I am an ex-African boy now living in the Wild West where tales of the gun are legendry.
I have few personal gun stories from Africa that might amuse Americans and others. At one time or another I had bought and used four different guns for four different reasons while living in Africa. Each gun has its own tale to tell. I will kick start a series of African safari adventures with the story of my first gun.
In 1959, at age 18, I was a poor boy in love with the youngest daughter of a very wealthy South African family. They had more ambitious plans for her than a relationship with me and tried to discourage it. They even went so far as to hire a private detective to spy on us. Her parents finally and effectively ended our budding romance by pulling some strings that ended up separating me from her as far away as possible. They got me an adventurous job as a geological prospector with De Beers Diamonds, a division of the giant Anglo-American Corporation. I was flown from the concrete jungle of Johannesburg 3000 miles north into the wilderness of East Africa.
My destination was one of the newly acquired Anglo-American mining properties. It was called, Williamson Diamond Mines, located not far from Lake Victoria, in what was then called Tanganyika Territory – known today as Tanzania. At that time Williamson's was one of the richest diamond deposits on the planet. It had been discovered twenty years earlier by a prospecting Canadian geologist who had spent thirty years wandering through Africa looking for his eldorado. He had hooked up with an African wife and it was she who had picked up a shiny stone one day at a remore locality called, Mwadui, and asked him if this is what he was looking for. The uncut stone came from an ancient volcanic pipe, long eroded to ground level, and some three miles in diameter. It was well stocked with gem-quality diamonds. At one time Williamson was listed as the world's richest man. All manner of beautiful gold-diggers flew to Niarobi and then hitched a ride on the mine,s Dakota and sat in the rear amidst mining gear and chicken crates till they landed in the bushveld. They all urged hin to come back to civilization. The old man would have none of it. He remained layal to his African bibi. His answer to all was that if he wanted Rome he would bring it to him, not the other way around. Over time, as I aged and grew weary of travelling the world, I adopted that mantra for myself.
Williamson died in 1957 without leaving a will. The new owner, the Territorial Government, had sold a 49% share of the mine to De Beers and held onto 50%. The last 1% belonged to an Indian shopkeeper named, Chopra, who had originally grub-staked Williamson. De Beers offered him three milliion English pounds for his share, (easily worth $30 million in today's dollars) but Chopra would not sell. Part of the deal with the government gave the Anglo-American Corporation the mineral rights to the whole of Tangayika Territory. They were keen to explore all of it and find out if there were more eldorado's out there. Hence me joining the hundred or so other geologists and field officers hired to prospect what was still a vast barely occupied East African wilderness.
Next to Dar Es Salaam the capital, the 600 European miners and propectors employed at Williamson’s, made it the largest population of white people in the Territory. My job, together with the other young field officers, was to take surface soil samples of every square mile of a country larger than Texas. We got three weeks of training on how to identify rock specimens of Kimberlitic origin, learn some basic Swahili and how to survive in a malaria and tsetse fly –infested bushveld, filled with every form of Africa’s wild animals. Each field officer was issued with a tent and camping gear, transmission radios, compasses, maps, sample equipment and a new Landrover. We were sent off in small groups of ten in different directions, hundreds of miles into nowhere. My group was assigned a sampling area in the Uluguru Mountains near a small railroad town called, Tabora.
I had arrived in East Africa with the equivalent of $60.00 in my pocket. With the threat of lion and leopard all around and stories of hyenas scavenging for food around camp-sites and walking into tents at night and biting off the face of a startled sleeper, I decided that I had to get armed. The general store in Tabora was owned by an Indian merchant named, Patel. He sold me a used rifle for twenty bucks. It was a 1917 model U.S. Army issue Winchester, 30.06. It had a spring-loaded battle sight that could be lifted into a peep hole on ranges up to a thousand yards. Another 20 bucks got me a hundred rounds of 180 grain ammo. I bought mostly soft-nosed shells with some full metal jacket. The last of my cash got me a resident’s game license. It gave me permission to shoot over a hundred animals of all sizes; eland, kudu, roan, sable, hartebeeste, kongoni; wildebeeste; impala, reedbuck and Thomson’s gazelle. Since there were no game wardens, the license, in effect, was open-ended. I could shoot as much as I needed.
