The Somerset East/Cradock area was a dangerous place in the mid-1850s ,yet this did not put locals off. They often set off to enjoy a day picnicking in the veld. And so it was that on one Saturday in February, 1853, a group of 50 youngsters accompanied by “ten gentlemen” gambolled off into the veld to enjoy the Spring air and sunshine. Their route led to the mountains and a delightful spot near a waterfall. They gave no thought to the fact that several head of cattle had been stolen in the area only a few days before. After all, this was not unusual. Some threw blankets on the ground, started a fire and began unpacking food, while others, hot from the long walk, leapt into the pool beneath the waterfall. Little did they know that keen eyes had monitored their approach, nor that they were near one of the raiding parties. Two adults discovered this when they set off into the kloof to “bag a buck for lunch.” Armed with rifles, W. Bowker and R Hart had only got a short way into the kloof when they saw a young Xhosa lookout virtually in front of them. He was so well camouflaged they would have missed him had he not brushed a fly from his face. Bowker raised his gun to fire, but Hart stopped him. They had no idea how many rustlers were in the area and the children were very close by. Realising he had been spotted, the young man bolted and with that Hart and Bowker saw several more Xhosas rise from the nearby grass and flee. They gave chase. They heard one man slip, fall and hit the ground. Bowker fired, hoping to scare the marauders. When he and Hart reached the spot where the man had fallen they found that he had been injured because there was blood on the ground. It left a trail which they were easily able to follow into a krantz.
Hot on the heels of the cattle rustlers, Bowker and Hart closely followed the little trail of blood. They had not even paused to think they may have been rushing headlong into an ambush, their thoughts centred around driving these Xhosa men away and warding off an attack on the picnickers. The trail led into a hole in the rocks and once they went through it they found an almost inaccessible, virtually invisible hiding place concealed by an immense quantity of carefully placed wood. A steep path, which could only safely be traversed by one man at a time, led to a summit and from there down into a cave. It was an excellent stronghold, totally invisible and could easily be defended, if necessary, by only one or two men. Hart, who had climbed the steep path, was horrified at finding such a place so close to his father’s homestead. Now he realised how the Xhosa raiders so often been able to disappear into thin air. He and Bowker ran back to the picnic party, terminated the event abruptly and everyone set off for home. The following day, a party of farmers were led to the spot by Hart and Bowker. They set fire to the wooden structure and exposed a large cave well set up as a hiding place. They also followed their spoor of the rustlers for a few kilometres, found a place where an ox had been slaughtered, but shortly afterwards the ground became very rocky and the trail ran dry. The picnickers felt they had had a lucky escape. They dramatically told the villagers that if they had begun adventuring about they may have walked right into an ambush of raiders.
© Rose’s Roundup, vol. 2, no. 73, October 2009
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