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

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period. The big game he hunted and killed he sold for a few dollars to

the men of Nadean's freight outfits, which in those days hauled bullion

from Cerro Gordo for the man who is now Senator Jones of Nevada.
At nineteen Burnham decided that there were things in this world he

should know that could not be gleaned from the earth, trees, and sky;

and with the few dollars he had saved he came East. The visit apparently

was not a success. The atmosphere of the town in which he went to school

was strictly Puritanical, and the townspeople much given to religious

discussion. The son of the pioneer missionary found himself unable to

subscribe to the formulas which to the others seemed so essential, and

he returned to the West with the most bitter feelings, which lasted

until he was twenty-one.
"It seems strange now," he once said to me, "but in those times

religious questions were as much a part of our daily life as to-day are

automobiles, the Standard Oil, and the insurance scandals, and when I

went West I was in an unhappy, doubting frame of mind. The trouble was

I had no moral anchors; the old ones father had given me were gone, and

the time for acquiring new ones had not arrived." This bitterness of

heart, or this disappointment, or whatever the state of mind was that

the dogmas of the New England town had inspired in the boy from the

prairie, made him reckless. For the life he was to lead this was not a

handicap. Even as a lad, in a land-grant war in California, he had been

under gunfire, and for the next fifteen years he led a life of danger

and of daring; and studied in a school of experience than which, for a

scout, if his life be spared, there can be none better. Burnham came

out of it a quiet, manly, gentleman. In those fifteen years he roved the

West from the Great Divide to Mexico. He fought the Apache Indians for

the possession of waterholes, he guarded bullion on stage-coaches, for

days rode in pursuit of Mexican bandits and American horse thieves,

took part in county-seat fights, in rustler wars, in cattle wars; he was

cowboy, miner, deputy-sheriff, and in time throughout the the name of

"Fred" Burnham became significant and familiar.

During this period Burnham was true to his boyhood ideal of becoming a

scout. It was not enough that by merely living the life around him he

was being educated for it. He daily practised and rehearsed those things

which some day might mean to himself and others the difference between

life and death. To improve his sense of smell he gave up smoking, of

which he was extremely fond, nor, for the same reason, does he to this

day use tobacco. He accustomed himself also to go with little sleep, and

to subsist on the least possible quantity of food. As a deputy-sheriff

this educated faculty of not requiring sleep aided him in many important

captures. Sometimes he would not strike the trail of the bandit or "bad

man" until the other had several days the start of him. But the end

was the same; for, while the murderer snatched a few hours' rest by the

trail, Burnham, awake and in the saddle, would be closing up the miles

between them.

That he is a good marksman goes without telling. At the age of eight his

father gave him a rifle of his own, and at twelve, with either a "gun"

or a Winchester, he was an expert. He taught himself to use a weapon

either in his left or right hand and to shoot, Indian fashion, hanging

by one leg from his pony and using it as a cover, and to turn in the

saddle and shoot behind him. I once asked him if he really could shoot

to the rear with a galloping horse under him and hit a man.
"Well," he said, "maybe not to hit him, but I can come near enough to

him to make him decide my pony's so much faster than his that it really

isn't worth while to follow me."
Besides perfecting himself in what he tolerantly calls "tricks" of

horsemanship and marksmanship, he studied the signs of the trail, forest

and prairie, as a sailing-master studies the waves and clouds. The

knowledge he gathers from inanimate objects and dumb animals seems

little less than miraculous. And when you ask him how he knows these

things he always gives you a reason founded on some fact or habit of

nature that shows him to be a naturalist, mineralogist, geologist, and

botanist, and not merely a seventh son of a seventh son.

In South Africa he would say to the officers: "There are a dozen Boers

five miles ahead of us riding Basuto ponies at a trot, and leading five

others. If we hurry we should be able to sight them in an hour." At

first the officers would smile, but not after a half-hour's gallop, when

they would see ahead of them a dozen Boers leading five ponies. In the

early days of Salem, Burnham would have been burned as a witch.

When twenty-three years of age he married Miss Blanche Blick, of Iowa.

They had known each other from childhood, and her brothers-in-law have

been Burnham's aids and companions in every part of Africa and the West.

