Statement of Major Frederick Russell Burnham

Statement of Major Frederick Russell Burnham
by Frederick Russell Burnham

Presentation to the United States Congress, House Committee on Agriculture, (1910). The topic is the importation of wild and domestic animals to solve the perceived upcoming meat shortages of the United States. Congressman Robert F. Broussard of Louisiana introduces Major Burnham with the following statement: "Mr. Chairman, I should like to have the committee hear Major Burnham, who has had a great deal of experience, both in Africa, in this country, and in Mexico. He is a naturalist, and has devoted a great deal of time and study to this subject. At the conclusion of Major Burnham's hearing I should like permission to put in a short article written by him in the Independent, and have it included in the record. There are only three pages of it; and it covers this subject very thoroughly and in a systematic way".


Major BURNHAM. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I will state that I am an American by birth. I have had a great deal of service in the Southwest and in our own frontiers, and also about ten years of military service in Africa, on the west coast, in central Africa, Congo, Rhodesia, and other parts.

Referring to what Mr. Irwin stated about the camel, I will say that when the herd of camels was turned loose in the Southwest, a friend of mine (a cowboy) went with me down on the Gila River, and we were five days chasing one of those animals with the best horses we could get in Arizona. We finally caught one, and it took us three days, handling it as carefully and gently as we could with ropes, before we could ride it. But we did ride it. We had plans laid out then to cross what is called the Death Valley country, and go on across into the Fanamint country, and from there into the Owens River country, to Independence. That was our destination. One of the Apache wars broke out at that time, however, which was more interesting than breaking camels, and we both went off to that. Afterwards the herd of camels increased down there and they did very well. They roamed clear down from the Gila River to Sonora, but nobody paid any particular attention to them, except to occasionally kill one for the meat. Finally a man came out from Connecticut, I believe, and gathered them all up and sold them to a circus, and that closed the chapter.

Mr. BROUSSARD. Major, would you mind telling how these camels were brought here?

Major BURNHAM. I think Mr. Beale brought them here, though I would not be positive about that. They were brought here in the early days ana taken to Texas for use in connection with transportation across the desert. They made the mistake, however, of not bringing anybody who understood the camel. We think we are a very progressive people, but, as a matter of fact, when we go abroad we come to the conclusion that the Americans do not know everything. The Australians have made use of the camel a great deal better than we have. The Dutchman can handle an ox better than any American that ever lived. I had to learn that, much against my prejudices, when I arrived in Africa; and there are a good many other things that they can do better than we can.

We brought the camel over here, but we did not bring the men that could teach us how to use it. When you put camels in charge of a man who does not understand them, I am free to confess that you are doing about as sensible a thing as if you should take a man from a pile of brick and mortar and send him out west to catch a broncho and ask him to kindly go opt and ride it. [Laughter.]

He has several things to learn. When the camel is handled in the right way, and the men learn to handle it, it is the most useful animal that can be imagined. I can corroborate almost everything that Captain Duquesne has said with reference to it. There is no use of my repeating it.

Referring to what Mr. Irwin said about the zebra: One of the gentlemen at my left asked quite a number of questions about the zebra. I took part in the capture of 96 zebra at Nairobi — just above Nairobi, really at Naivasha. We built a great wing, 2 miles or so in length, and we got 2,000 beaters, and we drove them in. We drove in five or six hundred head of game, and among them were 96 zebra. For several weeks I had a couple of cowboys over there, good riders, and we had some Somalis and others; and we tamed the zebra in a way and rode them. One out of the whole herd seemed to have a quiet disposition — so gentle that I have even allowed my son, who was then a little boy 5 years old, to ride it.

But the final conclusion that we arrived at in regard to the zebra question was this: It is possible to ride them; it is possible to drive them; but they are sullen and have not got the heart to pull and work that either the mule or the horse has.

It is possible that after many generations, constantly selecting the fentlest and the best dispositioned, a breed of zebra might be pro- uced that would be valuable. We tried to produce them there on account of the tsetse fly being so abundant, and killing all domestic animals. We discovered that when we corraled the zebra and held him in a big pasture, feeding him the same grass that he ate right in his natural nabitat, he developed a disease in the way of some small pinworms that worked into the aorta (the big artery coming out of the heart) ; and it killed a good many of those 96 that we captured. We had a verv good veterinarian there from England in charge of the work — a Mr. Sturdy, a man enthusiastic in the propagation and crossing of the animals.

