(courtesy Twitter)

Mother Jones magazine’s Dave Gilson reckons the NRA’s whitewashing history at their National Firearms Museum. Specifically, he attacks the NRA’s recent tweet trumpeting the fact that their fabulous collection contains Henry Morton Stanley’s elephant gun while neglecting to mention that the African explorer was a homicidal maniac. Setting aside Twitter’s character limits. “As Stanley related in his own accounts, he repeatedly used his big guns to intimidate and kill people he encountered on his African travels. Here’s how he dealt with some of the “savages” who got in the way of his trans-continental journey in 1875 . . .

I discharged my elephant rifle, with its two large conical balls, into their midst…My double-barreled shotgun, loaded with buckshot, was next discharged with terrible effect, for, without drawing a single bow or launching a single spear, they retreated up the slope of the hill…

Twice in succession I succeed in dropping men determined on launching the canoes, and seeing the sub-chief who had commanded the party that took the drum, I took deliberate aim with my elephant rifle at him. That bullet, as I have since been told, killed the chief and his wife and infant, who happened to be standing a few paces behind him, and the extraordinary result had more effect on the superstitious minds of the natives than all previous or subsequent shots.

On getting out of the cove we saw two canoes loaded with men coming out in pursuit from another small cove. I permitted them to come within one hundred yards of us, and this time I used the elephant rifle with explosive balls. Four shots killed five men and sank the canoes.

Sounds like a grand day out to me. No, seriously, is Gilson implying that Stanley shouldn’t have been exploring Africa in the first place or that he should have allowed the natives to kill him and his party (if I may use that term)? Something like that, I presume. Anyway, Gilson twists the knife on Stanley’s rep.

The final body count of this incident, Stanley claimed, was 14 dead and 8 wounded, presumably including the baby and its mother. Due to tales such as this, Stanley gained a reputation for indiscriminate slaughter. George Bernard Shaw described him as a “wild-beast man, with his elephant gun, and his atmosphere of dread and murder.” Fellow expeditionist Richard Burton observed, “Stanley shoots negroes [sic] as if they were monkeys.”

And then, the money shot.

Though the elephant gun in the NRA’s collection is likely not the one fired in the [baby killing] passage above, it’s not surprising that the gun lobby isn’t volunteering the larger story behind the trigger-happy owner of this “special treasure.”

Ha! That said, point taken?

While I’d like to read the caption underneath the elephant gun exhibit at the NRA museum, it’s true that the lionization (so to speak) of Stanley’s exploits ignores the profoundly racist context of the exploration/exploitation of the Dark Continent. The same applies to the perpetuation of Teddy Roosevelt’s carefully manufactured manliness—illustrated by his iconic firearms—which ignores the President’s detestable, racist imperialism.

Great, important guns can trigger important debates about history. Or not.

Recommended For You

84 Responses to Gun Tweet of the Day: The NRA, Mother Jones and “Baby Killer” Henry Morton Stanley

  1. I don’t know if I’d recount killing an infant in the off-handed way he appears to do in the above-mentioned quote.

    • Perhaps you would not, sir, nor would I, in this day and age, but it is EXTREMEL important to remember that in those days, in that place, and given the lack of any civilizing influence to enforce any sort of law and order on the tribes of Africa such that they could and did commit any act of violence hey so desired, if they so desired, foreign explorers to those climes were decidedly of the opinion that they were less than human and just barely above the other beast of the jungle.

      We have the advantage of history and education in our opinions, but we were not there and were not being attacked and in danger for our lives. If I were attacked on the street and fired to protect myself and the bullet penetrated and killed his wife and child this would bother me a little, and I would not brag about it later, but ten I am not an FBI agent.

      • Nice to see someone else trying hard not to judge the past by todays standards. I must say though that when he recounted the shooting of the sub-chief he was making an accurate account of the situation and who was killed. No inappropriate bragging here just a statement of a fact the same as you would under oath.

      • I agree with your point, but I’m not sure it matters to me all that much. There are lots of things in the past that were largely condoned, until they weren’t. While he certainly lived in a different era, I don’t think his acts should be excused without being addressed. How less harshly should we judge the guards at death camps because they were in a different time, in a different place? Or slave-drivers? How much relativism is reasonable? I’m honestly not sure, but I wonder if Stanley would have been so ‘factual’ about his account- or casual about shooting- if he had just shot a little white baby.

