Saturday, January 26, 2019

How Henry Stanley Found Dr. Livingstone in Africa By Way of the American Frontier

When I began researching and preparing for this week’s story, it quickly became apparent to me that this was not going to be an easy story to write. I usually begin by reading through some of the many, many collectible magazines I have that pertain to the old west, such as Frontier Times, Old West, True West, etc. The story I picked to base this week’s WMD contribution on was that of “Training for Africa at Medicine Creek,” published in the April May 1981 issue of Frontier Times.

I choose it because of the subtitle, which is “Henry Stanley--the man who would ‘find Dr. Livingstone’ -- picked up some pointers on the American frontier…” After all, the combination of an African expedition and that of the old west was too hard to resist. What it did was bring me smack dab into the middle of the long-running debate concerning native American Indians and what happened to them as a result of progress and that old, infamous call: “Go west young man!”

Along with digging up old feelings of contempt for those of the old west that sought to destroy the native Indian’s way of life, it reminded me also of my love for the old west by way of western movies and my involvement with reading Zane Grey stories as a kid, for example. Quite a tug of war there if I might say so myself, but there is a middle ground (or two) and Lawrence Doorley’s story in Frontier Times gave me some degree of refuge there.

Backgrounder: About Henry Morton Stanley

Allow me to provide you with a quick backgrounder on Henry M. Stanley, the infamous African explorer:

“Sir Henry Morton Stanley GCB (born John Rowlands; 28 January 1841 – 10 May 1904) was a Welsh[1][2] journalist and explorer who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. Upon finding Livingstone, Stanley reportedly asked, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ Stanley is also known for his search for the source of the Nile, his pioneering work that enabled the plundering of the Congo Basin region by King Leopold II of Belgium, and his command of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. He was knighted in 1899” (
Evidently Henry M. Stanley was not always Henry M. Stanley, as you can see by the short bio above. His roots was much more meager than that as he did not start out as a wealthy philanthropist. Henry began life as John Rowlands, the son of 19-year-old Elizabeth Parry, a butcher’s daughter. His father, John Sr., never saw his son after he was born. To add insult to injury, Henry’s mother abandoned him when he was only two months old. “...she headed for London where opportunities were supposed to be greater than in the hometown of Denbigh, Wales.”

Young John was shipped to his grandfather, Parry, for his tender loving care. Unfortunately, Grandfather Parry died when John was only six years old, upon which time he was sent to St. Asaph Union Workhouse. Here he ended up gaining a good education, despite his surroundings. It was in May of 1856, when young John was 15, that he ended up beating a school proctor unconscious. It was then that the lad went on the run to stay ahead of the law. He was able to gain a job as cabin boy aboard a ship headed for the United States.

Landing in New Orleans, John Rowlands was taken in as an employee and ultimately adopted by a “rich cotton merchant” by the name of Henry Hope Stanley. But, after two years of what the author of the Frontier Times’ article calls ‘bliss,’ “ ended when Mr. Stanley disappeared on a trip to Cuba.” The dye was cast as was young Henry’s fate.

The Education Before His African Exploits

The intent of the author of “Training for Africa at Medicine Creek,” Lawrence Doorley, was to explain where Henry Stanley obtained his resolve and ability to deal with environmental adversity and extreme life and death risks found in his African exploits, which came four years after his work in the American west.
“Following the Civil War, Stanley became a journalist in the days of frontier expansion in the American West. He then organised an expedition to the Ottoman Empire that ended catastrophically when he was imprisoned. He eventually talked his way out of jail and received restitution for damaged expedition equipment.”

“In 1867, the Emperor of Ethiopia, Tewodros II held a British envoy and others hostage, a force was sent to achieve the release of the hostages. Stanley accompanied that force as a special correspondent of the New York Herald. Stanley's report on the Battle of Magdala in 1868 was the first to be published. Subsequently, he was assigned to report on Spain's Glorious Revolution in 1868” (

To further illustrate the kind of dangers that Stanley and others others experienced, he wrote of a tragic event that befell four railroad servicemen who, while looking for a break in a telegraph line, took the lives of three. According to Stanley, the one serviceman who survived, a William Thompson, was forced to play dead while an Indian proceeded to scalp him--which means to remove his hair by cutting and lifting the scalp.

These expeditions were intended to convince Indian tribes that violence against an ever-expanding railroad and the proverbial flood of westward settlers would only produce devastating results for their peoples. The first expedition, organized by the Indian Bureau, was in 1867, and was placed under the leadership of General Hancock whom Stanley admired.

