Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson
IT'S A WARM March night in the East African Protectorate in 1898, the smooth, black air around the compound of Indian workmen soft with the promise of the coming rainy season. If there were more of a moon, the half-completed skeleton of the Tsavo Bridge would jut darkly some hundreds of yards away from the field of tents, which loom like strange, pointed khaki mushrooms clustered loosely about the dying eyes of scores of untended campfires. It has been a hard day of work for the more than 2,000 imported laborers, and now, at midnight, nearly all are asleep.
One tent, much like the rest, contains seven men: six laborers and one supervisor, Jemadar Ungan Singh, whose title denotes a rank of lieutenant in the Indian Army. He is nearest the open fly of the tent, snoring enough to awaken one of the coolies of his team. Irritated, the man sits up and rubs his eyes, glancing about the murk, over the sleeping forms of his fellows and out the door into the shadowy expanse of the open compound. Wiping away a film of sweat from the close night, he is about to lie back. One does not complain about the snoring of a superior, let alone a jemadar. But something catches his eye, something darker than the pale shadows, creeping slowly toward the open tent. He blinks as fear hooks his stomach with long claws, his eyes growing wider. In rising terror he stares as the form ghosts nearer, a tawny wraith flattened against the ground. It pauses for a heartbeat at the door, then instantly lunges at the sleeping Ungan Singh. Thick white fangs audibly clash against each other as they meet through the flesh of the Jemadar's neck, yet he manages to give a strangled shout of "Choro!"--"Let go!"--before, with an irresistible lurch, he is pulled from the tent. At the last instant he is seen to wrap hisarm around the giant lion's neck as he disappears into the night.
Ungan Singh does not die easily. Helpless in the lion's jaws, he is dragged struggling through the thorns, futilely flailing the man-eater with his fists. It's likely that the jemadar's unusual personal size and strength give the Sikh quite a few extra moments of unwelcome life as the cat continues to pull and carry him away from the growing clamor of shouts from the camp. The men back in the tent can clearly hear his repeated gargled attempts to scream, and the sounds of his struggle are terrible. After a hundred yards, fate shows some dark mercy in the shape of another huge lion, which charges forward and bites him deeply in the chest, killing the Indian. Irritated by the poor table manners of his partner, the first lion growls loudly, struggling to keep hold of his prey, tugging with all the steel-muscled power of his 500-pound body. As the long fangs tear and the pressure is increased, the man's head is torn completely off, rolling away to land, by chance, balanced on the stump of neck, the eyes still open wide and staring, dead pools of dread. Ignoring the head, the big cat snarls and leaps to grasp the decapitated corpse, fighting briefly with the second lion before both settle down to feed hungrily until the body is consumed but for scattered red scraps of flesh and a few bones. The Tsavo Man-eaters have just killed their third official victim, although quite probably Ungan Singh is actually number ten or eleven. This, however, is just a warm-up, a canape before the main course. Over the next nine months these two incredibly deadly animals will actually stall the largest colonial power in the world, that of Victorian Britain, bringing one of its most important construction projects to a complete halt and one of its less likely citizens to the status of an international hero.
It was known at home, back in Blighty, as the "Lunatic Line," so dubbed by the London press and generally considered the screwiest exploit of an age not shy of sensationalism. Technically and officially called the Mombasa-Victoria-Uganda Railway, it was planned to run fromdamn near nowhere, the sweltering east coast port of Mombasa, to virtually the middle of nowhere, which in those days was a pretty fair description of Lake Victoria. On the face of it, especially in the light of today's technology, such an undertaking might not seem very unusual. But in the 1890s, things were a mite different. Most work was done by great gangs of hand labor over some of the toughest terrain south of Abyssinia. If the cost in pounds sterling was virtually obscene, it was downright cheap compared to the price in lives paid by the hordes of Indian coolies whose imported skills and experience were required as the only labor pool before the local Wajamousi, WaKikuyu and Masai started going to Yale and Oxford. Of the more than 35,000 Indians imported, nearly 9,000 were killed, died or were permanently maimed. More than 25,000 additional laborers of the same force were injured or taken ill, but recovered. The dark, coy virgin called Africa had a very hard bosom.
In itself, the "Lunatic Line" was a master stroke of nineteenth-century engineering and execution. Started at the coast in 1896, it was not completed until December 19, 1901. Ostensibly, it was created to help combat the slave trade, although the commercial advantages of a wilderness railroad running deep into the heart of Africa's lake country are also obvious. In all, it twisted snakelike for 580 miles through the most indescribable nyika, or wilderness, northeast from Mombasa, across plains and over highlands, spanning rivers and gorges, passing through exotic stops such as Voi, Nairobi and the lakes of Naivasha, ending at last at Kisumu on Lake Victoria. To carve and burrow the "Lunatic Line" through the swamps and highlands by hand labor was an awful undertaking, but, despite the price, it struggled inexorably farther inland every day, foot by foot, rail by rail, mile by murderous mile until, in March of 1898, it touched the Tsavo River, 132 miles up the line. But of the 162 bridges that would have to be built, none would ever bear a name so synonymous with terror and abject human misery as Tsavo.
It doesn't look like much if you care to climb the steepN'dungu escarpment and gaze over the savage wasteland below. Your vista is a rock-studded desert of pale, leafless thorn and snaggled wait-a-bit bushes making a lousy living from the thick red soil, the only hint of green life the winding crest of feathery hardwoods along the river. Over there, away to the south where the frosty glow of Kilimanjaro's snows catches the equatorial sun in the distance, you will still see the bridge across the twinkle of cool running water and the glitter of smooth-worn iron flashing off into the bush. The old rails and weather-beaten bridge certainly don't appear very imposing now, hardly worth the horror their building caused. But there was a time when these few square miles were the center of the greatest animal ring of terror in all of Africa.
Obviously, where a railway meets a river, there must be a bridge. The man whose responsibility it became to see the project through turned out to be a Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson, some years later adding the Distinguished Service Order to his monicker. He arrived at Tsavo from Mombasa on March 1, 1898, blissfully oblivious to the lurking panic about to descend upon the site over the next nine months. Although he later wrote a smashing best-seller about his misadventures with the Tsavo Man-eaters, published by Macmillan in 1907, J. H. was very casual about his own life and career, to the extent that it took me several months to determine what his initials stood for.
An Englishman raised in India who spoke fluent Hindustani, he looks from contemporary photographs to have been somewhere in his thirties at the time of the man-eating outbreak; a perfect pukka Sahib in white pith helmet, jodphurs and riding boots, slenderly built and with a most proper mustache. His style of writing, bearing in mind that he was an engineer by trade and not a journalist, is classically Victorian, often charmingly stilted. It's hard to find two paragraphs in a row that don't have some reference to the lions as "the savage brutes." Yet, with the story he had to tell from what was frequently on an uncomfortably first-hand basis, he could hardly have written less than a best-seller.
Considering the importance of the Tsavo Bridge and the necessity of its completion within weather-dictated schedules, _Patterson must have been a well-qualified engineer to have been placed in charge of the whole project. Also, from the way in which he attempted to handle the man-eaters, it's almost certain that he had hunted tiger or leopard while in India, as did most British officers when there. In 1909, well after the events of Tsavo, he wrote another book called In the Grip of the Nyika (also Macmillan), which deals with some reminiscences of the Tsavo episode as well as hunting experiences of a later trip to East Africa, during which he killed a new species of eland, that continent's largest antelope. It still bears his name as Patterson's Eland. The point is that he was not inexperienced in big-game hunting, although the difficulties he was to have in trying to kill the lions and the number of times he very nearly became a blue-plate special on their menu seem to indicate he was not possessed of any uncanny skill at the hunting arts besides great persistence.
So much for the times and the man. What about the lions?