        • I understand your point, but if I understand your examples correctly, we judge people harshly when they continue to act according to the standards of the past when they are changing or have changed in the present. The actions of the Nazi guards at Dachau and Auschwitz were heinous because they were heinous by the standards of the time, which happen to be almost exactly the standards of today. By contrast, the uncounted thousands of Chinese peasants buried in the foundations of the Great Wall, many of them buried alive, are forgotten. Nobody cared then, so nobody cares now, but they were treated almost as poorly.

          The actions of the slave drivers in past American history were heinous because even though they were continuing in a tradition that had lasted well over a hundred years, the standards of the day were changing around the world. When slavery was no longer acceptable to anyone who didn’t live in the South, it caused political tension and conflict that led to our Civil War. Now I am aware that the Civil War was fought over the rights of states and self-determination, but it cannot be denied that emancipation was one of the primary points of contention in that argument.

          To the point of the article, I don’t judge Stanley harshly by the standards of today, but I also feel we must take care in how we discuss people like him- without the media to provide cover, we can’t get away with having people like Robert Byrd associated with us like the opposition can.

  2. Why do we insist that every great man of history be a saint? Here’s an idea, why not look at the whole man rather than demanding they these people be good according to OUR standard. Shocking idea really

    • Kind of like Nelson Mandela, canonized saint of the left. The man was neither devil nor angel. He had a great deal of blood on his hands from terrorist acts (including deaths of children). The narrative that he was in prison for peaceful protest alone is hogwash. On the other hand, when he was in a position to loot, murder, and oppress as the leader of South Africa, he chose not to. He was a communist, and often sided with the bad guy, true. But as communist leaders go, he was peaceful and respectful of all his people (black and white alike), and he didn’t loot his nation’s wealth like most of them do.

        • Umm, That’s how bad things are getting in SA. Mandela’s ANC is very much the ZANU-PF writ large. The ANC is corrupt from top to bottom, they now rather publicly want to chase the whites out, and the economy is crumbling by the day. Tribal nonsense prevails and the country is looking at the possibility of several civil wars based on those loyalties. TIA.

          Ten years from now SA will look very much like Zimbabwe. I’m not saying in any way that apartheid was superior, but the suggestion that things are better now is just a laughable.

    • Correct. Stanley was a product of his time and his place in Britain’s society. Remember, he was traveling to expand the Empire, and all that comes with that. The US was just beginning to actually divest itself of slavery at that time. Context is everything.

    • Either we’re judging him, or we aren’t. If we aren’t, then who are we to say he’s great? If we ARE, then let’s judge him not only by his great acts, but by the ones that make us shudder?

      The question here is not whether he is being inappropriately judged to be an evil man, but whether his legacy shouldn’t be colored by all his acts- even the bad ones.

    • How remarkable that our government routinely blows up “headmen” and their wives and infants. They recount it privately in After Action Reports that you and the dear readers of Mother Jones do not read and do not wish to read. We are a remarkable and powerful country, one in which a man can become President, win a Nobel Peace Prize for good intentions, and then keep the wars going and increase the drone killings. I am not even faulting the President. I am faulting the nature of political systems which insulate the masses from the ugly facts of force applied to foreigners for various obscure reasons. I am faulting the masses who think they are not the heirs of every errant bomb’s evil result.

      Stanley was doing his job in just the way important men and women of the time wished. The destruction wrought by the US and other countries over the last twelve years is vastly higher in numbers bombed, shot, displaced, and impovershed. The Chinese, on the ascendancy with US consumers’ dollars, can oppress Tibet and back hideous regimes in Africa today, while the readers of Mother Jones read poetry, pick mushrooms, teach chiildren, and…..avoid being informed about the world’s daily atrocities. Certainy there are gang leaders in the US and Mexico today who make Stanley appear a mild fellow.

      People have lost perspective, and they do so willingly in order to enjoy their own peace and comfort. It was no different in Stanley’s time, as Leopold II’s wealth brought prosperity to Brussels. The decayed luxury buildings of that colonial-rape era house the Eurocrats today in a splendor generated by…European VAT taxes on the petroleum industry and Chinese imports. Life for most of the world is neither peaceful, fair, nor a miniature American suburb. Get over it. The fake outrage expressed over a cup of luxury coffee disgusts me. “you want the truth? You couldn’t handle the truth!” Indeed, they don’t really even want it.

  3. I find his own admission to killing the Chief’s wife and child interesting. A guilty man, even in Victorian England, might have omitted that, but an honest man who did not mean to kill a woman and child would have perhaps come to terms with it and owned it. I haven’t studied Stanley enough to have my own opinion of his character but I find that passage telling.

    • Or his casual admission may reflect the fact that he didn’t feel like he killed actual human beings. Sad, but this attitude was not uncommon at the time. However, like you, I don’t know enough about the history to judge what was going on in the man’s head.

      • That sounds a lot more accurate judging by contemporary literature at the time. Even in his writing, you can see it: he shot some superstitious natives, that’s all.

    • As I said, its a short sentence that carries a whole lot of weight and potential meaning. I don’t disagree with your points at all. Regardless, the more you know about 99% of people, the less you end up liking them generally.

    • By his own words Stanley meant to kill the headman. He merely noted the killing of those standing behind the chief. Even today we send very small groups through foreign or opposition-controlled territory, either our Spec Ops or those of our allies whom we train. These small groups must often “perform” a large number of killings to get in, do their mission, and get out. They are, it is true, advised by sat radio based on intel, steered this way and that, and often call in air support to help them shoot their way back to friendly territory. So? What’s the difference? Nations and cultures in conflict impose death upon each other, like bears killing deer. It’s ugly. “Nature red in tooth and claw.” –we throw people in jail for ten years for writing a minor lie on a government form. Force is everywhere in use. We humans are “the animal that lives in polities.” (Aristotle, Politics) Still, we’re animals.

      • It is always amazing/amusing the human tendency for denial of fact, when it suits “our” group’s purpose.

        As you noted, we do exactly the same when we Hellfire an entire wedding party to kill one “terrorist”. The suggestion that we’re somehow more ‘civilized’ is the most preposterous of all.

        Sometimes ‘things’ need to be done, and innocents will be killed in doing them. That’s life, the thought that it will ever change is the most ludicrous of all…

  4. Breaking news, westerners back in tge 1900’s were imperialists. More at 11. But seriously, anyone knows this has been the case for a long time. We had a nasty war with Spain which led to an insurgency in the Philippines where US forces did horrible things and slaughtered a lot of civilians in the chaos to bring peace. War is in our blood and it isn’t pretty, but bitching at people in the present over things they had no say in is unfair and childish.

    • Breaking news, African and South American tribes were imperialists, as well. They just killed for much smaller territories, usual adjacent to their pre-battle territory. They sold their prisoners into slavery just as most others in history have. People. Everywhere. They just can’t play nice.

      • Jared Diamond (“Guns, Germs and Steel” among other excellent reads) has pointed out several times that in those supposedly-peaceful pastoral and hunter-gatherer tribal societies (still extant in Papua New Guinea and South America, for example) the leading cause of male death is homicide. Either fighting over territory and/or resources, or simple murder, often over women. He recounts one woman (still fairly young) who’s on her fourth husband; her first husband kidnapped her from her family, killing her father in the process, but then he was killed by her brother in revenge and she was brought home. She married again by choice, but her third husband wanted her enough to murder her second husband and took her as her own… so #2’s brother killed him, and took her as wife, and she’s presumably waiting to see which feud or vendetta gets her fourth husband killed.

        Considering this sort of low-organisation, eco-friendly, in-touch-with-Nature existence seems dear to many on the Left, it’s interesting to see how homicidally violent it can get (no police or law, just feud and revenge) and how an attractive woman is merely a chattel or trophy to be owned by the winner. (Nobody tell KJW… or at least make sure whoever tries to tell her, is nobody we care about 🙂 )

        If Stanley was making the same trip with today’s technology and today’s morals I’d rather expect his account to be much heavier on less-lethal weapons (CS gas, flashbangs, stingballs, flares, LRAD for “voice of God”, that whole panoply) with a much lower body count; but it’s an inconvenient fact that many tribal societies start an interaction with strangers by a threat display to assess relative strength and it’s not at all healthy to be seen to be the weaker there.

