by Major Frederick Russell Burnham, D.S.O.
In 1944, Burnham published Taking Chances, a collection of stores about his adventures in the Southwest, Africa, the Klondike and around the world. The book is dedicated to Baden-Powell, "The Chief Scout." The forward relates their first meeting on a military scouting assignment in the Matopo Hills in Matabeleland in 1896. Burnham continues with a description of the dedication of Mount Baden-Powell in 1931. Locating the peak in the Sierras should offer an interesting opportunity for research.
ALL who follow the setting sun eventually find themselves at the point of departure. Even so, I find myself once again in the shadows of the mountains surrounding my old stomping grounds and trying to lasso some of memory’s gamboling mavericks that dare me to corral them on the printed page. If I could throw a perfect loop like the peerless Will Rogers, or an all embracing lasso like the famous Bard of the Green Verdugo Hills, the corral would be full by nightfall. Being able to compete with neither I shall chance a large loop and short throw, Texas style, and when it falls it will encircle a great mountain bastion that holds the desert at bay and protects a beautiful land and her millions of people.
That great soldier, Lord Baden-Powell, for whom the mountain was dedicated, saw with prophetic vision the present struggle for survival and devoted his life to prepare a generation of youth competent to meet the conflict—youth, fighting as men on every sea and battle front of the world, and on whom the fate of the world rests.
Following is the dedication speech which I was privileged to deliver on that momentous occasion:
To all the Scouts of the World—Greetings!
In obedience to your commands, we, your representatives from distant nations and the far flung frontiers beyond the seas, are assembled here on this lofty mountain to give to it the name of our beloved Chief Scout. We feel that this mighty fragment from the Divine Hand better expresses our love and admiration for the Chief than any monument we could erect.
Far back in the pages of recorded history we find that, when the nations of mankind wish to confer a special tribute which they desire to last through the ages, they dedicate to their deities and heroes one of the dominating mountains of the world and so, in this instance, following the custom of our race through a thousand generations, your committee with great care has selected this particular peak because it is as characteristic and outstanding among mountains as our Chief is among men.
So today this address will consist of two short stories one of the mountain and one of a man.
You are now standing on one of the sentinels of the mighty Sierras which holds back the frowning desert from all our homes. This mountain closed the Sierras leaving only a space of such dimensions that it made of it the Khyber Pass of the West and held back forever those demons of the desert—thirst, storms and the creeping dunes that have in various parts of the world, again and again, blotted out whole civilizations. Way back in geological time this implacable desert drove strange monsters far down into the valleys below. You have all seen them in the La Brea pits or as skeletons mounted in our museums. Along the road you traveled today once padded softly in dead of night saber-toothed tigers, long-fanged wolves, and lions of enormous size. Down those winding canyons ponderous mastodons wound their way. High on these crags sat condors and eagles watching for some huge mammal that might be slain, or die of thirst. Herds of ancient camels, horses and many lesser animals passed between these walls of granite long ages before the first barefoot track of savage man left its imprint in the dust. Then came the soft and silent tread of the moccasined Indian and, ere long, the clanking spur and shining armor of the Spaniard. Then, from desertward came the tall sinewy, blue-eyed and skin-clad trapper, and, just behind him, almost within signaling distance, rumbled the heavy wagons of the pioneers. These were soon followed by the iron horse and ribbons of steel. Today you roll on air, while overhead these gleaming Scouts of the Sky, driven by fire, are now circling this mountain to pay a tribute of honor to the Chief. All this thrilling pageantry of life down through the centuries could not have been, had this mountain rampart given away.
Turn your eyes westward and see what a paradise it shelters of gently rolling hills and miles of open valleys stretching far away to the shining sea. Here millions of our people have built their homes, safely sheltered behind these battlements thousands of feet high. We trust this great Scout of all the mountains to hold the pass for us all and forever turn back the deadly desert
So we have chosen this mountain to symbolize our beloved Chief Scout. In the world of men he has always been a rampart against the small and mean things of life. For years and years he was, like this mountain wall, holding back the endless dunes of savagery that seemed bound to bury the outposts of civilization on the frontiers of the world.
It so happened that my first meeting with the Chief was under the shadow of another mountain in the heart of Africa. Here a handful of pioneers were about to be destroyed by overwhelming numbers of well armed savages. We had been fighting for months. Imagine our delight at his arrival in our midst. He came direct from the blood-stained jungles of Ashanti where the thrust of ten thousand spears was turned aside from another outpost of our race. His assistance to us was like that of one of the knights of King Arthur to a beleaguered castle. Finally, under the strong hand and glowing soul of Cecil Rhodes a just peace was made. Then the trail of the Chief wandered off into the Blue until another blast of war brought him again to help save Africa. Back and forth over the high veldt we surged and fought and trekked and finally came another respite from war. The saga of all these struggles can be found in endless records and many volumes in our libraries. I only touch on these matters to show the background and shall now tell you of the beginning of things far more important than fighting savages or even of planting a flag in the wilderness.
The Chief in all his years of war had seen that it was carried on by youth. Nearly all our Rhodesians were very young. One old Matabele warrior, when looking over our dead that fell with Major Allen Wilson on the Shangani, turned to an older chief in amazement and said, "Look, these are only beardless youths, yet they have killed five hundred of our warriors! What will happen to us when the full grown men with beards come over the sea?"
It was about this time in the Chief’s life that there was planted in his mind, as he himself expressed it, an acorn of thought that was to grow into a mighty oak. Must the youth of his nation be shut off from the normal and happy things of life and often slaughtered in thousands at the whim of some strident mob or powerful tyrant? There was a better way. Youth was really a glorious age of joy, growth and accomplishment, of laughter, fun, games and sunshine. He found a way to have the duties of life—its working drudgery—made into a tremendous game. He saved the puritan virtues, yet stripped them of their dour and deadening "dont’s." He demonstrated that a smiling face and joyous heart did not mean one was bound for perdition and, greatest of all, he demonstrated one did not have to be a villain to have a good time. You all know how he reduced the ponderous sermons and endless books of law to the Scout Law. This law can be written on a single page. It can be learned by heart in a few hours. It gives you liberty and freedom unknown before. There are only a few "don’ts" and there are many "do’s" and, strange to say, all the "do’s" bring joy to the heart and a gleam to the eye. Your Scout Law preserves courage, truth, strength and mercy.
Now the acorn began to grow. It cast its cool shade over England and, almost over night, the entire Empire. Now it leaped the Atlantic and found its original source among the American Indians, some of whom are with you today. Soon it girdled the whole world, reaching every nation and the far islands of the seas. It has been my good fortune to have camped under the stars by the twinkling fires of the Scouts in the back blocks of Australia, the mountains of New Zealand and the gently waving palms of Rarotonga. I have heard the throb of the Scouts’ drums in the heart of Africa.
The Scouts of the world have a power greater than all the dynamite ever made because it leaps national boundaries and even overcomes racial hatreds. So those of us who have lived our allotted span of life look with calmness upon a rather troubled world. We, like the ancient fire worshippers, can draw joy and comfort from the knowledge that the sacred fires in the hearts of the Scouts symbolized by their myriad camps, will follow the setting sun. The Powers of Darkness shall not prevail.
Therefore, we now, in deep appreciation of the life work of this apostle of Happy Youth, lay upon this mountain the weight of his name. From this moment, forever, it shall be called MOUNT BADEN-POWELL.
B-P’s letter of thanks to Major Burnham, 16th September, 1931
The ribbon at the left displays the colors of the Distinguished Service Order. The D.S.O. was awarded to Major Burnham in recognition of his service as Chief of Scouts to Lord Roberts (Commander-in-Chief South Africa) during the Boer War, 1899-1902.