Paul L. Hoefler oral history: Early years and Africa
This autobiography describing the first 34 years of filmmaker Paul Hoefler's life was recorded in the early 1980s on five audio reels, transcribed by “Brad and Vera,” presumably in Denver, Colorado. It was later typed by Zachary M. Honea from a photocopy found in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in 2011. Zach wrote, “Due to the nature of photocopy, many words were difficult to read, and were speculated on as to their original form. The original copy also contains words that the original transcriber was unsure of how to spell, and so left a ‘_____________’ until the spelling could be confirmed.” Zach forwarded this document to AFA director Geoff Alexander, who made a number of corrections and updates. Geoff’s comments are in [brackets]. Robert J. Gordon’s book Picturing Bushmen: The Denver African Expedition of 1925 (1997) was of great use in correcting African place names, proper names, and individuals.
Paul L. Hoefler: Early years
I was born in Spokane, Washington on September 6, 1893, the son of Otto Louis Hoefler and Caroline Weygandt Hoefler [his brothers were Reno W., Lucien J., Dudley D., George E., Phillip S., and Howard O.]. At that time Spokane was nothing but a frontier community, more noted for the Indians surrounding the plains than anything else. According to the records I was the sixtieth white child born in Spokane.
My father, Otto Louis Hoefler, was in the hotel business and was connected with the famous Davenport Hotel which still exists in Spokane. He was a real soldier of fortune, and before his marriage at the age of about 36, had roamed the world at a time when modes of transportation were crude and uncertain. He served on several ships in different capacities and at one time was a captain in the British army in India, went through some harrowing experiences. At one time during his sea voyages he was swept overboard by a large wave but managed to get back on board his ship. How, I don’t recall him telling me. At any event he had the true spirit of adventure.
He met my mother in the Southwest and they were married in Salt Lake City, at that time just beginning to blossom. My mother was an unusual person so far as her travels were concerned, at that time it was unusual for women of refinement to travel by themselves. She had early experiences in the newspaper field and was well-versed in the English language and history, delighted in going to strange places. My mother was in her twenties, about 26, I recall her telling me, when they were married (I had mature parents on both sides). They were not Mormons, as a lot of people presumed afterwards.
After my birth in Spokane, my parents traveled a bit and the first experiences that I recall of any consequence were in Buffalo, New York. My father was born in Syracuse, New York and my mother is a native of Canton, Ohio, so I suppose after certain adventures in the West they returned to their home ports. My first recollections of life were in a little town called Nappanee, Indiana.
The first experiences that I recall that are pertinent to my adventure later on in Africa, China, and India occurred when we were living in Galveston, Texas, a city of storms and the famous sea wall. I recall there was a terrific tornado or hurricane, the water in the streets six feet deep and you couldn’t stand up because the force of the wind. I know because I tried to get to downtown and just couldn’t manage it.
It was an exciting place to live for a young person because during most of the year it had a delightful climate and some of the finest beaches in the world. There were fishing facilities and an abundance of fish of many kinds. We used to go shrimp netting every so often. We had very large shrimp nets that you had to coil up and hold one side in your mouth and unfurl, and we used to bring home bails of beautiful shrimp. We also went to certain places to fish in the ocean and brought back boat loads of beautiful fish.
I had six brothers, I think there about five of us then and we had a lot of fun and experiences. I had a job with an oil company, the Waters-Pierce Oil Company. A small outfit, one man who owned it ran it and I was his number one assistant. This was local and he delivered gas and oil ---kerosene mostly --- to grocery stores, at that time everyone seemed to use kerosene stoves.
We had a route one day of the week that took us far down the island. I found a short cut coming back; I would go below the sea wall at one end and come right up into the center of town up a ramp. I didn’t reckon that the tide ebbed and flowed. I hit this [route] off the sea wall coming back, it was dry and I went merrily on my way. Before we got half way to the ramp the water began, the tides started coming in fast. I urged my one horse --- it was a buckboard sort of a wagon with one horse power --- and the old mare did her best but she could only go so fast. We got within a quarter of a mile of the ramp when the wagon began to float. It became difficult for the horse to walk on the bottom and she started to swim, there we were swimming and floating below the sea wall and it seemed to me that the ramp was thousands of miles away. I really felt panicky. We made it to the ramp and when the old mare got her feet on the ground again, I was thankful to have that experience behind me and be up again on terra firma.
I recall another incident where we had a terrific storm that blew all the bathhouses down. They were built outside the seawall with stairs down to the beach, the entrance at street level from the boulevard along the top of the sea wall. These were all blown down and a huge whale tossed over the seawall on the boulevard.
Here, I got my first desire to go to Africa. I read in the paper that a ship would come in the next few days with some explorers that had been in Africa. The men were French and spoke very little English, true explorers on an interesting trip in the Congo. When their boat landed I went to the dock and managed to buttonhole one or two of the men, have a talk, they took an interest in a young man fired up with this desire to explore. They went into great detail for me which I appreciated. On the way back home I was walking down the main street in Galveston, a newsboy was shouting “extry, extry” all about Captain Cook [Dr. Frederick A. Cook] discovering the North Pole. Captain Cook thought he’d discovered the North Pole and the world was being notified. That again fired me. I got to thinking the north was pretty cold, I read some books on the north and didn’t thrill to being in all that sub-zero weather and the discomforts that go with it.
The book by Theodore Roosevelt called “African Game Trails” was the spark that set off the fire, copyrighted in 1910 by Charles Scribner’s Sons. About this time I read a small advertisement in the Galveston News asking for agents to sell the book so I wrote to them full of enthusiasm and applied for the agency and got a nice reply. They sent me a sample copy and all I had to do was show it to respective customers and take their orders. That sounded simple and I thought everybody would be one hundred percent interested in this adventure by Roosevelt.
I ran up against something I was to learn more about in later life, that people have a very strong prejudice against certain things, people, and movements. Teddy was a very strong Republican and Galveston was a hot bed of the Democratic Party, they looked with disdain on anything Republican. I never got one single order and finally gave up in disgust. That taught me a lesson of far reaching consequence, you just can’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
That started my early dream of amassing a small fortune with which to launch my career in the field of exploration. It lead to more reading about Africa and in later years I became acquainted with Kermit Roosevelt and had the privilege of shaking the hand of Teddy himself.
My father continued in the hotel business, so after about two years in Galveston he got better positions and we moved to Fort Worth, where I worked as a printer’s devil on the Fort Worth paper, and then Dallas, Texas. I remember during the flood season, I was swimming across a beach of the Trinity River, heard a noise alongside and saw a big cottonmouth moccasin snake swimming right alongside of me. It wasn’t a very pleasant feeling as they’re deadly poison. Nothing happened, just another incident of a boy’s experiences doing all sorts of crazy things like swimming swollen rivers.
I took full advantage of the excellent library in both Dallas and Fort Worth and read everything available on Africa. I was so keen on it that the women in the library soon knew me and would search for new material, so I covered the field. I read books by men I met later in life. I was a young man when I read the books and I was still a young man when I met them, but they were old, famous and most of them have passed to great hunting grounds in the sky.
Early times in film: Thomas H. Ince, Louise Fazenda, Al Christie
[Our family] moved to Los Angeles and I started on a new career. I worked at several uninteresting jobs, spent some time studying law through an extension course under a very good Irish professor. I didn’t care much for the law and being confined to an office, taking on other people’s burdens. I was trying to get a job in a law office when a gentleman in that profession spoke to me in a fatherly way, saying “Son, if I were a young man like you I’d forget the idea of becoming a lawyer, there are too many of them now and I predict they’ll all starve to death if they keep on at this rate. Why don’t you get into the motion picture business? That’s something new here, been going only a little while, maybe you can get a job there.”
I’d worked at a motion picture theatre when I was a child in Galveston, got paid for operating the projector, did all sorts of things, never thought if it as a career. Here, I was right at the place where they made movies, I thought maybe I can do something in this field, I said to the man, “Where do I start?” “Well, there’s a company working out in San Fernando Valley, go to the subway station, take a red car number so and so, get off at Dark Canyon. Walk a little bit, you’ll probably find them making movies.”
A couple of days later I was up early, took the red car and got off at Dark Canyon, now Burbank, over the Cahuenga Pass. I got off, nothing but wilderness, trees great outdoors, not a soul in sight, not a building. I couldn’t go west because it was mountainous, so I went east up through Dark Canyon, down into the San Fernando Valley. I saw several deer, a couple of coyotes, rabbits, the sole inhabitants of this area. When I got down to the bottom I heard human voices, didn’t see anyone, just followed the voices. I went around a clump of trees and Lord there were about fifty men on horseback, some Indians, and a small group of people. I drifted around and these people kind of glanced at me but said nothing, I just stood there and they probably wondered who I was and didn’t care. I watched.
[I saw] Frank Montgomery, well known as a director, the leading man Artie Ortego, the leading lady Mona Darkfeather [The Massacre of the Fourth Cavalry, 1912, dir. Frank Montgomery, filmed on the Providencia Ranch. Darkfeather, born Josephine M. Workman, partially of Pueblo Indian ancestry, twice married Montgomery].
They were making a picture with the United States Cavalry and the Indians. These Indians were imported from Mexico, not American Indians but looked like them when made up and they were cheap. There were about 50 Indians, about the same number of horsemen, and the whole story was the Indian attack on the people in the fort, finally the charge of the cavalry and they saved everybody. They closed up for the night, we all went home. I got acquainted with the leading men, the leading lady, and the camera man, a famous guy later on.
They offered me a job, not with their company, but [Montgomery] said, “My friend needs some people, why don’t you go there tomorrow?” So I was hired as a private in the Confederate army. They were producing a picture during the time of the Civil War, presumably, I was one of the Confederate soldiers in the second or third ranks, several hundred of us, all making the magnificent sum of three dollars a day and lunch. In those days a budget on a picture wasn’t too big and it didn’t take long to shoot it. They didn’t spend hours and hours on one scene, it was, “I’ll tell you what you do, boys,” you did it, they shot it, that was it. I got along just fine on that job for two or three days until some ignoramus behind me nearly shot off my ear with a blank from a cartridge. I decided that was too dangerous for me to be attacked from the rear, so resigned forthwith from the Confederate Army. The director liked me so he said, “I’ll promote you as an assistant camera man.”
So I was an assistant cameraman, the guy who carried the camera, lifted it up, put it down, menial things like that, not even allowed to look through the lens or have anything to do with its operation. But it was a high sounding name and carried a lot of social prestige.
