The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 9: An Elephant Hunt. Marching Southward from Gondokoro.

lesson image
The Nile Below Afuddo

There was enough to do and see at Gondokoro and in the neighborhood to occupy several days, but our friends were not the less mindful of the necessity for departure. Doctor Bronson consulted Colonel Abd-el-Kader on the subject, and was soon able to lay before the youths a satisfactory plan for their future movements.

"Above here," said the Doctor, "we cannot go with the steamer, on account of the rapids in the river, that render it impassable for any but the smallest boats. The Nile becomes narrower, and the hills close in upon it so that it does not at all resemble the Nile of Lower Egypt and Nubia. It has the characteristics of a river flowing among mountains, and in the places where the fall is insufficient to create a rapid or cataract the stream is anything but a sluggish one.

"The rapids occur at intervals for a distance of about a hundred and twenty miles above Gondokoro by land, and perhaps a hundred and fifty by the course of the stream. Then we come to a place known as Afuddo by the natives, and also by geographers, though the latter generally speak of it as 'Miani's Tree.'"

"Why does it have the latter name?" one of the youths asked.

"Because," was the reply, "it was the point reached by Miani, an Italian traveler, who explored this part of Central Africa, and was driven back by the natives through the intrigues of the slave traders. He returned despondent to Khartoum, and subsequently undertook an exploration of the Bahr-el-Ghazal, where he died. It is a great misfortune that he perished before the history of his explorations had been given to the world, as he had visited regions hitherto unexplored by any traveler.
A Woman of the Azande People

"Miani penetrated the country of the Azande natives, and kidnapped two of their people. I happened to be in Cairo at the time of their arrival. They were sent there after Miani's death, and were subsequently forwarded by the Khedive, Ismail, to the King of Italy, the sovereign of the dead explorer. They were adult men, but little more than four feet in height. A Dinka who accompanied them said he had been in the country of the Azande natives, and very few of the inhabitants were taller than the ones we were examining.

"Above Afuddo, or Miani's Tree," said the Doctor, "the rapids come to an end, and the Nile is navigable to its exit from Lake Albert. There is one place in the rapids where the river is narrowed to a hundred yards, and the water dashes along so furiously as to threaten destruction to any craft that ventures upon it. At certain stages of the river boats may pass with the current, but it is quite impossible to make headway against it.

"The point where the Nile becomes navigable again is in latitude 3° 32' north, near the mouth of the Asua River. It is less than a hundred miles from there to the lake, and the river flows through a beautiful and populous country.

"Suppose the Sudan railway was finished, and in operation from Wady Halfa to Khartoum, see how easily we could open navigation into the heart of Africa," said the Doctor, rising as he spoke, and pointing toward the south.

"From Khartoum to Gondokoro the Nile is navigable, as we have just demonstrated by making the journey on a steamboat. A railway of a hundred and twenty miles, from Gondokoro to Afuddo, would bring us to the point where the Nile is navigable to Lake Albert, and another railway, of less than a hundred miles, would connect Lake Victoria with the Albert N'panza. Thus the interior of Africa could be opened up to travel and commerce by steam by the construction of two hundred and odd miles of railway, in addition to the Sudan line.
Entrance of the Lake

"But we haven't the railway along with us at present," he remarked as he resumed his chair, "and must put up with the means at our command. They are primitive in their character, but others have managed with them, and so can we."

Frank asked how their baggage would be carried from Gondokoro, as they would not be able to follow the river, on account of the rapids.

"We must have it carried by men," the Doctor answered, "and here will begin our experience with African porters."

"They have camels and elephants in abundance in Africa," said Fred, "and it seems strange that they rely upon human muscle for transporting their burdens. When camels are so abundant lower down, I wonder they don't have them here. Besides, we are in the land where the elephant runs wild in the woods, and is never domesticated, as he is in Asia. Is there any reason why they shouldn't use him?"

