I am greatly enjoying yet another trek in the company of the great scout Frederick Russell Burnham — the man whose portrait is the logo for Frontier Partisans.
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.
Quixotic Mainer says
I’ve definitely had the same “frontier nerd” experience with the historical ships in the night. Sometimes it seems like you just walked in the door as the characters you’ve become so familiar with were leaving through the side exit. Guys like Lott, Elmer Keith, and Capstick were the middle men between that generation and that of this century.
I just read a story about Capstick hunting killer baboons with a MAC10, of all things. I’ll see if I can find it.
Amusingly enough, this whole trail and everyone in it ties together in my favorite Ruger, which happens to have vintage Pachmayr boot grips.
There was a time when Pachmayr was the top of the mountain. I was proud to work there, even though it was past those glory days a bit.
Quixotic Mainer says
I’ll bet that place was a gold mine for stories! Sporting goods store counters being ad hoc soapboxes and cracker barrels for nimrods ranging from misguided to mighty. My favorite has a constant pot of tar like coffee brewing at all times to fuel the conversation.
In Pachmayr’s case, we also got Jonathan Winters coming in and doing a comedy routine, using as a foil the mount of a Cape Buffalo that loomed on one wall. Strange, but sublime.
Quixotic Mainer says
Reese Crawford says
I recall the same Capstick story. If I recall right, the story is in Death in a Lonely Land. The operation involved flash bangs slingshots and that trusty MAC 10.
Quixotic Mainer says
Yup, and a contingent of spearmen as well!
David Wrolson says
You meanie you. My 2013 PH used a 458 Lott and I just about bought one when I saw one a few years ago. Now, I have to buy one.
Oh, well. I guess I probably have caused you to buy enough books to by a Lott-so turnabout is fair play.
“There’s a Burnham connection. I HAVE to do it!”
The award for Best Rationalization of 2021 goes to…
Thom Eley says
Nice one, Jim. Burn ham is fantastic. Lord Baden-Powell, who worked with Burnham on starting up the Scouts, had a raft of kids and he started sleeping on a enclosed porch and not his wife so there wouldn’t be any more kids.
By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed “Warriors of the Wildlands.” I’m looking forward to your next book.
James Eliason says
Burnham’s personal firearms, the BSA Lee Metford sporting rifle, his Remington 1875 revolver and his saber were all featured on the catalogue cover of Carol Watson’s Orange Coast Auctions, Anaheim, CA, July 2021. I was fortunate enough to win Burnham’s Lee Metford (Speed) .303, BSA #2 and currently have it in my possession. If you refer to page 213 of “Scouting on Two Continents” you’ll read Burnham’s account of scratching what he believed to be his last words on the buttstock of his rifle. These words are legible. “Aug ’95 No water. Boys exhausted my water. Am suffering. Boys going mad. Dead…One boy Tikishra. West of Guay heading east. The thorns will end all of us soon. Love BB” (I’m assuming that’s to his wife Blanche Burnham/Blixen)
I thought you might be interested in this Jim.
Regards, James Eliason
Thank you for sharing this. What an extraordinary piece of Frontier Partisan heritage you hold. I got a strong hit of frisson jjust reading that — I can only imagine what you feel when you have that rifle in your hands.
James Eliason says
Yes. I was very fortunate to win it. Though the rifle was featured on the auction catalogue cover the write up was erroneous. They referred to Burnham fighting at the “Shanghai Patrol” battle which, of course was the Shangani Patrol tragedy. They also opined that the scratched messages on the buttstock were made to a reference of action during the Boer War. Wrong on both counts. The rifle is in about 80% condition and very solid. I have shot the rifle and am more than a little pleased. I thought the Metford rifling might be problematic but that hasn’t been the case. To mitigate case stretching I prepared 20 cases of virgin brass and fireformed them with a dose of Bullseye, Cream of Wheat filler and a wax plug. After forming I neck sized the cases and loaded with 39.5 gr of IMR 4064 and a 180 gr Sierra Pro Hunter flat base projectile. My last time out I managed a 1.6″ ten shot group benched at 50 yards. She’ll go out to 100 yards on the next outing. I’m looking for five shot groups under 3″ at 100 and believe the old girl is up to the challenge. I’m sure Burnham would be pleased. Working with his rifle which was so much a part of his life is gratifying and I feel as though I’m shaking hands with the man himself each time I pick it up.
A question. Would you or another source be able to provide a copy of that photograph of Burnham and Swinburne after the Battle of the Umpuas River which you’ve featured in the Burnham weapons write up here in Frontier Partisans? Thanks much!
Here’s the link from Wikimedia Commons: