Percy Horace Gordon Powell- Cotton.

A sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien online

. (page 4 of 34)
Online LibraryPercy Horace Gordon Powell- CottonA sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien → online text (page 4 of 34)
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promised that if we would do so, there should be no
difficulty in finding fresh camels, and that he would
gladly accept just what we chose to give him to let us
pass, and further that we could shoot what we liked.
So we put our heads together and, after much talk,
told him that in the morning we would give him a
little of some very precious medicine we happened to
have with us, and thus dismissed him in a happy frame
of mind.

That night was rather an anxious one. Not know-
ing what the Oderalis had in contemplation, we made
the zariba as strong as we could, posted sentries all
round, lighted great fires, and all lay down with our
loaded rifies ready to hand. The night, however,
passed quietly, and next morning Tombacca was back
with a larger following, and bringing a present of four
goats. Then, with great secrecy and solemnity, we
presented him with the precious nostrum, to wit, a
few tabloids of quinine, each carefully wrapped in
silver paper. Afterwards, but more openly, we handed
him a small packet of dollars, three bundles of cloth,
and half a bag of his beloved tobacco. To two
or three of his headmen we also gave coloured cloths.
Still he seemed to think that he had not received
enough, and he and his men kept wandering round
the loads, as they were being arranged, asking for
everything they saw. Unfortunately H.'s bull -skin,


which was not yet dry, attracted the attention of one
old fellow, who recognised it as being the; hide of his
lost o\ ! He said the beast had left the herd and run
wild since last rains. He was at first inclined to make
a fuss, and wanted to be paid its value —I must say not
without reason. However, in the end Jama gave him
some tobacco, and as his chief did not back him up, the
matter dropped.

We did not march till the afternoon. As the caravan
moved off, I saw that there was an altercation in pro-
gress between Jama and a small group of Tombacca's
men, who were gathered together under a tree, where
the four goats presented to us had been tied up. My
syce ran after us, shouting that the Oderali would onlv
hand over two of the goats, whereupon I, being the
nearest, turned and cantered back to the tree. As I
approached, the group of natives moved off, but one
big savage stood guard over the remaining two goats
with uplifted spear. I was (juite unarmed and had
outdistanced \V. and B., who were galloping after me,
followed by a crowd of our riflemen. The Oderali were
standing about in several small groups, eagerly watching
our movements. There could be no drawing back, so,
kicking up my pony, who was already excited by the
others galloping behind him, I went straight for the
man. When I was almost upon him, he shortened his
arm to stab, but for some reason or other, his nerve
failed him, and as I pulled up, my pony almost touching
him, he moved behind the tree. In a moment W. and I!,
were beside me, and our men had surrounded us. The
goats were untied and led oft" bv the .Somalis, who


roared with laughter at the incident. We then turned
and cantered after H. and the caravan.

Camp that night was pitched at Toluk, close to a
large party of Abyssinian soldiers, who had been on
some sort of mission to Tombacca, and were returning
to Ad is Ababa. As we moved off next morning, we saw
a jackal sitting on the top of a conical ant-hill some
1 20 yards from the track. I proved that the .256 was
all' right again by rolling him over, shot through the
heart. We crossed a big plain and saw large herds of
aul, but they were very shy. H. and W. tried after
one lot, but v.-ithout success. We camped that night
at Gumleh, near the foot of Frugdeha, a solitary rocky
hill which rises 1000 feet above the plain. B. and W.
accompanied Clarke to the summit, where he got the
bearings of various other peaks, and mapped in the
country round. On their way down they saw some
sassa. In the evening an unsuspecting aul came and
fed close to the camp, H. bagging it with a couple of
shots. Just at dusk Mahomed rejoined us from Bulbar,
where he had to go to buy camels, none being procur-
able at Zeila. He reported that he had made it all
right with Tombacca, who had promised to send on
our men and camels in charge of a guide, as soon as
they should arrive.

