Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Steve Kemper's "A Splendid Savage"

Steve Kemper has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years. His books include Code Name Ginger: the Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World and A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa.

Kemper applied the “Page 99 Test” to his most recent book, A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of a chapter called “A Mine, a Wedding, a Change of Plans.” It begins with young Frederick Russell Burnham resolving to sever his connections to deadly range feuds and Mexican smuggling and to start a new life on the right side of the law. He has been pushed in this respectable direction by his recent work as a scout against rampaging Apaches in the wild Territory of Arizona. At the top of page 99 he hires out his amazing skills at scouting and woodcraft to help several Arizona sheriffs track down outlaws. By the bottom of the page, his horse gets stolen by two Mexican thieves, which will turn out badly for the bandits.

Since page 99 contains the chapter’s title, I figure it’s legal to use it to offer a glimpse ahead. The title’s first words refer to Burnham’s decision, a few pages later, to go prospecting, something he will do off and on for the rest of his life in hopes of a big strike. But at this point he just wants to find enough gold to convince his sweetheart’s father that this young drifter really is serious about marriage. He succeeds—hence, “a Wedding.”

“A Change of Plans” refers to Burnham’s impetuous decision to abandon the West for a brand-new frontier in southern Africa. He will make many such decisions in a restless life that will take him all over Africa, to the Klondike, and into the wilds of Mexico. In southern Africa, his adventures and daring exploits will make him world-famous as “the American scout,” and will bring him the Distinguished Service Order from King Edward VII as well as friendships with, among others, Cecil John Rhodes, H. Rider Haggard, Theodore Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill.

So the moment captured on page 99, when he decides to go legit, sets in motion many remarkable consequences.
Learn more about the book and author at Steve Kemper's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Labyrinth of Kingdoms.

--Marshal Zeringue