Indian fighter, explorer, scout, soldier and hero: during Frederick Burnham's life he filled all of these roles. Consequently a myth grew up around him cultivated by various “real-life adventure story books” in which he featured, and his own autobiography in which he stressed the more adventurous aspects of his life. The adventurous aspects of his career are, indeed, not without significance. For example, it was Burnham who killed the Mlimo during the Ndebele War of 1897 and this action may well have had an important effect on the morale of Ndebele fighters. Nevertheless, Burnham's career as a mineral prospector, mining engineer, and business manager is as significant as his more publicized activities. In some instances the latter were, in fact, a consequence of his employment in the former.
Born in the United States, Burnham was brought up in California. He received a limited formal education but in the course of his early working life in the western United States 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.
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