- Historic Sites
The Great African Safari Bust
OR HOW THE BOY SCOUTS CAME TO AMERICA
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
“Outram, the guide, took forty porters in one direction,” Dad wrote, and I went in another with a like number of men. We stationed them about 100 yards apart and told them when they heard the signal—two shots—to start up the valley herding the game ahead of them. While picketing the men we passed myriads of game. I feel sure they never had seen a white man before. Beautiful topi gazed at me and my black boys as we passed them and other specimens of antelope cavorted around us. Often a buck would hold his ground within a dozen paces of us when we walked past, being supremely confident that he was in no danger. The boys were begging me to get them some meat without further delay but I told [them] to wait till we had taken the picture. When all of our men had been stationed I gave the signal and we started up the valley. Such a sight! The boys had turned the most dazzling array of faunal nature into the valley that I had ever seen—and my brain had been set whirling many a time previously by such sights. Wildebeest by the hundreds, the royal topi with their shimmering coats and splendid heads, zebra, Granti, “Tommies,” the graceful impala—never have I seen such grace in any creature—oribi, Robertsi, the tiny dikdiks, Oh, everything on four legs except of course the night prowlers! They were going up the valley in solid regiments towards our cameras. Everything was going all right when a storm broke loose. It came up in a minute, it seemed. The sky was so overcast and dark that I doubt if a picture would have been possible but we kept pushing the menagerie up the valley till they stampeded in the storm and broke out in all directions. A herd of fully 300 topi came at me and my gun-bearer but it took only a wave of our hands to turn them back. But when they dashed at the porters, the boys made feeble efforts to stop the mad rush of the brutes and in a minute the whole parade had sifted through our lines and the woods and hills were once more claiming the finest animal collection I ever expect to see. Sore and disgusted, I started back to camp, quite forgetful of my promise to the boys. My gun-bearer soon refreshed my memory and I told him we would take a shot at the first thing on four legs we saw. I feared all the game had got beyond reach but in a moment we spotted a Thomsoni which had remained behind when the big exodus took place. He was grazing about seventy-five yards away and his horns did look splendid. That .35 Remington never sent a bullet home in more satisfactory manner and a moment later the gun-bearer was dancing around the trophy, claiming it must be a record.
The safari headed back to Nairobi while Boyce went into elephant country, where a mammoth specimen was brought down. But even that was not the unmitigated triumph it might have been because of acrimonious charges and countercharges as to whether it was Boyce who shot it or his white hunter, shooting to save Boyce, who, the white hunter claimed, was where he had been warned not to be: in high grass and in danger of being trampled.
It was time for them all to go home.
Boyce bought a first-class ticket to England for himself and two in second class for Lawrence and his son. Second class was where the cattle and pilgrims to Mecca rode together.
But Dad was not about to join his bride in Europe. He and the other photographer, Caywood, were left behind “to scour Africa,” as Boyce told them, the two of them alone to produce the results that had eluded the biggest safari in history.
Now Dad was sentenced to Africa knowing his bride in Europe had not only her disappointment to contend with but dwindling finances as well. There was only one way that Dad could buy release for both of them, and that was to produce sensational pictures. It looked as if he would roast in steaming Africa and Mother would freeze in dingy rooms in northern Europe not only for Christmas and New Year’s but for heaven only knew how long afterward.
“Everything is up to you and Cay,” Boyce unnecessarily reminded Dad just before embarking at Mombasa. Uganda was the first place to be scoured for every picture possibility there was. They were to get panorama pictures if it was the last thing they did, buy also every other good picture they could, see if they could get some from Kermit Roosevelt, who, Boyce had heard, had taken some dandies with his taxidermist, and go through the files of every newspaper they could find for story and picture possibilities. Dad was also to dispose of the balloons, the tank of acid, horses and mules, guns and ammunition, and all the other equipment, realizing as much as possible on them; to arrange for trophies and other memorabilia to be sent to Chicago; to buy Boyce six leopard skins; and to keep Boyce posted on how he was making out. Boyce would expect a letter when they put in at Aden.
The letters that were waiting for Boyce at Aden guaranteed the publisher a miserable voyage all the way from the Red Sea to the Thames. Dad wrote that the picture possibilities in Uganda were practically nil because “it rained every day we were in the country. … The light at all times was bad, and especially in the morning,” that they had gone to Kampala to photograph the colorful king but he and his whole court had gone off on safari, and that almost everyone who could have helped them was down with the fever.