An American Family on the African Frontier: The Burnham Family Letters, 1893-1896

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Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1993 - Africa, Southern - 300 pages
In the late 1880s, as the American frontier "closed", the family of Frederick Russell Burnham, an American prospector and military hero, left for Africa in search of a new life. Burnham's experiences in the Indian uprisings of the U.S., his disenchantment with industrial America during the labor battles of the 1880s, and the necessity of using native labor in the mines of South Africa all shaped his thinking during a time when Social Darwinism was fashionable. In a collection of letters edited by historians Mary E. and Richard H. Bradford, the Burnham's life in Africa comes alive, revealing a seldom-seen portrait of turn-of-the-century South Africa through the eyes of an American family that believed, as many of that time did, that a land's resources were available for the taking. While the letters tell of adventure and hardship, they also reveal a brutally honest account of Frederick Russell Burnham's role in the subordination of native cultures for profit. His views, echoed by Cecil Rhodes and many other prominent American, British, and Dutch citizens, held disregard for and ignorance of the culture and traditions of the indigenous people of South Africa. Ultimately, the letters give the reader a fascinating glimpse of America's role in the history of the "Dark Continent". More to the point, however, they go a long way towards explaining many of the problems South Africa faces today.

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