Another experiment was carried on in Rhodesia, when we took the American coaches from Johannesburg to Buluwavo, a drive of 500 miles, by mules; and a great many of them died of the tsetse fly. Mr. Ziebrink, a very enterprising man, introduced the zebra, and they domesticated them and hitched them into the coaches. But there, again, the animals get sulky; they refuse to pull, and you can do nothing with them. They are more like a burro — more like a donkey; they have a disposition more like a donkey. They are quite gentle. They would come up and eat out of your hand; and we had them loose, running around the streets of Petersburg there perfectly free, more like a pet burro or a donkey. But as a pulling animal the zebra is probably too closely allied to the wild. It would take many, many generations to make a success of it, and I should expect the same results in this country as in that.

The CHAIRMAN. What has been your experience with the cross ?

Major BURNHAM. The cross seems like almost all hybrids; it seems to inherit the evil dispositions of both father and mother. Whether that applies to man or not (I think it does, too), it certainly applies to all the animals.

Mr. HAWLEY. Does the zebra have a characteristic gait ?

Major BURNHAM. He has a swift trot. In harness he trots a good deal like a mule. Of course he can gallop. It takes a very good, quick horse to pick up a zebra. Of course a good horse will pick Him up all right, right in his native habitat. I ran down some zebra on the first expedition I made into Rhodesia. A couple of well- known hunters in Rhodesia and myself ran down some zebra and captured them with our saddle horses, but they were excellent horses, brought up from Cape Town.

The experience I have had in the Southwest makes me believe there is nothing in the climate of the Southwest to prohibit the introduction of practically all the game animals that were mentioned tioned by Captain Duquesne. I believe that is true. I think we are allowing one of our great assets to lie idle and go to waste by confining ourselves, as Mr. Irwin said, to only three or four animals, and even those animals were imported.

The original condition of this continent was that it was almost devoid of any valuable animals. We brought into the country the horse, the cow, the ass, the sheep, and the goat; and they have all gone wild and thrived. Great herds of cattle roam the western plains, and great herds of horses. The average American thinks that they have always been here and that they were found here, but it is not so. They were brought over by the Spaniards, and the Mexicans adopted them. If those animals could be adopted into our western country, I do not see why the game animals can not be adopted, too, and find the particular food which they are used to, which is more of a desert food. We know that in Africa the wild animals live where the domestic annuals will not live. We know that there are probably thousands of square miles of desert land in our own country, and I believe these animals can be utilized to fill it. We may have some failures or even a good many failures about their introduction. One can not always avoid mistakes. The farmer does not take one seed' and plant it and expect that from that one seed he will raise a whole crop. We must not make the mistake of taking one pair of animals and expecting that they will populate the whole territory. But with reasonable care and skill and brains, and with the Department of Agriculture having charge of the matter, I do not see any reason why we can not have great success. I thank you, gentlemen.

Mr. HAWLEY. I should like to ask one more question on a different subject. Do you think the date palm would thrive in the Southwest ?

Major BURNHAM. I believe it would, but I can not say that I am an authority on the subject. I am interested in a great irrigation reclamation scheme in the Southwest, in Sonora, where we are taking water out of the Gila River on to about 1,000,000 acres of land. The question of the date palm has come before us very strongly, and tne dates there seem to thrive very well. There are several coarse varieties that grow there and mature, and are quite palatable. We have robbed the Government of what we believe to be one of their good men — a soil expert by the name of Mackay, who is in our employ. He is taking up that very question in conjunction with a couple of horticulturists of Texas, whose names have passed out of my mind for the moment. We have had quite a correspondence on it; and if we have any results of value, it will give me great pleasure to let the department here know.

Mr. BROUSSARD. Major, you own a ranch out in California, I believe ?

Major BURNUAM. Yes; and I am sending some game there now from Mexico. This matter of the introduction of strange animals is a lifelong hobby of mine. I got the hobby when I helped capture that wild camel, and it has clung to me ever since. Just now I am sending some game from Mexico into California. I have a ranch right adjoining the forest reserve under Mount Whitney; and I am introducing there the small white-tailed deer of Sonora, whose flesh is most delicious, and also some of the peccaries.

Mr. BROUSSARD. The "havilinas?"

Major BURNHAM. Yes; that is what they are — the havilinas.

Mr. BROUSSARD. Major, can you tell the committee something with regard to the government reservations and what use could be made of them in this respect ?