        • PNG? Talk about animals who will eat their own. They’re only cute and touristy in travel brochures. The Ozzies know what they are…

  5. Really, he sank the canoes, and killed the natives with four exsplosive balls? sounds like a BS war story to me.

    • You really should look at what those guys used to carry around back then. One guy was using a 20 mm equivalent muzzle loader.

    • Are you at all familiar with olde school elephant guns? Any elephant gun has more than enough sauce to sink a canoe which is a large, slow target.

    • With four shots he killed five men and sank the canoes. (Probably two small canoes.) You can achieve the same thing today with 3″ 000 buckshot loads, assuming they’d actual come within 70 yards. The British never had a gun so powerful as current big-bores, due to our improved powders and steel.

  6. Telling the truth about guns or history can be messy because… well, it’s the truth. The literal whitewashing of what men like Stanley did isn’t helpful. Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

  7. How forthcoming is Mother Jones about eugenicist Margaret Sanger? Or persecutor of homosexuals Fidel Castro? Or mass murderer Che Guevara?

  8. Since Mother Jones presumably supports the gun ban lobby, they can go f*** themselves. You and I can have a beer and talk about Morton Stanley’s adventures and personal qualities — they may not participate.

  9. The explorers are all dead. The six Hippies who read MJ are all stoned and the NRA museum is still going to be open most everyday of the year and proudly displaying the Livingston elephant gun. Pretty much the world will continue to keep spinning about its axis.

    • Please quit misusing the word “Hippies”! See earlier comments I’ve made on the subject. The original Hippies had more in common with modern Libertarians than modern Liberals. Long hair and a taste for reefer doth not a hippie make.

  10. Maybe Mother Jones can run an inconvenient expose of Mandela. He was certainly responsible for the death of more “innocent” people than Stanley. But then again, they were just Afrikaners. Mostly.

    • That would be an interesting read. Ghandi, he ain’t. It’s still commendable how he prevented what could have been a terrible civil war, that doesn’t mean he was non-violent. He just used non-violence as a tool when he saw it as effective (in his own words!)

    • South African journalists are having a terrible time trying to report on Mandela’s life and death. It isn’t (only) because of the complexity of his life, but much more because lauding Mandela’s leadership implies a need to point out the great new world being achieved by the nation, reporting on the current state of South Africa. Given that the nation is today a world leader in murder, rape, and robbery rates, the spectacle is considered mildly disappointing to many. I suppose Mother Jones’ editors fall into this camp gone quiet about the legacy.

  11. There’s good history and bad history, if we kept only the good and disregarded all the bad there wouldn’t be much to learn about.

  12. The guy was obviously racist, he should have let the cannibals eat him, just like victims of the Knockout Game should take their beatings without complaint to atone for the sins of slavery.

  13. In the Mother Jones article there is a reference to a CNN production to be aired this evening, titled Global Lessons: On Guns. Based on the synopsis on the CNN website, I would not advise watching it unless you send your family away for the night (unless the wife and kiddies have a preternatural level of tolerance for you screaming, blaspheming, cussing, and hurling breakable objects about the house) and keep your Nitro pills, blood pressure medicine, and a phone to call 911 handy.

    Obviously, I haven’t seen the segment, but the description leads me to believe it’s going to be a real horror show, featuring every technique CNN has developed over the years to tar and feather those on their “enemies list”.

    • I don’t even read Mother Jones articles, except the portions excerpted… don’t want to give them the clickthroughs. Bunch of psuedo-science and lefty claptrap.

  14. I wonder what Gilson says when the people-of-the-gun have to
    remind him exactly who actively propped up the civil rights
    movement “cough NRA cough”.

  15. So should we destroy or ignore history because it wasn’t pretty or the man wielding the rifle wasn’t a nice guy? I would be fascinated to see Hitlers personal Walther or Stalin’s Mosin doesn’t mean I have to like the old owner.