We were having trouble with the patents company. Some people had patents on cameras and they were trying to prevent other companies from starting up. They couldn’t produce pictures without a motion pictures camera, but somehow they would bootleg cameras or get them from overseas. We had guards with sawed-off shotguns and rifles around when working to protect against competitors out to destroy any camera, and they did. Often they got through the fences, blasted the camera all to pieces. The company was out of business until they got another camera. We had a few scuffles with these people, then it was settled somewhere back East, then everybody had cameras.
We had to invent everything because we had nothing to go by, made it interesting. Salaries were large, our top cameraman got sixty dollars a week, our leading lady about a hundred. When I first worked with Fatty Arbuckle later on, he was only getting about one hundred a week and he was a big star. Businessmen ran the picture business and they made money.
I got disgusted with the way things were going at the studio when I was the head of the property department and casting department at our studio at Sunset and Gower, a reconditioned livery stable. In those days we shot everything by sunlight, no artificial lighting, it’s what brought the picture industry to that area in the first place.
Back to the time I got disgusted with the studio, one day I went to my office, put on my coat and hat, walked out the front door, went to San Francisco to see my relatives, have a good time. I booked passage on either the Harvard or the Yale, terrific little liners that used to ply up and down the coast. I had a lovely time onboard, landed in San Francisco, and had a wonderful time there. Those were the days when San Francisco was San Francisco, a beautiful place, nice people. The ladies dressed in their best, never came downtown unless they were dressed, wore gloves and hats, men all well-dressed too. I saw my friends, went back to Los Angeles because that’s where my work was.
I got to wondering, “I wonder how they got along at the studio, how they got the work done without me, who’s doing the hiring, who’s doing this, who’s doing that? Maybe I’d better take a looksee.” I took the streetcar out to the studio, the guard knew me. I sauntered down the long hall, running from the Sunset side going to Gower, with little cubby holes on each side for offices. One of these cubby holes was for the cashier, I was half way down the hall when he stuck his head out and said, “Hey Paul, come here, where have you been? I’ve got your paycheck, don’t you want your money?” He handed me two week’s paychecks, I stuck them in my pocket, went back to my cubby-hole, nothing had been bothered much, someone had dusted it. I got my hat and coat and walked out on the lot, back on the job full force.
Not too long after that that some efficiency experts from the East made a survey of things, decided to put in a time-clock. That caused a flurry of upset, imagine asking the actor to work by a time clock, unheard of. Time-clocks didn’t last long, nobody paid any attention to them.
About this time in Hollywood, there was a great stir in the motion picture industry, the boys in New York wanted to consolidate their hold on the studios, especially on the West Coast, and kept shipping out new men from New York. It annoyed people in Hollywood; a lot of them were relatives from the East that knew nothing about the picture business. As a matter of fact, nobody knew too much, but some of us had acquired some experience and resented this intrusion. So some of the top echelon walked out on them, resigned.
Among them was a gentleman originally from the East, now integrated into the industry and held in high esteem, at that time head of our studio at Sunset and Gower [Thomas H. Ince]. He got fed up, called me in his office, said, “Paul, I think I’ll start my own motion picture company. I have a very fine script that I can get from C. Gardner Sullivan,” who at that time was the outstanding script writer in the industry. He said, “I can get some people lined up and there’s a studio recently built across the bay from San Francisco near San Rafael. They produced one picture there, it’s very good and I can rent the studio. Would you like to join me?” Anything new and interesting, I was for it, so I joined him.
He hired me as his assistant to get the ball rolling. In those days it was different, you couldn’t do a lot of things you can now by picking up the phone. This gentleman, I, and another fellow went to San Francisco to look at the studio and arrangements were made. Mr. Ince prepared a list of those he wanted to work in the film, the cameraman came up and we started shooting. And then the fun began. Even though in Hollywood it was difficult sometimes to get your hands on things you needed, here it seemed almost impossible.
It was one of the strangest jobs I ever had. We worked under handicaps and this beautiful script called for the impossible with the equipment knowledge we had. We did our best, worked like Trojans. One scene concerned the spirit of Napoleon and other conquerors of the past having a conference up above. They said, “We’ve got to redeem ourselves some way so we can get into the pearly gates,” decided the first emissary sent down to earth would be Napoleon. He arrived in the body of a new-born son to a big mine owner back in West Virginia, an oppressive tyrant. Napoleon’s spirit went into this son. When he grew up, he led the forces and changed things the way the Utopians thought it should be. You can imagine the difficulties we had in trying to picture scenes in Heaven with clouds floating around, etc. We filmed the birth of the child, skipped a few years and the boy was grown up. We have a big riot at the coal mine, bloodshed.
My story is how we got the miners together and tried to film the story at the mine. We got a location near San Rafael in the hills, built a mine, mine shaft, all the outside buildings, no underground stuff. We picked a good day and got about three hundred miners over there for the big mob scene where the boy makes a speech to the rioting miners.
There were no clearing houses like central casting, we had to get our own extras. We put an ad in the Sunday Chronicle and the Examiner, said we wanted 300 men in rough clothes, paid three dollars and lunch. Meet at our office building down where the cable cars turn around at the end of California Street where it runs into Market Street.
The next morning I got on a streetcar going toward the Ferry Building, near our office. We went a couple of blocks and the car stopped, I just sat there like everybody else. The conductor said, “I don’t know what it is but there’s some delay ahead.” I got out to look, and as far as you could see cars were stalled, nothing moving. I started walking, the closer I got to the end of California Street, the thicker the crowd got. I walked up to a fellow, said, “What’s this all about, partner?” He said, “Oh, someone advertised for some people and my God there’s million of them up there. I can’t even get near the place.” So I thought, “My Lord, you mean to say that all these people applied to our ad?” and I recalled the day before Mr. Ince said, “I don’t think we’re going to get anybody, half a dozen if we’re lucky.”
I couldn’t get to the building through the solid mass of men, way out into Market Street, blocked the whole street. I ducked into a drugstore a block away, telegraphed our office, finally got the building janitor, said, “How come isn’t there anyone in the office?” He said, “I’m the only man in the building and I can’t get out. There’s a crowd of men out there shouting and trying to get in and I’m afraid to open the door.” Lord’s sake, they were looking for us.
The three of us running this show finally got together, decided the best thing to do was go down to the Ferry Building. Passengers would buy their tickets there, and then went into a something like a corral, where they had seats and waited. When the ferry boat discharged its passengers, they’d open up these doors and everybody would rush onto the ferry. I said, “We’ll go down to the Ferry building and I’ll buy some tickets and then we’ll just go around on the edges and get the number of men we want and that will be it.” That seemed like the only way to do it because you can’t argue with a mass of people like that…a regular mob.
Then the fun began. I walked up to the ticket seller and said, “I want 310 round trip tickets to San Rafael.” I had a hard time convincing the guy, nothing like that had ever happened before, and he wouldn’t believe it until I put down the money. He gave me the tickets and I joined my two compatriots. We divided up the tickets, started around the fringes of the crowd saying, “Now are you looking for this job in this paper?” “Yes.” “Well, here’s a round trip ticket to San Rafael, don’t say anything just sort of saunter over there and go in and go into the place and wait see.”
That worked for a while, but people realized others were being hired and they weren’t in it. A yell went up, the whole mass turned in our direction, and we raced ahead of them. We had the advantage as we were already outside of the crowd so I crawled up on one of the stanchions that they had on the front of the Ferry Building, tried to make a speech but they were just about ready to mob me. Meantime, residents of that area in their offices saw the crowd, called the police. The police came, we heard sounds and shouts of, “riot, riot, call the fire department,” the fire department came, clang clang. Meantime we recruited 300 men from the edges of the crowd into the Ferry Building and away we went.
We wanted to get over there early in the morning to have the full day of shooting but it was nearly eleven. We arrived on the other side, got on a train for San Rafael. When we got there, we formed up like an army, walked 300 men in their working clothes from the station to the mine site.
It was after eleven o’clock and we decided there would be a riot if those fellows weren’t fed per the agreement. This was a sleepy town, not much going in San Rafael, beautiful spot, no excitement. I walked into town, saw a sign that read, “lunch noon.” There was a lone counter, nobody inside except a man reading the paper, drinking coffee. I said, “Are you the owner of this restaurant?” He said, “Yes, do you want to buy it?” I said, “I don’t want to buy it but I do want to get some lunches, what do you charge for box lunches?” He made me a price, I worked it out with him…a couple of meat sandwiches, a piece of pie, etc. He said, “How many sandwiches do you want?” I said, “Let me see, now… about 320.” He said, “WHAT? 320 sandwiches, ye gads, I haven’t got enough stuff in this place to make a hundred sandwiches.” I said, “Well there’s a grocery store and a meat market and you have until 12:30 that is about an hour and a quarter, I think.” He said, “I’ll do my best, but I haven’t got any money.” So I said, “Here,” handed him enough to buy everything he needed.
He got on the phone, an energetic young man who knew what to do in an emergency, called his wife, mother, father, brother-in-law, anybody else he could think of, got them there in a hurry. I told him I wanted two of those big milk cans like they used to have in the old days full of hot coffee, milk and sugar to go with it, he agreed.
Then I went back to the set. They were shooting two or three smaller scenes and they put me in one of them. It was 12:30 or quarter to one, this fellow roared up in a couple of cars with all these sandwiches and coffee. We had to restrain these people, they all wanted to eat first, but we managed to dish them out and everybody was happy. Meantime the sky started to cloud up, but we got them back on the job, shot some good scenes. It was getting dark and we had no booster lights, so we just kept opening up the iris on the lens until we couldn’t get any more light, then quit.
The whole picture was absolutely jinxed, many things prevented us from completing it. The leading man and the leading lady fell in love with each other and didn’t show up on the job, other matters of that sort upset the schedule finally money ran out. The show came to a final conclusion when the man in San Francisco on whom we depended for the money committed suicide. I don’t think the picture was ever released.
It was a scattered community of people working in the same field, no organization but most of us knew each other. I was working at Sunset and Gower, an independent studio [Sunset Gower Studios], joining with several independent companies to become Universal [Universal Film Manufacturing Company]. When they got a little bit crowded they bought some land in the San Fernando Valley, built stages out there, we called it the Ranch [probably Precedencia Ranch].
Stages were simple at the time, not enclosed buildings like now with soundproof stages, lighting and all that, simply flat platforms out in the open with structures to slide diffusers in place. The diffuser, a large flat frame of cheesecloth maybe 6 feet long and 4 feet wide, slid into slots so sunlight was broken up into soft light. Everything was photographed by daylight. That was the beginning of Universal City.
