There were two Boer Wars. The first, from 1880-1881, was known as the Transvaal War. It was a brief conflict during which Boer settlers revolted against England’s attempt to annex the Transvaal. England struck again in 1899. Gold mines were part of the reason but Britain also looked to establish a Cape to Cairo confederation. The result was a long and bloody war that lasted until 1902.
Most Americans have limited interest in and even less connection to this war. However, it has interested me since my first African safari. “Boer” is the Dutch word for farmer which came to denote the descendants of the Africans speaking, stock raising farmers who fled the British Cape colony to escape English rule. Sound familiar? The area primarily settled by the Boers was the Orange Free State and Transvaal which together is known as the Boer Republic. Boers employed a guerilla method of combat that stretched British logistics to the limits. (Seems England learned little since their war with America.)
Hennie Badenhorst is the owner of Lyon Safaris . Badenhorst, a veteran of the South African Defense Force, is an accomplished professional hunter with over one hundred lion, buffalo and elephants hunts under his belt. We were setting by the fire ring one evening watching the flames dance between us and two bottles of beer when Badenhorst remarked, “I have a rifle that was recovered from a battlefield during the Boer War.”
Badenhorst’s great uncle, a young boy at the time, was out playing in the bush and came upon the unimaginable scene of a battlefield where he found a dead British soldier. Being the good Boer he was, he picked up the rifle and carried it home. It was a late model Enfield, Martini-Henry rifle converted to .303. Badenhorst remembers stories from his grandfather about having to hide the rifle out back every time British soldiers came by.
The rifle had been in Badenhorst’s family since the war. Kind of a behind- the-door gun. When Badenhorst left military service and began his career as a professional hunter he frequently used the rifle while training his blood trailing hounds. Badenhorst put an empty bottle of lager on the rock rim of the fire ring and asked, “Would you like to shoot it?”
“Absolutely! “What shall we shoot?”
“Maybe a warthog.” Badenhorst said as he removed his fedora exposing the scars left there by an angry leopard. “Tomorrow we’ll see many warthog.”
Before the hunt we stopped by the range and I fired three rounds through the old rifle. Considering the crude iron sights, it shot well and I managed a group of about two inches at 50 yards. Late in the evening Badenhorst declared, “It is time.” and pulled the Boer rifle from behind the seat of his LandRover. Just at dusk we spotted a field full of warthogs and Badenhorst picked out one about 100 yards away and asked, “Do you think you can hit him?”
I shouldered the relic, covered the dark pig with the triangular front sight and pulled the crisp trigger, undoubtedly honed from years of use. We heard the “whop” of the bullet and moments later were standing over the warthog.
Badenhorst was all smiles that the old rifle had once again proven sufficient for the African bush by providing food for his staff. It was an honor to hunt with a rifle with as much history as this one. And, at least for now, no one has to hide it when the army comes by.