Regular readers of Frontier Partisans know that the frontiers of southern Africa hold equal fascination for me with the frontiers of my own homeland. Four chapters in Warriors of the Wild Lands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans were devoted to frontiersmen of that region in the late 19th and early 20th century — Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele (Matabele) nation; American/Rhodesian scout Frederic Russell Burnham; hunter and pioneer Frederick Courteney Selous; and Boer fighter Deneys Reitz.
Both histories are deep, rich — and fraught with racial division and violence.
The great slaughter of the St. Clair’s Defeat on the Wabash in 1791 had its counterpart at Isandlwana in Zululand in 1879; Custer’s death at the hands of the Sioux is reflected in the doomed Shangani Patrol against the Matabele in what would become Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe.
The Longhunters and Mountain Men who were the heroes of my youth have their counterparts in the British and Boer elephant hunters who penetrated the South African interior hunting for ivory. And the madness of gold fever drove the development of both lands —South Africa added the lure of diamonds.
Both frontiers witnessed savage Frontier Partisan wafare and the dispossession of native peoples — though with a critical difference: In North America, Anglo-American civilization swamped the native population with numbers. In South Africa, the Afrikaaner-English population never constituted a majority.
Like most Americans who are drawn to the story, I first learned of the South African Frontier through the movies Zulu and Zulu Dawn, and the bestselling novels of Wilbur Smith. And, as is my wont, I traded my moccasins for Veldskoen and headed down the trail.
If you are interested in plunging into this fascinating, rousing history, a good place to start is with the podcasts offered by Peter Baxter. Baxter, who makes his home in Oregon, on the other side of the Cascades, is a military historian, a storyteller, a trekker — and now a podcaster. He’s very good. I used his book on the Selous Scouts as a resource for my chapter on the great hunter in Warriors.
I’ve taken to listening to podcasts during my hours in The Nugget van or on the road to Eugene. It makes the time fly by, and I leave the truck smarter than when I got in. That’s a win.
I started The Peter Baxter History Podcast with The White Man Arrives, an excellent overview of the almost-accidental colonization of the Cape of Good Hope, followed by the eventual pushing out of the frontier into the African interior. That’a followed by a five-part History of Rhodesia.
Good stuff. Tune in here.