Next morning, while the others started on their
journey, I climbed Frugdeha, and with the glasses soon
located three sassa, but unfortunately they also located
us, and moved off before I could get a shot. A long,
hot scramble along the rocky hillside was followed by
a crawl to the edge of a precipice, when I saw one


Standing sentinel on a rock below, some 225 yards off.
A steady rest on a boulder and the telescopic sight proved
fatal ; he fell in a heap, shot through the heart. After
photographing, measuring, and weighing him (he pulled
the scale down to 18 lbs. when clean), we picked up my
pony and started after the caravan. About the plain were
scattered endless flocks of goats and sheep, for rain had
recently fallen there, and the natives had driven their
beasts in from all sides to feed on the green grass. It
was curious to see how, wherever there was a fairly
big stretch of unoccupied ground, there would be a
herd of aul grazing, but keeping a watchful eye on the
herdsmen. Further on, as we entered thin bush, we
saw little family parties of gerenuk feeding on the
young shoots. Very funny they look, as they stand
upright on their hind-legs, with their fore-legs stretched
above them to bring some tender sprig within reach.
On the slightest noise they will drop motionless behind
the bush, with their long necks stretched out to discover
the cause. If they think it means danger, off they go
at a long swinging trot, their long necks held low in a
line with their backs, then again pull up with just the
head showing in the thin part of a bush, to see if they
are followed or not. The jungle gradually became
thicker, till we reached the marshy bank of a fair-sized
stretch of water called Lake Ordah. On the way I
shot a fine aul with very thick horns, 19^- inches in
length, and also a gerenuk. After skirting the lake
some way, we formed camp on the slope of a little hill
abutting on its shores.

After tea a party went out duck - shooting, and


bagged five different kinds, but only after a great
expenditure of cartridges. At sunset the view from
the hill-top was lovely. At our feet lay the lake,
stretching away with its fringe of tall rushes ; the
flights of duck which had been disturbed were returning
to settle down ; great birds of prey, stately cranes,
busding guinea-fowl, and brilliant - plumaged birds of
all sizes were flying down for their evening drink.
Away out on the plain the llocks were being driven
into zaribas for the night, leaving the herds of antelope
in sole possession of the pastures. In the far distance, the
rugged summit of Frugdeha, lit up by the setting sun,
stood out like a giant sentinel keeping watch over the
plain. Immediately below us lay the busy camp, in its
ring of felled thorn trees, with our green tents pitched
on one side, and on the other groups of camel-men
arranging their loads and mats, so as to form low huts
round the fires, on which great copper pots of rice
were already boiling. From outside strings of camels
were being driven into the zariba, and then made to
lie down to have their legs shackled, a process which
was never got through without many plaintive grunts.
In the centre of all, safe from the prowling leopard,
was a tiny zariba for the goats. As night settled down,
the camp dropped ofl" to sleep, and the croak of the
frogs in the lake, the occasional grumble of a camel,
and the tramp of the sentries were the only sounds to
break the stillness of the African night.


An imaginative shikari and the dance he led us — A good game country —
Two of us stalk the same herd — A waterless plain — Hartebeest,
ostrich, oryx, zebra, and aul — The Hawash valley — The hot spring
of Bilen — A great hunt for buffalo — They outwit us — A large herd
of elephants — I turn a charge — A great waste of meat.

The men we sent out yesterday to verily a report of
elephant returned late in the day, with a very circum-
stantial account of the presence of a small herd in some
dense jungle on a hillside. They had seen their foot-
prints round a pool, at which the elephants went to
drink every night, ami declared that there was one
large bull among the herd. On receiving this encourag-
ing report, we started, and, after four hours' riding,
reached the place, but only to find no pool, no dense
jungle, no fresh footprints — only an optMi hillside and
the tracks of four or five elephants which had passed ten
days before! The second shikari, a Midgan, who was
responsible for the lying report which n-ached us, was
roundly abused, not only by us, but by every one of the
party. It was a grilling day, and none of us were very
sweet-tempered on our return to camp after our fruitless
journey. Next day I was somewhat recompensed by
gettinsf an aul and a couple of "-erenuk, one with re-


markably thick horns. Our next camp was at a place
called Mullu, among fine trees and at 3750 feet eleva-
tion. It was a bright moonlight night, during the early
hours of which we put out some meat as bait and bagged
several of the jackals which were skulking round.

Noon next day saw us camped at Duncaga, on the
edge of a waterless plain stretching away to the H awash
valley. After tiffin, AH being seedy, I started out with
my second shikari and soon found a herd of oryx. I
brought off a successful stalk, and was just picking out
the largest bull of the herd, when a loud whistle from
the shikari, whom I had left a couple of hundred yards
behind, made me put down my rifle to see what was
the matter. He was gesticulating wildly — why I could
not tell, until I espied W. behind an ant-hill. I then
found that he had stalked the same herd from another
direction, but had not got so close as myself As he
had not bagged an oryx, and I had killed eighteen on
a previous trip, I decided to let him take the shot.
This, however, did not suit my shikari, and although
I signed to him to keep quiet, he kept whistling and
gesticulating till he attracted the attention of the oryx.
The animals, which had been slowly moving towards me,
on being disturbed threw their heads up, and turned
to bolt. W. who was some way off, at once opened fire ;
but they circled round him, and he knocked one over.
He had seen me and could not make out why I did
not take my shot. H., who meanwhile had gone out
into the plain, had seen some hartebeest and also a few

W., B., and I were very anxious to camp half-way


across this plain, which seemed full of game, and so get
a couple of days' shooting, but H. thought it best to push
right across, if possible — though, as a measure of pre-
caution, he took enough water for one night. The caravan
accordingly started at 3 a.m. Three hours later I struck
off to look for game, and soon saw a large herd of ory.x,
but at too great a distance to shoot. Suddenly a move-
ment in a patch of thin bush attracted our attention, and
we made out a little flock of ostriches. We spent a long
time trying to get a shot, but 500 yards was our shortest
range, and as we had a long march in front of us,
were reluctantly compelled to leave them. Soon after,
we came up to a small lot of oryx, and shot one as it
stood looking at us. The animal proved to be a cow,
with the longest horns I have ever bagged (34^ inches),
and weighed when clean 260 lbs. Later on I got
another, which we were sure was a bull from the thick-
ness of its horns, but it likewise jjro\'ed to be a cow.
As the pony had as much as it could do to carry the two
heads and skins and a little meat, I tramped on foot
from the time I left the caravan till 4 o'clock in the
afternoon, when we found our camp at Bilen, situated
at the foot of the steep descent from the plateau
to the valley of the Hawash. During the day
B. had bagged a zebra and W. an aul.

Bilen, where we spent four days, is the name given to
a celebrated hot spring, which bubbles up from the mud
at a temperature of 1 10 degrees, and forms a pool some
25 yards across and 4 feet deep in the centre, with a soft
muddy bottom. In this pool the water is cool enough for
the natives to bathe, and all day long parties of them came


down for that purpose, and also to wash their clothes.
The country round is thickly populated, and, before we
left, a big chief arrived for a course of baths with a
following of two or three hundred. The overflow from
the pool forms a small stream, which runs into the Hawash
some four or five miles off. Our camp was pitched
among trees a couple of hundred yards from the hot
spring, and on rather higher ground. As we looked
across the valley from our camp, the first thing that
caught the eye was the vivid green of a reed-brake,
which commenced close to the hot spring and was shaped
like an isosceles triangle, with the base lying across the
valley and the apex up-stream. Beyond the reeds the
country was fairly wooded, and further off a thick belt of
larger trees marked the course of the Hawash, as it
flowed on the further side of the valley, close under the

When we parted with Captain Harrington at Zeila, he
had impressed us with the desire to decide the question
whether buffalo existed in the region between the rivers
Herrer and Hawash, as reported by French travellers,
and if so, whether they differed from those found on the
White Nile. Once or twice we thought we had got
news of them. The natives said they would show us
o-essi (the Somali name for buffalo) but they only
took us to the tracks of waterbuck, which it seems are
here called ^il'cssi. Finally we showed the natives the
picture of buffalo in Rowland Ward's book, and learned
that the native name for these animals was gns/i,
and that they were to be found among the reeds at


