I will write to you about how my grandfather shot a tiger. My grandfather went to live in India so that he could tell the people about Jesus. He built himself a house that was better than the ones that most people around there built, and he had shown the people better ways to raise gardens so that they would have more to eat, and he had shown them how to do many things that they had not known how to do before; so the people had the idea that Bwama Stoddard could do anything. In their language Bwama meant "teacher." Sometimes they called him "Sahib" which meant "Most honorable Mister". They called great grandmother "Memshib" which meant "most Honorable Mrs."
All abound the small town where they lived, the woods grew very thick. There were more trees than grow in any woods that you have seen and they grew closer together and very very big. There was so much shade in the woods that it was dark and very hard for people to see clearly what was in the woods. So the people were afraid to go into the woods because there might be a tiger in there that they could not see, but the tiger could see them, and might grab them.
One morning before grandfather had even finished his breakfast, he heard a big noise outside his house. Many voices were yelling and crying and shouting. Above the din he could hear words now and then. He could hear the people calling, "Oh Bwama, come and help us." So grandfather left his unfinished breakfast and went out on the porch to see what they wanted. When they saw him they set up a great wail and they all tried to talk at once. My grandfather could not know what any of them was saying. He clapped his hands to get their attention. When they were quiet, he said, "When you all talk at once, I can not hear what you say. Choose one man to come and tell me what you want." So he went into the house and finished his breakfast.
The man who had been chosen to talk for the crowd came to the door and called: "Bwama, Bwama, let me come in. I must tell you. A tiger has come and carried away a cow. Come and kill the tiger for us or he will come again and carry away all our cattle and goats and maybe our wives and children too."
Grandfather said, "I never killed a tiger. When I was a boy at home, I shot squirrels and rabbits to eat and once I shot a wolf that was chasing my father’s sheep, but a tiger is much bigger than a wolf. It takes a special skill to shoot a tiger and that I do not have."
"Oh, yes," said the man, "you can do everything. Do not fail us."
Grandfather said, "To shoot a tiger takes a bigger gun than I have. My little gun would not kill him. It would merely tickle him and then he would be very angry and would kill all of us."
The man said that he knew where he could borrow a big tiger shooting gun. So he went away and came back in several hours with a big gun and shells. Well, then there wasn’t anything for Grandfather to do but shoot that tiger. He had been teaching these people all this time that God would take care of them. Since he was God’s minister sent to teach them and to take care of them, what would they think of him and his teachings if he failed to help them? Would they continue to believe in God and have faith in Him, if grandfather failed to help them? No, he had to kill that tiger.
"Go and get an elephant for me to ride," said Grandfather, "if I am on the ground, I cannot see the tiger quickly enough to shoot him before he jumps on me." All of this time, the people were running around crying a yelling. It had taken several hours for them to get the gun, and it would take another hour for them to find the elephant. Grandfather was working on his sermon for the next Sunday but the people made so much noise that he had trouble studying. Before he went back into the house he told them, "While some of you are going for the elephant, the rest of you decide who will be the beaters, I will need fifty beaters."
"Oh, Bwama," one said, "I cannot be a beater, my wife is sick." And he went home.
"Oh, Swama," said another, "I cannot be a beater, I have sore feet." And he went home. One after another the men found some excuse why they couldn’t help kill the tiger.
Grandfather looked around and saw that only three men were left. One of them was the head man of the town. Grandfather said to him, "I must have 50 beaters or I cannot kill the tiger." Then he went into the house without waiting to hear any more excuses.
In an hour Grandfather heard a great noise outside his house and a loud trumpeting of an elephant. When he went out, he found 50 men who would act as beaters and all the rest of the men, women, and children of the town had come along and all were yelling and crying. The men who had gone for the elephant had found a very large one. The elephant was excited because there was so much noise and so many people running around and he was stomping his feet and trumpeting.
Grandfather looked the elephant over carefully. It seemed to be a gentle animal but he was not satisfied. "Could you not get a howdah?" he asked the men. A howdah is a railed or canopied seat that people sit in on the back of an elephant when they ride.
"No, Sahib," they answered.
"Then bring a long, strong rope and tie it around the elephant. His back is smooth and slippery and if he becomes frightened and runs, I will fall off and be trampled under his feet."
So with much scurry and hurry and running this way and that, they found a rope and tied it around the elephant’s middle. Then two strong men held another man on their shoulders and Grandfather climbed up by means of this human ladder onto the elephant’s back and then the men handed up his gun. As soon as the head man saw that Grandfather had his gun loaded, he gave orders to the 50 beaters, and turning to the women ordered, "Take your children home."
The women and children ran home and shut the doors. The 50 beaters moved to the edge of the woods. There they slowed down to a very slow walk and stepped very carefully into the woods. All of the shouting and yelling had stopped. They did not want to scare the tiger further into the woods and they wanted to see him before he saw them. So they stepped very quietly and carefully into the woods looking around and behind all the bushes and trees. After a while my grandfather heard some pigs grunting in the woods, but knew that they were not pigs but some of the beaters grunting like pigs to let the others know that they had seen the tiger. If they had called out, they might have made the tiger go farther away. Then all the beaters began to yell and beat the bushes with clubs and beat on tin pans and make such a din as you never heard: "Oy-yuoi yuoi yoh, yoh hi hi hi – oylly oyl – wow."
Grandfather stood up on the elephant’s back and aimed his gun at the edge of the woods near where he heard the men yelling. He watched very carefully and pretty soon he saw a big yellow head look out between the bushes. The tiger growled so loud that the people in another town a mile away heard him and were so frightened that they ran into their houses and shut the doors. After the tiger growled so loud, he looked this way and that way and caught sight of the elephant. He crouched down and got ready to spring forward. Then the tiger gave a great leap that would have carried him over a small house if one had been in the way.
Grandfather got ready to shoot but before he could pull the trigger, the tiger jumped again, coming so close that Grandfather felt the elephant trembled with fear, but it was a well trained animal, so he stood still.
Grandfather pulled the trigger and shot the tiger between the eyes just as he leaped again. The tiger fell over dead, but he was so close that he hit the side of the elephant as he fell. That was too much for even a well trained elephant, and the frightened animal ran into the woods. Grandfather dropped the gun, grabbed hold of the rope, and rode into the woods. As the elephant ran, Grandfather caught hold of a tree branch and let the elephant run out from under him. He climbed down the tree and walked out of the woods.
Grandfather did not tell me what happened to the elephant, but I think he probably went home to his master. An elephant is like a good horse and can find his way home. And that is how my grandfather shot a tiger.
Told by Edith Whitney Whitson