Neither at the time of their marriage nor since did Mrs. Burnham "lay

a hand on the bridle rein," as is witnessed by the fact that for nine

years after his marriage Burnham continued his career as sheriff, scout,

mining prospector. And in 1893, when Burnham and his brother-in-law,

Ingram, started for South Africa, Mrs. Burnham went with them, and

in every part of South Africa shared her husband's life of travel and

In making this move across the sea, Burnham's original idea was to look

for gold in the territory owned by the German East African Company. But

as in Rhodesia the first Matabele uprising had broken out, he continued

on down the coast, and volunteered for that campaign. This was the real

beginning of his fortunes. The "war" was not unlike the Indian fighting

of his early days, and although the country was new to him, with

the kind of warfare then being waged between the Kaffirs under King

Lobengula and the white settlers of the British South Africa Company,

the chartered company of Cecil Rhodes, he was intimately familiar.

It does not take big men long to recognize other big men, and Burnham's

remarkable work as a scout at once brought him to the notice of Rhodes

and Dr. Jameson, who was personally conducting the campaign. The war was

their own private war, and to them, at such a crisis in the history of

their settlement, a man like Burnham was invaluable.
The chief incident of this campaign, the fame of which rang over all

Great Britain and her colonies, was the gallant but hopeless stand made

by Major Alan Wilson and his patrol of thirty-four men. It was Burnham's

attempt to save these men that made him known from Buluwayo to Cape

King Lobengula and his warriors were halted on one bank of the Shangani

River, and on the other Major Forbes, with a picked force of three

hundred men, was coming up in pursuit. Although at the moment he did

not know it, he also was being pursued by a force of Matabeles, who were

gradually surrounding him. At nightfall Major Wilson and a patrol of

twelve men, with Burnham and his brother-in-law, Ingram, acting as

scouts, were ordered to make a dash into the camp of Lobengula and, if

possible, in the confusion of their sudden attack, and under cover of a

terrific thunder-storm that was raging, bring him back a prisoner.
With the king in their hands the white men believed the rebellion would

collapse. To the number of three thousand the Matabeles were sleeping in

a succession of camps, through which the fourteen men rode at a gallop.

But in the darkness it was difficult to distinguish the trek wagon of

the king, and by the time they found his laager the Matabeles from the

other camps through which they had ridden had given the alarm. Through

the underbrush from every side the enemy, armed with assegai and

elephant guns, charged toward them and spread out to cut off their

At a distance of about seven hundred yards from the camps there was

a giant ant-hill, and the patrol rode toward it. By the aid of the

lightning flashes they made their way through a dripping wood and over

soil which the rain had turned into thick black mud. When the party

drew rein at the ant-hill it was found that of the fourteen three were

missing. As the official scout of the patrol and the only one who could

see in the dark, Wilson ordered Burnham back to find them. Burnham said

he could do so only by feeling the hoof-prints in the mud and that he

would like some one with him to lead his pony. Wilson said he would lead

it. With his fingers Burnham followed the trail of the eleven horses to

where, at right angles, the hoof-prints of the three others separated

from it, and so came upon the three men. Still, with nothing but the mud

of the jungle to guide him, he brought them back to their comrades. It

was this feat that established his reputation among British, Boers, and

black men in South Africa.
Throughout the night the men of the patrol lay in the mud holding the

reins of their horses. In the jungle about them, they could hear the

enemy splashing through the mud, and the swishing sound of the branches

as they swept back into place. It was still raining. Just before

the dawn there came the sounds of voices and the welcome clatter of

accoutrements. The men of the patrol, believing the column had joined

them, sprang up rejoicing, but it was only a second patrol, under

Captain Borrow, who had been sent forward with twenty men as

re-enforcements. They had come in time to share in a glorious

immortality. No sooner had these men joined than the Kaffirs began the

attack; and the white men at once learned that they were trapped in a

complete circle of the enemy. Hidden by the trees, the Kaffirs fired

point-blank, and in a very little time half of Wilson's force was

killed or wounded. As the horses were shot down the men used them for

breastworks. There was no other shelter. Wilson called Burnham to him

and told him he must try and get through the lines of the enemy to

"Tell him to come up at once," he said; "we are nearly finished." He

detailed a trooper named Gooding and Ingram to accompany Burnham.

"One of you may get through," he said. Gooding was but lately out from

London, and knew nothing of scouting, so Burnham and Ingram warned him,

whether he saw the reason for it or not, to act exactly as they did.

The three men had barely left the others before the enemy sprang at them

with their spears. In five minutes they were being fired at from every

bush. Then followed a remarkable ride, in which Burnham called to his

aid all he had learned in thirty years of border warfare. As the enemy

rushed after them, the three doubled on their tracks, rode in triple

loops, hid in dongas to breathe their horses; and to scatter their

pursuers, separated, joined again, and again separated. The enemy

followed them to the very bank of the river, where, finding the "drift"

covered with the swollen waters, they were forced to swim. They reached

the other bank only to find Forbes hotly engaged with another force of

the Matabeles.

