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Peter Hathaway Capstick

Discussion in 'The Book Rack' started by Klebanoff, Nov 18, 2006.

  1. Klebanoff

    Klebanoff

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    Never having had the good fortune to enjoy an African safari, I became fascinated with the Dark Continent as a child largely as a result of Peter Hathaway Capstick's _Death in the Long Grass_. Since then I've read most of his books, and despite his detractors he can write an adventure story like no one else. Many of his yarns are so exciting I actually feel the hairs standing up on the nape of my neck while reading them!


    Since becoming an adult, however, I've begun to question the accuracy of some of his narratives. Could any one man really have had THAT many hair-raising adventures? Could Peter really have come THAT close to death THAT many times and emerged without a scratch? Every time?! While I'd like to believe everything in his books, I find it extremely difficult to do so.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on this aspect of Capstick's writing? Does anyone know where I could find out more about him? While web searches turn up tons of references to his books, biographical information seems virtually impossible to come by.
     
  2. wonderwolf

    wonderwolf Yay college

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    I have read a few of his books and more than one are on there way to my doorstep in the next few weeks. I would tend to believe his stories for the most part. though some exggerations might have taken place though I would think very few if any. These books ARE his biography (at least the ones that he wrote and did not just edit). He was a PH for many many years and if you look at the vast amount of stories you get from somebody who was just on a month long safari then you can imagine the amount of stories you would get after doing it for as long as he did. If you have not already read some of Elmer keiths books esp his big game books you will get a better feel for what these guys go through on a daily basis.

    My personal fav story was the one where he unloaded a shotgun in the "wash room" going after a snake that went down the hole and the natural contents contained there in were violently flushed out.
     

  3. Klebanoff

    Klebanoff

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    Yes, I well remember the "Black Mamba in the john" story from _Death in the Long Grass_. It was a good one. There's no doubt Capstick was a master storyteller and his untimely death in 1996 was quite sad (he was only 56).

    I probably should read some more stuff on Africa. Only problem is Capstick made me feel like I was actually there! I was right by his side as he hunted man-eating leopards and cropped elephants! I somehow doubt any other author could do that for me. Regardless of my skepticism about whether he embellished his stories (and I've never been to Africa, so what the hell do I know?) I would advise anyone out there to at the very least pick up a copy of _Death in the Long Grass_. You'll be glad you did, I promise!
     
  4. wonderwolf

    wonderwolf Yay college

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    Its almost required reading for any body in the gun culture or even the hunting culture for that matter. A few months ago I saw all of his book go up for sale on a ebay action lot and it went for under $125...I wish I could have picked those up. I think he did about 14 or so books. His books really are great. My dad used to have most of his books but they were loaned out to a friend in a mental hospital who read them over and over again until they were worn out. The guy had really liked the stories I guess and it took him into another world one that was better than the one he was in I guess.:supergrin:
     
  5. Klebanoff

    Klebanoff

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    Here's a Capstick eulogy by a man who knew him personally. So far as I know, it isn't posted anywhere else on the web.

    As I Remember Capstick

    By Tink Nathan



    Peter Hathaway Capstick died in Pretoria, South Africa just before midnight on March 13th 1996 from a thrombosis following cardiac triple by-pass surgery. At his request, only his wife Fiona and her sister attended a private cremation ceremony. Fiona scattered Peter’s ashes over the Chobe River in Botswana with elephants and a herd of Cape buffalo in attendance. Peter will now remain a part of the land he loved so much.


    Peter was 56.


    I first hunted with Peter in the mid 1960’s when he was a student at the University of Virginia. We hunted groundhogs in the springtime between Remington and Scottsville Virginia. I was privileged to meet Peter again, in about 1976 or 1977 when he came up to me at a sporting goods show in Houston, Texas, and introduced himself to me. I had heard of Peter Capstick, and learned his last name for the first time. I had always called him Chapstick, and he never corrected me. He told me he was one of my readers, as I was a contributing editor of Bowhunter Magazine at the time, and he told me he enjoyed bowhunting. We managed to spend some time together and managed to down a few Pearl beers over some enchiladas.


    Peter told me of his amazing life, and we kept in touch. It turns out Peter and I had hunted groundhogs in Virginia ten years before. I saw Peter at some outdoor shows and SCI conventions over the years and started communicating with him when I made plans to move to South Africa.


    Peter always had time for my calls, and his sage advice was welcome and dead right on target. I guess the best advice he gave me was not to come over to Africa, which I ignored, and came over anyway. Not to many people knew that Peter did some bowhunting in New Jersey, and I think he told me he once nailed a whitetail, sometime in the 1960’s.


