FREDERICK RUSSELL BURNHAM
Frederick Russell Burnham
Theodore Roosevelt said of Frederick Burnham, “I Know Burnham. He is a scout and a hunter of courage and ability, a man totally without fear, a sure shot, and a fighter. He is the ideal scout, and when enlisted in the military service of any country he is bound to be of the greatest benefit.” Burnham’s adventures began as a two-year-old toddler when his mother hid him under corn husks during an Indian raid on their home. Having become separated from her child, she returned to their home burnt to the ground with Fred sound asleep under the corn husks. Following the death of his missionary father, while his mother moved to Iowa, he stayed behind to fend for himself. At the age of 12 he became a messenger for the Western Union Telegraph Company. At 14 he began honing his talents as a tracker and scout during the Apache Wars, and at 21 he served as deputy Sheriff for Pinal County in Arizona. After earning a living as a buffalo hunter and prospector in Northern Mexico and Texas, he then came to the conclusion America had been all but conquered and scouted out. So he, his wife, and young son set out for Cape Town, South Africa to work the Cape-to-Cairo Railway. From there he joined the British South Africa Company working as a scout. In a short while he had become famous among the Africans for his skills in scouting and tracking at night. The natives dubbed him “He Who Sees in the Dark”. It seemed the more adversity Burnham encountered, the more daring this 5’4” scout became. When Fred’s company went to war with the Matabele tribe, the soldier of fortune in Frederick Russell Burnham stood courageously to the occasion. In the battle of the Shangani Patrol, the complete garrison Burnham was accompanying was wiped out by insurmountable odds, while he and his two scouts narrowly escaped with their lives. For his duties in the battle, Burnham was given a medal, a gold watch, and 300 acres of land in Africa. Give a scout 300 acres and if there is something valuable hiding there, he’ll find it. And indeed he found it– the famous ruins of the ancient civilization of Great Zimbabwe, and all the artifacts to go along with it. In 1896 the Matabele once again declared war on the British, with this campaign proving to be larger and more fierce than before. Two of Africa’s greatest scouts were teamed together to assist the British, our Frederick Russell Burnham, and Robert Baden-Powell. With 50,000 warriors having retreated to the Matabo Hills, the turning point to the war came when Burnham and another scout crawled on their bellies past hundreds of warriors, slipping into the sacred cave where the chief of the tribe would go to perform his spiritual rituals before battles. As chief Milmo entered the cave Burnham shot him in the chest and the two ran through the Indian village setting it ablaze with hundreds of warriors in hot pursuit. The following day the commander of the British forces boldly walked into the warrior’s encampment unarmed, persuading the warriors to lay down their arms, thus ending the second Matabele war.
Frederick Burnham was already a celebrated scout, marksman, and soldier before he met Baden-Powell, and Powell was an accomplished outdoorsman and brilliant soldier as well. The two became close friends and remained so the rest of their lives. As they spent many months and hundreds of miles together on patrols in the wild, Burnham began to introduce Powell to the tracking and scouting methods of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. So impressed was Powell with Burnham’s skills and scouting spirit that he would later fondly tell others he squeezed out every ounce of knowledge from Burnham that he could. On their many scouting trips, the two discussed the concept of a broad training program in woodcraft and scouting skills for young men, who would later advance up to the services of their country. While Robert Baden-Powell went on to advance the international Scouting movement, Frederick Burnham has been titled the Father of Scouting. Burnham went on to establish close friendships with those involved in scouting such as Theodore Roosevelt. The Boy Scouts of America made him an Honorary Scout in 1927 and was bestowed the highest commendation given by the Boy Scouts, the Silver Buffalo Award. Burnham and Powell remained friends for the remainder of their lives. This great Scout’s life is too rich with adventure to be scarcely covered on these pages. His involvement in spying and counterespionage for America and Britain, his purchase of 900,000 acres for irrigation development for farmers in Mexico, his success in oil discovery, and let’s not forget their was a woman, a remarkable woman at his side through it all. More than once, Blanche Blick, his wife of 55 years, defended her homestead and family with a rifle, putting lead into more than one adversary. In 1947, after defying death on multiple occasions, Burnham quietly passed on at the age of 86, at his home in Santa Barbara, California. Now you know who Frederick Russell Burnham is.