"I have been sent for re-enforcements," Burnham said to Forbes, "but I

believe we are the only survivors of that party." Forbes himself was too

hard pressed to give help to Wilson, and Burnham, his errand over, took

his place in the column, and began firing upon the new enemy.

Six weeks later the bodies of Wilson's patrol were found lying in a

circle. Each of them had been shot many times. A son of Lobengula, who

witnessed their extermination, and who in Buluwayo had often heard the

Englishmen sing their national anthem, told how the five men who were

the last to die stood up and, swinging their hats defiantly, sang "God

Save the Queen." The incident will long be recorded in song and story;

and in London was reproduced in two theatres, in each of which the

man who played "Burnham, the American Scout," as he rode off for

re-enforcements, was as loudly cheered by those in the audience as by

those on the stage.

Hensman, in his "History of Rhodesia," says: "One hardly knows which to

most admire, the men who went on this dangerous errand, through brush

swarming with natives, or those who remained behind battling against

overwhelming odds."

For his help in this war the Chartered Company presented Burnham with

the campaign medal, a gold watch engraved with words of appreciation;

and at the suggestion of Cecil Rhodes gave him, Ingram, and the Hon.

Maurice Clifford, jointly, a tract of land of three hundred square

After this campaign Burnham led an expedition of ten white men and

seventy Kaffirs north of the Zambesi River to explore Barotzeland

and other regions to the north of Mashonaland, and to establish the

boundaries of the concession given him, Ingram, and Clifford.

In order to protect Burnham on the march the Chartered Company signed

a treaty with the native king of the country through which he wished

to travel, by which the king gave him permission to pass freely and

guaranteed him against attack.

But Latea, the son of the king, refused to recognize the treaty and sent

his young men in great numbers to surround Burnham's camp. Burnham had

been instructed to avoid a fight, and was torn between his desire to

obey the Chartered Company and to prevent a massacre. He decided to make

it a sacrifice either of himself or of Latea. As soon as night fell,

with only three companions and a missionary to act as a witness of what

occurred, he slipped through the lines of Latea's men, and, kicking

down the fence around the prince's hut, suddenly appeared before him and

covered him with his rifle.
"Is it peace or war?" Burnham asked. "I have the king your father's

guarantee of protection, but your men surround us. I have told my people

if they hear shots to open fire. We may all be killed, but you will be

the first to die."

The missionary also spoke urging Latea to abide by the treaty. Burnham

says the prince seemed much more impressed by the arguments of the

missionary than by the fact that he still was covered by Burnham's

rifle. Whichever argument moved him, he called off his warriors. On

this expedition Burnham discovered the ruins of great granite structures

fifteen feet wide, and made entirely without mortar. They were of a

period dating before the Phoenicians. He also sought out the ruins

described to him by F. C. Selous, the famous hunter, and by Rider

Haggard as King Solomon's Mines. Much to the delight of Mr. Haggard,

he brought back for him from the mines of his imagination real gold

ornaments and a real gold bar.
On this same expedition, which lasted five months, Burnham endured one

of the severest hardships of his life. Alone with ten Kaffir boys, he

started on a week's journey across the dried-up basin of what once had

been a great lake. Water was carried in goat-skins on the heads of the

bearers. The boys, finding the bags an unwieldy burden, and believing,

with the happy optimism of their race, that Burnham's warnings were

needless, and that at a stream they soon could refill the bags, emptied

the water on the ground.

The tortures that followed this wanton waste were terrible. Five of

the boys died, and after several days, when Burnham found water in

abundance, the tongues of the others were so swollen that their jaws

could not meet.

On this trip Burnham passed through a region ravaged by the "sleeping

sickness," where his nostrils were never free from the stench of dead

bodies, where in some of the villages, as he expressed it, "the hyenas

were mangy with overeating, and the buzzards so gorged they could

not move out of our way." From this expedition he brought back many

ornaments of gold manufactured before the Christian era, and made

several valuable maps of hitherto uncharted regions. It was in

recognition of the information gathered by him on this trip that he was

elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
He returned to Rhodesia in time to take part in the second Matabele

rebellion. This was in 1896. By now Burnham was a very prominent

member of the "vortrekers" and pioneers at Buluwayo, and Sir Frederick

Carrington, who was in command of the forces, attached him to his staff.

This second outbreak was a more serious uprising than the one of 1893,

and as it was evident the forces of the Chartered Company could not

handle it, imperial troops were sent to assist them. But with even their

aid the war dragged on until it threatened to last to the rainy season,

when the troops must have gone into winter quarters. Had they done so,

the cost of keeping them would have fallen on the Chartered Company,

already a sufferer in pocket from the ravages of the rinderpest and the

expenses of the investigation which followed the Jameson raid.

