The Rhodesian Ridgeback was originally called the South African Lion Hound because they were famous for their use in hunting the "King of Beasts". Although, RRs were multipurpose farm and hunting dogs, it was their association with big games hunters like Cornelius van Royen and Selous that brought them the most attention.
Now, while the lion is among the most ferocious of cats, that does not mean the Ridgeback is also fierce. Many breeds of hunting dogs are very keen when after their quarry, but are gentle companions to people. Black and Tan Coonhounds, Greyhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Borzoi - the Russian Wolfhound - all these breeds are used to hunt and no one would think twice about lumping their temperaments with their quarry! The lovable little Dachshund is a formidable hunter of badger but lives quite happily in our homes.
What you need to understand is HOW the RR was used by hunters. In those early days, the hunters did not have powerful guns, instead they had to be within 50 yds of a lion to kill it. A lion is very fast and can cover 50 yds in about 3 seconds, so the hunter needed a dog that would keep the lion's attention on it and away from him. The dog would also have to be smart, agile and cautious enough to stay out of reach of the lion's claws. This is why the Ridgeback must be athletic - supple and fast.
Baying lions was not the Ridgebacks only job on the veldt, they had to guard and herd the stock that went along on the hunting treks. There weren't any fast food stops along the way! The wagons were pulled by oxen, there were also cattle and goats for both meat and milk and horses to ride. The new settlers had farms that needed protecting from marauding predators and a dog who could fetch a downed bird or gazelle for the dinner table as well. The Ridgeback was often the breed of choice.