Most of the work was done out there as soon as we had the facilities. I did a lot of my work back at the original studio and it was during this time I worked with Fatty Arbuckle, later with a company called the Joker Comedy Company. A girl there became a famous actress, she was seventeen years old then and I was about nineteen, Louise Fazenda. We were sweethearts for a year or so, went to dances together, dinner, that sort of thing.
One day she said, “Paul, there’s a new picture downtown,” meaning in Los Angeles, “very funny they say and I’d like to see it.” I asked who was playing in it and she said, “I don’t know but something about Chaplin or something like that.” So I said, “Fine, let’s go down and look at it.” It was the first picture made by Charlie Chaplin, had his distinctive style. I’d known about him because I used to work part-time downtown at the Sullivan and Considine Vaudeville House and he had played with a show there, a skit called “A Night in a British Music Hall.”
We went to the theater, Louise laughing so loud she got everyone in the theater laughing, we had a hilarious time. We went back to Hollywood, discussed it and said, “Here’s somebody who has some style that’s bound to get him a great deal of notoriety and he’ll probably do very well.” As time went on we drifted apart, later on she married producer Hal Wallis. She’s dead now but I remember her vividly.
One day I walked from the street car line up to her home in Los Angeles. We were going somewhere and her mother wasn’t home, we were sitting there talking, heard somebody come up the steps and she got up and ran into the other room. The door opened and in walked her father. He looked at me and wondered, “Who is this guy?” I was real frightened so I got up, I pointed to the door where she left and said, “She’s in tears.” She suddenly opened the door, came out laughing, everything was alright and she explained the whole thing. I have a picture of somewhere of the two of us together. She wrote a date on it, and if I can find it, it will give us a reference in time.
There were many interesting things in those days. One time we wanted to make a comedy in a shoe shop, but we couldn’t find a cobbler that would let us do it. The director said, “Well, the only thing to do is bring a shoe shop out on the stage,” so I went to Los Angeles. I was the business manager and assistant, we did a lot of jobs in those days, didn’t belong to any unions, just did anything we could to help things along. I went into a little shoe shop, one fellow in there working by himself. I said, “Do you own this shop?” He said, “Yes, I do, what about it?” I said, “Well how much do you make in a week?” He thought to himself, “What is it any of his business?” I said, “Really I’d like to know because I have a reason for it. Do you make a hundred dollars a week? Clear profit?” He said, “No, not that much.” I said, “Supposing I was to tell you that you could make a hundred dollars a in a week without doing any work, take a holiday for a week and you’d get a hundred dollars for it?” He wouldn’t believe it of course. I told him we were going to make a motion picture and we wanted certain machinery he had in the shop. We’d move it out after he closed business on Saturday, take it out to Hollywood, put it on a stage, bring it back and reinstall it so he could open up the following Monday morning. I convinced him, paid him $50 down, got an agreement and he gave me a key. Saturday we came and got the machinery, made a comedy, and he was happy.
Another time we had a pie fight. We went up to a famous place with beautiful statuary, Arthur Lipse’s. I didn’t have anything to do with this, but someone arranged it with the gardeners and told them they would clean up and mess. Unfortunately Mr. Lipse got home before they could clean it up and was angry to see his statues all covered with different colored pie fruit.
We had a story, went looking for the
type of house we wanted. When we found it, one of us would be delegated to go in
and ask for the housewife, whoever it happened to be, and negotiate with them,
pay them something to use their front lawn or patio or whatever we needed.
That’s how, in a crude way, it all started in Hollywood. Those were happy days,
everybody good friends. The company decided we ought to have better
relationships with the citizens of Los Angeles, so they built a stage on the
potato patch across the street from Sunset and Gower, several acres, I guess. We
invited the public to come and dance with some of the people in the picture
business. Ruth Roland was prominent then and I danced with her, an excellent
dancer. We held the dance once a week, had three or four of them, then the crowd
got so big it was impossible to carry on, so we discontinued.
I worked for a while with Al Christie at our same studio. His mode was simple, on Monday morning he’d say, “Well, Paul, let’s get some people together, see what we can do. Let’s get so and so and there’s a family I know there, the Forde family.” They were a family of actors from New York, did everything, and were wonderful. The mother’s name was Eugenie Forde, her daughter Victoria Forde, who later married Tom Mix. Christie said, “Let’s get old man Forde and Eugenie, get a couple of fellows, two or three cars, go downtown, see what we can do.” We used Winston Six automobiles. We had no script, but we’d make one up on the way down, all slapstick, he took notes on his cuff. We’d always do street cars, missing this and that, ending up in the car and so forth, chases and variations.
Al got the idea to go to the beaches, get some girls into it. He liked to go to the beach, loved fishing. On Friday we’d end up on the beach, we’d take along the bathing beauties, started that whole series with Al Christie’s bathing beauties. At the beach, one actor would knock over a vendor’s cart we’d brought with us, then the chase would start, the police would chase him, they’d fall over other people. Then we’d all stop and have a nice shore dinner, proceed the same in the afternoon until we got tired, then back to the studio, a wonderful day and the stuff was funny. The last time I saw Al Christie was in New York many years later, long after he ceased to operate. The last time I saw Al Christie was in New York many years later, long after he ceased to operate.
We had the problem of cameras, crude in those days, picked up a lot of static, an electrical impulse that on film looks like shooting branches all over the screen. Film was developed the morning after the shoot by the cameraman and assistant, in the lab developing room. It was first wound on big racks, developed and fixed, then put on revolving drums to dry through a chamois skin in a dust-proof room. In the morning we’d come in and look at it, hoping we’d avoided static. If we had static, we had to do the whole thing over again, or important parts.
Long afterwards, the first camera guaranteed never to have any static was the first professional Bell and Howell, couldn’t make them fast enough once they introduced them. It became the standard until the Mitchell took over because it was easier to operate, but we were happy to have a camera that gave no static.
Film static brings to mind an unusual and funny story. We were doing a script on the prehistoric man, photographing it near Northridge and the Santa Susana Pass at the end of the San Fernando Valley, summer, and prehistorically hot. Many of the actors and actresses were running around in skins and burning up. We didn’t know was there was a great deal of poison ivy in that part of the valley. We blithely went on our way, the cameraman fainted from heat and I took over the camera for one day. I was a jack of all trades, photographed, directed sometimes, acted, and helped write the story. We got through this thing, everybody glad it was over, went back happily to Hollywood. The next morning when we looked at the rushes, it was full of static, had to do the whole thing over. Before we could do it, the poison ivy started taking effect, put the kibosh on the whole deal. By the time the actors and actresses got over the poison ivy, we gave up the ghost, never finished the picture, went on to something else.
In those days we didn’t have built sets like they do now, only scenery. We had dining room sets, bedroom sets, kitchen sets, shoved into little slides just like in a theater. When the script called for a bedroom, a dining room, we’d pull out the one you want. The prop man or the set dresser would put in the furniture, hang pictures on the wall, pretty realistic. They had to be careful when the actors went through the doors, they didn’t slam them or the whole building would shake like an earthquake in the picture. The whole thing was an extension of a stage. The scenery, the way we placed the scenery on the stage, the props, the stage crews and the actors, practically all of them were from the stage.
People who had never been on the stage were found in the oddest ways. We’d be photographing something and say, “My Lord, we ought to have a man there, a woman, or whatever and there’s nobody here that can do it.” We’d stop everything. Two or three times I went out on the street at Gower and Sunset, stood on the sidewalk and watched people as they came by. If somebody looked like they might do the part, I’d them we were making a movie inside and needed someone just like them to be in the film. If they’d come in, we’d be glad to pay them for a couple of hours work. Most were intrigued by the adventure and got in the picture. Two or three of these people became famous and got their start in motion pictures.
I recall the company
we sent to Catalina Island to produce the film Robinson Crusoe [probably
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1922, dir. Robert F. Hill) an 18-part
serial]. They worked hard, just about finished with the film, had one important
scene to make, only a little film left. In those days there were no flights to
Catalina, you got there by boat. They hoped to get this last scene, catch the
next boat back to Hollywood. Everything was all set, the sun going down, they
yelled, “Camera!” The scene was supposed to be man Friday walking out of the
jungle by himself, seeing Robinson Crusoe. The scene was shot, everything fine.
The cameraman looked up, said, “That’s all,” and then, “My Lord, did you have
that pipe in your mouth when you came out of the bush?” It seems that man
Friday, a pipe smoker, forgot about his pipe. He’d been waiting in the wings, so
when his great opportunity came to appear in motion pictures, he walked out with
the pipe and that was the end of his career as a star in our studio.
Northern California and Luther Burbank, Panama-Pacific Exposition
My family in the meantime had moved to Santa Rosa and shortly afterward I joined them. It was a lovely place, lots of interests. I hadn’t been there long when I obtained a position with Luther Burbank, the famous horticulturist. My job was to photograph plants and trees, shrubs, flowers, anything he needed for illustrations in his catalog. I found him to be a very interesting man, quiet, unassuming, and dedicated of course to his work. He wasn’t addicted to much talk but what he did say had depth and meaning. He had a large experimental garden right in the town of Santa Rosa. While living in this area I used to roam around a great deal, doing a lot of still photography, looking for subjects. A couple of times I bumped into Jack London, who lived in the Valley of the Moon, not too far from my home in Santa Rosa. I didn’t get well acquainted with London but did talk to him a couple of times, thought was interesting.
After about a year and a half we moved back to San Francisco. One of my first assignments to myself was to go to Sausalito and pay a visit to the writer Frederick O’Brien, noted for his stories on the South Seas, including White Shadows of the South Seas, Where the Pavement Ends, and Atolls of the Sun. He invited me back and I made two or three trips to his hillside home and deck overlooking San Francisco Bay, a picturesque, romantic spot that would lend itself to a writer.
My uncle in San Francisco had a large factory, Humphrey Chocolates. They lived in Burlingame, across the street from another author, Stewart Edward White. White had written books on various subjects, including Arizona Nights, and one on Africa that intrigued me, The Land of Footprints. He later wrote on metaphysics, including The Betty Book, Across the Unknown, and The Unobstructed Universe, deep, wonderful books showing his ability as a writer.
My Dad wanted to go to new fields, so we moved to Eureka, California, in those days about as remote as the moon. There were no railways running into Eureka, no highways, no airlines, of course, only two ways to get there. One was by boat, the other to walk several hundred miles north from San Francisco. Transport was a lumber schooner, two of them the City of Topeka, the other the F.A. Kilburn. They took about 20 passengers, north from San Francisco, carried produce and anything people needed. We had lots of wonderful fish, game, dairy farms, nothing else of any consequence; everything was brought in by ship, taking huge loads of lumber to San Francisco on the return trip. Eureka’s whole economy was based on lumber and they had a large saw mill. It was probably the wettest town in the world, rained day and night for over three weeks continuously, moss on everybody’s roof. Everything was green, nobody had to water the lawn. I did get fed up with rain all the time.