Accordingly, Carrington looked about for some measure by which he could

bring the war to an immediate end.

It was suggested to him by a young Colonial, named Armstrong, the

Commissioner of the district, that this could be done by destroying

the "god," or high priest, Umlimo, who was the chief inspiration of the


This high priest had incited the rebels to a general massacre of women

and children, and had given them confidence by promising to strike the

white soldiers blind and to turn their bullets into water. Armstrong

had discovered the secret hiding-place of Umlimo, and Carrington ordered

Burnham to penetrate the enemy's lines, find the god, capture him, and

if that were not possible to destroy him.

The adventure was a most desperate one. Umlimo was secreted in a cave

on the top of a huge kopje. At the base of this was a village where were

gathered two regiments, of a thousand men each, of his fighting men.
For miles around this village the country was patrolled by roving bands

of the enemy.

Against a white man reaching the cave and returning, the chances were a

hundred to one, and the difficulties of the journey are illustrated by

the fact that Burnham and Armstrong were unable to move faster than at

the rate of a mile an hour. In making the last mile they consumed three

hours. When they reached the base of the kopje in which Umlimo was

hiding, they concealed their ponies in a clump of bushes, and on hands

and knees began the ascent.
Directly below them lay the village, so close that they could smell the

odors of cooking from the huts, and hear, rising drowsily on the hot,

noonday air, voices of the warriors. For minutes at a time they lay as

motionless as the granite bowlders around or squirmed and crawled over

loose stones which a miss of hand or knee would have dislodged and sent

clattering into the village. After an hour of this tortuous climbing

the cave suddenly opened before them, and they beheld Umlimo.

Burnham recognized that to take him alive from his stronghold was an

impossibility, and that even they themselves would leave the place was

equally doubtful. So, obeying orders, he fired, killing the man who had

boasted he would turn the bullets of his enemies into water. The echo of

the shot aroused the village as would a stone hurled into an ant-heap.

In an instant the veldt below was black with running men, and as,

concealment being no longer possible, the white men rose to fly a great

shout of anger told them they were discovered. At the same moment two

women, returning from a stream where they had gone for water, saw the

ponies, and ran screaming to give the alarm. The race that followed

lasted two hours, for so quickly did the Kaffirs spread out on every

side that it was impossible for Burnham to gain ground in any one

direction, and he was forced to dodge, turn, and double. At one time

the white men were driven back to the very kopje from which the race had

But in the end they evaded assegai and gunfire, and in safety reached

Buluwayo. This exploit was one of the chief factors in bringing the war

to a close. The Matabeles, finding their leader was only a mortal like

themselves, and so could not, as he had promised, bring miracles to

their aid, lost heart, and when Cecil Rhodes in person made overtures of

peace, his terms were accepted. During the hard days of the siege, when

rations were few and bad, Burnham's little girl, who had been the first

white child born in Buluwayo, died of fever and lack of proper

food. This with other causes led him to leave Rhodesia and return to

California. It is possible he then thought he had forever turned

his back on South Africa, but, though he himself had departed, the

impression he had made there remained behind him.
Burnham did not rest long in California. In Alaska the hunt for gold had

just begun, and, the old restlessness seizing him, he left Pasadena and

her blue skies, tropical plants, and trolley-car strikes for the new raw

land of the Klondike. With Burnham it has always been the place that is

being made, not the place in being, that attracts. He has helped to make

straight the ways of several great communities--Arizona, California,

Rhodesia, Alaska, and Uganda. As he once said: "It is the constructive

side of frontier life that most appeals to me, the building up of a

country, where you see the persistent drive and force of the white man;

when the place is finally settled I don't seem to enjoy it very long."

In Alaska he did much prospecting, and, with a sled and only two dogs,

for twenty-four days made one long fight against snow and ice, covering

six hundred miles. In mining in Alaska he succeeded well, but against

the country he holds a constant grudge, because it kept him out of the

fight with Spain. When war was declared he was in the wilds and knew

nothing of it, and though on his return to civilization he telegraphed

Colonel Roosevelt volunteering for the Rough Riders, and at once started

south, by the time he had reached Seattle the war was over.

Several times has he spoken to me of how bitterly he regretted missing

this chance to officially fight for his country. That he had twice

served with English forces made him the more keen to show his loyalty to

his own people.

That he would have been given a commission in the Rough Riders seems

evident from the opinion President Roosevelt has publicly expressed of

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