Major BURNHAM. Yes. About three or four years ago some friends of mine and myself offered to put up $50,000 to put some game animals into the forest reserves. We then asked that the President be given permission to set aside some of the forest reserves as game preserves also to prevent some county jumper running out with a rifle and shooting the game the next free Sunday after he heard it was turned loose. We asked that the forest rangers be made deputy game wardens, to arrest anybody that would shoot these animals for a certain number of years, leaving the matter entirely in the hands of the government department to control in the finish. But I was very busy at the time, and I had to go to Mexico; and "the child died a-borning."

Mr. COCKS. How about the hybrid buffalo ? Is there any possibility of doing anything with it ?

Major BURNHAM. I do not think the African buffalo has ever been crossed.

Mr. COCKS. I mean our bison.

Major BURNHAM. Our bison ? There are so many men in this country that are more expert on that question than 1 that I do not like to be quoted at all. I am familiar with the buffalo, of course. In my boyhood days on the plains, and all that, I was familiar with it. But what I know about it is more from observation and hearsay, and not from practical experience.

Mr. BEALL. It is a fact that Mr. Goodnight, up in Texas, has extensive herds, is it not ?

Major BURNHAM. Oh, certainly. They have been crossed, and we have every reason to believe that they will be a success, and be of great value.

Mr. BEALL. He calls them "cattalos."

Major BURNHAM. "Cattalos;" yes. We have not made use of our own game animals. Take California, for instance: In my boyhood days the elk were there in herds. We slaughtered them. Now we are just beginning to preserve them a little bit. In the forest reserves and in the Yosemite National Park they have a few of them, and they are just beginning to breed again. Last year, down close to my place, I saw two young ones; so it is encouraging, and I know they will grow again if we give them a proper chance. In the case of the wild turkey, we are just importing a few of them from Mexico. I have just had a request from the game warden, in Sonora, asking me if we oould not assist them to get some wild turkeys. They are quite difficult to get; but I believe they, too, could, be imported successfully.

Mr. BROUSSARD. You live in California, Major. Have you ever been to the ostrich farms ?

Major BURNHAM. Oh, yes. The ostrich farms are a success there.

Mr. BROUSSARD. They do well, do they ?

Major BURNHAM. They do well. I have helped catch them, and have used lots of them in Africa. I am quite familiar with the ostrich.

Mr. BROUSSARD. They thrive ?

Major BURNHAM. Oh, yes ; they thrive the same as chickens.

Mr. BROUSSARD. What about the reindeer ?

Major BURNHAM. The reindeer that were introduced into Alaska are all right. Mr. Jackson brought in the first herd. They had a good many difficulties and a good many things to learn about them. They brought some Lapps along, but the Lapps themselves did not know everything, because the conditions were different. But as the result of the combination of the Lapps with some scientific study of the subject, I think it is conceded by the Alaskans themselves that the importation of reindeer is now a success. I think that can be looked to as one of the great successes.

Mr. BROUSSARD. When did they commence bringing reindeer into Alaska.

Major BURNHAM. I saw the first herd of reindeer in Alaska in 1898, I think.

Mr. BROUSSARD. Do you know how many were brought in ?

Major BURNHAM. I should not like to be quoted on that point. It was not a great many; I think only about 28.

Mr. IRWIN. They were brought from Siberia.

Mr. BROUSSARD. But how many were brought ?

Mr. IRWIN. Twenty-eight, I think.

Major BURNHAM. You will find it all in Mr. Irwin's book.

Mr. BROUSSARD. There are quite a herd here now, I believe.

Major BURNHAM. Do not quote me on that point, please. I believe there are now something like 19,000. They have imported other herds since.

Mr. BROUSSARD. Have you ever shot pheasants in Oregon ?

Major BURNHAM. Yes; I have. They are fine.

Mr. BROUSSARD. They were imported, also ?

Major BURNHAM. Yes. Mr. BROUSSARD. Do you know when they first brought them into Oregon ?

Major BURNHAM. I know that in 1885 they had been in just a very short time. At that time I saw a few of the pairs that had been turned loose in 1885 in the State of Washington, in what is now Okanogan County.

Mr. BROUSSARD. They are very plentiful there now ?

Major BURNHAM. Oh, yes; they are very plentiful now.

Mr. HAWLEY. The ring-necked pheasant, as we call it, is a very fine game bird.

Major BURNHAM. Yes; a very fine, beautiful bird.

The CHAIRMAN. Are there any further questions ? If not, we are very much obliged to you.