Each field officer had to hire a dozen natives as sample bearers, so there were over a hundred people in our camp requiring meat everyday. Back in South Africa, at St George’s Home for boys, were I was raised as a cadet, the South African Army had sponsored and installed a shooting range where, over the years, I had learned to become a pretty good shot. I proved to be the best hunter in our bush camp, so I became the un-official meat supplier.
Hunter is a misnomer. I became more of a butcher. With the need to shoot two or three animals almost every day and haul the heavy carcasses back to camp, stalking on foot was out of the question. I had to hunt from the Landrover. With my African gun-bearer on the back, (I will explaion shortly why he had to be a Moslem) I’d drive off-road through the bush until we spotted game. I’d get within a hundred yards, stop, stay close to the vehicle so as not to spook the game, shoot an animal and then drive up load the meat. If it was wounded, I’d chase it down with the truck and finish it off. The reason why my bearer had to be Islamic was because no Moslem is allowed to eat meat that has not been ritually bled by a fellow believer. This must be done while the animal still has some life in it. During the throat-slitting operation the stand-in for the imam must have his head covered by a fez.
East Africa was first colonized by the Arabs in the 13th and 14th Centuries, with a Sultanate established on the island of Zanzibar, so half of the natives today are Islamic. The Germans colonized Tanganyika in the late 19th Century. The British added Tanganyika to their East African colonies after winning the 1st World War. When I was there, 1959-1960, Uhuru had not arrived. The Territory was still administered by the Brits. During the century of Euopean colonial occupations of Africa, Christian missionaries had baptized the other half of the population. (The inside joke in Africa was: "If the white Fathers don't get you, the white ants will." When hiring the natives, I found that the integrity, personal discipline and moral character of the Moslems was generally higher than that of Christians. The reason, in my opinion, is because Islamic converts are encouraged to become devout scholars of the Koran. They are then accepted as both spiritual as a well as intellectual equals. On the other hand, Christian converts in Africa are patronized and treated as servants; "the sons of Ham". They are definately not accepted as intellectual equals. As laborers Christians certainly lacked the focus and sense of personal dignity displayed by the Moslem coverts. I would say that our patronizing religious attitude to Africa is one of the reasons why they revolted and kicked the European colonials out in the end.
All the large antelopes I shot were slaughtered as meat rations for the native crews. The more tender gazelle ended up on the tables of the field-officer's mess. Over the course of the next 18 months I shot an animal at least every other day. So I guess my tally as a wild animal butcher is in the hundreds. In those days words like ecology and conservation were not a part of the general lexicon or, indeed, part of the average consciousness.
One night, I shot a lion.
The Tanganyika Meat Packers ran large cattle ranches in the Territory. Night raids by prides of lions were a constant menace. The ranchers had permission to shoot any lions that attacked their herds. One of the ranch honchos invited out three of us field-officers to a night lion shoot.
The three of us set out in an open-topped Landrover and headed for the thorn bomas where the herds of cattle were corraled for the night. We no had sooner arrived at the bomas when we saw a pride of twenty lions caught standing in the headlights of the truck. We stood up on the seats and three guns started blazing away over the windshield. Night shooting is tricky. You can’t see the front sight. None of us had tried it before. There were no hits. As the pride took off into the darkness, I tried one last long shot and saw a lion go down. We drove the truck through the bush to the spot where I thought I saw it go down. No lion. Ginger, one of the guys, got out and investigated. He saw some blood next to a thick bush, so we knew I had a hit for sure. There was a wounded lion out there in the dark. We drove around looking for it. Nothing. So I suggested we go back to the spot were the blood was, and try and follow the spoor on foot. As we neared the bush were the blood was, I saw a large yellow form suddenly rear up form inside the bush. I had a moment for a snap shot at the head. I scored a direct hit. A full-grown lioness lay dead. We saw that my first bullet has snapped her spine just above the back legs. She had used her forelegs to pull herself into cover. When Ginger had got out to see the blood, he was within a few feet of her claws. Her paralysis saved him from a severe mauling.
When my tour in Tanganyika was over, and thinking I might be back one day, I bought a tin trunk and put some of my belongings in it and sent it off to the mine storehouse. As far as I know, that old sure-shot Winchester is still waiting for me in there.
The girl I left behind? It would be nice to end by saying that, despite her parent's machinations, we got married and I lived happily for ever after, helping her to spend her family fortune. It never happened. She wrote me a Dear John, six months after our parting.