"The African elephant is much fiercer than the Asiatic," was the reply, "but there is no good reason why he should not be tamed and used like his brother in Hindustan. African elephants were domesticated in ancient times, and even in the present century they have taken into to captivity. The famous 'Jumbo,' which has been the delight of children in England and America, is an African elephant, and he was captured when very young. You can readily know an African elephant from an Asiatic one by his ears; they are at least three times as large, and the lower point reaches to his leg. On a large elephant of the African variety the ear will be five feet long by four in width. In South Africa it is sometimes used as a sledge, and serves its purpose admirably."
Azande Warriors

The conversation was interrupted by Abdul, who came to announce a herd of elephants coming down to the river, a little above the town. They had evidently been disturbed by the natives, and were endeavoring to find a place of safety.

Doctor Bronson seized his elephant rifle, which had only been unpacked the day before, and started without a moment's delay. Abdul followed with the ammunition case, and the two boys accompanied the Doctor.

Outside the camp they were passed by Colonel Abd-el-Kader on horseback, on his way to take a shot at the huge game. The colonel dashed on ahead of them, and was at the bank of the river when they were little more than half the distance.

The soldiers came running from the camp, and the elephants took the alarm and tried to turn on their tracks; but they found themselves surrounded and their retreat cut off. Their only way of escape was by swimming the river to an island about a hundred and forty yards away. They were all fine old elephants, and each one a "tusker," so that they would be valuable prizes to their captors.

Following their leader, they dashed into the water before either of the hunters was within shooting distance. The colonel dismounted from his horse just as the last of the herd entered the river. The elephant swims so low that no vulnerable part of him is exposed, and therefore the hunters could only stand and wait until the frightened animals had reached the opposite bank.

Fortune was against the elephants, as the bank was so steep that they could not climb it, but were obliged to break it away by digging with their tusks and feet. They are accustomed to this sort of thing, and in a little while had broken away great masses of the earth and formed a sloping ascent up which they could climb. The delay gave the colonel and Doctor Bronson a chance to get their weapons in readiness, and as the first of the elephants emerged from the river the colonel took a shot at him.

The bullet took effect in the animal's head, causing him to turn partly around and expose his side to the Doctor. The latter took instant advantage of the position and fired. The elephant fell into the water and floated down the stream.
Elephant Coming to Drink

The second elephant that climbed the bank was served in the same way, but it took five bullets to bring him down instead of two. The distance was too far for good work, and the third elephant escaped without serious injury, as he did not present a good mark. The colonel's rifle became unserviceable on account of the sticking of a cartridge; the Doctor found his shoulder considerably bruised by the recoil, and concluded that two elephants were quite enough for one morning's work. However, he tried another shot at the third elephant, and by this time the herd had broken the bank sufficiently to allow them to mount the land and make their best paces for the woods.

Frank asked the Doctor why he did not keep on firing until the last of the herd had gone.

"Well," replied that gentleman, "an elephant rifle is no toy to handle, and two or three shots in rapid succession are about as much as one desires. Sir Samuel Baker had a similar experience with a herd of elephants, and was quite satisfied with a couple of prizes. He says that his rifle was sure to kill an elephant when fired at short range, and half kill the man that held it. Once his rifle was thrown out of his hands a distance of several yards by the force of the recoil, and an Arab hunter who tried to use it had his collarbone broken by the blow."

The attention of the party was now turned to securing the carcasses of the elephants. They were floating down the stream with the current, and men were sent with ropes and boats to bring them to land. This was not a work of great difficulty, though it required much expenditure of muscle, as the bodies were large and unwieldy. The body of the elephant floats on the water, while that of the hippopotamus sinks as soon as it is killed; but it rises again in a few hours, when the gases within have distended the stomach.

Crowds of natives had flocked to the river and witnessed the hunt, and they lent ready hands to the soldiers to secure the prizes. They are very fond of the flesh of the elephant, and the work of the morning gave them sure promise of an abundant feast.
Elephants Hunted in the Water

"We will have an African dinner such as you have never tasted," the Doctor remarked as they returned from the hunt.

"What is that?" one of the youths asked.

"We will have an elephant's foot roasted, à la Afrique." was the reply. "As soon as the cook is ready you may see how it is prepared."

The tusks of the elephants were secured, and also the feet. Colonel Abd-el-Kader offered two of the tusks to Doctor Bronson as his share of the proceeds of the chase, but the latter politely declined them, and said he and the boys would be content with three of the smaller teeth, which they could keep as souvenirs. The soldiers took as much of the red flesh of the animals as they desired for their cooking pots, and then left the rest for the natives. The colonel took one of the feet, the Doctor another, and the others were given to the officers of the garrison. The Doctor explained to the boys that the foot of the elephant is considered the finest part of the animal, and regarded as a great delicacy by all African epicures.

The boys went with Abdul to witness the preparations for cooking their dinner. Herewith we give the account which Frank made of the performance:

"A hole was dug about three feet deep; over this they kindled a fire of reeds and bushes, and kept it burning at a great rate for two hours or more. By this time the hole was full of hot ashes and embers, and the ground around it was heated to a high degree. Then the foot of the elephant was thrown into the hole and some of the ashes were raked over it; another fire was kindled above it, and was kept up for two or three hours longer.

"All through the afternoon there was a mass of hot embers and ashes around and over that elephant's foot, which did as good work as the best oven ever invented. Dinner was served about five o'clock, and came smoking hot to the table. The coals and ashes were raked away, and the new style of roast joint was found to be cooked to perfection. The skin was removed by chopping with a hatchet, and revealed something resembling the interior of a game pie, but not so dark in color. The muscles of the foot had a gelatinous character, and the action of the heat had cooked them to a condition of tenderness which made them very toothsome.
The Navigable Nile Above the Last Cataracts

"There is no civilized dish to which we can compare it, and therefore we must adopt Fred's suggestion, to let the elephant's foot stand alone. We had some doubts at first, but have none at present; our appetites are appeased, and when we next secure an elephant in our hunting excursions we shall dine on his feet."

Over the dinner table the consideration of the route to the south was resumed.

"The colonel tells me," said Doctor Bronson, "that a detachment of soldiers is about to leave Gondokoro for Foueira, on the banks of the Victoria Nile. We can go with it to that point, or we can stop at Afuddo, where there is a station, garrisoned by a company of soldiers, under command of a captain. You remember that when Baker Pacha came with his expedition he brought a steamer in sections, which he intended for the navigation of Lake Albert.

"Owing to the impossibility of securing the necessary carriers Baker was unable to transport his steamer to Afuddo, and returned without accomplishing this part of his mission. But his successor, Colonel Gordon (Gordon Pacha), had better luck, and early in 1876 the steamer and two iron lifeboats were launched on the waters of the White Nile above the last rapids. On the 8th of March of that year Mr. Gessi, one of Gordon's officers, started with the steamer and the two iron boats and ascended to the lake.

"The boat was named the Khedive, in honor of the ruler of Egypt. It was a craft of one hundred and eight tons and twenty horse power, and will ever be memorable as the first steam-propelled vessel on the lakes of Central Africa.

"With these boats Mr. Gessi explored the lake, which he reported about one hundred and forty miles long by fifty in width, containing numerous islands, and bounded by magnificent forests. It is shallow on the southern shore, where the country is flat, but on the west the land is mountainous and the water deep. The little fleet went to Magungo, on the eastern shore, where the Victoria Nile empties into the lake, twenty-two miles below Murchison Falls. Afterward the steamer ascended the river to the foot of the falls, finding plenty of water and easy navigation. The flag of Egypt was hoisted at Magungo, and the country was occupied in the name of the Khedive.
Saddle Donkeys

"Now," the Doctor continued, "the fleet of Mr. Gessi is at the mouth of the Asua River, or rather at Afuddo, and the colonel says it is at our service, provided we pay the expenses of running the steamer. We can go with the detachment of troops that I have mentioned, and they will be necessary to protect us through the hostile country which lies between Gondokoro and Afuddo. But at that place we will not need its care any longer, as the natives are friendly, though it will be well for us to retain a small escort, to guard against accidents. He will arrange for the escort, and there is no doubt that the captain of the post at Afuddo will give us all the aid we need.

"There is one disadvantage in going with the detachment instead of venturing out alone: carriers are not easily procured in large numbers. We shall want at least a hundred for ourselves and our baggage, while the detachment of soldiers will need at least twice that number. Three hundred men are not always to be had by calling for them, while a single hundred might be easily procured. I told you before we left Cairo that the carrier question was the most troublesome one for an African explorer, and you must make your minds up to be patient and submit cheerfully to delays, if they must and will come."

