With "Bobs" and Krüger/Chapter 25

With "Bobs" and Krüger by Frederic William Unger
CHAPTER XXV. Two other Americans -- Captain Slocum, United States Attache, and Burnham, the Scout

Unger writes about his meeting with fellow America Author:Frederick Russell Burnham during the Boer War.


A FAVORITE headquarters for the few Americans connected with the Imperial army was the house of the military attaches, where Captain Slocum, of the United States army, occupied the best rooms, and there received such of his fellow-countrymen as were fortunate enough to know him. I dropped in on him one afternoon to listen to the refreshing music of the American accent, and shortly afterward Burnham, the American scout, came in also. After introducing us, Captain Slocum reached over to his desk and took up a small bundle of pamphlets, saying, " Boys, I have had something sent to me from the States—three complete sets of ' Billy Baxter's Letters.' They're overflowing with breezy American slang and humor; they're very funny. I want to give each of you a set and keep one for myself. Take them home with you, read them to-night, and then, when you come again, we can laugh together over them. There's no use of my reading or giving them to any of these Englishmen, for they're not familiar with our idioms ; American humor is a bit beyond them, too. I've been fairly starving for some one to enjoy these things with." I took my copies, and offer as a free advertisement right here to the publisher of " Billy Baxter's Letters " that they were as a draught of cold water in a parching desert to me and half a dozen other Americans, with whom I enjoyed them repeatedly. Yes, Captain Slocum was right: " Boys, they're simply great."

Thus introduced, I came to know Burnham very well. Our mutual experience of the Klondyke fields was a strong bond of sympathy. He had left French Gulch, twenty-five miles northeast of Dawson City, solely to volunteer his services to Lord Roberts. Burnham had spent some years in South Africa before, and was therefore familiar with the country. He received an appointment on the Field Marshal's staff. During Broadwood's retreat from Th' Banchu, while the fighting was still in progress, Burnham conceived the idea of going out to see the affair. Galloping off, he arrived just in time to be a witness of the Koornspruit disaster. He at once decided to allow himself to be captured, with the idea of acquiring some information from the burghers, and afterward escaping to the British lines. So he quietly rode into the enemy's hands and surrendered himself.

Several days later, while the Boer column was halting at noonday, another prisoner, an English officer, walked up to Burnham, who had concealed his identity, and called him by name. Commandant De Wet (of whom all the world now knows) was lying on the ground under a wagon near by, within earshot. So Burnham tried to make the officer understand, by signs, to be quiet, saying at the same time, coldly, " You arc mistaken ; that's not my name ; I don't know you." The idiotic officer could not understand; he thought Burnham was joking ; so he laughed and said, " Oh, yes, I know you quite well ; you are Burnham, Lord Roberts' Chief of Scouts. "At this, De Wet sprang up excitedly, crying,"

Ah ! So you're Burnham, are you ? Well, you're just the man I have been wanting this long time." A double guard was immediately placed in charge of Burn- ham, who kept him isolated from the other prisoners. The British officer, realizing his mistake too late, made some effort to apologke, I believe; but was hustled off unceremoniously, even the Boers showing soldierly contempt for such thoughtlessness.

A few days later Burnham learned from the conversation of his guards that they were nearing the railway, and that they and he would then be sent on to Pretoria by train.

Burnham, the American Scout, Chief of Lord Roberts' Scouts, attached to the Field Marshal's Staff with rank of Major, and the only scout who continually penetrated the enemy's lines, returning with information.

Realizing that this would made escape impossible, he decided to lose no time in attempting to get away. The mere fact that the British officer's idiocy had made escape doubly difficult in no way dismayed him. At night, for greater safety, he was placed in a trek-wagon, closely covered, except in front. An armed driver sat on the seat, and guards rode at each side and at the back. Burnham kept awake,, watching his chance, which came when the driver got down to give some directions to the native boy leading the oxen. Burnham crept up on the seat, from which he slipped down to the " disselboom," or cart-tongue, and from there slid gently to the ground, allowing himself to fall prostrate on the ground under the cart, which passed on over him. Of course the guards at either side saw nothing of this; only those on the back of the cart were to be feared. Burnham lay perfectly still, prepared to endure even a horse's tread on his body without giving a sign. The night was fairly dark, the horses of the following cart stepped carefully over him, and their riders "just happened " not to look downward. The next cart, drawn by oxen, was some distance behind, and before they had come up Burnham had rolled swiftly to the side of the road, where he again lay motionless until the cart had passed; then, before another cart came, he had gone far enough to allow him to roll on for several hundred yards, until so far from the line of transports that he could dare to get on his hands and knees, and crawl still farther into night and safety. About this time his escape was discovered. The column halted, and many lights appeared. Horsemen rode up and down the line shouting, a few shots were fired at nothing in particular, c.her horsemen scattered rapidly on either side to explore the veldt, and several came very close to where Burnham was lying, but in the darkness he looked so much like any clump of grass about him that he escaped notice. Had the pursuers waited until daylight he must have been discovered.

Finally the column moved on, and after waiting a proper time Burnham rose to his feet and struck off southward for Bloemfontein. After two days and two nights on the veldt, lying hidden by day on the summits of friendly kopjes, from where he could see occasional Boer scouts presumably on the lookout for him, he succeeded in reaching Bloemfontein safely, having been for most of the time entirely without food. He had gained important information from the careless conversation of his guards, and accomplished his purpose after it had been made infinitely more difficult by the stupidity of the thick-headed English officer who revealed his identity.