Burnham, Frederick Russell, 1861-1947

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1861-05-11
Death 1947-09-01
Gender:
Male

Biographical notes:

Frederick Russell Burnham was born on May 11, 1861, in Tivoli, Minnesota. After his family moved to California, he became a scout and learned from the best professionals in western America and Mexico. He earned fame and honors for his work as a scout in the two Matabele Wars and the Boer War in South Africa. He also explored uncharted regions of both Africa and Mexico and ran development, oil, and mining companies in the United States, Africa, and Mexico. He married Blanche Blick in 1884, and they had three children. After Blanche died in 1938, he married Ilo K. Willetts in 1943. Burnham died on September 1, 1947.

From the description of Frederick Russell Burnham papers, 1864-1951 (inclusive). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702166007

American explorer; major and chief of scouts, British army, during the Boer War.

From the description of Frederick Russell Burnham papers, 1879-1979. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122587579

Lawyer, New York City.

From the description of Register, 1891-1906 (bulk 1891-1897). (New York University). WorldCat record id: 58660718

Introduction

Born in the USA Burnham was brought up in California. He received a limited formal education but in the course of his early working life in the Western USA he acquired a knowledge of mining, particularly gold mining. From 1893 to 1897 he was in present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was he who led the Northern Territories (BSA) Exploration Co. expedition which established for the outside world that major copper deposits existed in Central Africa.

In 1897 Burnham left Africa to take up gold mining in Alaska and the Klondike but in 1900 he returned to become the chief scout of the British forces engaged in the Boer War. In 1901, having been wounded, he left South Africa for London. There he was employed by the Wa Syndicate. For the Wa Syndicate he led an expedition through Ghana and Upper Volta which was concerned both with mineral occurrences and the possibility of improving the navigability of major rivers. He also served the Wa Syndicate as their London office manager.

From 1902 to 1904 Burnham was employed by the East Africa Syndicate. For them he led a mineral prospecting expedition which travelled extensively in the area around Lake Rudolph. Thereafter he was engaged in projects in the Americas for, or in cojunction with, John Hays Hammond, the mining magnate. During the 1920s and 1930s Burnham was engaged in the management of the Dominguez oilfield in California.

The papers of Frederick Burnham are not all in one place. One stray item is in the National Archives of Zimbabwe 1 . The remainder are split between Yale University Library 2 and the Hoover Institution's Archives. The papers at Yale University were gifted by Major Burnham's widow in 1951. Those at the Hoover Institution she gifted in 1978. Whilst most of those gifted to Yale are subject to a closure which renders them inaccessible until the year 2000 3, those at the Hoover Institution are open. The latter contain a substantial number of transcripts, that is to say copies laboriously made by hand from diaries, letters, etc. the originals of which are (in most cases, at least) now at Yale. One file of correspondence at the Hoover Institution Archives contains both transcripts and the originals from which they were copied 4 : the transcripts are highly accurate. That the same is true of the other transcripts at the Hoover Institution can not, however, be guaranteed. Whilst some papers are in both repositories (the originals at Yale and the transcipts at the Hoover Institution) this is by no means the whole picture. Some papers at Yale (on mines in Chile and China, for instance) are not duplicated in the papers at the Hoover Institution. Vice versa, some materials at the Hoover Institution are not duplicates of papers at Yale.

1. Baxter, T.W. and Burke, E.E. Guide to the Historical Manuscripts in the National Archives of Rhodesia, 1970, p.67. 2. Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives, New Haven, Connecticut 06520. 3. A collection of writings about Burnham and working papers for his two books Scouting on Two Continents (1928) and Taking Chances (1944) are open for research use. 4. Folder Lummis, Charles F., Folder 10 in Box 3.

Biographical Note

  • 1861, May 11: Born, Tivoli, Minnesota
  • 1870: Family moved to Los Angeles
  • 1878 - 1882 : Cowboy, hunter, prospector and scout in Arizona and Texas
  • 1884: Marriage to Blanche Blick
  • 1893: Trooper in BSA Police, Rhodesia [Zimbabwe]
  • 1895: Prospecting in North West Rhodesia [Western Zambia]
  • 1896 - 1897 : Scout for British forces in Matabele [Ndebele] wars
  • 1897 - 1900 : Gold mining in Alaska and Klondike
  • 1900 - 1901 : Chief Scout of British forces in Boer War
  • 1901: Awarded Distinguished Service Order
  • 1901 - 1902 : Working for Wa Syndicate in Gold Coast [Ghana] and London
  • 1902 - 1904 : Working for East Africa Syndicate. Led mineral prospecting expedition to Lake Rudolph
  • [1908 - 1908 ?] : Engaged in irrigation project in Yacqui River Delta, Mexico
  • 1912 - 1912 [?] : Director of Yacqui Delta Land and Water Co.
  • [1917 - 1918] : Manager of manganese and tungsten survey of Western USA
  • [?]: Manager of Burnham Exploration Co. [later Dominguez Oil Fields Co.]
  • 1923: Burnham Exploration Co. and Union Oil Co. agreed to develop Dominguez Oilfield on a 50:50 basis
  • 1928: Author, Scouting on Two Continents
  • [?]: Director of Union Oil Co.
  • 1939: Death of Mrs Blanche Burnham
  • 1943: Marriage to Ilo K. Willits [or Ferrce]
  • 1944: Author, Taking Chances
  • 1947: Died, California

From the guide to the Frederick Russell Burnham Papers, 1879-1979, (Hoover Institution Archives)

Frederick Russell Burnham was born on May 11, 1861, in Tivoli, Minnesota. After his family moved to California, he became a scout and learned from the best professionals in western America and Mexico. He earned fame and honors for his work as a scout in the two Matabele Wars and the Boer War in South Africa. He also explored uncharted regions of both Africa and Mexico and ran development, oil, and mining companies in the United States, Africa, and Mexico. He married Blanche Blick in 1884, and they had three children. After Blanche died in 1938, he married Ilo K. Willetts in 1943. Burnham died on September 1, 1947.

Frederick Russell Burnham, scout, mining expert, and adventurer, was born on May 11, 1861, in Tivoli, Minnesota, to Reverend Edwin Otway and Rebecca (Russell) Burnham. After nine years of frontier life in Minnesota, during which Frederick and his mother survived an Indian attack on New Ulm, the family moved to Los Angeles. Edwin Burnham died in 1873, and Rebecca and Howard, Frederick's brother, moved back east. Frederick, however, enjoyed California so much that he chose to stay and began to acquire the outdoor skills that were to make him famous. For the next twenty years he travelled throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico. He sought out the best scouts in the regions and from them learned riding, tracking, hunting, and wilderness survival skills. His jobs ranged from mounted messenger for the Western Union Telegraph Company (when he was thirteen), to cowboy, big game hunter and seller, gold prospector, deputy sheriff, and Apache fighter.

While mining for gold in Arizona in 1893, Burnham read in the newspapers of the career of Cecil John Rhodes. Feeling he was being "summoned," Burnham, with his wife, Blanche (Blick), and son, Roderick, journeyed to the South African frontier to be of assistance to Rhodes in his endeavors. For the next four years he was a scout for Rhodes' British South Africa Company, and he fought and gained widespread fame in the two Matabele Wars. He also led exploring expeditions north of the Zambesi River and made significant discoveries of archeological ruins and fields of coal and copper. After returning to North America to mine gold in the Klondike, Burnham went back to Africa early in 1900 to serve as chief of scouts for the British army during the Boer War. Again earning fame for his exploits, and mustered out in 1900 due to injuries received in battle, Burnham was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the South African Medal by the British government.

Burnham arrived back in the United States in 1904 and during the next three decades he lived in California and engaged in prospecting and archeological expeditions. He was particularly interested in Mexico and made several important archeological discoveries that shed light on the Maya civilization. With John Hays Hammond, the well-known mining engineer who Burnham had first met in Africa, he attempted to irrigate and cultivate the Yaqui Valley in northern Mexico, but encountered difficulties after the outbreak of the Mexican civil war in 1912. The two men were more successful in establishing the Burnham Exploration Company, which operated the productive Dominguez Hill oil field in California.

Burnham had a number of personal interests, to which he devoted a good deal of time and energy. He was a friend and admirer of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, and helped that organization spread in America. He was concerned with preserving American wilderness and was one of the original members of the California Park Commission. He also explored the importation of wild game animals from Africa to live in the American Southwest where they could provide a food alternative to beef and pork.

Burnham had little formal education, but he learned to read and write at home when he was a child. After being pursued by publishers for a number of years, Burnham wrote two books detailing his life and exploits: Scouting on Two Continents (1926) and Taking Chances (1944).

Burnham married Blanche Blick of Clinton, Iowa, in 1884, and she accompanied him on many of his trips, as did Blanche's brothers, John and Judd. He had two sons, Roderick and Bruce, and a daughter, Nada. Blanche died in 1938, and in 1943, Burnham married Ilo K. Willetts. He died on September 1, 1947, in Santa Barbara, California.

From the guide to the Frederick Russell Burnham papers, 1864-1951, (Manuscripts and Archives)

Loading...

Loading Relationships

Information

Permalink:
http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w62r3xbt
Ark ID:
w62r3xbt
SNAC ID:
53056018

Subjects:

  • Klondike gold fields
  • Practice of law
  • Matabele War, 1896
  • South African War, 1899-1902
  • Explorers
  • Matabele War, 1893
  • Addresses, speeches, etc
  • Life insurance

Occupations:

  • Lawyers
  • Explorers

Places:

  • California--Mount Baden-Powell (as recorded)
  • Rhodesia. (as recorded)
  • Great Britain. (as recorded)
  • United States. (as recorded)
  • Alaska. (as recorded)
  • South Africa. (as recorded)
  • Zimbabwe. (as recorded)
  • South Africa (as recorded)
  • Klondike River Valley (Yukon) (as recorded)
  • Africa (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • Africa. (as recorded)
  • Africa (as recorded)
  • Mount Baden-Powell (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Zimbabwe (as recorded)
  • Zambia (as recorded)