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Register of the Frederick Russell Burnham papers
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Collection Details
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  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Introduction
  • Biographical Note
  • Access

  • Title: Frederick Russell Burnham papers
    Date (inclusive): 1879-1979
    Collection Number: 78082
    Contributing Institution: Hoover Institution Archives
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 8 manuscript boxes, 24 envelopes, 1 album box (4.8 linear feet)
    Abstract: Correspondence, speeches and writings, clippings, other printed matter, photographs, and memorabilia, relating to the Matabele Wars of 1893 and 1896 in Rhodesia, the Boer War, exploration expeditions in Africa, and gold mining in Alaska duing the Klondike gold rush.
    Physical Location: Hoover Institution Archives
    Creator: Burnham, Frederick Russell, 1861-1947.

    Publication Rights

    For copyright status, please contact the Hoover Institution Archives.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Frederick Russell Burnham papers, [Box no.], Hoover Institution Archives.


    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-?] Engaged in irrigation project in Yacqui River Delta, Mexico
    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


    Collection is open for research.
    The Hoover Institution Archives only allows access to copies of audiovisual items, computer media, and digital files. To listen to sound recordings or to view videos, films, or digital files during your visit, please contact the Archives at least two working days before your arrival. We will then advise you of the accessibility of the material you wish to see or hear. Please note that not all audiovisual or digital material is immediately accessible.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Great Britain. Army.
    Africa--Discovery and exploration.
    Great Britain.
    Klondike gold fields.
    Matabele War, 1893.
    Matabele War, 1896.
    South Africa.
    South African War, 1899-1902.
    United States.