Prepping the next multi-part podcast episodes on FRB, Jack Lott’s name kept coming up, and it occurred to me that I haven’t ever given a proper salute to the man who introduced me to the remarkable story of the scout and prospector whose Frontier Partisan career took him from Apacheria to Africa, from the Yukon to the lands of the Yaqui. That’d be the hunter, gunsmith, big bore cartridge wildcatter, and gun writer Jacques ‘Jack’ Lott.
It was Lott’s vivid biographical sketch in the book America: The Men and Guns That Made Her Great that first introduced me to FRB. That book was something else. Edited by the international hunter and gun writer Craig Boddington, it contained a multitude of well-illustrated vignettes that included the story of of Revolutionary War Rifleman Tim Murphy, the Burr-Hamilton Duel, Pershing’s 1916 Punitive Expedition — a feast of history in lively and entertaining form. It was published in 1981, my sophomore year in high school, by which time my frontier obsessions were well established and ready to expand.
Given the theme of the book, Lott’s contribution, The Making of a Hero: Burnham in the Tonto Basin, was America-focused — but the parts that recounted FRB’s subsequent career in Africa were enough to send me out to track down Burnham’s memoir, Scouting On Two Continents and… well… here we are — 40 years down the trail and I’m preparing a podcast on the man.
The story of Frederick Russell Burnham was the right story at the right time. It exploded my understanding of frontiers and borderlands out of the Ohio River Valley and the Rocky Mountains onto an international stage. I knew nothing about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and the whole saga of the southern African frontier. Lott’s story introduced me to all that, and created an appetite that led me to the novels of Wilbur Smith and the historical and hunting yarns of Peter Hathaway Capstick, all of which went to my head like a hefty dram of Cape Smoke Brandy. I was primed for this: FRB struck me as a hero right out of Robert E. Howard (Francis X. Gordon, El Borak, specifically) — a man with skills developed on the Apache frontier hieing off to the wild hinterlands of the world. And it all happened (at that time) less than 100 years ago! It felt so close….
All of this was heady stuff for a young teenaged male already hopelessly besotted and doomed to a lifetime as a frontier “nerd.”
Jack Lott was a talented machinist and gunsmith, who worked for Pachmayr in Los Angeles in its glory years as a top-end gunsmithery, manufacturer of after market handgun grips and rifle/shotgun recoil pads, and retail trade outfit. I worked at their glorious retail store in Pasadena and at their trap/skeet/sporting clays range for a time in the early 1990s.
Jack was obsessed with African hunting, especially Cape Buffalo, and, after a bad encounter in Mozambique with a mean dagga boy that left him injured, he developed the hard-hitting .458 Lott cartridge as big medicine for big, powerful, dangerous game.
His involvement in Africa in those old Cold War days may have gone beyond hunting. Boddington recalls:
“Legend has it that he worked for the CIA. We never knew that for sure, but I know he was with the anti-Castro movement and he spent a lot of time in Rhodesia during the long bush war. With Jack one never knew where fact, legend and myth intertwined — but I actually saw his Congo Cross awarded to him by Moise Tshombe for his courage in that long forgotten insurgency.”
Bear in mind that “working for the CIA” didn’t have to mean one was an officer. I don’t find it at all hard to believe that Lott was some kind of Agency asset, given that his hunting and journalism activities gave him cover for galavanting around contested areas of Africa. Might make a neat premise for a thriller….
Lott was friends with FRB’s son Roderick Burnham, a man very much in his father’s mold. The gunwriter wrote several articles about his hero, including a defense of his actions in the Second Matabele War, which were being called into question by the mid-’70s by revisionist historians, in the context of the long-running Rhodesian Bush War. We will delve deeply into all that in the podcast.
Lott apparently acquired several of Burnham’s firearms, which are legendary thanks to a widely distributed display photo that you may recognize as the cover image of Warriors of the Wildlands. Lynn Woodward’s intaglio prints of the image are available through the Frontier Partisans Trading Post (look to your right):
I plan to offer a drawing among Patreon patrons for one of the prints when the podcast is up. You can get in on the action by becoming a patron (link below).
Lott, suffering severely deteriorating health, including kidney failure and the onset of blindness (a horrible fate for a rifleman), blew his brains out with a Webley revolver in 1993. According to Burnham biographer Steve Kemper, Burnham’s descendants have never been able to find out what became of the firearms.
I am gratified to be able to offer this small and belated note of thanks to Jack Lott for being the first to tell me a tale that became one of the foundation stones of Frontier Partisans.