It was a wild town then, a saloon on every corner, open gambling, nobody thought anything of it, a rough element there, lumberjacks, people working on the wharfs, in the sawmill. My Dad had a small hotel and did well. I was a little over nineteen years old when I went to Eureka, wasn’t interested in anything there, didn’t want to become a lumberjack or work in the sawmill, so I acquired the Cameo, a small theater, the Cameo, an old time nickelodeon, probably the smallest theater of the two or three in town. My brother helped by cranking the machine, we did everything, made enough to keep ourselves in clothes and spending money.
I became good friends with the man who owned the largest theater in town, a nice new place, playing the best pictures. One day he came over and said, “You know, I’ve signed up with a new company in New York who are going to produce super films and I’m going to have a big showing here in a couple of weeks of their new film, The Prisoner of Zenda [1913, dir. Hugh Ford and Edwin S. Porter].” There were a couple of well-known actors in it, Lasky [Jesse L. Lasky Feature Plays] was tied in with it. He said, “You have the equipment and the knowledge to make a nice picture of the crowd that I’m going to get in front of the theater.” He told me what he had in mind.
It was winter, he was going to play the picture after dark, wanted me to hold the crowd outside, not let them in until he had a big crowd out in front. Then he wanted me to make a flash light so that they could use it for publicity all over the country. I agreed, surveyed the situation, found a small building across the street, two stories high. It had a bad roof, sloping. I got permission from the owner and got on top of the building, I constructed a flashpan four or five feet long, placed it in the right position, wired it up with a battery and fuse wire, so when I pressed the button it would ignite the powder. The powder came in a round bottle with a yellow label, expensive. I knew it would take more than one bottle to throw the light across the street in the dark of the night, so I used three or four bottles. I put up my large banquet camera, long and narrow, about eight by twelve. I got all set up on the roof ---nobody saw me there because I kept quiet --- it got dark and finally the people started to arrive, a terrific crowd out front, about as many as he could get in the theater. I pulled the slide on the plate, had the powder already spread, he gave me the signal. I stood up, yelled, “Everybody, look this way, please!” When they did, I touched the button. There was a terrific flash, smoke went up and I couldn’t see through it for a few seconds. When the smoke cleared away, the people across the street were groping around like blind people, touching one another, trying to find their way. They’d looked right at the flash and it practically blinded them. They didn’t lynch me and the picture came out beautiful.
In order to supply my little Cameo Theater with films, it was necessary to go to San Francisco three or four times a year, make arrangement for the film to be shipped on different steamers at different times. It was the only way it could be done, I couldn’t send a letter, had to go down personally and select them, an ordeal. It got to be a real chore, because the ships were just tubs and we got into some bad storms, wasn’t pleasant, but it was romantic and interesting.
One time, I said goodbye to the family, left after breakfast, got on the ship and away we sailed. There was a very bad bar across Humboldt Bay, but because they had too heavy of a lumber load, the captain was afraid to get over the bar, sure if he tried it we’d hit the bottom and get stuck. He put down the anchor on the inside of the bar, sat there the rest of the day. They had to feed us, we played cards, joked, slept there that night. The next morning the captain said, “We’re just about out of food, so we better go back and restock,” so we turned around and pulled up to the wharf and when I walked into the house my mother said, “My, that was a quick trip.” Next morning, we tried again, got over the bar, made the trip to San Francisco.
dLater on the World’s Fair [Panama–Pacific International Exposition] came to San Francisco in 1915. I was employed by concessionaires doing photographs, had the opportunity to see the exhibits, meet people from all over the world. The First World War broke out the year before, in 1914, because of that, some of the international aspects were scuttled. The great navies of the world were to congregate there during 1915 but didn’t. A number of notable people showed up, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and I watched John Philip Sousa perform with his band on one of the concourses.
We had aerial acrobats in planes. Art Smith became famous for his daily contortions in his bi-plane over the bay, a great attraction. Unfortunately his monoplane, one of the first seen in this country, couldn’t stand up to the abuse. He plummeted into the bay, wasn’t killed in the crash, but drowned before he could get the straps that bound him to the seat loose [The aviator killed was Lincoln Beachey; Smith replaced him as the aviator at the fair, died in an aviation accident in 1926].
My brothers and I loved to swim and dive, many places around San Francisco for this sport. I got reckless and one day, did a dive, things didn’t go right and I hurt myself internally. The doctors said to lie in bed until it healed, I’d never get well if I kept jumping around, needed absolute rest so the organs could heal. I was about 21 years old, many months I thought would never end, but I mended completely.
I got a bit overweight, struggled with that thereafter. The good thing about being laid up was that I was able to think without interruption hour after hour, planned all sorts of things in my mind, put them on paper. I read a great deal, just about cleared out the library on anything to do with Africa, became familiar with many phases of African life and the terrain.
Denver, the Denver Post, Chicago gangsters, and Pikes Peak
When I was around twenty-two, we all moved to Denver, Colorado and there I really took root. I went into business at a commercial studio, got acquainted with most of the big shots --- or so-called big shots --- in the town and in Colorado Springs. Here I laid the ground work for my future life in Africa.
I was not accepted into the army because of my accident. I tried again in Denver, but they checked my record from San Francisco, turned me down. About this time, Battery D of the Colorado National Guard was sent to Charlotte, North Carolina for training for overseas duty, so I went to Charlotte on my own and set up a studio to photograph these young soldiers, everybody wanted to have a picture in their uniform sent back to their families. I did very well, nearly worked myself to death getting the work done, no one to help me. I got some local people to help, but no one had any technical knowledge, I never did catch up.
It must have been fall or winter, we had a lot of rain, the sticky reddish mud like glue, and it was cold. Then the Flu broke out. These young fellows born and raised in a dry climate were sent to this soggy environment, a pushover for the Flu bug. They died like flies, caskets piled up like cord wood at the railway station for transport back to Denver. I got the Flu, too, but I had money, on my own in a small hotel in Charlotte, and my window opened up to the front lawn of a church, fresh air. I lay there by myself, got some help from the hotel people but physicians weren’t available. I treated myself, wasn’t much you could do except take hot baths and other things. Nearly every day there was a funeral service outside my window, I’d hear these mournful funeral songs, see them carrying the casket. I could hardly wait to get well enough to just walk out and go back to Denver.
After returning to Denver, I opened a successful commercial studio and took on a partner [probably Victor Shuler, together they formed the Hoefler-Shuler Photo Company] for two reasons. First and most importantly, I needed another technician, knew I couldn’t take it all on by myself. Secondly, I needed extra money at the beginning to purchase all the equipment we needed to operate a first-class commercial studio. We did all sorts of work, photographed late model automobiles for the local dealers, did work for the railroad photographing scenes of accidents, and did work for the mining companies and promoters trying to sell mining stock.
On one job we were required to go down in a mine, they wanted motion pictures of a gold vein. There was no way to get electricity down that deep, the only way we could do the lighting was to take down some magnesium flares, nearly of the finish of the whole thing. The mine was a couple of hundred feet deep and we walked into a branch tunnel to where they d found this new streak of gold, placed the camera there. In those days, film wasn’t very fast, neither were lenses, so we needed as much light as possible. We ignited the flares, got a very bright light, succeeded in grinding out a few feet of film. The smoke from those fumes was overpowering, we had to fight our way out, stumbled, fell, couldn’t see. We fought our way out until we got to fresh air, taught me a lesson about photographing things underground without proper ventilation.
We photographed at a railway crossing where a train struck a man’s truck, scattered groceries all over the landscape. This was near Castle, Colorado, on the road toward Colorado Springs. To get to his farm, he had to cross the rails, no overpass or underpass. He’d made it lots of times in his old car but he had a new one, it got stuck on top of the grade across the track. He couldn’t get it started, panicked when he heard the train coming, tried to push it and couldn’t, so ran up the line, waving his hat, shouting, at the top of his voice. The engineer couldn’t hear anything he said, didn’t know what the man was waving about, but long before he could slow the train to an appreciable speed, he struck the truck broadside, scattered truck and groceries in all directions. The man claimed damages against the railroad and we had to photograph the scene of the accident from various angles. The funny thing about the fellow yelling help for someone to push his car off the track before the arrived, there was no one within miles.
During the summer they ran Wide Tours out of Chicago on the Union Pacific and they would take people in buses from Denver to Lookout Mountain and Buffalo Bill’s grave. We’d meet them, take a panoramic photograph of the whole group, up to a hundred people. It would be a souvenir of the Wide Tour, the date, Lookout Mountain, Colorado. As soon as we photographed, we’d rush down Lookout Mountain in my old tin Lizzie, back to the studio in Denver, develop and make prints. That night when they were having dinner after their adventure, our operatives would go around the dining room, show the prints, their orders to be mailed to them at their home ports, a financial success for us. We also took banquets, religious, political, and business groups.
I became well acquainted with a lot of the top businessmen in Colorado, including Judge Owen Tom Dyans in Denver and Spencer Penrose and Charlie Tutt in Colorado Springs, all helpful as I built my business [Penrose and Tutt built the road to Pikes Peak in 1916, initiated the auto race to the top the same year]. It brought many opportunities in many ways. Later, many of these men became financial backers on my expeditions to Africa.
In that year there was a big oil strike in Oklahoma, we opened a branch in Tulsa, put one of the men working for us in charge. He seemed honest and hardworking, we had trust and confidence in him. We equipped the studio with all equipment necessary for that operation, which was photographing oil wells and operations. One day we got word that this man absconded with all of our equipment. We couldn’t get him on the phone, didn’t answer telegrams so I drove down to Tulsa. I went to our office on Boston Street, nothing in the room except dust and dirt, empty boxes. From that clue I located where he was, operating in a place called Keystone. I drove to Keystone, started out with directions. In those days there were no road signs amounting to anything, you had to be a good navigator to find anything in a country with few landmarks, no mountains.
I got to Shawnee, Oklahoma, filled he tank, asked where Keystone was. The man gave me directions to the best of his ability, only seventy-five miles away as I recall. It was evening so I had dinner, thought I’d drive up that night and be ready to find this fellow next morning. I drove and drove, tried to follow the directions. Finally I saw some lights in the distance, a large-sized town so I thought, there it is. When I arrived, I was back in Shawnee. The best thing was to stay the night, start out in the daytime when I had better visibility. Next day I found Keystone, found the man, but he was belligerent, not going to give up this stuff. I found the sheriff, typically Western, a kindly fellow, showed him my credentials, told him the story. He said let’s go find this fellow. We went out together, found him, the sheriff arrested him, took him over to the Justice of the Peace as there wasn’t any courthouse. I told my story, the fellow tried to tell his, but it was full of holes. The Judge settled the case right there. I’d found my property, the culprit, had him arrested, took him to court, got a judgment, all within six or seven hours.