H. havinq; stuck to the camels all day, was the first
to get there. He at once started to coast round the
reeds, hoping to find the buffalo grazing, but, coming on
tracks of a h'on, returned to camp and ordered a shooting
zariba to be built on the spot, in the hope that the lion
might return and fancy donkey for supper. I n the Sunder-
bunds of Bengal there are great stretches of reeds sur-
rounded by rice-fields, on which the buffalo feed at night ;
on the first sign of dawn they retreat into the reeds.
There I have stalked and shot them, by following along
the narrow water-lanes, paying special attention to the
muddy water and the splashes on the reeds caused by
the animal's retreat, and I was of opinion that this place
should be worked in the same way. However, as H.,
who had shot buffalo in South Africa, said we should be
sure to find them in the morning feeding outside the
reeds, it was arranged that he and W . (who were to sit
up for the lion) should, as dawn broke, work round the
reeds in opposite directions, while I devoted myself to
the further end of the area. Next morning at 4 o'clock
I turned out with I)., who intended to go back to the
plain to try for ostrich. After keeping along the foot of
the hill for half an hour, I struck out into the valley in
the direction of the reeds. As dawn broke, I found that
the reed-patch ended in a point, and that this was an
hour's journey from the foot-hills. I soon saw that U.
had already been along all the further side, where there
was a good deal of jungle and long grass. It was
evident that in one glade of luxurious vegetation the
buffalo had been feeding during the night, and I found
well-trodden paths leading into the reeds, where the


water was knee-deep. \\'., who followed me back to
camp, said that he had found his side of the reeds was a
high-road used by the flocks coming to water, so he had
struck further up the valley and then followed the tracks
of two waterbuck back to very near the place where the
buffalo had fed, and luckily had bagged them both. In
the afternoon the local headman came to see us, and
over a drink told us that this was the only place where
any buffalo were left. He added that they were very
shy, and only fed at night, and that so far no white man
had shot one. I feared that W. having shot the water-
buck on the edge of the reeds, and H. and his man
having been potting small birds all round camp, would
have put the buffalo on their guard, but as H. thought
no harm had been done, three of us went off in the
evening and sat at different points ; still nothing showed
itself I then climbed on to a platform I had caused to be
built in one of the trees in the glade. It was full moon,
so if anything had come my way I should have had a fair
chance. When I got back to camp for breakfast I found
that B. had brought back an oryx, but had not seen a
single ostrich out of the dozens we had passed the day
before. We then had a great discussion as to how to
get at the buffalo. I wanted to give the place a couple
of days' rest and then try to stalk them, but H. decided
to drive them. Anyhow, I spent another night in the
tree, being almost eaten up by mosquitoes, which took
no account of either dogskin gloves or thick putties.
Soon after dark we heard the splashing of the buffalo
as they began to feed towards us, and I was in high
hopes, but suddenly they plunged off back to the centre


of the reeds, and the night's result was nil. The beatini;
next morning also proved a dead failure, the place being-
much too big for the number of men we had at our com-
mand. I then tried tracking the beasts by myself, but
they were by that time far too scared, and although I
stuck to it till 3 o'clock, I never got within sight of one.
Next day we tried taking up posts inside the reeds, with
the hope that the buffalo, when disturbed, might pass
within shot, but no such luck ! Once more I tried
tracking, and succeeded in nearly reaching a couple, but
they led me into such deep water that I had to give up.
FLventually I returned to camp, and had scarcely had tea
before we started on a three hours' march, after which,
as soon as my bed was up, I took a stiff dose of quinine
and turned in, feeling very tired after so much wading,
and almost expecting an attack of fever.

The ground we had passed over was flat, with plentv
of grass and many villages scattered about, but the next
day's march took us into a lovely country of low, well-
wooded hills, with plenty of grass, which extended to
Arda Arto, on the bank of the Hawash. Shortly before
reaching that point, while leading, I came on the
tracks of a small herd of elephants which had just crossed
the road. I cantered back to stop H., who was stalking
a gerenuk, and he sent a couple of men to see where the
herd had gone, while the caravan continued on its march
and camped a mile further on. Very soon one of I I.'s
men returned, with the news that the herd was close by,
feeding in a strip of jungle. II. then went out and at
lunch time returned, having killed two. He was very
anxious for me to go back with him and kill some more,