      • We routinely obscure the ‘bad parts’ of our own history, including every ethnic group in the US. I think it would be entirely sensible not to hunt for the bad parts of Stanley’s life, if we aren’t going to cover our own historic details thoroughly. What has Stanley got to do with anyone blabbing about him today? We’ve forbidden accurate coverage of all sides of our past. This is natural. But having done so, why look back into forgotten episodes of British lives? I personally think the wars of the Kikulis and Aztecs are as interesting. Somebody, I note, sold James Jameson (yes, the whiskey) the eleven year old girl he had cannibalized so he could watch, during Stanley’s expedition up to South Sudan. Who? And who butchered, cooked, and ate her?

  16. Did you notice how motherjones just call “negro’s” Monkeys? They could have used any other animal but purposely chose monkeys. Major League Freudian slip there. Mother jones writers and editors are a bunch of racists pretending to be concerned about blacks. Can’t help but wonder how many of them illegally conceal carry.

    • The quote is from Richard Burton, not Mother Jones.
      What is a bit ironic though is that many liberal
      “scholars” paint Burton as a rampant racist as well.

    • Those words were a quote from another and much more interesting explorer, Burton, who traveled for a very short time with Stanley. Sir Richard Burton’s “Travels in Deserta Arabia” was fascinating, one of the best memoirs I read in high-school.

  17. That’s the problem with revisionist history. Trying to interpret the past through the lens of present morality and standards, one is often faced with the classic square peg, round hole conundrum.

    When you apply the overlay of current PC-ness, it’s a recipe for interpretive disaster.

    • I don’t know any other way for us to judge, but I would suggest that we can leave the judging and just include the ‘bad’ actions (by today’s standards) along with the ‘great’ exploits.

  18. Roosevelt may have been imperialist but his record on race is much better than his contemporaries, especially that of the sainted (by the left) Wilson.

    • Mother Jones and scholarship? Mother Jones and intellectual honesty? These are guys that hired Mike Moore to be their chief editor when he was just a few years out of high school. These are also the same people who pay their interns less than Wal Mart and tell them to apply for food stamps when they ask for a living wage.

  19. It takes some serious brass balls for an outfit like Mother Jones to condemn a man for killing a baby. I’d think that would make him one of them.

  20. Completely out of context…..we can easily sit here and accuse any number of people in our past, including heroes, that committed acts like this that today we see as being barbaric. Consider what we Americans did to the Native American population in this country.

    • …and what those Native Americans did to the tribes who’d established themselves in the same land previously. If you need some beach reading next year, I recommend “Empire of the Summer Moon,” covering just a bit about the Commanches. Indians warred and murdered for hunting ground just, you know, like European white folks did. Not all of them, surely, but not all Europeans bought slaves from Tipu Tip or slaughtered Native Americans.

  21. I am surprised they did not mention that Stanley served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War. And in the Union Army. And in the Union Navy. And deserted the last!

    He had an interesting life.

    In anycase, the whole thing with Dr. Livingstone is extremely famous history. Without ever hearing of the story, the phrase “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” is in our cultural vocabulary. A good man or a bad man, that makes this very important historically.

    Oh, and you shouldn’t dis Teddy Roosevelt. He may have been a jingoist, but he was actually pretty badass.

  22. Lots of famous people in history were pretty badass. Stalin made his bones in the communist party by robbing banks and armored cars to get operating funds. He made his reputation in the civil war by ruthlessly massacring his enemies. We could go on. And he is not the only example. By all accounts George Armstrong Custer was a badass.

    We should feel free to diss anyone we want, where the dissing is valid and appropriate. And Roosevelt was not only a jingoist, but a closet fascist. He may have loved guns, but he loved them for the power they gave him and the State, not because he was a populist or a conservative.

  23. I wonder what Gilson thinks of the Enola Gay being on display in the National Air and Space Museum. History ain’t always pretty.

    • Times change. Things go in and out of fashion. As a child I read that the Hebrews slaughtered the Canaanites, genocide outright. When this early ‘history’ was written, it was considered good. From today’s point of view? Politically incorrect. Historically? Certainly false. What’s good press in one era seems like actionable hate crimes in another. It has always been this way.

  24. We must not fall into the trap of judging the happenings of yesterday with the morals of today.

    Our Founders are said to be “Old Rich White Slave Owners” and because of that nothing they did [Bill of Rights and Constitution] should amount to any thing.

    BEWARE!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *