F.R. Burnham to the rescue


Published in: Star (Newspaper, Christchurch, New Zealand), Issue 6743, 14 March 1900. Listed as: SPECIAL ARTICLE FROM SEVERAL SOURCES, BY OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT

LONDON, Jan. 26. Among the passengers on the American liner St Paul, bound for South Africa, is the celebrated American scout, Mr F. R. Burnham. According to the New York correspondent of the "Daily Mail," Lord Roberts recently cabled To Burnham to join the: intelligence Staff immediately. Whether this be so or not it is certain that Burnham, "when he'd heard the veldt a calling, would never eed daught else." When the war broke out he was away in Alaska prospecting, and even "then he wrote to a friend in London: — "Ever since I received the news I have had the picture of the road to Pretoria in my head. I Have been over it all again, thinking where they must camp, get water and where the big fights will take place. I can see it all so clearly.”

In whatever capacity Burnham joins the Imperial forces, his services will be invaluable. One who knows him well is assured that no force of troops accompanied by Burnham will ever lose their way, or fall into a Boer trap, and declares that Burnham will "save the situation.

He is one of those wonderful scouts who might have stepped straight from the pages of Maine Reid of Fenimore Copper. Fiction has produced no character who could follow up a scent or track a spoor more keenly, than Burnham. He comes of a 'generation of scouts. His father and grandfather before him were scouts, and the scouting instinct seems hereditary in his family. He has it tracked red Indians in the Wild West until he can follow a trail with the best or worst of them. Nature seems to him an open bock on which lie can read every imprint made by man. A crumpled blade of grass, a broken stick, a grain of displaced sand, a brushed leaf, each has a story to tell him. From the condition of a horse-dropping he will tell you how long it is since the horse passed. With a Sherlock Holmes's powers of observing and drawing inferences from trifles, he will, from the other debris of a troop not only inform you of how many the troop was' composed, how long they have gone, and whither, but in what condition they are. To use his own words, the leavings may indicate to him “These men are reduced to dead horse, served with boiled grass. Press on, and hit; them while they're weak.”

On one occasion Burnham tracked for over three months a band of Indians who had committed unspeakable atrocities upon some white women. His party was a huge one when it started, but by degrees its members returned home, until there were left only himself and the brothers of the murdered girls. It was a case of diamond cutting diamond. The Indians might carry stale horse dung to plant by the way for the purpose of deceiving their pursuers, they might twist and turn on their tracks, but i -they could never shake off Bumham and his dogged comrades. At last, one foggy night when the patience of the worn-out I palefaces was almost exhausted, a glow in the mist told Burnham's practiced eye that he saw the reflection of his foeman's camp fires, which, relying on the darkness of the night, the wily- redskins had ventured to light. Creeping up like snakes, Burnham I and his companions surprised the camp at break of day, and took a complete revenge for the murder of the white women.

Exploits of this kind were part of Burnham's daily life, and dong communion with Nature and frequent contact with danger had made him absolutely fearless, even in the jaws cf death. He was one of the pioneers of Matabeleland, and in the course ! of his wanderings discovered an ancient city not far from Buluwayo, with some 600oz of gold buried under the earth. When the Matabele war began, Burnham and his chum Ingram, both Californian’s, were attached to Major Forbes's little force in its march from Fort Charter to Buluwayo, and in its subsequent pursuit of Lobengula. Whenever there was difficult scouting to be done, or unseen danger to be scented out, there Burnham was dispatched, for if i anyone could get safely through the swarming natives, Burnham was the man to do it. By day and night, Burnham and Ingram reconnoitered the country miles and miles in advance of the column; in the day time, miles in advance, they informed the column where water was to be found, where the Kaffirs were, and what they did in the night they went among the Kaffirs, to spy out what they were about. In almost every case everything happened as the scouts had foretold. Many a hair-breadth escape they had in the course of the campaign. As the column approached the Matabele capital, Burnham, Ingram and a third scout, Vavasour, were sent on ahead to reach Buluwayo. Their first attempt was ineffectual, as they w-ere chased several times by bands of natives. Another effort resulted in their reaching the town just as it had 'been fired by the departing Matabeles. In order to carry the news of the occupation of Buluwayo to Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Burnham made a risky but record ride to Palapye, past the impi of Chief Gamba, covering two hundred and ten miles of rough country in four days. He just missed the impi, and rode for about a mile through the fires which were still burning.

His next narrow squeak was when, with Ingram and Mayne, he followed the King's spoor in order to protect the column from falling into ambush. The scouts had just off-saddled in rough country, when they were suddenly, surrounded by twenty armed Matabele, one of whom, a ferocious-looking brute, wished to take the 'whites into the bush and kill them off-hand. However, during a little palaver, the scouts quietly saddled their horses, mounted and rode slowly back along the spoor, the natives following. Had one shot been- fired all the scouts were dead men.