Both the youths agreed that they would emulate the example of Job and refrain from grumbling, however great the provocation. With this understanding the party broke up, and its members were soon in bed. It was the fashion to retire early in Gondokoro, so as to be up with the first blush of morning and enjoy the cool hours of the day.

The colonel sent out men to hire carriers, but there were few to be had. It looked as though the travelers might be indefinitely delayed at the outset; and just as they were beginning to feel uneasy a caravan arrived from Foueira, with four hundred porters, bringing loads of ivory and other interior products.
Marching Through the Bari Country

Here was a piece of good fortune! The porters were not wanted any longer by their employers, and it took only a short time to arrange for them to carry the baggage of the entire party to Afuddo and Foueira, after they had been allowed a couple of days to be paid off and to rest from their fatigues. The time was spent in getting the loads in readiness, and on the morning of the third day the long and mixed procession started on its way.

About half the soldiers were in advance, and the rest brought up the rear. Between them, and stretching over a long distance, was the line of porters with their loads, the commander of the detachment on horseback, and our three friends similarly mounted. The three horses had been bought at a high price by the Doctor, who had also secured as many donkeys. It was decided that the latter would make acceptable mounts in case of accident to the larger animals, and in the mean time they could be ridden by Abdul and Ali, or made useful for carrying baggage.

The families of the soldiers made quite a crowd by themselves. It is the custom of the soldier in Africa to be accompanied by his wife, except on the most difficult marches; and though the European officers in the Khedive's service have protested repeatedly, they have never been able to break it up. Altogether the procession extended a mile or more, and appeared powerful enough to take care of itself against any ordinary enemy.

An important part of the procession was a drove of cattle. Frank called it the purse of the expedition, as the animals were intended to be used in payment of the services of the porters, as well as for supplying beef on the road. As before stated, they are the circulating medium in certain parts of Africa, and when frightened and at full speed they circulate with great rapidity. They have the faculty of disappearing as easily as the banknotes and coins of more civilized countries, and, like them, may be regarded as blessings that brighten as they take their flight.

The cattle gave some trouble to their drivers, and not infrequently broke up the line of march by dashing across it and scattering the travelers in all directions. The horns of the beasts were not pleasant objects to contemplate, especially at the moments when there was a prospect of being impaled on them.
Camp Scene

The country became quite rough as the column advanced, and in a few hours after their departure from Gondokoro the travelers found themselves among mountains two or three thousand feet high. Frequently they came to ravines, and it was in these places that delays were caused by the cattle, as they could not be driven rapidly. The camp was made after a march of about ten miles. The tents were pitched under some wide-spreading trees, and Frank remarked what a pity it was the trees could not be induced to march along with them, for the grateful shelter they would afford against the heat of the sun at noon.

The natives had hovered in the vicinity of the line of march in order to secure any one of the herd of cattle that might stray from its keepers. But no such good fortune befell them, as the herd preserved its integrity during the entire day, and was driven to the temporary zeriba for protection during the night.

According to the custom of African travelers all the baggage was piled in front of the tents of the owners, and the boxes and bales were carefully counted before the porters were dismissed. This is an important requirement, and the traveler who neglects it even for a single occasion is liable to be the victim of plunder. The boxes containing the rifles, ammunition, and the most precious articles should be housed within the tents, and only the ordinary freight left outside. Even there a guard is always placed over it, and the greatest watchfulness is constantly needed.

    The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 9: An Elephant Hunt. Marching Southward from Gondokoro.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Rapids: Rough sections of a river or stream which is difficult to navigate due to the swift and turbulent motion of the water.
Sledge: A heavy, long handled hammer used to drive stakes.
Epicure: A person who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink.
Toothsome: Having a pleasing texture when bitten.
Foueira: A remote military outpost in the Sudan area.
Ravine: A deep narrow valley or gorge in the earth's surface worn by running water.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the setting in modern times: See a modern boat tour of the Nile River in Uganda.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the following on the map of Africa:

  • The countries of Sudan and South Sudan.
  • The Nile River, the White Nile, and the Blue Nile.
  • Name the countries bordering South Sudan.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.