Frederick Russell Burnham's (1861-1947) amazing story resembles a newsreel fused with a Saturday matinee thriller. One of the few people who could turn his garrulous friend Theodore Roosevelt into a listener, Burnham was once world-famous as "the American scout." His expertise in woodcraft, learned from frontiersmen and Indians, helped inspire another friend, Robert Baden-Powell, to found the Boy Scouts.Read more...
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Frederick Russell Burnham's (1861-1947) amazing story resembles a newsreel fused with a Saturday matinee thriller. One of the few people who could turn his garrulous friend Theodore Roosevelt into a listener, Burnham was once world-famous as "the American scout." His expertise in woodcraft, learned from frontiersmen and Indians, helped inspire another friend, Robert Baden-Powell, to found the Boy Scouts. His adventures encompassed Apache wars and range feuds, booms and busts in mining camps around the globe, explorations in remote regions of Africa, and death-defying military feats that brought him renown and high honors. His skills led to his unusual appointment, as an American, to be Chief of Scouts for the British during the Boer War, where his daring exploits earned him the Distinguished Service Order from King Edward VII.
After a lifetime pursuing golden prospects from the deserts of Mexico and Africa to the tundra of the Klondike, Burnham found wealth, in his sixties, near his childhood home in southern California. Other men of his era had a few such adventures, but Burnham had them all. His friend H. Rider Haggard, author of many best-selling exotic tales, remarked, "In real life he is more interesting than any of my heroes of romance."
Among other well-known individuals who figure in Burnham's story are Cecil Rhodes and William Howard Taft, as well as some of the wealthiest men of the day, including John Hays Hammond, E. H. Harriman, Henry Payne Whitney, and the Guggenheim brothers.
Failure and tragedy streaked his life as well, but he was endlessly willing to set off into the unknown, where the future felt up for grabs and values worth dying for were at stake. Steve Kemper brings a quintessential American story to vivid life in this gripping biography.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Journalist Kemper (A Labyrinth of Kingdoms) admirably resurrects the larger-than-life figure of Frederick Russell Burnham (1861–1947) in an account chockfull of adventures that feel ripped from dime-store novels. Burnham was perhaps the greatest scout of his age—one whose courage, discipline, and strength of character were celebrated in newspapers and inspired the founding principles of the Boy Scouts—but has been all but forgotten today. He came of age during the last days of the American frontier and trained in the ways of the Apache scout. Burnham ventured from the Klondike to Mexico to Southern Africa in a constant cycle of boom and bust, seeking a great fortune or, failing that, a great escapade. The most remarkable thing about Kemper's account seems to be Burnham's uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, consistently serving as a minor player in history's unfolding: he served in the Boer War, prospected in two separate gold rushes, and turned down an invitation to join Roosevelt's Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. Kemper is well aware of his subject's racist and imperialist tendencies—attitudes he finds common for the time—but in Burnham he also sees an essential American spirit and a paragon of a bygone model of manhood. Illus. (Jan.)