“There were 1,500 men in Hancock’s expedition, seven companies of infantry, eight troops of cavalry, one battery of light artillery, and a battery of Gatling guns, perhaps the first time this weapon was sent against the Indians,” says Doorley.

According to Doorley, the Gatling gun, which was fired by way of a crank--and I’m sure that anyone used to watching old western movies witnessed replicas in action--were capable of firing 400 to 800 rounds a minute, depending on whom was at the crank. No small thing when you consider how many people that such a weapon can kill in a matter of a few minutes.

Why such a large armada of force? Doorley says it was necessary to show might and strength to the Indian chiefs who would otherwise fail to heed Hancock’s warnings.

The Growing Popularity of Stanley’s Published Accounts

As a writer, Henry M. Stanley had a huge following. His work, which was carried by several publications of the day, provided a window into the beauty as well as the many dangers of western life.

“Stanley’s first dispatches reflected the Army’s and the Westerner’s opinion of the Indian. Back East the liberal press in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore papers thundered against the government’s handling of the Indian question, the 1867 campaign being called ruthless, shameful, unconscionable, a ‘blatant display of the government’s arrogant intention to taunt the Indians into defending their very existence so that the Army can retaliate with superior weaponry, and exterminate whole tribes…,’ as the Boston Transcript put it,” Doorley wrote.


In response to the Liberal press, Stanley defended the military’s effort to curb Indian retaliation as well as the white man’s need to expand deeper into western territory. Stanley allegedly wrote, it is “useless to blame the white man for moving across the continent in a constantly increasing tide. The whites have done no more than follow the law of their nature and being. Moreover, they have as much right to the plains as the Indians, and it would NOT be a difficult task to prove that they had a better right.”

This reminds me of the industrial revolution where there was pushback in society with regard to the use of machinery to mass produce, such as the Model T, engineered and produced by Henry Ford. Even more recently, we can point to China, the United States, and many other nations that have, and will continue to spend an unbelievable sum of money developing Artificial Intelligence. Or take a look at CERN, the Large Hadron Collider (atom smasher). No matter what the risk, no matter what any of us do in human society to slow it down, nothing will change the course of progress. It’s almost as if progress is a mindless machine hellbent on destruction. As Henry Stanley said so aptly, we, as mankind, instinctively “...follow the law of [our] nature and being.”

Another thing that impressed me, as written by Stanley during this first expedition, “if the U.S. Government hadn’t restrained the Indians from killing each other in inter-tribal wars, ‘and if the benevolent government hadn’t protected the Indians from unscrupulous traders, and from the just revenge of settlers, the tribes would long ago have been exterminated. Savage and implacable humanity of the Indian type need expect no other fate than that of extinction,” as written by Doorley. “But as Hancock’s campaigns penetrated deep into Indian country and Stanley became more and more exposed to the reality of the Indian situation his dispatches began to take on a more tolerant, more sympathetic tone, and by the end of autumn, 1867, he actually had high praise for many of the Indian leaders.”

The General Hancock expedition was only one of several that helped to prepare young Stanley for his exploits in Africa. But the one thing that impressed me is that Stanley’s work as a journalist saw even more leniency toward Indian affairs.

Read Doorley’s comments (below) yourself. To enlarge, click on the picture below:

The second Indian expedition he participated in as a journalist was that of the Peace Commission, led by General Sherman, as requested by Indian Bureau agents in the Platte River Valley.

“General Grant, Secretary of War in President’s Johnson’s cabinet, ordered General Sherman in Chicago to do something about the matter,” writes Doorley. Again, a sizable armada of military might was assembled with the intent of convincing Indian tribes to stop killing and maiming settlers as well as those riding trains.

According to Doorley, “In addition to an impressive array of Army officers led by General Sherman himself, a very important member of the Peace Commission was a prominent Methodist minister named Nathaniel G. Taylor, currently Chief Commissioner of the Indian Bureau.”

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Over and over, Stanley heard the same complaints from one tribe after another until he truly came to understand the plight of the American Indian. He expressed it every time he wrote concerning a pow wow between General Sherman and the various Indian tribes. I’m sure it provided him with a sense of empathy that enabled him to better serve the journalistic profession that he so keenly ascribed to for the remainder of this life.

In the end, he took all of these experiences along with all the lessons he had learned by way of the American west with him when he ventured into the heart of Africa.

Editor’s Comment: To read more about Henry Morton Stanley, be sure to review the Additional Reading below. --Al Colombo

Additional Reading

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