Issue 27 September 2021

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Jim Corbett's Lost Letters 4

Jim recounting his last hunt in 1938.

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People|June 2021

Written on the train on his way to Haldwani from Kaladungi, this letter recounts Jim's last man-eater hunt, in December 1938. It is addressed to his friend and hunting companion, Sir William Ibbotson.

My dear Ibby,

I sent you a wire from Tanakpur yesterday and I am now writing you a few lines in the train on my way to Haldwani. (Forgive the writing- the train is shaking terribly.) I will give you all details when we meet.This is just a brief note giving you an account of my first half and last half hour at Tak.

By travelling lightand doing forced marches I arrived at Tak 48 hours after leaving Kaladungi. Tak was deserted and in the soft earth near the mango tree and on the path running through the village and at the doors of the houses I found the pug marks of the tigress. I had intended staying at Tak but under these conditions I decided it would not be right to risk any men so I camped at Chuka under the tree your C.C. had his tent in April.

I had taken two katras up to Tak and I tied one to the tree off which teh tigress had dragged the man on the 12th and the other I tied up between the mango tree. This my first half hour morn for the 2nd half hour.

At 8 a.m. on the 30th Igot off a rope (single strand) I had sat on from 3 p.m. the previous evenin, over a kill at Tak and after a hot tub and some grub decided, as it was my last evening to sit upover two goats close to tehkill I had sat over the previous night. I intended sitting up until  8 p.m. and then returning to camp, so I took five men wih me. I put the men in an empty house and sat near the goats which I tied up where the man was killed in October. A strong wind was blowing and as I was still suffering from the cold of teh previous night- and other nights- andcold not hold my rifle, I decided after three hours to chuck it and get back to chuka so I got the men out of teh house and started down.

The tigress had followed me on this path down to Chuka for five days and there was just a chance I might on this last evening see her. When I got to the place where there is  a small pool and where Mac's katra was killed months ago, I heard the tigress call on a hill above Kumaon Chak. There was less than 1/2 hour's daylight left and if I could get the tigress to hear me and if she came fast there would just be sufficient light for me to shoot by. It was a risk - for if she came and I did not get a shot, some of us would not get back to Chuka in the dark.

However, I took the risk and standing on a rock nearly split my throat in sending out a despairing call. My voice reached her and she answered instantly. Again I called and again she answered.She was coming nad I now had to select a spot to receive her. Beleo the place where the old Kumaon Chak track meets the Tak path there is a flat bit of ground. After crossing this flat ground the path goes steeply down.

I selected this spot for our meeting. At the point where the path disappears over the edge, there is a rock with a small shelf jutting out on teh Chuka side. By sitting sideways I got a small bit of my backside on the shelf and by sticking out my right leg I was able to brace myself for a steady shot.

The five men and two goats Imade sit ten feet below me.On my way down to this place I called at intervals and had been answered, each time nearer than the last. Twenty yards in front of me there was a hump in the pathand I made up my mind to fire into the tigress' face as she put her head over this hump.

Jim Corbett building a machan hayrick during an earlier hunt for the leopard of Rudraprayag.

She had located me to an inch and instead of coming down the path she came straight towards me at two O'clock. In this direction there was a ridge of rock 20 yards away with thick bushes on every side. On the far side of this ridge and about 40 yards from me she stopped and called about fifty times. She was so cloe that each time before she called I couldhear her drawing in her breath.

The light was all but gone and even with teh strong glasses I had on , in a hundred seconds it would have been impossible to see my sights, so as she drew breath the next time, I did teh same and we called together.

The result nearly unseated me for she took a few quick steps forward and from the bushes ten yards away called in my face. Another quick step and she passed between two bushesand as she cleaed teh eft handbush she stepped into the open, stopped and as she saw me and flattened her ears, I fired into her face and put the second bullet into her neck as she fell.

This second and quite unnecessary shot I am now regretting.The first shot carried me off the little shelf and teh second shot, fired while I was more or less in teh air threw the rifle against my cheek and sent me heels over head on top of the menand teh rifle would have goneif they had not caught me. I have a swelling the size of a cricket ball on the right side of my face and I have today with pain and grief been able to open my mouth wide enough to admit a biscuit.

I am thankful that the men came out of the affair without any serious hurt, or worse. The men behind as I have never seen men as brave before. None of them had ever seen a tiger and with this raging beast shouting a few yards away and with one firing two shots and falling on top of them and they not knowing but what the tiger was causing next. They never moved or uttered a sound. I was armed and was alright - but they were un-armed and had never played this game before.

The tigress was heavy in milk but had no cubs in her. She had been shot several times but the wounds were healed and old. The Tak people are at Tunies and hearing the tigress was dead and I on my way to catch the train they came down to see me and told me after I left Chuka (I left in the dark) the villagers had opened the tigress' stomach, which I had taken out looking for cubs, and had found a bit of coat the man killed on the 12th was wearing, with three metal buttons attached to it.

This may or may not be true , in any way, I feel I shot the right animal and this ends my 32 years service on the active list. I have had many lovely moments during these years and teh best of them was the last few seconds of daylight on the evening of 3oth November '38.

Arriving now in Haldwani where I will post this letter to you.

Will look out for you on the 10th.

Yours

Sd. Jim.

The Talla Des Tigress.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

People|June 2021

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