A great deal of our commercial work was for automobile agencies, I had a good customer and friend who sold the Cole 8, the Hudson, and later the Rickenbacker. He was a generous person, too generous, I guess, because he got into financial trouble. One night his place burned down and it was alleged that he set the fire, whether he did or not that is a moot point. He was sentenced to the penitentiary. Who came to his assistance? Eddie Rickenbacker, with all the assistance he could give him. I got acquainted with Rickenbacker, saw him several times, a wonderful person.
I remember another automobile man, Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, racing against time from New York, I believe, to San Francisco or Los Angeles. He stopped long enough to get gas and have something to eat. I talked to him, took some pictures of his car.
They had the famous Pikes Peak hill climb. Once a year, automobile manufacturers sent crews to Denver and Colorado Springs, established a camp at Cascade, the beginning of the highway to the top of Pike’s Peak. They’d get the best cooks they could out of Denver, had elaborate camps. It attracted great crowds, lots of good publicity for Denver and Colorado Springs. We did a great deal of photography there, and two or three times I rode up the Peak in one of those racing cars during practice runs.
One day a dilapidated truck drove to the front of our office and studio on South Broadway, towing an old Ford. He came from Kansas or Nebraska, had a small garage in a small town. He was a tall gangling fellow, reminded you of Will Rogers only taller. We were in automobile row and he asked us something about the Ford, he was going to enter this Ford of his in the race. It seemed laughable, compared with all these wonderful cars, with crews. He was one America’s unheralded geniuses, been out to the races before, studied the situation, his theory was that the cars that won were not the most powerful fastest, but the ones that lost the least time in getting around these hundreds of curves. So he built this old Ford, built a breaking system that he worked by feet and hands, separate brakes for each wheel. He went up there ahead of time and practiced. He raced as fast as his old Ford would go, running into the curve, throwing himself around it, kept right on going. He won the race [Noel Bullock, who won the 1922 race in a Ford Special].
I got an assignment from one of the newsreel companies in New York, we had the only professional motion picture equipment, in Denver, I guess, so we got all the assignments. They wanted some pictures of Pikes Peak from the air, never been done. A friend had a Curtiss Oriole, I think, a plane with two seats in it, the passenger behind the pilot, dual control, I flew in it for pictures on various occasions. My camera wasn’t streamlined or light like those now, a big cumbersome thing difficult to handle. We buzzed from the Denver airport down to Colorado Springs, seventy-five miles in a straight line, circled several times, got scenes, and I got an idea. I yelled in his ear that it would be a good idea if he would dive on the Peak, and when he pulled up, I’d get a shot of the Peak going away from us. I thought that would be effective. Crazy idea. I got the scene, got so deathly sick I thought I’d fall out, when I got back to Denver I had to sit e for fifteen or twenty minutes before I was strong enough to walk, white as a sheet, almost lost my insides on that deal.
One day a man from Hollywood walked into my office, small and energetic. He was a none-too-successful director, but presented a good idea to me in some detail. I had the equipment and the financial background to carry it out, interested because business was slow and I could do it in addition to everything else. My partner could carry on the business and I’d go on the road.
The idea was we’d go to smaller towns, film a script he’d written involving practically everybody that lived there. We’d alter it a little bit from town to town but the titles would always be the same, The Girl from Here, and the Girl from There. We made The Girl From Paris, Texas, The Girl From Abilene, The Girl from Tulsa, got to Colorado, made The Girl From Boulder, The Girl From Emporia, Kansas, and Hutchinson. It was a great success except I was doing practically all the work, nearly killing myself doing it. We hired an Advance Man to go ahead, paid him a good salary to line up the shows with the Chamber of Commerce. We gave them lots of publicity, tied it in with a theatre and newspaper. This fellow was drawing his salary but wasn’t getting any results, so we fired him. I went ahead from then on. We built some small developing tanks in Denver, racks so we could develop one hundred or two hundred feet at a time, thirty-five millimeter motion picture film. Then we fixed up a portable printer, editing and splicing equipment.
We’d start out with this story, let’s say The Girl From Corsicana, lots of scenes were made on the stage in the theatre, all the interiors. We took klieg lights, so I had to hire an electrician to go along to take care of the lights. I took one of the boys working for us to run the lab, I was doing the photography, the man who had the idea was the director. We’d go in the town and with the newspaper tie-up it would be announced we’d hold a contest for the most popular girl and most popular boy in town, they’d be the leading man and leading lady. We selected two or three other characters at the same time, stirred up a lot of interest, the newspapers glad to report it because it was a novelty. I went out personally to get publicity, couldn’t get anyone else to do it right, sold motion picture advertisements to the bank, the grocery, furniture stores, others. When we shot material outside, we’d include their places of business in a news reel accompanying the main story.
The love story involved the young boy and girl. She was kidnapped, he rescues her from a burning building. The fire police departments were involved, big crowds watching us. We swung the camera around, took the crowd, shown in the news reel along with the story at the theatre. It took us about a week or ten days in each town to film the story, always the same, just different people, different locale. Simple but effective and boy, did they go for it. When we opened the showings, crowds would be lined up for blocks, did a terrific business. It was a great success but it got away from us.
One time we shot all day Friday, I worked all that day and all night getting things prepared, we worked all day Saturday and Saturday night and Sunday. I know I worked 36 hours or more without any sleep, killing even on a young man in my twenties. What finally broke the camel’s back was I made a quick trip back to Denver to see how things were getting along while we had a little lull in our bookings. When I got to our place, my energetic partner was sitting in the front with his feet up on a desk reading a newspaper. The place looked deserted. I walked in and said where are all the customers, what’s the matter? Oh things have been bad he said. The fact was he hadn’t gotten out and tried to get any business, just waited for them to walk in. I looked at the bank account and nearly fainted. All the money I had been sending in, I had visions of a great big fat bank account. Well he did this and that with it, all sorts of excuses, so I said to heck with it, I’m not going to kill myself to support a lazy lout like this. So I called the whole thing off, cancelled everything, brought everybody home. [Hoefler and with his photography partner Victor Shuler were credited as a cinematographers for a feature film shot in Dolores, Colorado during this time, The Scarlet West (1925, dir. John G. Adolfi), starring Clara Bow; Hoefler’s wife Maude Bush Hoefler appeared as The Wife].
There were lots of road experiences. We opened in Wichita Falls, Texas and the local union got after us because we didn’t have a local electrician. I said our electrician belongs to the union in Denver. That isn’t any good here, they said, you’ve got to have a local man, made me put a man on the payroll, big salary, to do nothing, knew nothing about these klieg lights, just sat there and drew his salary. I had an argument with the union steward or organizer, he passed the word around and they kicked one of the big lights through the man’s big motion picture screen. I had to buy him a new one, so we didn’t make much profit on that engagement. It gave me an outlook on unionism that has never dissipated. Another valuable experience along the road of life.
We were making the picture in Emporia, Kansas. They had a lot of funny laws, one of them that they had to have a censor along with anybody making a motion picture. They appointed a local school teacher, she followed us around and every time we’d make a scene with the young man and girl she’d say you can’t do that, it isn’t nice. In one scene he rescues the girl in the burning building, lifts her up, carries her out through the window, down the ladder. She wouldn’t allow it, imagine a young man lifting up a girl like that, that would be terrible, she said.
I was invited to come down to the big oil fields in Texas along the Canadian River where they’d struck oil, and these people wanted to get some motion pictures of a well being brought into production. They offered a good fee so I proceeded to Amarillo and then to Borger. It was a new camp, was winter, lots of rain with mud up to your neck, horrible. The food was out of this world: I mean if you stayed there long enough you’d be out of this world, it was awful. I wanted to get the job done so we go to this rig and they threw up some earthen bulwarks, wanted to photograph when the well was brought in, get some scenes of loading the torpedo. When I was ready, they poured nitro glycerin down into these tubes, lowered the tubes a little in the pipe, poured more in another one on top and so on, lots of nitroglycerin. I picked up the camera, looked around, not another soul in sight, just two men handling the nitro and me. I joined them behind this earthen bank, waited for the explosion. Somebody gave a signal, they fired the torpedo. It goes down, as I understand it, through the well casing until it strikes bottom and explodes, scattering rocks around the bottom of the drill hole , freeing the oil under pressure, which gushed though the top. I was grinding away when a terrific explosion shook the earth, then his black stream of oil shot up through the middle of the rig over the top and higher, spattering all over the landscape. They jumped with joy, brought in one of the biggest gushers in that field.
A professor from Boulder, Colorado named Croslin and I became good friends. He asked if I’d like to go with him down to Southeastern Colorado, there was a plague of grasshoppers and I knew we could sell it to the news reels. When arrived, the grasshoppers were there by the millions, crawling, not flying yet, one wave after another, a living carpet of grasshoppers. They were trying to divert them from the crops by throwing up ditches then putting something in the ditch to kill them. I got some interesting pictures. Through the connection with Croslin I was invited to go along with the official party to the San Luis Valley to attend the opening of the Sargent Consolidated School, founded by C.G. Sargent. The first consolidated school in the United States, it brought from the rural areas and small towns in buses to a multi-grade school instead of putting them all in a small schoolroom where they taught everything from the first grade up in one room.
A gentleman who had been in my studio several times had a dude ranch not too far out of Denver called Moonridge Ranch, where people stayed, helped herd the cattle. He had an excellent cook and attracted people, particularly from the East, who wanted a taste of the West. He called me, had some guests from Chicago and one wanted some motion pictures made of him riding a horse. Would I come out and how much would it cost? I told him the going rate was a dollar a foot for the motion picture including a print. I took my movie camera and three rolls of 400 ft. film, thought it would be plenty. I meet this fellow, a big handsome looking man of Italian descent, just called him Jack [Louis “Diamond Jack” Alterie], I knew nothing about him, of course. A little later I met another man, shorter, pleasant and soft-spoken, well dressed. His name was Dean [Dion] O’Banion of Irish extraction. We had several pleasant conversations, finally the light got right in the corral, the horses were ready. Jack wanted to show what a wonderful horseman he was, take this film to take back to Chicago, show his friends he was a real buckaroo. He did well, off the horse several times, stirred up a lot of dust, but put on a good show. I kept grinding away, every time I’d suggest that was enough, he’d say keep on going as long as you got film, I ground out the whole 1200 feet.
