Man from Tennessee Kills 48 Amoy Tigers.
When Harry R. Caldwell lived in China during the first half of the Twentieth Century, no one worried about the extinction of the Amoy tiger. In those days it was a point of pride for any man to kill a tiger, and Harry Caldwell killed four dozen of the beasts. In the villages he served, he was a hero. People called him the “Great Tiger Hunter.”
None of them could have predicted that eighty short years later there would be no wild tigers left in Fujian Province and we would be mourning their loss.
Harry Caldwell did not go to China to carve out a career as a tiger killer. He was a Methodist missionary from Tennessee who preached the gospel in China and raised his family there.
When he arrived in China in 1900, there were thousands of tigers in Fujian Province alone. They prowled the villages at night, snatching away goats, pigs, and dogs. Some tigers became man-eaters who stalked and killed people who were tending their herds or walking the trails. Once a particularly brazen tiger burst into a house through an open door while the men of the house were having an after-dinner smoke. When the dust cleared, the tiger was gone … and so was a child who’d been sleeping under the table.
The reputation of this man-eating tiger spread. Afraid of encountering him, people began to neglect their crops. Finally, when church attendance fell, Reverend Caldwell decided it was time to go after the man-eating tiger. The reverend was an experienced hunter. In his younger days, he’d spent many hours hunting in the mountains of Tennessee. While in China, he’d supplied wild geese, silver pheasant, muntjac deer and wild boar for the family dinner table. But until then, he’d never shot a tiger.
China Coast Family
The story of Harry Caldwell’s first tiger hunt is told in China Coast Family, a memoir written by his son, John Caldwell. John tells of a childhood in which he frequently heard the frightful low roar of tigers or spied their tracks. His amah scared him with stories of bad little Chinese boys and girls who were killed by the dreaded “lao hu.” Above all, he remembers his father’s victorious return from the hunt with a dead tiger draped over a bamboo pole and carried by eight coolies.
In one recollection, the younger Caldwell tells of the day his mother saw three tigers “basking in the sunlight across the road.” She told his father, and though Reverend Caldwell was skeptical, he grabbed his gun and took off in search of the tigers. Within ten minutes he’d found them—not three tigers, however, but five.
He should have taken his wife’s sighting more seriously and brought sufficient ammunition. As it was, he had only six shells with him. He used five of them to kill the first tiger and one to kill the second. Then, all his ammunition gone, he hid in the grass, listening as the remaining three tigers sniffed the bodies of their dead companions and hoping they would leave. He was lucky. After an hour or so, the tigers wandered off.
John Caldwell’s book has many stories about tigers in Fujian Province. It‘s amazing now to think of so many tigers roaming the hills of southeastern China not so many years ago.
When I wrote my novel, Tiger Tail Soup, I knew only one tale about tigers in China, the one my late husband, Eugene, told me. I’ve recounted that story in an earlier post, “Where Have All the Tigers Gone?” and told it in greater detail in my novel.
China Coast Family was published in 1953, but it’s still available. You can buy it from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com. You can also get a free download from the Universal Library, or you can read the third chapter, “Our Friend the Tiger,” on the website of Amoy Magic.