If we want to second-guess more than eighty years after the events, the Man-eaters of Tsavo were probably rank amateurs, only learning the specialized skill of hunting and killing man through trial and error. The whole area along the track as it passed through southeast Kenya had long been notorious for man-eaters before anybody dreamed of building a railroad there, so their depredations were certainly not without precedent, or later sequel. It would be impossible to surmise what the total number of victims of the Tsavo Man-eaters aggregated; however, they were mature animals when they began giving the railroad problems, and the fact that their den was found, sometime after their deaths, littered with human remains from Africans would indicate that they may have been responsible for nearly one hundred killings. Because outbreaks of man-eating often follow war, plague or slaving caravans, all of which litter the bush with dead bodies, there is no reason to believe that these particular man-eaters did not begin their career byfeeding on the coolies dead of disease or injury, who were not buried as ordered but dumped in the heavy bush along the right-of-way. This practice would be the same as teaching lions to eat people and seems to have done precisely this. If a lion happens to eat people and seems to have a healthy streak of free enterprise, he learns quickly that man-eating for fun and profit isn't as easy as it looks. To develop a really first-class reputation takes patience and perseverance; one inherent occupational hazard being that the prey has a disturbing tendency to throw spears and shoot once a good shopping route has been established. However, if he works hard, sacrifices, learns from his mistakes and really pays attention, he may become the subject of a best-selling book, provided he doesn't actually eat the author in his enthusiasm.
When Patterson arrived by train at Tsavo, then the end of the line, he found between 2,000 and 3,000 coolies ganged at the railhead, ready to start work. From the record, it seems that the lions got there about the same time and began the festivities quietly and fumblingly at first, but clearly recognizing the setup as a literally movable feast. The railroad laborers still had no idea of the peril to which they were now exposed.
Within his first few days there, Patterson had been told that two men had been carried off by man-eaters, but, since both were known to be excellent workmen and to have accumulated decent savings, he decided that they had much more likely been murdered for their money. Since such skullduggery was common, he gave the matter little more thought. He didn't know it then, but he was soon to begin thinking of nothing but the lions.
An embarrassed blush of dawn was creeping through the bush when Patterson was shaken awake and told of the snatching of Ungan Singh. Taking another officer who happened to be at the railroad, a Captain Haslem (who shortly thereafter was murdered by the Kikuyu and his body savagely mutilated), the two men found the pug marks of the killer lion with no difficulty in the sand and followedthem bloodily to the point where the second lion had entered, stage right. A few more yards and they were feeling fortunate not to have had breakfast. I can personally assure you that what is left of a human being after a pair of man-eaters have done their act would give a garbage grinder the gags. The presence of the Jemadar's head, untouched but for the ragged stump of neck, the open eyes staring at them with a horrified expression, was a touch that undid them both to the core, even though, with Indian service, they would not have been naive to the more unsettling aspects of violent death. With a few coolies, they gathered up the chewed bones and overlooked scraps of the lieutenant and buried them under a cairn of rocks, carrying the surprisingly heavy head back to camp for identification by the medical officer. Realizing the degree of potential disaster the lions represented to the project as well as to the personnel, the shaken Patterson swore to "rid the neighborhood of the brutes." This was to be one hell of a lot more easily vowed than accomplished.
This same evening marked the beginning of one of the most incredible extended episodes ever to occur between man and beast as adversaries. Patterson, with few options open, climbed a tree near the tent where the Jemadar had been taken and began a vigil, waiting for the killer to return to the place where he had last found food. After several uncomfortable hours, in company of his .303 service rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with one barrel of slug and the other ball, he heard the lions begin to roar some distance away, the blood-chilling thunder slowly coming closer and closer. If there's anything more courage-draining than listening to a pair of man-eaters advertising as they close on your position, then it is the sudden stop of the roaring, leaving you no idea of their location, although their silence means they have begun to hunt. Minutes crawled to a half hour as Patterson stared with aching, unseeing eyes into the darkness, body screaming from the torture of the hard tree-limb perch. Silence. Not even a murmur came from the terrified men below in their closed tents. Then, from half a mile away, unearthly screams and shouts razored the nightas the man-eaters broke into another tent in a different section of the railhead camp and dragged off a laborer. Frustration welling up, Patterson realized that there was nothing to be done but wait until dawn to investigate. Surely, there would be no sign of the lions around this area tonight, now that they had made a kill. Disgusted and discouraged, he climbed back down and returned to his tent, which he was sharing with Dr. Rose, a medical officer.
Considering that a man had been killed close by the night before and another just taken within a half mile an hour ago, Patterson doesn't precisely tend to stun one with his smarts. His own tent was light canvas, as lion-proof as damp tissue paper, pitched in the open without any sort of barrier, an easy mark for even a dim-witted simba. In the wee hours, both Patterson and Dr. Rose were awakened by something stumbling over the tent ropes. With an even greater display of folly, they went outside with a lantern, but they saw nothing and returned to bed. The next morning revealed that it had indeed been one of the lions who had stopped by for a late snack, probably changing his mind about attacking when confused by getting tangled up in the ropes. Patterson got the hint and moved to quarters in a hut surrounded by a then-presumed-safe thorn enclosure with a fire burning all night, his roommate another medical officer named Dr. Brock.
The next evening, Patterson decided to try his luck again at the tent where the last coolie had been nailed. As he would find later, he took quite a chance walking the half mile to the place in the dark, followed by a man carrying a lantern and another leading a goat, which he tied to the base of his tree in hope of the lions getting bored with their steady diet of coolie laborer. As further experience proved, light or fire was of absolutely no effect as a deterrent to the man-eaters' attacks; they seemed to regard even a bonfire as a rather romantic touch of candlelight to a good dinner. Patterson Sahib, however, lucked out, and he and his men made the trip without any surprises with big teeth. Soon he was up the chosen tree, praying for a shot at his savage brutes. As the evening wore on, the rainy season chanced tobegin, and the colonel had to sit through a chilling, steady drizzle until midnight, when, as if the lions had made a reservation, the usual terrified uproar of Indians sounded from yet another camp. Guess who had come to dinner?
At this point, let's take a harder look at the layout of the large camp and the pattern of the lion attacks. The bridge was, at the time, the end of the track, or railhead camp, so most of the personnel were concentrated over about a square mile around it, on the far side of the river. Patterson reckoned them at about 3,000, spread out into some eight subcamps. Since the lions had never been hunted before, the uncanny way in which they always managed to strike a camp while Patterson was waiting in another can only be attributed to luck rather than cunning. Unfortunately, as they were able to avoid the armed man for months on end, they quickly achieved the reputation of supernatural "demons" or devils in the minds of the Indians. This, of course, was at first considered by Patterson and his cohorts as ignorance typical of the coolie laborer. But, after a while, even the colonel had to be wondering deep in the back of his mind.
The early "learning" period of the Tsavo lions is in itself a fascinating exercise in animal behavior and psychology. For much of this pattern-forming stage, only one lion would do the actual stalking and, normally, killing, while the second would wait for him in the nearby cover and join him in feeding. Later on, as their confidence and skill grew, they hunted together, showing a complete disdain for the densest, highest barriers, loud noise, rifle fire, campfires and anything else meant to keep them at bay, literally killing any time and place they damned well felt like and eating their prey casually in a sleet of bullets without ever being touched. No wonder the Hindus had them pegged as spooks! Yet, while they were still beginners, the Tsavo Man-eaters were far from invincible and pulled a series of boneheaded stunts that, viewed from the distance of years, actually seem humorous, at least in a graveyard sense.
One night, when Patterson was undoubtedly numbing his bum on some tree branch, waiting for a shot or sitting over a half-eaten body, the killer lion came across a bunniah, orIndian trader, who was riding his donkey in apparent ignorance of the lions' presence at Tsavo. As he picked his way along a black path, the lion sprang at him, knocking both the man and the donkey flat. The donkey was very badly hurt, and the lion, who clearly was not in the mood for a piece of--uumm, err--donkey, jumped again at the Indian. As he did, his claws somehow got tangled up in the rope by which a pair of oilcans were hung around the donkey's neck. The metallic commotion these caused as he dragged them behind upset him enough to break off the attack and retire, clattering into the bush. The trader spent the rest of what had to be a very long night up a tree and was rescued the following morning. The ass died.
A few nights after this episode, a Greek contractor by name of Themistocles Pappadimitrini was sleeping in his hut when the lion broke in. Not yet having this people-grabbing thing down to a science, the lion must have been overexcited at the prospect of a change from coolie because, he sank his fangs into the mattress on which the Greek was lying and, with presumed triumph, carried it off into the night. I wish I could have heard the comments in Lionese when he and his pal tried to eat it!
There's an interesting aside on Pappadimitrini worth mentioning here, if only to show that when the bell tolls, brother, there's no place to hide. Certainly, he considered himself lucky beyond belief that night; in point of fact, it might have gone easier with him had the lion killed him in light of his fate shortly thereafter. He went down to Mt. Kilima N'jaro--that big frosty lump that we call Kilimanjaro--to buy some cattle and on his way back decided to take a shortcut cross-country to the rail line. His water ran out, and he died the terrible, lingering death of thirst. If Africa doesn't get you one way, it will another.