Jack asked how much he owed, I said, 1200 dollars. He stuck his hand in his pocket, brought out a roll of bills that would choke a horse, tore off fifties and hundreds until he gave me $1200. I told him when the film would be ready, they came to my studio projector room to see it after I was finished. They were pleased, got a big kick out of it, we turned it over to them, the last I saw of these two gentlemen for quite a time.
A year passed, I was back in Denver, got another telephone call this time from Dean O’Banion, said they were tat the Shirley Savoy Hotel, wanted to know if I’d like to bring my wife over and have dinner with them. We accepted, they had a private dining room fixed up. Dean O’Banion and his wife, Jack Alterie and his wife, were there, six or seven other people, and my partner in the studio and his wife. We had an interesting evening with talk around the table, a very nice dinner. I wanted to go to the gentleman’s room so he said that’s my room over there so I opened the door and walked in, ye Gods when I walked into the room it was a regular arsenal, guns all over the place. I said nothing, came back to the table.
Shortly thereafter, one of the Black waiters got a little careless, dropped some soup on O’Banion. He flashed like lightening, jumped to his feet, hand went to his pocket, flashed out a revolver, looked at this Black man, cursed him, and that man shook like a leaf, practically turned white.
I found out, in discussions and hearing them talk about their problems, he was a gangster, had a bootlegging ring in Chicago, but they could never pin anything on him. The other fellow Jack] was the President of the Theatrical Janitors’ Union in Chicago, charged special assessments that went to him personally, ran the Union for his own personal gain.
When dinner was over O’Banion said he wanted to talk to me privately, took me aside, no idea what he had in mind. He said I understand you’ve been to Africa, just got back a short time ago, saw that in the Chicago papers.” I said yes I have. What do you know about Africa, he asked. I told him what little I knew at that time. He said fine, I’ve always wanted to go to Africa on a big game hunt so I’d like to make arrangements with you to fix a safari for me in Kenya and I’ll just go by myself, don’t want any of these other guys with me, just me and you. You’ll be in charge, I’ll pay all expenses, give you so many thousand dollars as a bonus. It was easy for me at that time because I could get away and I knew the ropes, the bonus stood out. I said fine, when do you want to go? He said get started, and when you’re ready let me know and we’ll conclude the deal. Without telling him, I decided I wouldn’t go through it, didn’t relish the idea of being out on the African veldt with a man who would fire at the least provocation, use his gun to settle any imagined injury or argument.
They left town, I had to go to Los Angeles on business, took my family with me because I knew it was going to be more than a week. The second week I came home to where we were staying, the boy had just thrown the newspaper up on the lawn. There in big headlines, “Dead O’Banion Murdered in His Flower Shop,” or words to that effect, this was the fellow I was going to take to Africa [O’Banion was killed November 10, 1924].
In 1924 I was working as a reporter and press photographer for the Denver Post, the largest newspaper in that part of the world. I had one particularly good friend, Courtney Ryley Cooper, a well-known writer. I was on excellent terms with Frederick Bonfils, the owner, and one of the few men he took to his home. Gene Fowler gives a pretty good description of him in his book, Timber Line. I hadn’t yet been to Africa but had a desire to go and he found out. He’d already been to Africa, met Teddy Roosevelt when he made his trip down the Nile. We developed the idea of an African expedition. Bonfils promised his financial support but I know he wouldn’t go whole hog, not that type of a person.
To Africa: The Denver African Expedition of 1925
It was up to me to arrange the funds. I was far from wealthy, so I conceived the idea of holding a small dinner party for men who had money, at the Brown Palace Hotel, noted for of its cuisine. I talked to another man, realtor Horace W. Bennett, became good friends, one of the three B’s of Colorado. They said anybody who spent a dollar in Colorado, fifty cents of it was divided up among the three B’s: Boettcher [Charles], Bonfils, and Bennett. Bennett owned all kinds of property, was part owner of the Brown Palace Hotel, one of the developers of Cripple Creek during the gold strikes. Mr. Bennett said, “I’ll have my attorney prepare a subscription, you give your little dinner, and if we can get these fellows to put up their name on this, they’ll have to come through with it. I’ll help you all I can, start it off with a subscription.” I borrowed sixty dollars to help pay for it, made arrangements at the Brown Palace. I had about twenty men there, top men in Colorado’s hierarchy, all with money.
I gave my speech, told what I intended to do in Africa, the possibilities of a motion picture there, which hadn’t been done since Paul J. Rainey’s African Hunt [prod. Paul J. Rainey, 1912]. Mr. Bennett made a short talk, said he had faith in me, would start the subscription off with $2,500 and said, “I don’t expect anybody to do any less.” Some did, some a little less, but we raised sufficient funds to finance the expedition, my first to Africa. It was called, “The Denver African Expedition,” part of the idea was to get all the publicity we could for Denver.
Two other men entered the picture, went on the expedition, interested in the Kalahari Desert. One of them we’ll call Doctor Kay had given us all to understand that he was an authority on Africa and would be of great help on the expedition [probably Cecil Ernest Cadle, who in 1928 co-led the Cameron-Cadle Expedition]. He sold himself to all and sundry, but when we got to Africa under actual working conditions, we soon found out that he was anything but an expert on Africa, knew nothing of practical use, a greater hindrance than a help. On the other hand, Doctor John [Dr. Grant John] proved himself to be invaluable, not only a wonderful physician, taking care of all concerned, but also a counselor with common sense, helpful in many ways.
That was it, three of us starting out. I was the youngest, Doctor John the oldest, slightly past sixty. We had special equipment built to protect the film against heat and moisture, purchased a Bell and Howell professional camera and other equipment, special cases made for everything. When everything was assembled, numbered and ready, we departed by train from Denver to Chicago, on to New York. Our relatives, friends, and others gathered at the depot, gave us a rousing send-off.
It was July 1925. I’d been married to a lovely girl [Maudie] since 1918, had a daughter [later Jacqueline Hoefler Troyer] who was now almost five years old. Being a young man, it was quite something to feel you were going away from your family, a long time before you saw them again, great numbers of hazards ahead. Although I’d had an adventurous life, I wondered if it was something I should do, then thought, there are maybe millions in the time the world has had men in it that had to leave their families, go to faraway places on adventures or business trips to make a livelihood, provide for their families. This was all part of that pattern, fit with my training and plans, offered an opportunity to get ahead in the world.
We arrived in New York, boarded the ship Eastern Glade, belonging to the Bull Line. It sailed between New York and other East coast ports to African ports, one of the few going to Africa. Not an elaborate ship by any means, carried not more than fifteen or twenty passengers at the most, nice, courteous crew, good food. Our trip from Brooklyn was 59 days to Cape Town, uninterrupted over the great circle route, more than 6000 some nautical miles, the old ship made only about 11 or 12 knots per hour. We put our time to good account, practiced marksmanship on a target at the stern of the ship, overhauling the equipment and seeing that everything was right, made notes, got acquainted with the people on board.
We were in the middle of the Atlantic when one of the engine cylinders blew a gasket or something. We stopped, took them a day or so to get things fixed, meanwhile, we bobbed around like a cork in a tub until they got it working again. We had sea birds to interest us, the albatross later, close to Africa, little jackass penguins popped out of the water, Mother Carey’s Chickens, other sea birds. We got into a fog bank. The Captain, a buddy by now, said, “We’re close to Cape Town, but we can’t do much about it in this fog. We can go so far, then we have to stop.” We cut the engines slow enough so we could keep headway, the fog so thick you could write your initials in it, the foghorn blaring away for one whole day and a night. The morning of the second day, we heard an answering fog horn off in the distance, the engine sped up, great numbers of penguins popped out of the water. We were near Robben Island, saw a lighthouse a way off, Slangkop. We couldn’t see the mountains because they were obscured in the fog, but crept into to the harbor to the dock.
The first man I met was the immigration officer, looked at our passports, knew we were coming and greeted us courteously; right away we liked the South Africans. I removed the equipment, including a big White Motorcar Company truck. When we had it prepared for shipment, we told them not to put anything with it, just the chassis, we would build the body over there because the law concerning importing motorcars into South Africa said a chassis was absolutely free of duty, but if it had anything else on it you paid a fifteen or twenty percent duty. We knew we’d have to put up a bond on the camera and if we didn’t take it back out of the country, we’d have to pay a duty, expected that. Everything went fine until customs opened the case with the truck chassis. The boys in the factory generously included in the case a nice cushioned seat for the cab we were to build. That changed the status and we had to pay extra duty, started the ball rolling on getting behind on the budget. The customs man in charge had a very unusual name, Cakebread, courteous and only following the tenets of the law, nothing he could do about it.
We went to a little hotel, the Grand, clean and good beds, but only one bathroom on a floor. Everybody got up early to get to the bathroom first, a line of men, men only allowed on one floor, women on another, each with a towel over his arm, a cake of soap, waiting to get into the bathroom. If a fellow was a bit slow they’d start yelling. “Hurry up, got an appointment!” all in fun.
We were in Cape Town for some time making our preparations, getting authority and permits, then on recommendation of several people we hired a man who was to be very valuable to us, Mr. Donald Bain [Donald Geddes Bain], who spoke English as well as Afrikaans, which none of us spoke. He knew the country, had never been to where we were going, but we found practically nobody had been up there.
We built a body for this chassis, loaded it down, turned over the engine, hand cranked and put her in gear and she wouldn’t move. No wonder, the whole body weight was resting on top of the wheels. We unloaded, cut holes through the bottom of the truck so the wheels would go through these slits, put tin over it to keep water from coming in and reduced the load by two or three hundred pounds. We had cots with legs on them to keep you off the ground, they had to go and we ended up with just the pads to put on the ground, no cots. We discarded anything heavy we could get along without. It was a good thing we did, because as we progressed into the country, the big difficulty was sand luggers, almost bottomless patches of sand. We had great difficulty, have to unload, take a run at it, get through it, carry all this stuff across and reload. When we couldn’t get out at all, we’d trek on foot to a farm or some place we could get help, they’d come out with a team of oxen and pull us out.
Gasoline in cases was the heaviest part of the load and naturally we didn’t throw any of that overboard. We picked up another supply when we came to Upington on the Orange River. The first words I learned in Afrikaans were: ______________ in other words, “where’s the road?” There wasn’t any road, just streaks in the dust, you went by guess and navigational instinct, knew you wanted to go northeast, used a compass and went that way, going around obstacles.