    Peter attended the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville, and it seems our paths crossed once or twice at Clarks Gun Shop in Remington, Virginia where we rifle hunted groundhogs, and where we first met on a Saturday on a spring day in the mid 1960’s. Peter was buying ammo and looking for a place to hunt groundhogs. I invited Peter and his University buddy to join me for a woodchuck hunt, and went to a farm that we hunted. We sort of lost touch when he graduated, I was getting ready for my first African safari and he was quite envious of my trek to Mozambique. He remembered me clearly, but I could not place him. Peter first came over to Africa in 1968 but spent quite a bit more time here in Africa than I did. Peter also hunted South America and always preferred the jungle and bush to the city and pavement.


    After arriving in South Africa, I called Peter. I was a bit nervous about attending the first AGM / annual convention of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), and asked Peter if I could sit with him. He told me I was always welcome at his table. Being the only two Americans in PHASA who lived here, he showed me the ropes, and apparently enjoyed being my silent mentor. He introduced me to his many friends, and showed me the correct path during the following years.


    Early in our homesteading days in Africa, my miniature smooth haired dachshund Meg became ill and was at deaths door from dehydration, tick bite fever and a pinched nerve in her spine. She had become infested with ticks while guarding my wife and her lady client at a waterhole in the lowveldt, during a safari. We had to bring her in for surgery and treatment to a government research facility outside Pretoria, and I called Peter to see if we could stay with him and Fiona. He said he was a bit bored and could stand some company. We had just driven all night with the sick dog, and we had just completed a long safari with clients from France, and were exhausted when we arrived at his villa in Pretoria. Peter and Fiona made us welcome, and the next four days at Peter and Fiona’s were like a vacation in a grand Parisian hotel. They fed us like Kings, and we sometimes snuck out and grabbed a pizza. We shot pool or snooker in his pool room/office, where he wrote his many best sellers, his books and articles. We shot air rifles in the garden, shooting at empty 9mm brass cases. We talked of Africa, the Africa of old, and the new South Africa, and the Africa of tomorrow. He told me his favorite unpublished hunting stories, and I told my stories, and we discussed people he knew, and those we liked and those we did not like. It was strange we had come to the same conclusions independently.


    While Peter was a man of Africa, he was still an American, and we talked endlessly about Africa and her wildlife, until he was ready for the sack. Peter liked to retire early, and after he bid us goodnight, I read those books of his that I did not own, and watched his extensive wildlife video collection, and videos of his hunts. He seemed to enjoy my company and was only to willing to sign, and in fact resigned and autographed several of his books he first signed in 1988 in the USA. He was very chuffed that I had purchased the first impression, first edition of his classic Death in the Long Grass. I gave Peter a small gift for putting us up, and putting up with us for almost a week while the dog healed. It was a videotape of my 1987 Elephant and Buffalo bowhunt in the Selous in Tanzania. Peter was fascinated with the video, and asked a hundred questions. After he hit the rewind button, he told me that he was amazed at the quality of the video, and after that it appeared my ratings with the former stockbroker rose 100 points. He then told my wife Donna Rae and I it was the best hunting video he had ever seen. Coming from Peter, it was an important and deeply appreciated compliment.


    Peter was by and large a happy man, doing what he liked to do. There were times he gave the appearance of being grouchy, but it may have been due to health concerns. Peter loved people, and truly enjoyed them at times, but he treasured his tranquility and his very private home life. Peter was ever vigilant in his home, and carried his 9mm parabellum pistol from room to room as he moved about his home. He never forgot he was in Africa, and he never let his guard down. He told me the most dangerous animal in all of Africa walked on two legs. I think it was out of concern for his beautiful wife Fifi, as he called her and not so much for his own protection.

    Speaking of firearms, he was very pleased that Art Alphin, honcho of A-Square Firearms, named his .470 Capstick after him. Peter was presented the first rifle made, which was a Winchester Model 70, and while I was visiting Peter, he told me he was forced to return his .470 Capstick to the Winchester factory for some minor repairs. There was a minor problem that might have slipped by a dozen professional hunters, but Peter found the glitch and had it corrected.


    Peter told me he admired my guts, but not my intelligence, for bringing my lady to Africa at such a bad time, but he understood me. I think. Peter was quite surprised that I survived my first two years living in the remote bushveld of the Soutpansberg Mountains of the far Northern Transvaal of South Africa. Peter felt it was impossible for an American, like me, to become an outfitter and professional hunter in South Africa. Peter pointed out that old Rhodesia was, in many ways more civilized as far as culture, languages and security wise than modern South Africa was. In one of his books, Peter wrote that he had weekly letters from young Americans who aspired to become a professional hunter in Africa. Peter said in print “an American would have a better chance of winning the Victoria Cross than to become a professional hunter in Africa.” He told me with a wide smile “Tink, I think you have won the Victoria Cross and don’t yet know it.” I doubt if he knew that I knew what he was referring to, but I told him I knew the passage and treasured his comments. Peter was always kind and polite.


    Peter was a kind man, and a truly caring person. At a hunter’s convention, I introduced him to a young black professional hunter, named Ross, who had been a classmate of mine at professional hunters school. As we took our seats, Peter became instantly aware that this young professional hunter had no one to sit with, as most of the tables were reserved or filled. Peter went to Ross, and insisted that Ross dine at his table next to Fiona. All real hunters were welcome at Peter’s table, and Peter was the classic U.V.A. gentleman. The University of Virginia, nicknamed U.V.A., produces gentlemen of the first water. Peter was a perfect gentleman to one and all. Peter was a kind man.