As is so frequently the attitude of African natives, it was also the case with the Indian laborers that they, while the railhead camp was still at Tsavo, were not especially frightened or apprehensive about being the lions' next victims. The attitude reported by Patterson was apparently based upon the odds being slim, with so many men around tochoose from, of getting converted into a sand-box deposit. Whatever, man-eaters or not, the weeks passed into a month, and the temporary works for crossing the Tsavo River were completed, enabling the laying of track on the far side. The main labor force moved with the track, farther and farther from Tsavo, leaving only a few hundred workers with Patterson and his medical staff to finish the permanent bridge. All this greatly changed the dynamics of the situation.
Up to this time, Patterson had dutifully and unsuccessfully hunted the lions, using every tactic he could think of; waiting up all night, even resorting to suicidal daylight forays into the unimaginably thick thorn nyika on both sides of the tracks for miles. This was really a very brave gesture, if futile, as he knew only too well that all the odds were with the lions seeing or hearing the hunter first and perhaps having an early dinner that particular day. Unfortunately--or perhaps fortunately--he saw nothing despite his efforts, and, even after dark, the lions continued to kill and eat people just about everywhere the colonel wasn't, with the demoralizing habit of hitting north if he was south, east if he was waiting west. Even so, if matters had been maddening previously with a widespread camp, they reached full-blown panic when the main labor force moved up the line, and the Indians assigned to work on the permanent bridge realized that the chances of being chopped had increased tenfold.
Patterson Sahib must have been quite persuasive with the remainder to get them to stay, even though now clustered in one camp to the presumed shopping convenience of the lions. Only by permitting the men to knock off all work to build towering, thick bomas--ferociously spiked high fences of thorn--around every group of tents and huts would they even consider staying on. The results of this measure illustrate well what many of us professional hunters and game officers have found out over the years since Patterson's Peril--that it is for all practical purposes impossible to build a boma, or zareba, as it's called in up-country Kenya, high and strong enough to keep out a determined man-eating lion. I know it doesn't make much sense, but, as Patterson was todiscover, lions, even with their relatively thin skins and sensitive paws, have some Houdini-like method of penetrating incredibly thick and dense thorn barriers soundlessly with little more than a few scratches. Adding insult, they then normally pull their kill back through the barrier on the way out. In all the man-killings at Tsavo, only once was a body left stuck in the thorns, the cat apparently unable to force his way out with the corpse. Even when the bomas were built, despite all-night fires and the constant clatter of a bunch of empty oil tins being rattled steadily by the night watchman, men continued to be taken from their tents almost every night. One terrified Indian was dragged from a goods wagon, a type of freight car, with another man trying to hold onto his legs until sheer force tore him loose. He was eaten within grisly hearing of the other laborers in the wagon. Another night, five Sikh carpenters had built a platform upon which to pitch their tent in the very erroneous belief that the eight-foot height would place them out of reach. How they decided on this distance from the ground is unfathomable, as a lion can easily reach twelve feet into the air without even jumping. Questioned as to the safety of their perch by Patterson, they assured him that God would protect them.
Maybe they were right. A few nights after the platform was built, one of the man-eaters stalked it and easily jumped up to the opening. To the Indians' great good luck, or perhaps some overtime on God's part, the lion threw his full weight onto the end of a ladder protruding from the entrance, used to climb up to the tent. It tipped like a teeterboard under his great bulk, tore through the top of the tent and swatted him a solid thump on the head as it came down. The cat ran off into the night, although the raised tent suddenly lost popularity, God Almighty or not.
Near the main campground stood the hospital compound tent of the departed main force, left behind under the care of the bridge builders. Surrounded as it was by a very heavy and high boma presumed to be lion-proof, it was somewhat isolated. It was here, early one evening, that a hospital assistant heard a small noise and opened his adjoining tentfront to see what it was. To his understandable horror, a tremendous lion was standing a few yards away, looking right at him. As he froze, paralyzed with fear, the lion started to spring at him, which shook him out of his stupor and sent him reeling into a box of glass medical supplies. This fell with a shattering crash and startled the cat, which ran off to another part of the compound and immediately jumped onto and through the walls of a tent containing eight sick and injured Indians. Two of them were badly lacerated by claw wounds, a third killed on the spot and pulled through the ice-pick thorn boma, probably looking like a sack of bloody cole slaw from the spikes when he reached the other side. The two wounded coolies lay where they fell all night long under a piece of torn canvas, which must have been something less than a dull experience.
Not illogically, Patterson ordered the survivors moved to a new hospital closer to the main camp and had an even heavier enclosure built around it. All the patients were "safe" inside before nightfall. I find it interesting that John Henry had gotten the idea from somebody that lions tend to visit recently abandoned camps and, therefore, decided to sit up all night in the vacated hospital where the lions had struck the night before. Armed to the molars, he was halfway through the night when--what else?--the new hospital exploded into a high babble of terrified human voices. The lions had won the deadly shell game again.
Smart enough by this time to stay put for the rest of the night, he hurried over to the new hospital at daylight. This latest onslaught of the lions had been a real humdinger, the events of which were witnessed in the big circle of firelight by some other Indian patients. A water carrier had been lying asleep with his head toward the center of the tent, his feet radiating outward until they almost touched the canvas wall. Somehow, the more enthusiastic of the lions had actually jumped over the high boma and managed to get his head under the edge of the tent wall. He grabbed the water carrier's foot in his teeth, tugging on it viciously to pull him out of the tent. Awakening to a real nightmare, the man desperately caught hold of a heavy box in an effort to keepfrom being dragged away, but his grip was broken when the box got hung up at the bottom of the tent. Still fighting for his life, the terrified coolie got his hands on a strong tent rope, which he clutched with insane strength until the lion jerked so hard that the rope broke in the man's hands. Outside now, the lion instantly bit the Indian in the throat, shaking him like a cat with a mouse. With the body gripped across the middle, the man-eater was seen to run up and down the thick hedge until he chose a spot, plunged through and disappeared into the blackness, leaving chunks of the man's flesh and shreds of his clothing all along his passage through the boma.
Patterson and Dr. Brock followed the track after listening to the witnesses, finding that it only ran some 400 yards into the bush. The end of the trail held the inevitable horror, a well-chewed skull and jaws, some larger bones and part of the palm of one hand with a couple of fingers still remaining. Encircling one finger was a silver ring which, along with the teeth, Patterson arranged to have shipped back to the man's widow in India.
Well, what now? What else? Move the hospital again, and build a thicker and higher barrier. This being done and the enclosure finished by dark after much hard work by the men, Patterson and Brock decided their next round of strategy. Still hooked on the notion that lions love to visit deserted camps rather than those filled with nice juicy people, they left a couple of tents standing in the old--one- day old--hospital compound and tied a trio of cows in them for bait, despite the fact that the lions had thus far shown a clear disinterest in anything but human flesh. This night, however, rather than sitting up in a tree or hiding in a tent, the two white men had a goods wagon pulled up on a nearby track siding close to the hospital where they would set their ambush. It would seem that the water carrier must have left them hungry, as the man-eaters were reported all over the place that day, April 23. Four miles from Tsavo Bridge, they had tried to catch a coolie walking along the tracks in bright daylight, but he made it up a tree just in time. He wasrescued, half dead with fright, after being sighted by a passing train some hours later. Then, the lions were reported seen together, right at Tsavo Station, and again, at dusk, actually stalking Dr. Brock as he was on his way back from the hospital to his compound.
It was surprisingly late by the time the two men finished dinner and, with astonishing lack of caution, walked the entire mile through the dark to the goods wagon, getting set up at ten o'clock. The railroad car had a "Dutch" door design, and Patterson and Brock kept their vigil outside the thorn corral with the bottom half of the door closed and the top half open for a shooting port, facing the second abandoned hospital which they could not even see due to the darkness of the night.
A few hours passed with oppressive, stygian silence, the hunters becoming restless. Then, with bone-chilling crispness, a dry stick cracked somewhere outside. Instantly, nobody was bored. A few minutes later, a dull thud could be heard, just the sort of sound a lion would make on landing after jumping over the boma, as he had done the night previously. Even the cattle were stirring nervously but then settled down again. Silence crept back like an invisible fog through the blackness, but it was not the silence of emptiness. Patterson, who was half-mad with frustration for a shot at the killers, suddenly got another one of his bright ideas. He proposed to Brock that the doctor stay there while he got out and lay on the ground below, in hopes of seeing the lion better if he came in their direction with his kill. Brock, fortunately, was still mentally firing on all cylinders and dissuaded Patterson from leaving the shelter of the goods wagon. As they would find out in just a few seconds, it was superb advice, for, at that very instant, at least one of the lions had spotted them and was oozing up for a quick, decisive charge.
What neither man realized, besides the fact that they were now the bait, was that the hospital boma, ordered carefully locked, was in fact wide open! So, while they were expecting the sound of a lion bulling his way out through the wall ofthe fence with a dead cow, in actuality the lion or lions were never inside the enclosure at all but had been prowling around the goods wagon all this time.
As they continued to stare out the top of the door, Patterson suddenly felt a mixed thrill of fear and excitement, fancying he saw something dark edging with lethal stealth toward them. However, his eyes were so strained by prolonged staring that he was afraid to trust them, concerned that if he fired and the blob turned out to be only a shadow or his imagination, any chance to kill the real lions would be missed. Under his breath he asked Brock if he saw it too, but the doctor was careful enough not to answer. Or maybe he never had time.
The silence throbbed on for the space of a few more seconds, and then the dark shape was in the air, launched straight at the open door. "The lion!" Patterson shouted involuntarily as both men fired, blinding themselves with the muzzle flashes, their ears deafened as the twin crash of shots reverberated beneath the sheet-iron roof of the wagon. In the confusion, neither man saw what had become of the lion, which must have sheered away at the shots. For certain, had they not been so alert one or the other would have been killed. As it was, the big cat was long gone, and first light showed that Brock's bullet had struck the sand close by a pug mark, while Patterson's was never found. The bullet had, however, not touched the charmed "demon" lion, as no blood or other damage showed on the spoor. It was back to the old drawing board for Patterson Sahib.
By simple mathematical interpolation, it's a fair guess that the Tsavo Man-eaters may have killed and eaten between thirty and thirty-five railroad personnel between the beginning of March and the twenty-third of April; additionally, there were bound to have been some African victims, which would possibly raise the fatality total to forty. Yet, from Patterson's records of dates and events, it became clear that the ambush that he and Brock had laid in the goods wagon had at least succeeded in throwing a scare into the lions, as they left the Tsavo Bridge area and proceeded up the line tothe advanced railhead, where two men were carried off on successive nights shortly after the twenty-third, and another at a place called Engomani, some ten miles away. The man-eaters liked Engomani, as they hit it twice more the same week, killing and eating one man and tearing up another so badly that he died in a couple of days. Tsavo remained unmolested, for the moment ... .
The weeks trickled past and pooled into months. The coolies at the bridgehead gradually began to lose their fear of the man-eaters, sleeping outside again as if their "demon" lions had never existed. Constant reports reached Patterson of continued terrorization of other places, but the lions had kept their distance from Tsavo since the big surprise back in April. On the other hand, the colonel realized that they could return at any moment and take up where they had left off, and so he decided to have an appropriate reception catered for their homecoming.
Patterson launched himself into the design and construction of an elaborate lion trap. It was really quite a slick affair, made out of available materials of railway ties and sleepers, tram rails, telegraph wire and heavy chain, divided into two compartments. One section was to hold the lion and the other to accommodate the human bait that would have to be used. The idea was to utilize a sliding door in the rear of the trap to admit the men who, once inside, would be completely safe, as the compartment was separated from the front one by a grid of heavy iron rails only three inches apart, their ends deeply embedded in thick wooden sleepers. The front door, which would be open to admit the lion trying to reach the bait in the rear, was a powerful and flexible curtain of short lengths of iron rail, wired to logging chain that hung down on either side of the entrance when in the closed position. A trip release was rigged by means of a spring concealed in the dirt of the floor, which, when touched, triggered a lever holding the folding door open over the trap's mouth. Upon touching the hidden spring, which he would be bound to do, the lion would cause the heavy door to come crashing down and lock into immovableposition by wedging its lower edge between two carefully secured iron rails sunk into the ground of the mouth. Pretty tricky, old Patterson.
The lion trap took a lot of time and ingenuity, one of the biggest headaches being the boring of holes through the many lengths of tough iron rail for the door so that they could be wired into position. Patterson finally solved this by firing hard-nosed bullets from his .303 rifle, the metal-jacketed slugs boring through the iron as neatly as if they were punched by a hydraulic press. When the great creation was at last ready, the colonel prepared the finishing touches by pitching a tent over the whole contraption and building a boma around it strong enough to stall a rhino, save for an entrance in front of the mouth and a removable gap at the rear, which was to be sealed by the human bait pulling a spiky bundle of thorns behind them. Patterson had to put up with a good deal of ribbing by other officers who inspected the unlikely trap, but he persevered, even sleeping in it as bait the first few nights himself. Unfortunately, he attracted nothing more of the man-eating tribe than a horrendous cloud of mosquitoes, which chewed him with nearly all the enthusiasm of the lions. During this period, while the lions were operating elsewhere, Patterson almost gave the impression that he wished they would return to give him another crack at them. Obligingly, they did.
One particularly dark night several months later, the Tsavo Bridgehead was again aroused by the all-too-familiar screams of terror as one of the lions was discovered breaking through the boma of a compound. One thing was immediately apparent: they had gained in boldness and daring to a degree far beyond their previous behavior. On this first night of their return engagement, it was odd that the lions even bothered breaking into a boma; there were many men ripe for the picking, sleeping outside. They must have been overlooked, or the man-eaters had fallen into the habit of finding food inside the thorn enclosures and didn't want to lose their touch. Although the alarm was given and sticks, stones and firebrands thrown at the lion, he remainedundeterred, charging into the panicked coolies and killing one, whom he methodically carried and dragged back through the thorn. Gone now was the nicety of removing the corpses several hundred yards into the night before feeding. As soon as he was clear of the fence, the lion was joined by his companion, and together they completely ate the body within thirty yards of the spot where the victim had been caught. So brazen were they that they paid not the slightest attention to the shots fired at them by a Jemadar, who, at least so far, had enjoyed better luck than the late, lamented Ungan Singh.
Although there was a very little left of the coolie's body, Patterson elected not to bury the scraps, in the desperate hope that the lions would return the next night to the same spot. One can realize his need to take any opportunity, but it would be thought that he would by now understand that these lions did not, at least by pattern, normally return to the same place where they had killed the night before, a fact that had kept them alive so long. As usual, halfway through the long night Patterson heard an uproar in the distance that made it clear the lions had struck a camp two miles away.
By this time, the Man-eaters of Tsavo had become genuine celebrities, rather in the same sense that Jack the Ripper had been; the fact that they had killed more than five times the number of Jack's victims was not hurting their international notoriety. As such, they attracted many fame-seeking outsiders--mostly civil and military officers who came to hunt them--but all met the failure that Patterson had gotten to know so well. How the lions could continue to take a man every night without catching a bullet, even by chance, seemed almost beyond the laws of possibility. The sense of black-hearted frustration Patterson felt is clarified when he speaks of one evening when the lions chose to eat their man-kill within easy hearing of his tent, almost trying to taunt him:
"I could plainly hear them crunching the bones, the sound of their dreadful purring filled the air and rang in my ears for days afterward. The terrible thing was to feel so helpless;it was useless to attempt to go out, as of course the poor fellow was dead, and in addition it was so pitch dark as to make it impossible to see anything."
As Patterson lay impotently listening to the lions feeding, a half-dozen workmen who were living in a small boma near his also heard the gruesome symphony and lost their nerve, pleading to be let into the Sahib's enclosure. Of course, he admitted them, realizing a few minutes later that one of them who had been sick appeared to be missing. Patterson asked what had become of him and discovered that the other men had callously abandoned him, too ill to move, back in their tent. Infuriated, Patterson got up a small rescue team and went out to bring him back. In the light of a lantern, he approached the still-open tent front and looked inside. The poor devil was beyond need of help. Deserted by his friends with the lions within hearing, he had died of fear and shock.