On the way to Upington, we stopped at a little farm and they said, “Well, you people are interested in unusual things, there’s a terrific big waterfall over here, would you like to see it?” I said, “How far is it?” “Oh, just a little way.” I found out that to these people a little way could mean anything up to ten miles. It was terrifically hot and fortunately we had somebody to carry this heavy camera, I couldn’t have. We took it down in several sections, I carried part of it. We walked and walked, finally got there, the first Americans to see the Augrabies Falls at King George’s Cataract on the Orange River. It’s a terrific sight, falls into a gorge, birds flying way down below. I took some motion pictures of it, now lost, destroyed with a lot of other valuable material made at that time in a lab fire Fort Lee, New Jersey [Hoefler’s print of his 1926 film The Bushmen, documenting the Denver African Expedition, was presumably lost in that fire. The only remaining print, consisting of eight reels, is located in the South African National Film, Video, and Sound Archive]. We returned to the farmhouse, stayed a couple of nights to recuperate, got more information, headed farther north.
The pads we put on the ground were fine, except sometimes when I put my feet in I felt something that didn’t belong there, usually a snake. They cuddled up with me and I evicted them before I got into bed. Some of them were poisonous, that country full of snakes and scorpions by the millions.
W went right through the heart of Great _______ land, where afterwards were found the largest field of diamonds in the earth, now a patrolled, prohibited area. We went through Keepmanshoop [now in Namibia], proceeded almost due north to Gibran, then to Rehoboth and Copius Vintok [probably Windhoek] then Okahandja and farther up to Grootfontein and then to Etosha pan and to Namuntoni, our headquarters for many months.
We had to find our way the best we could. I had an artificial horizon with me and a sextant. While crossing the Atlantic, I took lessons from Mate and the Captain on navigation and it was quite helpful. From Namutoni, we operated in many directions.
The country was very dry, we never went anywhere without plenty of water. On one trip, we heard a humming noise, a terrific swarm of bees descended on us, looking for water. They settled around the spout of the old-fashioned radiator the truck, under our eyes and lips, trying to get moisture. Our dogs were panic stricken, running, yelping in all directions, finally the bees just left, frightening.
East of Namutoni, we were traveling in a mopane forest, no road, but a good elephant path barely wide enough for us to get through, although we chopped down two or three small trees on the way. We camped at nightfall, stopped the truck where we were, no sense in looking for a place to park. We all put our sleeping pads on the center of the trail a few feet ahead of the truck, except Doctor Kaye, who insisted on sleeping on the truck. I woke up at two o’clock in the morning to a bright moon, took a slow turn and right on top of me stood the biggest elephant in the world, must have been 25 feet high, motionless, surveying the scene. I didn’t know what to do, my 30.06 rifle wouldn’t stop an elephant, would have been suicide to try to shoot it, so I did nothing. Pretty soon he swung, swayed, sauntered off. Next morning I measured his spore, twenty-two inches across, one of the largest we ever came across.
Namutoni, our headquarters, was built by the Germans as a fort prior to the First World War, not to fight against while people, but to fight off tribes, including the Ovambo, and others. One reason for using it was the beautiful, clean, water spring, worth more than diamonds in a country where water is scarce. It had a fine swimming pool, we took advantage of it two or three times a day in this hot place.
Fort Namutoni stands at the edge of the great Etosha pan, almost 5,000 square miles of flat surface, marvelous place to study mirages. Look out all over the pan, all sort of weird things float in the sky, ostriches as big as a twenty story building. The pan becomes a bottomless morass after a mile or so, no one’s ever crossed it to anyone’s knowledge, it will not sustain any weight after you get out a certain distance from the shore. Much of the pan is bordered by forests of mopane and other hardy trees, more a bush veldt than a forest, trees scattered but fairly close together. Here are great herds of zebra, wildebeest and springbok living on the sloping grassland between the pan and the forest. I suspect they get most of their sustenance inside the small forest rather than on this grassland which looks burned up. The zebra herds have a habit of racing toward a car, come to a sudden stop in a cloud of dust or running across your intended path. On the other hand, when startled, the beautiful springbok will stampede across your right of way, every member of the herd following the leader. You stop to avoid hitting stragglers.
A Captain E. Nelson was the game warden among many other things, and lived near Namutoni in a little cottage of his own, knew the country and the tribes. Because of his knowledge and friendliness with the tribes, he opened many doors, helped us in many ways with our successful expedition.
One of our first trips from Namutoni was north to the Cunene River and the great Ruacana Falls. On our way there, we burst out of the forest into a clearing, to our astonishment gazed at a large bungalow of native rock, the jungle ready to take over, branches reaching in through windows, out through different parts of the roof, but about fifty percent intact. Right after we burst into the view, a large leopard sunning himself on the veranda peered at us in surprise, made a graceful, swift exit.
On our return trip from the Cunene River near a place called Quagga, which is what the bark of a zebra sounds like, “quagga, quagga”. We camped near a small village, down in a basin formed by sandstone, in the bottom a large pond. Although the water had a green scum over it, we could still get under it, boil the water thoroughly and replenish our supply. As we were making camp we noticed many signs of elephant, tracks, spore, droppings. We knew villagers were there every day, so thought nothing of the elephant signs. All our thoughts were taken up by the millions of flies swarming around us, the only thing to do was erect our small canvas tent and get out of their reach. It was a question of which was the worse, having the flies bite you or being in a bake oven. We stood the heat rather than the flies, when the sun went down it cooled quickly and the flies left.
Previously at the village we purchased a goat, butchered by a Hottentot boy whom we had hired on our way up from Cape Town. We roasted the ribs over a fire the old primitive way, holding them in our greasy hands to eat. After we finished the meal, I entered the tent, supposedly snake and insect-proof, with a canvas floor with a little step at the front to keep things from walking in. We didn’t have a lantern in it. I had a bag with a towel, reached down for it, felt a funny sensation across my face, drew back, then felt liquid on my face. My eyes burned, I was blinded. I groped my way out of the tent, the first to the rescue was our boy Frederick, the Hottentot, knew right away what it was. He said in Afrikaans, “rinkhals.” The rinkhals is a cobra with stripes around its neck, called a ring-necked cobra. When it attacks, it sprays its venom and blinds the victim. My companion Doctor John had gone to the village, so the first thing Frederick did was to kill the snake, rushed to the nearby village, brought them back. Doctor John prepared a solution of permanganate of potash we carried with us, bathed my eyes with that and sweet milk. It was the most horrible night I’ve ever spent in my life, seemed like each eyeball was as big as a balloon and they ached. I was lying on the ground in the tent on my pad, on the ground where the snake had been. We took precautions to close it up so nothing could get in.
That night a big herd of elephants came for a drink and a bath for two or three hours, crunching right by my tent, playing and splashing in the water. I couldn’t see a thing, wouldn’t know what to do. Finally it was daylight, still couldn’t see, my companions did what they could to make me comfortable. I slept the following night and the next day, pain gone but I still couldn’t see. Question was, would I ever see again? Doctor John was a medical doctor, but wasn’t sure because he had no knowledge of this particular poison and what its reactions were. On the fourth day, I saw a little glimmer of light, the next morning my sight returned; I wore a pair of smoked glasses for a week or more to protect my glasses from the glare.
We had another encounter with a snake a few days later. Professor A.J.H. Goodwin [Astley John Hilary Goodwin, 1900-1959], an anthropologist from the University of Cape Town with us, was a pipe smoker, cherished this pipe of his with great adoration, always talking about it. It started to get dark, we were sitting on a slope of a hill, lots of loose stones, bound to be snakes and scorpions in them. He laid his pipe on a rock with his tobacco, all of a sudden we heard a sound like a bull, a terrific noise, and Bain said, “That’s a bull adder,” a small snake that makes a loud, steady noise. We caught a glimpse of the snake and Doctor Kaye, always trigger happy, grabbed his shotgun and fired point blank at the snake. It was in direct line of fire with the man’s pipe and his tobacco pouch, blew them to smithereens, hit the snake, too.
In the matter of Doctor Kaye’s tendency to shoot on sight, at a camp we were in for some time there were a great number of animals around, including lions and many hyenas. We had to place all our cooking utensils up in trees, otherwise hyenas would carry them off, anything that smelled like food. I was sound asleep at two or three o’clock in the morning when all of a sudden there was a terrific roar of a 405 Winchester, and then another shot and I saw it was coming from Doctor Kaye, who slept on top of the truck, safer up there, he said. I said, “What are you shooting at?” “There are a couple of lions down there in the kitchen,” he said. Next morning, we identified the animals as hyenas by their spore and then the cook yelled, held up our only frying pan. The Doctor had put a large bullet right through the center.
Our constant companions were four dogs we brought. One of them, an Airedale we called Ugly, was a marvelous dog with great courage. The others were a greyhound and two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, very fine dogs. One of the first things we noticed when we were camping with the Bushmen, was they’d bark upon occasion, while Bushmen dogs never barked. It must be that down through centuries, Bushmen trained their dogs to remain silent, the reason being that the Bushman is the greatest tracker and stalker of game on the earth, always had one or two dogs with him. When stalking an animal, if one of the dogs barked or made a noise, that would be the end of the stalking, wouldn’t get the game. They’d growl if you got closer to them than they thought you should, but they’d never bark.
While we were staying at our headquarters at Namutoni, Captain Nelson said, “There’s a pride of lion out here a few miles, do you want to get some motion pictures?” I said, “I certainly do.” We’d been there some time, and although we’d heard lion, none of us has seen one, one of the great thrills of Africa for people that don’t live there is to see a wild lion. So it was all prepared. On account of the excessive fly and sleeping sickness, which affects horses and other animals, they don’t have horses in these areas, instead using small type of mules that have been salted, meaning been bitten by flies, survived and immune. At that time, there was no vaccine for man or beast.
There were no tsetse flies in this area, if there were, we never knew it. Captain Nelson said, “I’ll supply you with some horses and mules, riding mules to go out after these lions.” The equipment and camera were unwieldy, nothing like present day cameras. We started out as light as possible. I had my 30.06 slung with a strap over my back, carrying part of the camera with me, all of us on horseback, with our four dogs. The dogs ran ahead, when we got to a certain group of bushes where Captain Nelson had indicated we might find the lions, the dogs became agitated, jumping and barking. We followed, stopped outside the bushes, observed the flesh of a yellow body go by, circled around to another location, right in front of us on the edge of the bush were three lions, a big beautiful black male lion reclined. I couldn’t just shoot off the hip as we do now, the camera had to be assembled, and I had to get off the mule. With this excitement and the smell of the lion, the mules bolted into the bush, I dropped my part of the camera, took all my strength to hold on to the mule. My rifle got caught on a tree limb, took it off my back, I went on, the mule and I together, the rifle hanging on a tree limb. When I got the mule under control, I came around the clump of bushes again and found to my horror that our dog Ugly saw this lion, charged and attacked. The lion reached out when he got close enough, smacked him, the end of Ugly, a dog no match for a lion. Ugly had recently killed a hyena, would attack snakes, but he met his Waterloo when he met a lion.
