Rediscovered: Dodging Apache Torture and Other Incidents of a Life Fully Lived

You know Brian Leno, mention stuff like Edgar Rice Burroughs and the disconcerting torture techniques of the Apache, and instantly he starts thinking about Frederick Russell Burnham.

Doesn’t everyone?

Here’s Brian with some thoughts for today:

Recently I read A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham by Steve Kemper. Here’s a paragraph from the book:  

Apaches inspired terror for good reason. They were as harsh and pitiless as the landscape they roamed. For non-Apaches, the worst imaginable fate was to be taken alive by them. Captured children and young women were occasionally integrated into the tribe, but men were doomed to torments. Captives were often turned over to Apache women whose male relatives had recently been killed. Many accounts suggest that these women were even more sadistically inventive than the men. Burnham once watched some Apache women skin a young fawn alive for entertainment, a technique also used on human captives, and he mentions watching Apache children stick thorns into the eyes of captured doves, “much to the amusement” of their nearby mothers.

Kemper does state “The brutalities on both sides were extreme.” There can be no doubt about that. 

I’ve mentioned Frederick Russell Burnham before on your website. Quite a tough nut. He was involved in the Pleasant Valley War, also known as the Graham-Tewksbury Feud, and was a scout during the Indian Wars, and served in Africa during the First and Second Matabele Wars, and the Second Boer War. He was also part of the Shangani Patrol that is sometimes remembered as “Wilson’s Last Stand.”

Major Allan Wilson and his men were trapped in Matabeleland, near the Shangani River, and in the battle all were wiped out, except Burnham and two others who had been ordered to try and get away, to bring back help.

Burnham was also the assassin of Mlimo, who was the spiritual headman of the Matabele people during the Second War.

Naturally, since I admire this guy so much, I have a signed example of his book Scouting on Two Continents. It’s interesting to note that apparently Burroughs himself owned a copy of Burnham’s wonderful narrative. 

One more interesting tidbit about Burnham. In his book Kemper writes that Burnham traveled to Tombstone, “where Burnham certainly knew” Virgil and Wyatt Earp, and arrived “sometime before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”

What a life.

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