It hardly seems possible, but things began to get even worse. Heretofore, only one lion had been the actual killer while the other kept back, merely joining in the feeding. Not any more. Now both lions began to attack together, each catching its own separate meal. Thus, instead of one man being taken a night, two were now often slaughtered. The more shy lion, who had not been killing until now, was still inexperienced, as is evidenced by the killing of two Swahili porters at the end of November. One was immediately carried off through the thorns and eaten, but the second continued to moan for a long time. When the men finally got up enough courage to investigate, they found him suspended in the boma, the only failure of the lions to escape with a victim through the thick thorn barriers. He was still alive--for all practical purposes crucified--in the morning when Patterson saw him, but he was so horribly mangled by teeth, claws and thorns that he died before he could reach the hospital.
Several nights later, the pair of cats smoothly pulled some poor beggar right out of the middle of the largest camp, which was quite close to the iron hut of a permanent right-of-way inspector. While the victim was being eaten rightoutside the main camp, the inspector, named Dalgairns, fired more than fifty shots at the sound of the feeding lions. They paid not the least attention as bullets whined all around them. Finally finishing the man, they casually got up and wandered off a short distance, probably burping demurely. Patterson met with Dalgairns the next morning, learning that the inspector felt he had hit at least one of the killers, not a very consistent conclusion according to his description of the lions staying where they were under fire. But perhaps there was some chance that Dalgairns had scored; along the spoor was an odd, trailing mark that looked like a broken leg being dragged. After some mighty careful sneaking through the scrub brush, the two men were frozen in their tracks by a sudden growling from a nearby thicket. Rifles ready, they picked their way forward until spotting what Patterson thought was a lion cub crouched in a clump of bush. As they got closer, it turned out to be what was left of the body of the coolie, the legs, one arm and half the body eaten. The stiff fingers of the remaining arm trailing in the sand as the corpse was carried had made the strange drag mark, but by the time this was figured out, the lions had disappeared into the heavy bush beyond, where tracking was impossible.
That did it. If the "demon" theory had had its adherents before, the firing of fifty rounds of ammo without a hit was enough to convince anybody that they were dealing with a lot more than lions. The same day, December 1, 1898, the entire labor force had packed it in and were waiting to speak to Patterson on his return with the shreds of the dead coolie. The meeting didn't last long, the men simply stating that they had come to work for the government, not to be a delicatessen for a couple of devils. That was all, no discussion. They stampeded off to pick up their belongings and stopped the next train by lying down on the tracks. Swarming over the cars for any handhold, they chugged off, and the Tsavo Bridge project was shut down cold for the next three weeks.
Of course, not all the Indians left, and a good deal of courage has to be recognized in those who decided to stickaround, despite the very good chance of becoming a coolie on rye. From Patterson's description, over one hundred laborers stayed, their whole time being spent constructing "lion-proof" shelters practically anywhere out of reach, such as on the tops of water tanks, roofs, girders, trees, anyplace that seemed safe. Some of the men decided to go down rather than up, digging deep pits in the floors of their tents where they would sleep at night with heavy logs pulled over for protection. Some of this got a bit overdone, especially the trees, as some very frightened Indians found out one night. One particular tree was so overloaded with beds lashed on to each substantial branch that it actually toppled over from the weight just as the lions were killing a man beneath it. Coolies were scattered everywhere around and almost on the cats. To their extraordinary good luck, the lions couldn't have cared less, ignoring the panic-stricken men for the one they had already killed.
In the early days of December, the most improbable and incredible incidents of the whole reign of terror occurred, the first of these centering around a district officer by name of Whitehead, who had been asked by Patterson to come up to Tsavo and lend a hand with his lions. Whitehead's note of acceptance advised that he should be expected about dinner time on December 2, his train being due at Tsavo Station at six o'clock. Accordingly, the colonel sent a servant to meet him and help with luggage. No sooner was the man gone on his errand but he was back, shaking with terror, reporting that there was no sign of the train or anybody else, with the notable exception of a tremendous lion standing on the station platform.
At the time, Patterson dismissed the tale as absurd on the basis that everybody was so tense they would imagine even a hyena to be one of the man-eaters. But the next day he found that the servant had been absolutely right, the stationmaster and signalman both having locked themselves in the station when they saw the lion stalking up. The colonel waited dinner for some time, in hopes of the arrival of the district commissioner, but finally decided that, for some reason, Whitehead had postponed his trip until thefollowing day. During his late meal, Patterson heard several shots fired but paid them no mind; gunfire was no rarity in an area of man-eating activity. Finishing his dinner, he proceeded to take his position for the night in a structure he had had built atop an elevated girder, a heavy cage of crossed ties offering a good field of fire. Only a few minutes after he settled down, he was startled to hear the clear and now unmistakable sound of the lions eating a man, crushing bones and purring only about seventy yards away. It made no sense to him; there had been no outcry as was usual when the lions attacked a party of Indians, so he mentally marked the kill down to some native traveler whose luck had run out.
After some minutes of listening to the awful sounds, Patterson wrote that, despite the darkness, he was able to make out the lions' eyes glowing through the blackness. He mentioned no nearby fire or other illumination, so this was clearly an impossibility, although he referred, on several occasions in his two books, to seeing animals' eyes glowing in the dark. Sorry, J.H. No way. Shine is from reflection, and without an outside source of light to be reflected there can be no glow. To be fair, his nerves were in a state that would permit his believing he could see the eyes. In any case, he took careful aim and opened fire. The lions, as usual, ignored him but to move a few yards away, over a slight rise, where they were hidden from the line of fire. Not disturbed further, they leisurely finished the unidentified corpse.
When daylight started to bloom, Patterson climbed stiffly down from his fortress and started toward the place where he had last heard the lions. On the way, he was completely nonplussed to run into none other than his missing guest, District Commissioner Whitehead, who looked as if he'd spent quite an interesting evening. Astonished, Patterson asked where on earth he'd come from and why he hadn't turned up the night before.
"Nice reception you give a fellow when you invite him to dinner," replied Whitehead laconically.
The colonel asked him what he was talking about, and Whitehead allowed that the lions had just about nabbed himthe previous night. Still incredulous, Patterson told him that he must have been dreaming. Without another word, the commissioner turned his back and asked Patterson if what he saw looked like a dream. The engineer shut up at the sight of Whitehead's back--a mass of shredded cloth and clotted blood from four long claw marks that had scored the skin and meat. While having his wounds dressed at Patterson's quarters, Whitehead recounted what had happened in the earlier darkness.
The train had been very late, arriving well after sundown. Whitehead, along with his sergeant of native troops, a man called Abdullah, had elected to walk to Patterson's camp along a track spur which ran through a rise that was cut some four or five feet deep to reduce the grade, leaving a lip of earth on each side. Abdullah walking behind with a lantern, all went well until they were in the middle of the cut when, without warning, a lion sprang off the embankment, smashing Whitehead to the ground and tearing his back with a paw stroke while trying to grip the man. More by good luck than planning, the impact caused Whitehead's carbine to fire, startling the lion enough that it left him and swarmed over the native sergeant. Abdullah had time only to say, "Eh, Bwana, simba," or "Hey, boss, lion," a wonderfully distilled observation. In the same moment, although Whitehead was able to get off another shot from a few yards and miss cleanly, the lion and Abdullah were gone over the embankment. Of course it had been the body of Abdullah that Patterson had heard being eaten while in the fortress, which solved the mystery of the kill, although darkly. Just what Whitehead had been doing since the attack was never recorded, but it's probable he spent the night up a tree. The district commissioner had come about as close to death by lion as you're likely to hear of, but his wounds healed well and without septic complications.
Confirming the African version of it never raining but that it pours, the same day, December 3, reinforcements arrived under a Mr. Farquhar, the superintendent of police, who had in tow some twenty sepoys (native troops of the Indian Army), armed with Martini rifles. Together withPatterson, Whitehead, Farquhar, the sepoys and other sportsmen officers, there was now quite a reasonable army arrayed against the lions. Not only that, the lion trap was given a fine tuning and set with two sepoys, armed to the eyeballs, as bait. We may presume they accepted their assignment with understandable reluctance. Patterson had taken plenty of ribbing from what he calls "wise-acre officers" about the trap, but he finally prevailed to have it at least tried out. With riflemen hanging from every tree and elevated position in sight, darkness fell with a tangible feeling of expectancy. Nothing happened until about nine o'clock, when, with a wild surge of satisfaction, Patterson heard the rumbling clank of the lion trap being sprung, the heavy door falling into place, echoing over the bridgehead. At last, one of the man-eaters was as good as dead.
Hunting big, dangerous game is an excellent method of culturing one's sense of fatalism. People die from the slightest error, while others survive without a scratch the most mind-boggling acts of idiocy. Who knows why? In the Xingu Basin of Brazil, a remote southern Amazon tributary where I was a jaguar hunter years ago, the Indians had developed this philosophy almost into a religion. If we failed to connect with what had looked like virtually a sure kill at the last moment through some quirk of fate, they would merely shrug and observe that "it was not the jaguar's day to die." That was that.
But how could this possibly not be the man-eater's night to die? Look at the facts: He is trapped in a cage strong enough to restrain King Kong and three of his closest associates; two armed men are near enough, although completely protected, actually to touch the lion with the muzzles of their rifles. Even after he is dead, it will take six strong men ten minutes even to free the heavy door from its locking slot with pry bars and drag him out. Ah, friend, but never underestimate Africa, the hoary motherland that spawned and nurtured Murphy's Law.
Strangely, nothing happened at all for the first several minutes, but the night was filled with the frenzy of roarsfrom the lion, who was lashing himself against the bars. Despite their orders to open fire immediately if a lion should enter the trap, the sepoys were huddled in the rear of the bait compartment, paralyzed with terror. After some time, the voice of Superintendent Farquhar reached them, shouting for them to shoot, godammit! Shoot they did. As fast as they could load and fire they blindly opened up with the Martinis, .450 caliber bullets whipping and whining off in every direction but the right one. At complete right angles, Patterson and Whitehead hugged the floor of their wooden shelter as slugs lashed around them and thumped into the ties. Branches fell and dirt blossomed as the score or more shots erupted until an impossible, completely insane thing happened. A bullet blanged into one of the door's rails where it was secured with telegraph wire and cut it, the end of the rail fell free and the lion squeezed out to evaporate into the night. It couldn't have happened. But it did. From a range of inches, with two soldiers firing more than twenty rounds, the lion was merely lightly creased by a ricochet and was freed to kill again. Only in Africa ...
As if Patterson hadn't learned by then, bad luck has a way of rubbing it in. Six days later, on the ninth, after the main party of hunters had left in disgust, he was leaving his boma just after dawn when a screaming Swahili popped up, running toward him, yelling, "Simba! Simba!" and looking back over his shoulder. Patterson stopped him and found out that both lions had tried to nab a man from the camp nearest the river but had missed and killed a donkey instead, which they were at this moment eating a short distance away. The colonel dashed back into his tent for the double-barreled express rifle lent him by Farquhar, in case just such a chance might turn up. Loading it, he prevailed upon the African to return and show him where the lions were dining on the donkey. (They must have been very hungry, as this is the first recorded case of their taking other than human food.) All went just peachy with the stalk, Patterson even able to discern the outline of one of the cats through the heavy bush, but he held his fire for a more open chance. Naturally, the native stepped on a rotten branch, and thelion melted quickly back into heavier cover. Practically hysterical at the idea of missing yet another chance, Patterson ran back to camp to round up a crew of coolie beaters and all the cans, drums and other noisemakers they could lay their hands on.
As quickly as possible, he arranged them around the far side of the thicket the lion had entered, with instructions to give him time to cover the down side of the thicket before starting the beat to drive the lion out. Patterson sneaked back to the other side, finding a termite hill near a well-worn game trail which it seemed reasonable the lion would use. Hiding behind it, he got ready just before the first clatter of metal and blare of horns began. Almost immediately, to his excited joy, a gigantic, maneless lion swaggered out onto the trail and, with looks behind him, started toward Patterson. The angle was such that the man was not completely concealed by the termite mound, but the big cat didn't notice him until they were only fifteen yards apart and the hunter made a slow movement of raising the double-barrel to lock the sights on the man-eater's brain. The lion recoiled in surprise back onto his haunches. But too late. Patterson nestled the front bead into the wide vee of the rear sight and started to squeeze off the shot. At that range he couldn't miss, and the heavy Nitro Express bullet would take off the cat's head as if he'd had a stick of dynamite jammed up his nose. But it didn't.
Should you be under the impression that the most terrifying sounds of the world of big-game hunting are the close snarl of a man-eater and the shrieking trumpet of a bull elephant right over your head, you're wrong. It is the cold, dead, metallic click! of the firing pin falling on a defective cartridge primer. There is no sound quite like it--trust me; unimaginably clear and crisp, yet at the same time slightly hollow and muffled by the barrel's chamber. It is one of the true sounds of death.
As the British might say it, up Patterson had screwed. He was used to a shotgun, but there are differences between a double-barreled rifle and a smoothbore. His bolt-action .303 Enfield bore not the slightest resemblance to the borrowedexpress rifle, and in times when one needs a rifle, he tends to need it very badly. It may have been the cartridge that was defective; perhaps the firing-pin mechanism itself was broken. No matter. To take an unfamiliar and, even worse, untried weapon against man-eaters is looking for even more trouble than is already at hand. To the good luck of his future readership and his creditors, the beaters were now close enough that the lion was forced to run, almost vanishing into the heavy bush before Patterson even realized that he had a second barrel, loaded and ready to fire with a mechanism independent from the first. At last he shot again and was finally rewarded by an answering snarl from the lion, indicating a hit. But the blood soon stopped, and the track was lost on rocky ground. It just didn't seem fated that Patterson was to kill the lions. Maybe the stars were trying to tell him something.
But there's one thing you have to give John Henry: He doesn't dazzle you with footwork, but he sure hangs in there! Heading back to camp, his spirits badly needing garters, he was somewhat cheered to find that there was quite a bit left of the donkey, perhaps enough that the lion would return for the rest that night. Despite earlier experiences, he had a machan, or raised shooting platform, erected a few yards from the carcass, as there were no handy trees. It wasn't much, just four poles sunk into the earth, inclined toward each other at the tops, with a plank lashed into place as a seat. It was hardly the sort of affair that I would pick from which to display my sweet young body to a couple of man-eaters, but Patterson appeared to have thought it just dandy, although it was only twelve feet high. Nonetheless, the colonel wired the defunct burro to a nearby stump so it couldn't be dragged away and, at sundown, climbed up to face a night of utter, moonless dark and the savage silence of creeping death. If this sounds melodramatic, try sitting up some night until dawn in your own living-room easy chair, motionless in the dark, even knowing there aren't any man-eating lions around. As the hours wore on, mental exhaustion lulled him into almost a drugged state, somehow feeling he was drifting weightless in the quiet shroud of night.
Crack! The snapping of a twig sounded like a sonic boom in the stillness; Patterson lurched out of his reverie. His ears hollow with the rush of his own blood, he could hear the tiniest rustling of a large body picking its way through the dry grass and bushes. "The man-eater," he thought to himself; "surely tonight my luck will change, and I shall bag one of the brutes." It is somehow doubtful, even in pristine Victorian times, that this was the precise syntax that rushed through Patterson's hackle-bristled skull. Silence again, so quiet it was loud. Then, a long, deep, drawn-out sigh from very close, followed by another creep of movement and a nasty snarl. The lion had spotted the man, just a few feet above him.
Patterson was to have considerable time to reconsider his stupidity in building the machan in the first place, because, as soon as J.H. was seen, the lion ignored the donkey and resolutely began to stalk the man. It was a war of nerves in the classic sense, and it's also clear that the lion probably had a lot more nerve than the worn-out colonel. For a terrifying two hours, the lion sneaked round and round the tree platform, searching for a weak point, Patterson trying to keep absolutely still, expecting a charge any second. The man was afraid even to blink his eyes, yet unable to make out the dim form of the cat below in the darkness and fire. By midnight, he was almost stupefied by nervous exhaustion, every muscle jumping as he tried to anticipate the lion's coming spring. A second of cardiac-arrest terror raced through him as something struck him a sharp blow on the back of the head. The man-eater! His involuntary start was answered by a harsh snarl from below. His heart coming through the buttons of his shirt, he realized that it was an owl that had tried to light on his head, mistaking him in his silence for part of a tree. Good garden peas! Of all times to be taken for a knothead!
When an equally startled owl flew off, the game resumed, with the lion circling the machan platform, but now so closely that Patterson could actually hear the feet padding softly as the lion readied himself for the leap. At last, the man could barely make out the foggy form against the whitish thornbushes and raised the rifle as the big cat gathered himself, stationary, mere feet below. At the shot, there was a roar that seemed to rock the platform, followed by the sounds of the cat thrashing and jumping in all directions. Although the lion was now invisible, Patterson continued to fire as fast as he could at the noise, which finally subsided into a series of deep groans and sighs. At last, all sound stopped. Could it be?
A chorus of shouted questions in Hindustani carried from the camp a quarter mile away, to which Patterson called back that he was unhurt and believed the lion was dead. Instantly, the greatest cheer which may have been heard to that date in east Africa went up, fireflies of light from torches darting through the bush as the coolies ran to the machan. Amid the bedlam of drums and horns played by the insanely happy Indians, each man prostrated himself before the engineer, shouting, "Mabarak! Mabarak!" or "Saviour."
Patterson still could not quite believe his luck and did not permit a search for the lion's body in case it wasn't yet dead. Back at camp, first light was awaited with a wild party, the African contingent particularly uninhibited with a leaping dance of triumph. At last, dawn crept in tie-dyed majesty through the shadows, and, with a group of men, Patterson returned to the scene of the shooting.
Over the hours of waiting, he had convinced himself that somehow the cat had escaped again--he could hardly be blamed in light of his previous experiences--so his shock at rounding a bush and seeing the lion crouched as if ready to spring can be imagined. Before he fired again, he noticed that it was as dead as virginity. The festivities began all over again, Patterson being carried around on the shoulders of the men until he was dizzy. When things settled down a bit, he had an opportunity to examine the body. As lions go, this was no ninety-pound weakling, but a tremendous animal, nine feet, eight inches from tail-tip to nose, forty-five inches at the shoulder, and requiring eight men to carry him back to camp to be skinned. Like most man-eaters, because human flesh is much more fat-marbled than that of game,the cat was in superb condition and extremely heavy. Two bullets had been effective--one in the hind leg, and the killer, behind the left shoulder and through the heart.
The news of the man-eater's death spread like a grass fire through the bush and along the rail line until hundreds of congratulatory telegrams and scores of fascinated visitors poured into the bridgehead. But for the moment everybody seemed to have forgotten a not very minor item: There were two Man-eaters of Tsavo.
It was only a couple of nights later that the surviving lion cleared up any hopeful speculation that he might have retired. A permanent-way inspector was awakened by the sound of something prowling around his bungalow and veranda. Thinking it just a drunken coolie, he shouted angrily through the door for him to go away but luckily did not open up. Quite probably because the remaining coolies were by now well enough protected to be difficult to catch and the man-eater certainly hungry, the lion vented his frustration and appetite by killing and eating two of the inspector's goats then and there. Hearing of the incident the next morning, Patterson decided to sit up near the hut that evening, waiting in a vacant iron shanty that had a rifle loophole in the side. Just outside, he tied three goats as bait to a heavy length of iron rail. All was quiet through the night until, just at dawn, the lion finally made an appearance, killed one of the goats and dragged the others away, rail and all. We have no idea why Patterson didn't fire, nor does he offer an excuse.
When the sun was fully up, Patterson and a small party followed the drag mark of the rail some 400 yards into the bush and smack into the lion, who was still having breakfast. This time, however, he did not slink away but suddenly charged. With a remarkable demonstration of good sense, all native personnel quickly disappeared up the nearest tree, while the colonel and one of his white assistants, a Mr. Winkler, stayed put. The lion, for some reason, broke off the charge, although the question again arises as to why neither Patterson nor Winkler fired a shot. After throwingsome stones into the bushes where the lion had run, the men came on the dead goats, two of them hardly touched. Back to the graveyard shift for Patterson.
Having learned a lasting lesson from the earlier night in the rickety machan, he had a very strong platform erected a few feet from the dead goats and, as he was thoroughly exhausted, brought along his Indian gunbearer, Mahina, to help keep watch. Several hours into the vigil, when Patterson was just dozing off, he felt Mahina grab his arm and point in the direction of the goats. "Sher !" (Literally "tiger," although clearly meant to mean "lion," as there is a terrible shortage of tigers in Africa.) John Henry grabbed the double-barreled shotgun loaded with solid slugs and waited, eyes peeled for movement. In a few moments the lion appeared between some bushes and passed almost directly beneath the platform. The colonel fired both barrels almost at once into the lion's shoulder and was overjoyed to knock the big cat down. As Patterson switched to the .303 magazine rifle, the lion bounced back up and evaporated into the bush in a hail of random bullets. Certain he would be found dead in the morning, Patterson left Mahina to keep watching and went happily to sleep.
When at last dawn came, the two men followed the blood spoor with drooping spirits. At first, there was quite a lot of blood, but it ran out shortly, and the track was lost on rocky ground.
The next ten days were filled with increasing hope that, even though no corpus delecti had been located, the lion might have died of the effect of his wounds. Although nobody had been attacked, neither did anyone let down his guard. This was just as well. On the night of December 27, the old horror started again, an eruption of shouts coming from a crew of trolleymen who slept in a tree near Patterson's boma. It being a densely cloudy night with the moon hidden, the most the Sahib could do was send a few slugs in the lion's direction, which drove him off without a kill. In the morning, tracks showed that he had hung around for a long time, entering every single tent (all were unoccupied)and leaving a thick band of tracks in a circle around the trolleymen's tree.
As darkness fell, Patterson was again aloft, in the same tree in which the trolleymen had roosted. It was a perfect night, for a change, the moon full and flooding the bush with a strong silver glow that gave excellent visibility. Again, Mahina was in tow and slept while his boss took first watch. At midnight, they changed, and Patterson fell soundly asleep until about two A.M., when he was awakened by a strange, uncanny feeling that something was wrong. This is a peculiar and most discomfiting sensation difficult to describe to someone who has never experienced it, as I have. It has only happened to me while in the bush and is rarely, if ever, wrong. It's almost as if danger gives off a psychic aura. As something of an offshoot, consider the feeling of someone staring at you across a theater lobby and the real sensation of eyes touching you. This, incidentally, is often the case with animals, and I think many professional hunters will agree with me that game is sometimes spooked by being stared at for long periods during a stalk. I try to keep my eyes off any animal I am stalking, lest it sense me through this weird mechanism.
Mahina was awake and alert but had detected nothing. Patterson carefully looked all about the tree and saw nothing either, although the feeling was still with him. About to shrug it off, he suddenly thought he saw something move a way off, among some low bushes, silver-plated in the moonlight. As he continued to stare, he was startled to find that the strange sensation was quite correct: The man-eater was carefully stalking the men.
Fascinated in a crawly way, Patterson marveled at the flowing, soundless skill of the lion stealing stealthily toward him, a clear demonstration of his experiences as he took advantage of the smallest particle of cover. Using his head and determined to wait until the lion was as close as possible, J.H. remained still until the great cat was a mere twenty yards away, a tawny moon-washed form flattened against the sandy earth. Slipping the .303 into position, the colonel senta hot whiplash of lead into the lion's chest, hearing the meaty impact of the bullet over the muzzle report. A terrific growl blew over the hunters as the killer turned in a blink and ran off with a series of great, smooth bounds. In the thin cover he was in sight long enough for Patterson to get off three more shots, the last of which brought another snarl. Then he was gone. It was another long wait until dawn.
As soon as it was light enough to see the trail, Patterson, Mahina and an African tracker immediately gave chase to the wounded lion, the Indian carrying a Martini carbine, which, in his hands, was as useful as a martini cocktail. With a good blood spoor, the men were able to cover ground quickly as the bush became more and more dense. After no more than a quarter of a mile, they were stopped by a ferocious growl right in front of them. Peering carefully through the cover, Patterson could make out the lion clearly, lips drawn back to expose thick, long fangs in warning. At Patterson's shot, the lion began a determined, flat-out charge, catching another bullet as he got going, which knocked him down, but he regained his feet and kept on coming, like a nightmare. Another aimed shot had no effect whatever. The .303 is no cannon; then, neither is it a popgun, but Patterson dropped it and reached behind him for the heavier-caliber Martini, which should have been immediately passed to him by Mahina. If he was already half-panicked at not being able to stop the lion with accurately placed shots, the empty air his fist closed around must not have added greatly to his confidence. Mahina, who had reached the immediate conclusion that discretion is the better part of chasing down wounded, charging, man-eating lions, was by now well up a tree. So was the carbine. Unarmed, Patterson, demonstrating an amazing understanding of the concept, was not far behind. At the moment the lion reached the tree, Patterson was just out of reach. Had one of his bullets not chanced to break the lion's hind leg, apparently one of his favorite lion shots, the colonel might well have gained fame as the highest-ranking meal theTsavo lions had eaten. Seeing that he was too late, the lion limped back toward the thicket from which he had come.
As he retired, Patterson had time to pry the carbine out of Mahina's hands and get off another shot. To what must have been his surprise, the cat fell in a heap and appeared to be dead. Appearances can be deceiving. Patterson jumped from the tree and, like the greenest Bwana in Nairobi's growing cemetery, ran up to the lion. To his consternation, it jumped back up at very close range and came for him again. This time, however, the ninth bullet Patterson had put into the man-eater coincided with the last of his lives, a carbine slug in the boiler room putting him back down while a final tenth shot kept him there as he chewed a stick to shreds, thrashing out his last moments. At bloody, long last, the Man-eaters of Tsavo were dead.
Of course it was hero time again, with a definite sense of finality now. The second lion was even bigger than the first; although two inches less in length, it was two and a half inches taller at the shoulder and much heavier. The much-scarred hide, cut by the thorn bomas, was full of bullet holes, as well as the double dose of shotgun slug from the platform ten days before. For some odd reason, the slugs had not penetrated deeply enough to kill, even though they had knocked the cat down.
One of the most practical immediate dividends to accrue from the death of the second man-eater, besides the fact that people weren't getting eaten any more, was the return of the deserted coolie force and resumption of the bridge work that had been stopped three weeks before. If Patterson's timing, with general respect to the lions, hadn't exactly been unerring, at least he did get lucky now. The bridge was finished just before the first heavy rains, and, as the river rose in angry flood, all the temporary spanning was carried away within a few days of the bridge's completion. Had the schedule been even a bit behind, the whole project might have been ruined and all the lives taken by the lions for nothing.
Although the actual number of kills of the Tsavo Man-eaterswas relatively modest compared with such heavy hitters as the Njombe Lions, the impact of the depredations of these two incredible animals was certainly not limited to Africa. In fact, at least to that date, they are believed to hold the distinction of being the only wild animals ever considered worthy of recognition by the British House of Lords. Speaking of the Tsavo Lions and their effect upon the Uganda Railroad, Lord Salisbury, then prime minister, made the following statement:
"The whole of the works were put a stop to for three weeks because a party of man-eating lions appeared and conceived a most unfortunate taste for our porters. At last the laborers entirely declined to go on unless they were guarded by an iron entrenchment. Of course it is difficult to work a railway under these conditions, and until we found an enthusiastic sportsman to get rid of these lions our enterprise was seriously hindered."
As for Patterson, the "enthusiastic sportsman," he stayed on in Africa until April of 1900, returning in 1907 to make several safaris into the Kenyan nyika, where he discovered the Patterson's Eland. He also had the misfortune to have one of his companions commit suicide by blowing his brains out with a pistol while suffering from a bout of malaria. Before leaving for England in 1900, Patterson was to find that his association with lions was not quite over. Although he had killed the two most famous simbas in the Tsavo area, that by no means meant that there were not others. One in particular caused an unforgettable night of tragedy just twenty miles down the track from Tsavo, at Voi, in 1899, when Patterson was visiting his old buddy, Dr. Rose, the medical officer. At dinner one evening, Rose told J.H. of the building of a new branch line through the Kilima N'jaro District under the charge of an engineer named O'Hara.
The very next morning, while out for a few francolin, or guinea fowl, with his shotgun, Patterson noticed four Swahili bearers carrying a makeshift stretcher along the new road from the line under construction. He shouted, asking who was being carried, and the Swahilis yelled back, "Bwana." Patterson asked again which Bwana and was told that it wasO'Hara. Some distance behind the porters staggered the saddest little group imaginable, the grief-stricken Mrs. O'Hara with a small child in her tired arms and another tiny girl so exhausted that she hung onto her mother's skirt to keep up. Patterson helped them to Rose's tent, where the doctor did what he could and sedated Mrs. O'Hara. The most they had been able to learn from the Swahilis was that her husband had been killed by a lion the night before. Late in the afternoon, when the new widow was able to speak coherently, she told the following story. These are her own words as recorded by Patterson:
"We were all asleep in the tent, my husband and I in one bed and my two children in another. The baby was feverish and restless, so I got up to give her something to drink; and as I was doing so, I heard what I thought was a lion walking around the tent. I at once woke my husband and told him I felt sure there was a lion about. He jumped up and went out, taking his gun with him. He looked round the outside of the tent and spoke to the Swahili askari [a native guard or armed soldier] who was on sentry by the camp fire a little distance off. The askari said he had seen nothing except a donkey, so my husband came in again, telling me not to worry as it was only a donkey that I had heard.
"The night being very hot, my husband threw back the tent door and lay down again beside me. After a while I dozed off, but was suddenly roused by a feeling as if the pillow were being pulled away from under my head. On looking round I found that my husband was gone. I jumped up and called him loudly, but got no answer. Just then I heard a noise among the boxes outside the door and saw my poor husband lying between the boxes. I ran up to him and tried to lift him, but found I could not do so. I then called to the askari to come and help me, but he refused, saying that there was a lion standing beside me. I looked up and saw the huge beast glowering at me, not more than two yards away. At this moment the askari fired his rifle, and this fortunately frightened the lion, for it at once jumped off into the bush.
"All four askaris then came forward and lifted my husband back on to the bed. He was quite dead. We had hardly gotback into the tent before the lion returned and prowled about in front of the door, showing every intention of springing in to recover his prey. The askaris fired at him, but did no damage beyond frightening him away again for a moment or two. He soon came back and continued to walk round the tent until daylight, growling and purring, and it was only by firing through the tent every now and then that we kept him out. At daybreak he disappeared and I had my husband's body carried here, while I followed with the children until I met you."
The most comfort Patterson and Rose were able to give the distracted Mrs. O'Hara was the assurance, after the postmortem by Rose, that her husband had not suffered. Rose determined that O'Hara had been lying on his back at the time of the lion's attack and had been bitten once through the temples, the teeth actually meeting in the brain. This is classic killing behavior for a man-eating lion, silent, instantly fatal, no chance of a struggle. This particular cat had undoubtedly been active for some time, but the sketchy records of the period, in especial relationship to Africans eaten, give us no more information, except to say that the Voi Man-eater was killed a few weeks later by a poisoned arrow shot from a treetop by a WaTaita tribesman.
It's a long time now since Patterson spent his nine months of terror, and almost as much of that clear water has passed beneath the fateful bridge since O'Hara was nailed at Voi. But don't get the idea that lions have quit eating people along the Uganda Railroad. Hunter Robert Foran killed an incredible four man-eaters in a single day after they had run up a score of more than fifty kills in only three months in the late 1940s, right in this same area. In 1955, a telegram was sent from Tsavo to Nairobi with all the nostalgia of the bad old days:
"Odeke narrowly escaped being caught by lion ... . All staff unwilling to do night duty. Afford protection."
The last reference I can find handily to a man-eater operating in the Tsavo range is the one describing a lion killed in 1965 by the well-known professional hunter, John Kingsley-Heath. It was emaciated and weighed only 380pounds. Kingsley-Heath discovered a porcupine quill festering in one of its nostrils, a good probability of why it turned man-eater.
The two Man-eaters of Tsavo were subsequently mounted by Rowland Ward of London and were presented to the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, where they reside to this day in Hall Twenty-two. An interesting sidelight between the Tsavo Bridge and the Field Museum is found in the fact that John Henry Patterson's son, Bryan Patterson, served on the staff of the museum as a distinguished paleontologist from 1926 to 1955. Aware that he was scheduled to return in 1979 as a visiting curator, I attempted to contact him to verify some personal details of his father's life. Telephoning in the spring of 1980, I was too late. Bryan Patterson had died the previous autumn.
Patterson, J. H., Lieutenant Colonel, D.S.O. The Man-eaters of Tsavo. London: Macmillan and Company, Ltd., 1907.
--------. In the Grip of the Nyika. London: Macmillan and Company, Ltd., 1910.
--------. "The Lions That Stopped a Railroad," The World's Work, three parts, pp. 10897-11158, privately bound article, circa 1907.