Our boy Frederick was part Hottentot and part Bushmen, the only person in South Africa that we could find who could speak or understand the Bushmen language. It sounds like nothing you ever heard, no white man has mastered it because it’s a series of clicks and grunts, primitive and no written language. They have no laws, no chiefs. Every man provides the food, does everything, complete in himself. We wanted to communicate with the Bushmen and Frederick was our only means of doing so.
At one time the Bushmen, in this desolate part of Africa on the fringes of the Kalahari below the Okavango, occupied unchallenged nearly the whole of Southern Africa, a numerous, powerful tribe. They were challenged by stronger tribes like the Zulus, driven out, later driven north by the encroachment of the white men. Between the black man and the white man they’ve been squeezed into an ever smaller area, but in spite of all of this, they managed to exist. A big problem is water. The rivers are far apart and the smaller streams dry up during a hot season, so they obtain water by several means. They take an ostrich egg and drill a hole in it, eat the contents and use the shell to store water, filling it when they find water, storing it underneath the sand. They always find their storage, no matter how many months elapse. If they seek it they’ll find it. That’s one way they survive. Then there’s the tsamma melon that grows in the desert, probably saved many a Bushman’s life. It’s like a small type of watermelon, and bountiful, so they eat large quantities to supply their craving for moisture. They also get the blood out of the animals.
In order to carry on our scientific studies of the Bushmen, we established a camp not too far away from Namutoni, sufficiently distant to gather a great group of Bushmen together if possible. We made a survey, located a place that lent itself to the establishment of a larger camp. Naturally, we’d return to Namutoni for drinking water. The Bushmen is probably the world’s greatest hunter and tracker, and when there is an ample supply of game, there is no fear of starvation. But sometimes conditions change, and he foraged farther afield to take advantage of the domestic stock on the fringes of his domain. They were much easier to approach and kill than wild game and they killed a lot of domestic stock of the pioneers, trying to establish themselves, having a difficult time because of the conditions of the country.
So the Bushmen became an enemy of man in the same way as the hyena, lion, leopard, when they’d take some of their livestock. It got to the point where the white man would take a shot at these little men with intent to kill to protect his property. This led to driving the Bushmen farther away, no longer friendly to white people.
In order to get a group together, we had to go to extraordinary lengths. After consulting with Frederick, we hit upon a plan which seemed the only way that we could gather a group together. He went back to his primitive dress, that of the Bushmen, and then in the afternoon went to a place where he knew that the Bushmen would come during the course of a few hours, and put out bait --- that was all you could call it --- bait for wild animals. He put out sugar, salt, tobacco, other articles, for a day or so, nothing happened. One morning he returned to report he’d contacted two old Bushmen, and they’d come into the camp the next day. We showered them with gifts and away they went into the great beyond where they lived. We told them, through Frederick, what we were trying to do and if they would come and build a camp around us at this spot, we’d feed them, they wouldn’t have to hunt and we’d take care of them.
The word went out through these two old men. We found out afterwards that the Bushmen had allowed these two old men to come, saying, “If the white men shoot them, it’s not too much of a loss anyway, as they were about ready to die.” In a few days they began trouping in from all points of the compass except the South. When they ceased to arrive, we counted a hundred and thirty seven Bushmen, men, women, and children, the largest group ever gathered together, as far as we knew, in the history of the Bushmen clan.
We proceeded with our work, measurements and scientific investigations incidental to them, a great deal of photography relating to daily life.
In spite of all the food we gave them, they were always hungry, and we found that as long as food is available, a Bushmen will eat until his stomach is distended, and can’t swallow another bite. The only storage that he has is his stomach, no refrigeration, so he eats it all, gets along for a couple of weeks without anything to eat if he has to. As a result, these people have greatly distended stomachs, then when it’s worked off, it’s folded in like an accordion, grotesque and primitive. We kept them there by feeding them, but they still did a lot of hunting on the side.
Vultures sometimes circled overhead, usually indicating a lion kill with a carcass below. The Bushmen took an arrow, placed it on the ground pointing to that spot, then in the early morning just before daybreak, started out in the cool of the morning, arrived at the kill, and usually found carrion left after the hyenas, jackals, and lions fed. They’d gather what was left, bring it back to camp, that was in addition what we fed them.
They had many ways of hunting and we accompanied them on some of their expeditions. In one, two men working together disguised themselves as an ostrich. They had a real ostrich skin, fixed it up with a long pole up the neck. One man manipulated the neck, the other manipulated a wing, they’d go along the ground for a distance, you’d swear it was a real ostrich, pecking on the ground with the beak, fluttering their wings like a wild ostrich. This way, they’d gradually work themselves to within a few yards of an unsuspecting herd of zebra or wildebeest. At the opportune moment they’d throw off the disguise, step out, shoot their poisoned arrows into the panic-stricken herd, usually got two or three animals that way. The poison was slow working, sometimes taking several hours, so they’d follow the spore of the stricken animals until they found them dead.
Another method of hunting was to find a path where the animals passed frequently, find a sandy patch, dig a hole, then bury themselves below the sand, breathing through a reed protruding through the surface. When a herd of animals was coming it was telegraphed underground by sound. When the animals were over their heads, they’d spring out of the sand, shoot the panic-stricken animals. These men were fabulous, we got to calling them the “men of the meadows.”
Captain Nelson was with us, along with Harold Eedes, an Englishman and government man who had jurisdiction in Ovamboland. One evening, we were sitting away from the main part of Namutoni on the ground around a fire, telling stories. We heard scorpions walking toward the fire, flip them out of the way once in a while. Captain Nelson got up, looked around, and there was a large circle of Bushmen forming around us. Each approached and squatted without a sound. We all had keen ears, accustomed to being in the wilds listening for danger, yet we heard nothing and there they were.
Our studies continued for several weeks, and having no sanitation except the burning sun, things got pretty bad around this camp. We were engulfed in clouds of flies, they’d land on you, you could feel their weight, there were so many. You couldn’t drink out of a cup or glass in the open without swallowing flies, just had to keep your mouth shut, terrible.
The Bushman knew nothing about infection, flies got around their eyes and mouths and soon they all had bad eyes, some nearly blinded. It worsened and there was nothing we could do, I’m afraid we didn’t think about it much. In the middle of the night we heard a clamor, next day found they’d had held a meeting. Their witch doctors had gone through incantations and dances and came up with the answer. They answer was that the flies that caused the infected eyes and other sores were brought by the white men. In a way, we were responsible, we’d gathered them all together and that was the chief cause, the crowding and unsanitary conditions all led to this terrific epidemic of sore eye. They held a war council, decided that the only thing to do to make the disease disappear was to get rid of the white men.
We didn’t know about this, but a Bushman we called “The Jackal” because he seemed to be smarter than the others, liked us I guess. He came the next day and told us what had happened, warned us that that night they were going to murder us. We got together, decided what to do. We had a lot of magnesium metal powder that we used to get a continuous bright light for motion pictures, it burns, makes a very bright light. We had a lot of that and quite a lot of shotgun shells. Our tent was on the edge of some small trees, a little island, you might say, in back of us, gave a bit of shelter. We rigged up everything that would make a loud noise, tin cans, kitchen utensils, anything that would make noise when it fell. We took some powder out of the shotgun shells, put it in places where we could ignite it.
We waited, in the middle of the night we heard them coming, silent as the shadows. When they got to the point of our best advantage, we let loose with everything we had, fired the shotguns, cut the strings that held the pans so that they clattered to the ground, ignited the magnesium metal, made all the noise we could. It came on them so suddenly, they scattered back to their woods. That night, we’d already made up our minds we wouldn’t be there another night, so partially packed up. We finished in a hurry next morning, and at daylight were safely on our way back to Windhoek.
Through the efforts of a gentleman we met in Namutoni, Mr. Harold Eedes, we were allowed by the honorable Hofmeyer, who was the administrator of Southwest Africa, to visit certain sections of Ovamboland [probably C.L. “Cocky” Hahn, native affairs commissioner to Ovamboland from the end of WWI to the beginning of WWII, and part-time warden of the Etosha park after 1928].
At that time they had a queen, Queen Kalinasha and her husband, her consort was Prince [Iambole], a wonderful guy. He was a regular comedian and she was a stately, regal looking person. This tribe had large kraals, stakes set into the ground about eight feet high and very intricate design. You could get lost in them, walk in these kraals and you never find your way out, like winding streets. They, of course, could travel through them easily. We were invited to her palace, had dinner with the queen and prince consort. The chicken was well prepared, tasted like it was broiled in butter, good food.
These people had a completely organized state, the Queen, several ladies-in-waiting, a well-trained standing army, a government. Their motif in the way they dressed, head-dresses, the way they fixed their hair, were indicative of a tie in the past with Egypt. We had a wonderful visit and got some marvelous pictures which were lost in the fire in New Jersey.
The second man of importance in Ovamboland was Chief Jikuma, quite a character. They said he had one hundred wives, some quite young, and two hundred and thirty-six children. We made a visit to his elaborate kraal and he trotted out as many of his wives as he could get together. They do most of the work in the corn fields, but it was quite a crowd. I have a picture with about thirty or forty of them together and a lot of children.
Ovamboland is now part of Southwest Africa, where they’ve had all this trouble with the United Nations trying to take it away from South Africa, who’s had it since the last World War administered it. There they have a very high class of black man, not only the Ovambo, but also the __________, who were Allied, and the ____________, fine looking people, wonderful people.
The climax to all of this is that after getting back to Cape Town, we’d finished our work in Southwest Africa and the Kalahari Desert. Through the efforts of Professor Goodwin, who was with us on the tour, the trip, the expedition, we brought four Bushmen from the Kalahari to Cape Town for further scientific purposes. They were taken around and shown the tall buildings, six or seven, maybe eight stories high. So here are these pygmies walking around the streets of Cape Town under our guidance, looking at the buildings, the people, the shops, and one of the first airplanes to come to Africa, there to give a demonstration
They saw this airplane fly, saw the big ships in the harbor in Cape Town. We took them up in elevators, everything interesting thing we could think of. We returned to the University and questioned them through an interpreter. What was the most interesting they saw? Was it the number of white people, the tall buildings, the elevator, the airplane, the big ships? It wasn’t any of those. The white man was magic, so why couldn’t he fly? He could do anything else, the big ships, another one of his magic things. All these things were magic but the thing they couldn’t understand was how could all those people walk around all day long on these streets and nobody left any footprints?