Book: Author Steve Kemper reimagines the life of adventurer

A vintage Boy Scout flip-out card booklet from 1928. Steve Kemper's new book, "A Splendid Savage" deals with the founder of the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts are one of the most famous outdoors groups in the United States, and the subject of Steve Kemper’s newest book, “A Splendid Savage,” which focuses Frederick Russell Burnham, an American adventurer and close friend of the Boy Scouts founder. 

Frederick Russell Burnham served as the Chief of Scouts for the British during the Boer War in the early 20th century. Burnham was a celebrity of his time, made famous by his adventures, exploits and opinions that commanded headlines in the papers of his time, Kemper said.

“He lived from the time that they were taking scouts onto the field to the time of the atomic bomb.  His life encompasses an eventful span of time,” Kemper said.

Some of these events include the Apache Wars and the Mexican Revolution. Burnham was also a deputy in Tombstone, Arizona and he prevented an assassination attempt on William Howard Taft, where he stopped a person concealing a palm pistol hanging around Taft during the first meeting of the presidents of Mexico and the U.S. The event features prominently in Burnham’s memoirs.

“I like history in general. The whole Boy Scout movement has used an outdoor program to instill moral and ethical decision making. I want to read the book to see how Burnham really fits,” said Charles Copeland, the district executive of Boy Scouts of America.

Kemper spent much of his lecture talking about the Apache and Burnham’s wilderness skills, which came in handy as a scout in the Boer War. The stories in Kemper’s book include instances where Burnham’s tracking ability was questioned, but always proved correct. He also writes about the magnitude of Burnham’s survival ability and the extent of his skills and were extreme.

“The lecture was interesting, it’s not a subject you hear a lot about,” said Amy Orlomoski, a resident from Canterbury.

Kemper accompanied his lecture with a presentation displaying the environments Burnham would have been exposed to, such as the Mojave Desert and South Africa.  He also showed a picture of a telegraph he sent back to America saying “Nada died today.”  Nada was his daughter and Kemper spoke about how Burnham had a desire for vengeance, driving him to kill a mlimo priest.

“I thought the lecture was interesting. I look forward to reading the book. It sounded interesting to me,” said Dave Stone, a resident of Mansfield.

All of these things are just the ingredients that make up the whole person in Kemper’s eyes who was inspired to write about Burnham while writing a story about hyenas. While doing research for the book, Burnham kept popping up in the content of English newspapers, and eventually took over the focus. From this the book became a fictional account of Burnham’s adventures written in a biographical style. 


Matthew Gilbert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.gilbert@uconn.edu.