A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham

Norton. Jan. 2016. 448p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393239270. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393285536. BIOG
Journalist Kemper (A Labyrinth of Kingdoms) offers a rollicking, gripping portrait of Frederick Russell Burnham (1861–1947), a highly skilled military scout, outdoorsman, marksman, and prospector, whose legendary survival skills helped inspire the creation of the Boy Scouts. This clearly written, well-organized, and solidly researched volume vividly describes Burham's adventurous endeavors: working as a civilian scout for the U.S. Army during the Apache Wars in the Southwest, serving as Chief of Scouts for the British Army during several wars in southern Africa, and prospecting for gold in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. Kemper highlights Burnham's perpetual optimism and dedication to country and family without ignoring the period-typical racism he sometimes expressed and his evolving views on the need for environmental conservation. Burnham's life evokes a bygone era when unfettered colonialism, displacement of indigenous peoples, and environmental exploitation on wild frontiers provided vast opportunity. However, Kemper's tale occasionally glosses over the severe persecution of those native groups who Burnham helped to defeat, and whose alternative perspectives on their own history are too rarely chronicled.
VERDICT Best suited to readers interested in scouting, outdoor survival skills, the history of the American West, the Apache Wars, wars in the former Rhodesia, or the origin of the Boy Scouts. Readers may also enjoy Burnham's own memoir Scouting on Two Continents.
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