Instances of Deduction

March 18, 2003

Baden-Powell wrote:

I was one day, during the Matabele War in Africa, out scouting with an African over a wide grassy plain near the Matopo Hills.

Suddenly we crossed a track freshly made in grass, where the blades of grass were still green and damp, though pressed down—all were bending one way, which showed the direction in which the people had been travelling.  Following up the track for a bit it got on to a patch of sand, and we then saw that it was the spoor (footprints) of several women (small feet with straight edge, and short steps) walking, not running, towards the hills, about five miles away, where we believed the enemy was hiding.

Then we saw a leaf lying about ten yards off the track.  There were no trees for miles, but we knew that trees having this kind of leaf grew at a village 15 miles away, in the direction from which the foot marks were coming.  It seemed likely therefore that the women had come from that village, bringing the leaf with them, and had gone to the hills.

On picking up the leaf we found it was damp, and smelled of native beer.  The short steps showed that the women were carrying loads.  So we guessed that according to the custom they had been carrying pots of native beer on their heads, with the mouths of the pots stopped up with bunches of leaves.  One of these leaves had fallen out; and since we found it ten yards off the track, it showed that at the time it fell a wind was blowing.  There was no wind now, that is, at seven o'clock, but there had been some about five o'clock.

So we guessed from all these little signs that a party of women and boys had brought beer during the night from the village 15 miles away, and had taken it to the enemy in the hills, arriving there soon after six o'clock.

The men would probably start to drink the beer at once (as it goes sour in a few hours), and would, by the time we could get there, be getting sleepy and keeping a bad look-out, so we should have a favourable chance of looking at their position.

We accordingly followed the women's tracks, found the enemy, made our observations, and got away with our information without any difficulty.

And it was chiefly done on the evidence of that one leaf.

So you see the importance of noticing even a little thing like that.

Baden-Powell, Robert.  Scouting for Boys, 35th edition, 5th printing, 1999.

Good night, gentlemen.