James Wood Rogers

The Prescott Journal Miner, of Prescott, Arizona, reported 21 August 1912 that Representative Norris of Nebraska had introduced a resolution requesting the American President to send to the House of Representatives all information he had about the case of James Wood Rogers of California “killed in Central African jungles as the result of the hunt of British soldiers who were ordered to kill or capture him.” Norris said he regarded Rogers’ shooting as an outrage on an American citizen who was charged with offences that did not warrant killing him and that he was “fatally shot under iron-clad orders of the British government carried out on Belgian soil.” The resolution was referred to the foreign affairs committee. Department heads gave their unofficial opinions that if Rogers was killed in Belgian territory, and there was any ground for demanding redress, the USA should look to Belgium instead of Great Britain for justice, leaving Belgium to seek reparation in turn from Britain. Who was this James Wood Rogers?

John Boyes, self-styled ‘King of the WaKikuyu’ and a bit of a rogue himself, said in his book The Company of Adventurers (1928) that he met James Wood Rogers making for the Congo and the Lado enclave, a favourite spot for ivory poaching. Rogers, ‘a rough and ready man’ though regarded by Boyes as brave an enterprising, had arrived in Kenya from Rhodesia. He was a large man with a great capacity for drink, six feet tall and barrel-chested. Jovial when sober, he was a bad-tempered bully when drunk. He had made money on the Klondike, and lost it at Monte Carlo. He then took himself to Johannesburg, where he became involved in a swindle and had to flee northwards to Rhodesia and Elizabethville in the Congo. Further misdeeds saw him again take flight, this time to British East Africa, where he determined to regain his fortune by ivory poaching. In 1910 and 1911 he made two successful poaching trips to the Lado enclave, on the west bank of the upper Nile in south Sudan and north-west Uganda, an area the British acquired in 1912. The region was not administered and ivory poachers had moved in, shooting almost all of the area’s 2000 elephants between 1907 and 1912.

Rogers decided to make a third poaching trip to the Lado, his two previous ones having netted 4,000 pounds of ivory. Accompanied by an ex-missionary medical student-turned poacher, JEA Pearce, and 90 Baganda porters, Rogers persuaded the Ma’mur of Wadelai, the civilian administrative assistant of the Sudan government, into giving him permission to proceed. Rogers and his men crossed into the southern Lado enclave. Thus they violated three ordinances – the Preservation of Wild Animals (1908), the Proclamation regarding Closed Districts (1908) and the Sleeping Sickness Proclamation (1909).

RCR Owen, in charge of Mongallo Province since 1908, heard about the incursion and ordered Captain Charles Vincent Fox to capture Rogers and bring him to trial. The Sudanese Military Police under Fox’s command chased Rogers who escaped over the border into Belgian-administered country. Without fixed borders, it was probably impossible to tell that Rogers had just left British territory. He was summarily shot by the Sudanese Police, who had apparently outstripped their commander Fox. Fox was an interesting man, a rowing competitor in the 1900 Olympic Games, who later won fame by escaping four times from the Germans in World War 1 and being received in a special audience by the King.

Nothing more is heard of the matter of the unfortunate Rogers, or whether any further action was taken by the foreign affairs committee in the US House of Representatives. Rogers’ companion Pearce was eventually shipped home as a distressed British subject. Elephant poaching in the Lado enclave died out soon after – hardly surprising when such men as Karamoja Bell boasted a bag of 1000 elephants!