they are much alike: the long silent

night march, the rush at daybreak, the fight to gain strategic

positions either of the barracks, or of the Cathedral in the Plaza,

the hand-to-hand fighting from behind barricades and adobe walls. The

out-come of these fights sometimes varied, but the final result was

never in doubt, and had no outside influences intervened, in time each

republic in Central America would have come under the five-pointed star.

In Costa Rica there is a marble statue showing that republic represented

as a young woman with her foot upon the neck of Walker. Some night a

truth-loving American will place a can of dynamite at the foot of that

statue, and walk hurriedly away. Unaided, neither Costa Rica nor any

other Central American republic could have driven Walker from her soil.

His downfall came through his own people, and through an act of his

which provoked them.
When Walker was elected president he found that the Accessory Transit

Company had not lived up to the terms of its concession with the

Nicaraguan Government. His efforts to hold it to the terms of its

concession led to his overthrow. By its charter the Transit Company

agreed to pay to Nicaragua ten thousand dollars annually and ten per

cent. of the net profits; but the company, whose history the United

States Minister, Squire, characterized as "an infamous career of

deception and fraud," manipulated its books in such a fashion as to

show that there never were any profits. Doubting this, Walker sent a

commission to New York to investigate. The commission discovered the

fraud and demanded in back payments two hundred and fifty thousand

dollars. When the company refused to pay this, as security for the

debt Walker seized its steamers, wharves, and storehouses, revoked its

charter, and gave a new charter to two of its directors, Morgan and

Garrison, who, in San Francisco, were working against Vanderbilt. In

doing this, while he was legally in the right, he committed a fatal

error. He had made a powerful enemy of Vanderbilt, and he had shut off

his only lines of communication with the United States. For, enraged

at the presumption of the filibuster president, Vanderbilt withdrew his

ocean steamers, thus leaving Walker without men or ammunition, and as

isolated as though upon a deserted island. He possessed Vanderbilt's

boats upon the San Juan River and Nicaragua Lake, but they were of use

to him only locally.
His position was that of a man holding the centre span of a bridge of

which every span on either side of him has been destroyed.

Vanderbilt did not rest at withdrawing his steamers, but by supporting

the Costa Ricans with money and men, carried the war into Central

America. From Washington he fought Walker through Secretary of State

Marcy, who proved a willing tool.

Spencer and Webster, and the other soldiers of fortune employed by

Vanderbilt, closed the route on the Caribbean side, and the man-of-war

_St. Marys_, commanded by Captain Davis, was ordered to San Juan on the

Pacific side. The instructions given to Captain Davis were to aid the

allies in forcing Walker out of Nicaragua. Walker claims that these

orders were given to Marcy by Vanderbilt and by Marcy to Commodore

Mervin, who was Marcy's personal friend and who issued them to Davis.

Davis claims that he acted only in the interest of humanity to save

Walker in spite of himself. In any event, the result was the same.

Walker, his force cut down by hostile shot and fever and desertion, took

refuge in Rivas, where he was besieged by the allied armies. There was

no bread in the city. The men were living on horse and mule meat. There

was no salt. The hospital was filled with wounded and those stricken

with fever.

Captain Davis, in the name of humanity, demanded Walker's surrender to

the United States. Walker told him he would not surrender, but that

if the time came when he found he must fly, he would do so in his own

little schooner of war, the _Granada_, which constituted his entire

navy, and in her, as a free man, take his forces where he pleased. Then

Davis informed Walker that the force Walker had sent to recapture the

Greytown route had been defeated by the janizaries of Vanderbilt; that

the steamers from San Francisco, on which Walker now counted to bring

him re-enforcements, had also been taken off the line, and finally

that it was his "unalterable and deliberate intention" to seize the

_Granada_. On this point his orders left him no choice. The _Granada_

was the last means of transportation still left to Walker. He had hoped

to make a sortie and on board her to escape from the country. But with

his ship taken from him and no longer able to sustain the siege of

the allies, he surrendered to the forces of the United States. In the

agreement drawn up by him and Davis, Walker provided for the care, by

Davis, of the sick and wounded, for the protection after his departure

of the natives who had fought with him, and for the transportation of

himself and officers to the United States.
On his arrival in New York he received a welcome such as later was

extended to Kossuth, and, in our own day, to Admiral Dewey. The city

was decorated with flags and arches; and banquets, fetes, and public

meetings were everywhere held in his honor. Walker received these

demonstrations modestly, and on every public occasion announced his

determination to return to the country of which he was the president,

and from which by force he had been driven. At Washington, where he

went to present his claims, he received scant encouragement. His protest

against Captain Davis was referred to Congress, where it was allowed to

Within a month Walker organized an expedition with which to regain his

rights in Nicaragua, and as, in his new constitution for that country,

he had annulled the old law abolishing slavery, among the slave-holders

of the South he found enough money and recruits to enable him to at once

leave the United States. With one hundred and fifty men he sailed from

New Orleans and landed at San del Norte on the Caribbean side. While he

formed a camp on the harbor of San Juan, one of his officers, with fifty

men, proceeded up the river and, capturing the town of Castillo Viejo

and four of the Transit steamers, was in a fair way to obtain possession

of the entire route. At this moment upon the scene arrived the United

States frigate _Wabash_ and Hiram Paulding, who landed a force of three

hundred and fifty blue-jackets with howitzers, and turned the guns of

his frigate upon the camp of the President of Nicaragua. Captain Engel,

who presented the terms of surrender to Walker, said to him: "General,

I am sorry to see you here. A man like you is worthy to command better

men." To which Walker replied grimly: "If I had a third the number you

have brought against me, I would show you which of us two commands the

better men."
For the third time in his history Walker surrendered to the armed forces

of his own country.

On his arrival in the United States, in fulfilment of his parole to

Paulding, Walker at once presented himself at Washington a prisoner

of war. But President Buchanan, although Paulding had acted exactly as

Davis had done, refused to support him, and in a message to Congress

declared that that officer had committed a grave error and established

an unsafe precedent.

On the strength of this Walker demanded of the United States Government

indemnity for his losses, and that it should furnish him and his

followers transportation even to the very camp from which its

representatives had torn him. This demand, as Walker foresaw, was not

considered seriously, and with a force of about one hundred men, among

whom were many of his veterans, he again set sail from New Orleans.

Owing to the fact that, to prevent his return, there now were on each

side of the Isthmus both American and British men-of-war, Walker, with

the idea of reaching Nicaragua by land, stopped off at Honduras. In his

war with the allies the Honduranians had been as savage in their attacks

upon his men as even the Costa Ricans, and finding his old enemies

now engaged in a local revolution, on landing, Walker declared for the

weaker side and captured the important seaport of Trujillo. He no sooner

had taken it than the British warship _Icarus_ anchored in the harbor,

and her commanding officer, Captain Salmon, notified Walker that the

British Government held a mortgage on the revenues of the port, and that

to protect the interests of his Government he intended to take the town.

Walker answered that he had made Trujillo a free port, and that Great

Britain's claims no longer existed.
The British officer replied that if Walker surrendered himself and his

men he would carry them as prisoners to the United States, and that if

he did not, he would bombard the town. At this moment General Alvarez,

with seven hundred Honduranians, from the land side surrounded Trujillo,

and prepared to attack. Against such odds by sea and land Walker was

helpless, and he determined to fly. That night, with seventy men,

he left the town and proceeded down the coast toward Nicaragua. The

_Icarus_, having taken on board Alvarez, started in pursuit. The

President of Nicaragua was found in a little Indian fishing village, and

Salmon sent in his shore-boats and demanded his surrender. On leaving

Trujillo, Walker had been forced to abandon all his ammunition save

thirty rounds a man, and all of his food supplies excepting two barrels

of bread. On the coast of this continent there is no spot more unhealthy

than Honduras, and when the Englishmen entered the fishing village they

found Walker's seventy men lying in the palm huts helpless with fever,

and with no stomach to fight British blue-jackets with whom they had no

quarrel. Walker inquired of Salmon if he were asking him to surrender to

the British or to the Honduranian forces, and twice Salmon assured him,

"distinctly and specifically," that he was surrendering to the forces of

her Majesty. With this understanding Walker and his men laid down their

arms and were conveyed to the _Icarus_. But on arriving at Trujillo,

in spite of their protests and demands for trial by a British tribunal,

Salmon turned over his prisoners to the Honduranian general. What excuse

for this is now given by his descendants in the Salmon family I do not

Probably it is a subject they avoid, and, in history, Salmon's version

has never been given, which for him, perhaps, is an injustice. But the

fact remains that he turned over his white brothers to the mercies of

half-Indian, half-negro, savages, who were not allies of Great Britain,

and in whose quarrels she had no interest. And Salmon did this, knowing

there could be but one end. If he did not know it, his stupidity

equalled what now appears to be heartless indifference. So far as to

secure pardon for all except the leader and one faithful follower,

Colonel Rudler of the famous Phalanx, Salmon did use his authority, and

he offered, if Walker would ask as an American citizen, to intercede for

him. But Walker, with a distinct sense of loyalty to the country he had

conquered, and whose people had honored him with their votes, refused to

accept life from the country of his birth, the country that had injured

and repudiated him.

Even in his extremity, abandoned and alone on a strip of glaring coral

and noisome swamp land, surrounded only by his enemies, he remained true

to his ideal.
At thirty-seven life is very sweet, many things still seem possible, and

before him, could his life be spared, Walker beheld greater conquests,

more power, a new South controlling a Nicaragua canal, a network of

busy railroads, great squadrons of merchant vessels, himself emperor of

Central America. On the gunboat the gold-braided youth had but to raise

his hand, and Walker again would be a free man. But the gold-braided one

would render this service only on the condition that Walker would appeal

to him as an American; it was not enough that Walker was a human being.

The condition Walker could not grant.
"The President of Nicaragua," he said, "is a citizen of Nicaragua."
They led him out at sunrise to a level piece of sand along the beach,

and as the priest held the crucifix in front of him he spoke to his

executioners in Spanish, simply and gravely: "I die a Roman Catholic.

In making war upon you at the invitation of the people of Ruatan I

was wrong. Of your people I ask pardon. I accept my punishment with

resignation. I would like to think my death will be for the good of

From a distance of twenty feet three soldiers fired at him, but,

although each shot took effect, Walker was not dead. So, a sergeant

stooped, and with a pistol killed the man who would have made him one of

an empire of slaves.

Had Walker lived four years longer to exhibit upon the great board of

the Civil War his ability as a general, he would, I believe, to-day be

ranked as one of America's greatest fighting men.
And because the people of his own day destroyed him is no reason that we

should withhold from this American, the greatest of all filibusters, the

recognition of his genius.


AMONG the Soldiers of Fortune whose stories have been told in this book

were men who are no longer living, men who, to the United States, are

strangers, and men who were of interest chiefly because in what they

attempted they failed.

The subject of this article is none of these. His adventures are as

remarkable as any that ever led a small boy to dig behind the barn for

buried treasure, or stalk Indians in the orchard. But entirely apart

from his adventures he obtains our interest because in what he has

attempted he has not failed, because he is one of our own people, one of

the earliest and best types of American, and because, so far from being

dead and buried, he is at this moment very much alive, and engaged in

Mexico in searching for a buried city. For exercise, he is alternately

chasing, or being chased by, Yaqui Indians.
In his home in Pasadena, Cal., where sometimes he rests quietly for

almost a week at a time, the neighbors know him as "Fred" Burnham. In

England the newspapers crowned him "The King of Scouts." Later, when he

won an official title, they called him "Major Frederick Russell Burnham,

D. S. O."
Some men are born scouts, others by training become scouts. From his

father Burnham inherited his instinct for wood-craft, and to this

instinct, which in him is as keen as in a wild deer or a mountain lion,

he has added, in the jungle and on the prairie and mountain ranges,

years of the hardest, most relentless schooling. In those years he has

trained himself to endure the most appalling fatigues, hunger, thirst,

and wounds; has subdued the brain to infinite patience, has learned to

force every nerve in his body to absolute obedience, to still even the

beating of his heart. Indeed, than Burnham no man of my acquaintance to

my knowledge has devoted himself to his life's work more earnestly, more

honestly, and with such single-mindedness of purpose. To him scouting

is as exact a study as is the piano to Paderewski, with the result that

to-day what the Pole is to other pianists, the American is to all other

"trackers," woodmen, and scouts. He reads "the face of Nature" as you

read your morning paper. To him a movement of his horse's ears is as

plain a warning as the "Go SLOW" of an automobile sign; and he so saves

from ambush an entire troop. In the glitter of a piece of quartz in the

firelight he discovers King Solomon's mines. Like the horned cattle, he

can tell by the smell of it in the air the near presence of water,

and where, glaring in the sun, you can see only a bare kopje, he

distinguishes the muzzle of a pompom, the crown of a Boer sombrero,

the levelled barrel of a Mauser. He is the Sherlock Holmes of all

Besides being a scout, he is soldier, hunter, mining expert, and

explorer. Within the last ten years the educated instinct that as a

younger man taught him to follow the trail of an Indian, or the "spoor"

of the Kaffir and the trek wagon, now leads him as a mining expert to

the hiding-places of copper, silver, and gold, and, as he advises, great

and wealthy syndicates buy or refuse tracts of land in Africa and Mexico

as large as the State of New York. As an explorer in the last few years

in the course of his expeditions into undiscovered lands, he has added

to this little world many thousands of square miles.
Personally, Burnham is as unlike the scout of fiction, and of the Wild

West Show, as it is possible for a man to be. He possesses no flowing

locks, his talk is not of "greasers," "grizzly b'ars," or "pesky

redskins." In fact, because he is more widely and more thoroughly

informed, he is much better educated than many who have passed through

one of the "Big Three" universities, and his English is as conventional

as though he had been brought up on the borders of Boston Common, rather

than on the borders of civilization.

In appearance he is slight, muscular, bronzed; with a finely formed

square jaw, and remarkable light blue eyes. These eyes apparently never

leave yours, but in reality they see everything behind you and about

you, above and below you. They tell of him that one day, while out with

a patrol on the veldt, he said he had lost the trail and, dismounting,

began moving about on his hands and knees, nosing the ground like a

bloodhound, and pointing out a trail that led back over the way the

force had just marched. When the commanding officer rode up, Burnham

"Don't raise your head, sit. On that kopje to the right there is a

commando of Boers."

"When did you see them?" asked the officer.
"I see them now," Burnham answered.
"But I thought you were looking for a lost trail?"
"That's what the Boers on the kopje think," said Burnham.
In his eyes, possibly, owing to the uses to which they have been

trained, the pupils, as in the eyes of animals that see in the dark,

are extremely small. Even in the photographs that accompany this article

this feature of his eyes is obvious, and that he can see in the dark

the Kaffirs of South Africa firmly believe. In manner he is quiet,

courteous, talking slowly but well, and, while without any of that

shyness that comes from self-consciousness, extremely modest. Indeed,

there could be no better proof of his modesty than the difficulties I

have encountered in gathering material for this article, which I have

been five years in collecting. And even now, as he reads it by his

camp-fire, I can see him squirm with embarrassment.
Burnham's father was a pioneer missionary in a frontier hamlet called

Tivoli on the edge of the Indian reserve of Minnesota. He was a stern,

severely religious man, born in Kentucky, but educated in New York,

where he graduated from the Union Theological Seminary. He was

wonderfully skilled in wood-craft. Burnham's mother was a Miss Rebecca

Russell of a well-known family in Iowa. She was a woman of great

courage, which, in those days on that skirmish line of civilization,

was a very necessary virtue; and she was possessed of a most gentle and

sweet disposition. That was her gift to her son Fred, who was born on

May 11, 1861.

His education as a child consisted in memorizing many verses of the

Bible, the "Three R's," and wood-craft. His childhood was strenuous. In

his mother's arms he saw the burning of the town of New Ulm, which was

the funeral pyre for the women and children of that place when they were

massacred by Red Cloud and his braves.
On another occasion Fred's mother fled for her life from the Indians,

carrying the boy with her. He was a husky lad, and knowing that if she

tried to carry him farther they both would be overtaken, she hid him

under a shock of corn. There, the next morning, the Indians having been

driven off, she found her son sleeping as soundly as a night watchman.

In these Indian wars, and the Civil War which followed, of the families

of Burnham and Russell, twenty-two of the men were killed. There is no

question that Burnham comes of fighting stock.

In 1870, when Fred was nine years old, his father moved to Los Angeles,

Cal., where two years later he died; and for a time for both mother and

boy there was poverty, hard and grinding. To relieve this young Burnham

acted as a mounted messenger. Often he was in the saddle from twelve to

fifteen hours, and even in a land where every one rode well, he gained

local fame as a hard rider. In a few years a kind uncle offered to Mrs.

Burnham and a younger brother a home in the East, but at the last moment

Fred refused to go with them, and chose to make his own way. He was then

thirteen years old, and he had determined to be a scout.
At that particular age many boys have set forth determined to be scouts,

and are generally brought home the next morning by a policeman. But

Burnham, having turned his back on the cities, did not repent. He

wandered over Mexico, Arizona, California. He met Indians, bandits,

prospectors, hunters of all kinds of big game; and finally a scout who,

under General Taylor, had served in the Mexican War. This man took a

liking to the boy; and his influence upon him was marked and for his

good. He was an educated man, and had carried into the wilderness a few

books. In the cabin of this man Burnham read "The Conquest of Mexico

and Peru" by Prescott, the lives of Hannibal and Cyrus the Great, of

Livingstone the explorer, which first set his thoughts toward Africa,

and many technical works on the strategy and tactics of war. He had no

experience of military operations on a large scale, but, with the aid of

the veteran of the Mexican War, with corn-cobs in the sand in front of

the cabin door, he constructed forts and made trenches, redoubts,

and traverses. In Burnham's life this seems to have been a very happy

Share with your friends:
1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page