|Frederick Burnham (aged 20) (Source)|
Frederick Russell Burnham DSO (May 11, 1861 – September 1, 1947) was an American scout and world-traveling adventurer. He is known for his service to the British South Africa Company and to the British Army in colonial Africa, and for teaching woodcraft to Robert Baden-Powell in Rhodesia. He helped inspire the founding of the international Scouting Movement.
Burnham was born on a Lakota Sioux Indian reservation in Minnesota where he learned the ways of American Indians as a boy. By the age of 14, he was supporting himself in California, while also learning scouting from some of the last of the cowboys and frontiersmen of the American Southwest. Burnham had little formal education, never finishing high school. After moving to the Arizona Territory in the early 1880s, he was drawn into the Pleasant Valley War, a feud between families of ranchers and sheepherders. He escaped and later worked as a civilian tracker for the United States Army in the Apache Wars. Feeling the need for new adventures, Burnham took his family to southern Africa in 1893, seeing Cecil Rhodes's Cape to Cairo Railway project as the next undeveloped frontier.
Burnham distinguished himself in several battles in Rhodesia and South Africa and became Chief of Scouts. Despite his U.S. citizenship, his military title was British and his rank of major was formally given to him by King Edward VII. In special recognition of Burnham's heroism, the King invested him into the Companions of the Distinguished Service Order, giving Burnham the highest military honors earned by any American in the Second Boer War. He had become friends with Baden-Powell during the Second Matabele War in Rhodesia, teaching him outdoor skills and inspiring what would later become known as Scouting. Burnham returned to the United States, where he became involved in national defense efforts, business, oil, conservation, and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
During World War I, Burnham was selected as an officer and recruited volunteers for a U.S. Army division similar to the Rough Riders, which Theodore Roosevelt intended to lead into France. For political reasons, the unit was disbanded without seeing action. After the war, Burnham and his business partner John Hays Hammond formed the Burnham Exploration Company; they became wealthy from oil discovered in California. Burnham joined several new wilderness conservation organizations, including the California State Parks Commission. In the 1930s, he worked with the BSA to save the big horn sheep from extinction. This effort led to the creation of the Kofa and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuges in Arizona. He earned the BSA's highest honor, the Silver Buffalo Award, in 1936, and remained active in the organization at both the regional and national level until his death in 1947. To symbolise the friendship between Burnham and Baden-Powell, the mountain beside Mount Baden-Powell in California was formally named Mount Burnham in 1951.
Frederick Burnham may not have contributed to humanity in any great way: he didn't make any scientific discoveries, better the lives of the working classes (besides founding the American Boy Scouts), explore any uncharted lands, or indeed chart lands. But he was on the fore-front of the European frontier as it was expanding in the 19th century, which makes him one of the pioneers of the age.
Reading through his life is a testament to the type of life he lived: exciting! You can't call his life dull, that's for sure. And that's what life is about when it comes to the frontier, excitement, the great un-known. "What are you going to do tomorrow?" Someone asks. "I've no idea!" you reply with enthusiaism. That's what it's about. Freedom, liberty, doing your own Will. And that's why Fred is on the Men of Yore list, for being a man of the frontier.
P.S. If you're interested in a fuller and longer account of his life THIS webpage is an agreeable alternative to his Wikipedia entry.