as the herd numbered a hundred or so, but as he said
both those he had killed had poor ivory, I thought it a
pity to shoot any more. However, he over-persuaded
me and ultimately I went. He said he had found the
elephants in a belt of thick jungle, about 5 miles long by
less than half a mile wide, lying at the foot of some low
hills, on the other side of which was the river, and that
the herd were moving nearer camp when he left. We
then started out; and, while H. returned to the point where
he had fired, to look for a wounded animal, he sent me to
the centre of the belt, and B. to my right. \V., who
came in just as we were starting, with two fine lesser
kudu, he sent still further to the right. I started
off for my place and went right across the belt, but
saw nothing save old tracks. When I got into
the open again, I saw several natives standing by the
foot of a tree talking to two of their number perched up
in the branches. They could apparendy see something
away in H.'s direction. Soon after, we heard several
shots. A little later B. joined me, having found his part
of the jungle as bare of elephants as I had mine. More
shots were heard in H.'s direction, and then the natives
in the tree began gesticulating wildly, and we could see
the jungle waving about, as part of the herd stampeded
towards us. As B. had never had a shot at an elephant,
I insisted on his taking my chance and going after the
tuskers ; so he ran in, cut off the herd as it passed, and
succeeded in getting a bull, with very large tusks for
this part of the country. Meanwhile I started for camp,
but, seeing that some of the elephants B. had gone after
had again turned and were coming back, I decided to


try and intercept them. We ran along a narrow path,
the dense jungle on either side preventing our seeing
anything 5 yards off, towards the spot where we heard
the crashing. Heading three elephants, I picked out
the largest and fired the .400 at his right temple, where-
upon the beast staggered and turned half round, enabling
me to get in the other barrel at the ear. I then seized
the 8-bore and aimed for the shoulder, and as the brute
moved past me, rolling from side to side in a dazed state,
I pulled both triggers in succession, with no result ! On
opening the breech I found that the second shikari, who
only a few minbtes before had assured me that the rifle
was loaded, had not put in any cartridges. While Ali
was reloading the riHes, I spent a minute punching the
culprit's head, for his carelessness might easily have cost
one of us our life. Then we followed the elephants
as quickly as we could and came up with the herd,
numbering about a dozen, but they were jostling each
other so much in their endeavours to escape down a
track only wide enough for one, that I was unable to
pick out the wounded beast. Forcing our way through
the jungle to the right, we again headed them, and I got
a shot at the temple of one and the shoulder of another,
but I was considerably blown and very unsteady. Soon
we overtook the animal 1 had hit in the head, standing
behind a tree, with its trunk raised and endeavouring to
get our wind. The foliage was so dense, and the beast
kept swaying about so much, that I was some time
trying to see a vulnerable spot, and when at length I did
fire, my aim was not accurate, and the first shot only
made it stagger a little. A second, however, aimed at


the root of the trunk, brought the animal down with a
crash, breaking a good-sized tree in its fall.

We took up the blood track again along a narrow
path, when we heard a crashing in front of us, and a
moment after saw the heads of two great elephants
appear above the jungle, as they charged straight down
the path for us, at a point where the thorn trees were so
dense that there was no getting off the track. I there-
fore fired at the head of the leading one when 8
yards from me, and jumped into a bush on my right.
The shot made the beast swerve from the path and
crash into the jungle to our left. I swung round to get
the shoulder-shot, and, as I raised the rifle, found the
muzzle pointing at Ali's back. By the time I got clear
of him it was too late, and the bullet struck the elephant
far back. While we were following our prey, we heard
a noise behind us, and presently W. with a string of
excited followers joined us. After getting him to
dismiss all but his shikaris, we followed the herd till we
sighted them. Then I left him to get his shot, which he
did, killing a large-bodied beast with small tusks. Some
of the herd now broke back towards us, when I fired at
two of them. One pulled up at once, and, as it staggered
about and looked too sick to go far, I ran on after the
other, which I found swaying about under a tree.
Hearing our approach, it turned towards us, but a shot in
the forehead dropped it. I then went back to the other
wounded animal, which I found had remained in the
same place, but it was then so dark that I had to leave
it. The net result of our hunt was, that H. killed five
elephants, and W. and B. one each, while I had also

Online LibraryPercy Horace Gordon Powell- CottonA sporting trip through Abyssinia; a narrative of a nine months' journey from the plains of the Hawash to the snows of Simien → online text (page 4 of 34)