    Peter once saved my life and when I thanked him, he made me promise never to mention it, since he didn’t want me to be embarrassed in having to tell the tale. Needless to say, I will always be in Peter’s debt. Peter did things other people would never do. He killed two Cape buffalo with a spear. Once to do it, and once again to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Peter had a dream from the time he was a small boy, and that was to go over to Africa to live. Peter lived out his dream, or was it his dream? Peter lived a life of adventure, then took the time to commit to his stories, and the stories of Africa, past and present, to the printed page. He was the world’s best storyteller.


    Peter heard the stories we all do in Africa, but he captured them, edited, and polished them, and preserved them forever. Peter wrote twelve books, and sold more than any other hunting author in history. He made and appeared in many videos, so those who had never met him could someday see him on the small screen. Peter wrote stories for the French magazine FIRE, and for the leading South African hunting journal MAGNUM, as well as OUT THERE. It is said that Peter brought more hunters and people to Africa, though his works, than any other person. Peter not only wrote about Africa, but he lived Africa. Only someone who comes from far away can appreciate Africa. He spoke often about the people that were lucky enough to be born here and to live here a lifetime, seldom, if ever, appreciated in Africa. Peter did.


    Writers and readers far more skilled than I, will discuss Capstick’s works well into the next century. However it was my wife that noticed his writing style, and pointed out to me that each paragraph told a story, and his colorful writings jumped of the pages and bit deep into your soul when reading his work for the first time. A close friend told me that Peter was aware of some coronary circulatory problems as far back as two years, but avoided the confrontation with the cardiologist. I tracked his 1996 medical progress through a source outside of Fiona, and was relieved to hear the heart operation went well on March 5th, 1996. I sent him a get-well card that I am sure he never saw. Fiona told me that she had taken it to the hospital and that he really enjoyed hearing from me.


    On Friday March 15th, I got the call about Peter’s death. I could not believe that Peter had left us. I could not accept that someone who was so vibrant and dynamic and full of life was gone. As I write this in April 1996, I am not yet over the shock. On March 16th, I wrote a letter and faxed it to some of the hunters and friends across the world, that knew and loved Peter. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could think of at the time. I have the original folded and tucked away in one of his books that he had signed for me. It said something like this. Peter Hathaway Capstick passed away etc. Today Peter is on a hot spoor of a mighty black bull, in a land of dagga boy buffaloes, in a valley with massive elephants with thick tusks, and clever cats. Tonight Peter shares a small gleaming campfire with hunters from another time, such as Selous, Taylor, Bell, Harris and others. Peter was truly a son of Africa. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his devoted and beloved wife and soul mate, Fiona.


    Peter was a giant of a man, with a heart as big as Africa, yet strong and straight as a new arrow. With out a doubt, Peter was one of the finest, if not the finest writer of our age. A man who turned his back on fortune, the family Hathaway shirt business, and went of into the jungles of Viet Nam to fight in freedoms name as a green beret officer, an American special forces soldier, and to Africa to fulfill a child’s dream. Peter, you did it all so bloody well too. You never got a client killed, you never got tossed in jail and you never stepped on a mamba. You lived your life, every second’s worth to THE MAX, and you were a gentleman the whole time. You were a man’s man, a man that women lionized, and you did America proud. You showed Africa just what could do when the chips were down. You took care of your clients, and hunted like a sportsman, with ethics and true responsibility.


    There isn’t a good way to go out of this world, and while we both know you would have liked to go out in a tangle with a bull elephant, at least you were spared a long lingering struggle with a slow painful disease, and months of incarceration in a sterile, somber place of men in white suits, plastic pipes, needles and tanks of air. Hell Peter, you went out fighting. I choose to remember Peter as the well tanned, highly irrelevant, very witty and very funny guy who did his own thing, and didn’t “give a rats ***” about what other people thought. Peter had forgotten more about hunting than most people will ever learn. He loved African wildlife, and yet took endless delight in raising Koi, the oriental goldfish like creatures. He loved rifles, and all that go with them, yet he hunted with a bow and a spear, and loved all of nature, the good, the not so good, and the ugly.


    Peter was one of the few truly happy people I have ever known. Peter was a hunter, and then a writer. Peter was a living legend in his own time, yet he was humble, simple and down to earth, a regular guy. Peter was a really nice guy, a super person, and I was fortunate to have had Peter as my friend. We will miss Peter.


    Keep your powder dry, keep your nose in the wind, and watch your back trail, old friend.




    Tink Nathan, Professional Hunter, Outfitter

    9930 Hughes Ave.

    Laurel, MD 20723-1744

    Telephone 301-369-3096

    E-mail tink@bowhuntingsafaris.com