Edwin Otway Burnham

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Edwin Otway Burnham
Edwin otway burnham.jpg
Religion Presbyterian
School Hamilton College,
Union Theological Seminary
Lineage Thomas Burnham
Nationality American
Born (1824-09-24)September 24, 1824
Ghent, Kentucky
Died August 1, 1873(1873-08-01) (aged 48)
Los Angeles, California
Senior posting
Based in United States
Title Pastor
Period in office 1852-1870
Religious career
Ordination July 18, 1852
Previous post Pennington, New Jersey
Post Missionary at Tivoli, Minnesota (Sioux indian reservation near Mankato)

Rev Edwin Otway Burnham (September 24, 1824 – August 1, 1873) was a Congregational minister and missionary.

He was born in Ghent, Kentucky,[1] his father died when he was 5 and his mother died the following year. He and his younger sister, Caroline, moved to Madison, New York to live with their grandfather Abner Burnham, a soldier of the American Revolutionary War, but Abner died soon thereafter. Burnham graduated Hamilton College, New York, in 1852 and was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. On July 18, 1852 he was ordained, after having been stated supply at Columbus City, Iowa and he became a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York (1852–55). He graduated in 1855 and was licensed as a preacher of the gospel.[2] He was a teacher in Pennington, New Jersey (1855–56), and a Pastor of Congressional Church in Wilton, Minnesota (1859–61).[3] At Tivoli, Minnesota, an Indian Reservation, he preached and served as a missionary and also served as stated supply (1861–71). An exceptional marksman with a Kentucky long rifle, Burnham could consistently split in two a soft lead slug placed on an axe head from 100 and 200 yards.[4] To most he was known as, "a Kentucky frontiersman and rifle shooting parson who could bark a squirrel, swing an axe or dispense Gospel with equal ferver and efficiency."[5][6]

Rebecca Russell Burnham, wife

Burnham was a key figure in the defense of New Ulm, Minnesota, helping to prevent the town from total destruction as it was attacked by Taoyateduta (Little Crow) and his Sioux warriors in the Dakota War of 1862. While he was in Mankato, Minnesota procuring lead and powder, his wife Rebecca (Elizabeth) Russell Burnham was left alone in the cabin with Fred, the couple's not quite two-year-old boy. While brushing her hair, she froze at the flashing glimpse of war paint and war bonnets moving through the forest. Gathering up baby Fred, she realized she could not escape while carrying him, so she hid her baby in a stack of green corn shocks, running fast and deceptively to evade the Sioux war party. She reached a friendly homestead six miles away in time to see the smoke of her cabin. Returning the next morning with armed neighbors, Rebecca saw her burned-down cabin and she found her baby Fred still in the corn husks and still alive.[5][7]

Sometime after the Sioux hostilities had ended, Burnham sustained major injuries which led to his early death. He was carrying the logs from the ruins of his former cabin to build a barn when he slipped on an ice patch. As he fell, the log he was carrying crushed his chest resulting in compound rib fractures and the puncturing of one of his lungs. His failing health compelled him to give up the ministry, and in 1870 he moved his family to California—then a two-week trip by rail through still visible buffalo herds. From 1871 to 1873 he was an invalid. He died of consumption (tuberculosis) in Los Angeles, California.[5][6]

With the passing of Edwin, Rebecca and her two surviving children, Fred, then 11, and Howard, then 3, were left destitute. An uncle in Clinton, Iowa offered the family a home, but there was no money for the return journey. A family friend in Los Angeles, Mrs. Porter, lent Rebecca $125 for the trip; however, Fred steadfastly refused to leave, determined to find a job to provide his family some support and to repay Mrs. Porter, so Rebecca boarded the train with only baby Howard. Fred was an outstanding horse rider, and he knew the environs around Los Angeles, so he landed a job as a mounted messenger with Western Union. Even at this young age, Fred had already learned woodcraft from his frontiersman father. By the time he was 12, Fred was an expert with rifle or shotgun, hunting deer in Los Angeles, and at 13 he bought a Winchester model 1873 carbine, caliber .44-40. By 14, he had repaid his mother's debt to Mrs. Porter and he left California to live with his mother, brother, and uncle in Iowa.[5]


Maj Frederick Russell Burnham, eldest son
Howard Burnham, youngest son

Burnham was a descendant of Thomas Burnham (1617–1688) of Hartford, Connecticut, the first American ancestor of a large number of Burnhams.[8] His father was Dr. Frederick Burnham (November 16, 1787 – ca. March 31, 1829) of East Hartford, Connecticut,[9] a soldier invalided in the War of 1812 who went south to Kentucky to practice medicine, and his mother was Harriet (Woolridge) Burnham (April 14, 1794 – April 23, 1830).[10] On July 3, 1860, he married Rebecca (Elizabeth) Russell Burnham [Clapp] (July 12, 1842 – 1905) of Westminster, Middlesex, England in Sterling Township, Blue Earth, Minnesota.[11] The family had three sons and one daughter, all born in Minnesota:

  • Frederick Russell Burnham (May 11, 1861 – September 1, 1947), the eldest son, became a highly decorated Major in the British Army, scouting in Africa and the United States, and the father of the international Scouting movement.
  • Edward Russell Burnham (November 29, 1863 – September 4, 1866)[10]
  • Mary Maylin Burnham (November 7, 1867, July 14, 1868)[10]
  • Matther Howard Burnham (May 27, 1870 – 1918), moved to Africa with his brother Fred, he was the chief chemist for a mine in Johannesburg, South Africa. During World War I worked behind enemy lines in southwest Germany as spy for France.


  1. ^ McClintock, Rev. John, ed. (1885). Cyclopedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature: Vol 1 A-CN. Harper & Brothers. p. 692. Burnham, Edwin Otway, a Congregational minister, was born in Ghent, Kentucky, in 1824. He graduated at Hamilton College, New York, in 1852, and was a student at Union Theological Seminary for three years. From 1855 to 1856 he was a teacher at Pennington, New Jersey. In 1858 he was ordained, after having been stated supply at Columbus, Iowa, in 1856, and at Wilton, Minnesota, in 1857. At Tivoli he also served as stated supply. From 1871 to 1873 he was an invalid, in California. He died at Los Angeles, California, August 1, 1873. See Gen. Cat. of Union Theol. Sem. 1876, p.74. 
  2. ^ "Ecclesiastical and Clerical". New York Evangelist. 26 (15): 58. 11 April 1855. The Congregational Association of New York and Brooklyn, received last week the following graduates of the Union Theological Seminary, who received license as preachers of the gospel: Edwin O. Burnham, Madison, N.Y. 
  3. ^ Hamilton College, ed. (1874). "Obituary Record for 1873-4". 63rd Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Hamilton College, 1874-75. p. 53. Class of 1852. Edwin Otway Burnham, aet.49. Born in Kentucky, September 24, 1824. Graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1855. Pastor of Congregational Church in Wilton, Minn., 1859-61. Married Rebecca E. Russell, July 3, 1860. Died in Los Angeles, Cal., August 21, 1873. 
  4. ^ Emil Franzi (February 20, 2016). "Franzi speaks with author Steve Kemper. He wrote "A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham 1st Edition" a book about a man who rode in Arizona, Africa, California and Alaska.". Voices of the West Radio Program (Podcast). Inside Track Productions. Event occurs at 4pm MST. Retrieved February 22, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d Lott, Jack (1981). "Chapter 8. The Making of a Hero: Burnham in the Tonto Basin". In Boddington, Craig. America -- The Men and Their Guns That Made Her Great. Petersen Publishing Co. pp. 77–91. ISBN 0-8227-3022-7. 
  6. ^ a b Auburn, Willis J. (1883). General Catalogue of the Auburn Theological Seminary. Auburn, New York. 
  7. ^ Burnham, Frederick Russell (1926). Scouting on Two Continents. Doubleday, Page and Co. p. 2. ASIN B000F1UKOA. ISBN 0-86920-126-3. 
  8. ^ Bradford, Mary E; Richard H Bradford (1919). An American family on the African frontier: the Burnham family letters, 1893–1896. Niwot, Colorado: Roberts Rinehart Publishers. ISBN 1-879373-66-1. 
  9. ^ "Death Notice". Connecticut Courant. LXV (3349): 3. 31 March 1829. 
  10. ^ a b c Burnham, Roderick Henry (1884). Genealogical Records of Thomas Burnham, the Emigrant, who was Among the Early Settlers at Hartford, Connecticut, U.S. America, and His Descendants. Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co. 
  11. ^ Dodge, Melvin Gilbert (1902). The Delta Upsilon Decennial Catalogue. Ann Arbor, MI: Richmond & Backus, Co. 
  • Delta Upsilon Decennial Catalogue, edited by Melivin Gibert Dodge (1903)
  • Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by John McClintock (1889)
  • General Catalogue of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New-York, by Edwin Francis Hatfield (1876)
  • A brief history of the Tivoli, Minnesota, settlers, by Josiah Glen Neal and Edwina Neal Bergman (1969)
  • Smith-Russell Family History, by Vida M. Reese (1944)