But Burnham was still to be nearer death than he had ever been in his life before. Providence and his own resources alone brought him literally out of death's grip. He was with Major Wilson, when, with a dozen men, the Major started on that quest of the King, which was to lead to Wilson's last stand, one of the most stirring episodes in the annals of English warfare. After the gallant band had ridden into the midst of the Matabele nation, and retreated to a I clump of bush, it was found that, in the pouring, ink-black night, three men were missing. Wilson and Burnham set out to seek them, and by feeling for the traces with his hands, Burnham followed up the spoor of the missing men, and eventually brought them safely back to Wilson's little group. During the long, dark night, while I the little band was waiting for reinforcements, Burnham crept stealthily forward in the bush, smelling out the Kaffirs, for he could scent them as a dog does, and getting so close to them that he could touch them as they passed. At daybreak he tracked again, and met his fellow scout Ingram, who had brought Captain Borrow and his twenty men – only to join in the others in destruction. When Wilson prepared to make his last heroic stand, Burnham, Ingram, and a man named Gooding were dispatched as a forlorn hope to rush through to the main column. After perpetual riding past the enemy, being fired at, but always out stripping their foes, doubling, hiding, riding in a triple loop, turning on their tracks until they got so close again to the patrol that the spent bullets from Wilson's men pattered round them, they reached the Shangani, having taken three hours and a half to cover as many miles. The river was in flood two hundred yards broad. With exhausted horses its passage seemed hopeless. The plucky nags just struggled across. Then for the first time the idea struck Burnham that they might come through after all. The desire of life came passionately back upon him.

"We topped the bank," says 'Burnham, in his vivid account of the tragedy, "and at five hundred yards in front to the left stood several hundred Matabele. In desperation we walked our horses quietly along in front of them. At last one man took a shot at us; and with that a lot more of them began to blaze away. Almost at the same moment Ingram caught sight of horses only four or five, hundred yards distant, so the column still existed — and there it was. We took the last gallop .out of our horses then, and— well, in a few minutes I was falling out of the saddle, and saying to Forbes, “It's all over; we are the last of that party!' Forbes only said, 'Well, tell nobody else till we are through with our own fight,' and next minute we were just firing away along with the others helping to beat off the attack on the column."

But even this thrilling experience did not weaken Burnham's nerve. Although he had given a hostage to fortune, in the shape of his little daughter Nada (so called after Mr. Rider Haggard’s “Nada, the Lily”) the first white child born, in Buluwayo, Burnham was eager for service again, when, in 1896, the Matabeles broke out into rebellion, incensed by slaughter of their cattle to, prevent the spread pi the rinderpest, by the stopping o f their raids, arid instigated by the warrior chiefs and war priests of M'limo, their invisible god, who promised them that the white men's bullets would turn into water. At the outset of the campaign Burnham and Sir Charles Metcalfe, riding out to visit Colonel Beal's column from Salisbury, camped about three miles out of that town, found themselves suddenly in the camp of a large impi of the enemy, and only escaped by making their way home by a detour through the bush.

On several occasions, Baden-Powell, the hero of Mafeking, and Burnham went out investigating together. The two men "cottoned " to one another at once, and, ; at the present juncture, the former's opinion of the latter, as expressed in a letter to a friend, is interesting. " B-P." describes Burnham as a "delightful companion, amusing, interesting, and most instructive. Having seen, service against the Red Indians, he brings quite a new experience to bear on the scouting work here. And while he talks away, there's not a thing escapes his quick, roving eye, whether it is on the horizon or at his feet. We got along well together, and, he much approved of the results of your early development in me of the art of 'inductive reasoning’ ; in fact; before we had examined and worried out many little indications in the course of our ride, he had nicknamed me Sherlock Holmes. We planned to do much scouting together in the future, but, unfortunately, it never came off, as he was soon afterwards compelled, for domestic reasons, to go down country."

Nevertheless, Burnham, in conjunction with Armstrong, added another to his list of exploits by his tracking down and killing of the witch doctor, the pretended M’limo, who was a notorious element of disturbance among the natives. The two rode over to the high priest's cave, where Burnham pretended that, if "M'limo would render him invulnerable to the Matabele bullets, he would reward him handsomely. The scout saw the priest begin to go through the ceremony (so as to be sure of his identity), and then shot' him. It was a risky proceeding, for the adjoining valley was full of natives, who had collected for a big religions ceremony, but the two men escaped in safety, although they had to gallop for it.

Burnham is a man of about forty, and small of stature. Lively and energetic, and with free yet courteous 'manners, lie is able to spin the most thrilling of yarns, and to narrate the most blood-curdling adventures, but, although marvelously well-informed, in spite of his long absences from civilization, and able to say something interesting on almost every topic of conversation, he is reserved and modest, and prefers to he a listener rather than a talker. Daring, fearless, yet cautious, and with every sense on the qui vive, he is just the man to baffle the Boers, and to creep through their lines round Mafeking at dead of night for another "crack" with "B-P." That clear picture in his mind of the road to Pretoria may at an early date help' him to spy out the land and lead the way for "Bobs" and Kitchener in their triumphal march to the Transvaal capital.

This work was published before January 1, 1926 and it is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 100 years or less since publication.