On May 13, 1896 he enlisted at the Detroit recruiting
station. Since he was underage he had to have his father's permission.
He was assigned to the Seventh Cavalry at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory
in response to his request that he be given "absolutely the worst assignment
in the United States Army." The "Bloody Seventh" had seen action at the
Little Bighorn in 1876, Wounded Knee in 1890 and on the streets of Chicago
during the Pullman strike in 1894. Coincidentally, Ed's father, Major Burroughs,
had once hosted a reception in Chicago for Fort Grant's namesake, Ulysses
Entries in Ed's notebook present a fascinating narration
of the ten months he spent with the U.S. Cavalry. On the date of his enlistment,
he noted that his weight was 153 and his height five feet nine inches.
"Sworn in 9 am. Assigned to Troop B 7th U.S. Cav. May 24th 1896. Arrived
Fort Grant May 23rd."
The journey to the fort began with a railroad trip to
Willcox, Arizona where he had to spend the night. Since he had used up
all his funds during the rail journey he spent a hungry and sleepless night
waiting for the morning stage coach to Fort Grant. His fellow passenger
on the 26-mile stage coach trip was a young prostitute who was employed
at the nearby brothel that catered to troops.
Fort Grant Arizona Stagecoach
"Fort Grant in 1896 was a dreary collection of dusty
barracks and tents set in the midst of parched Arizona country. The bleakness
of the natural environment was more than matched by the drudging monotony
of the life and work at the fort and the bad relationships between the
officers and enlisted men. The duties, a prisonlike form of hard labor,
consisted of road work, ditchdigging, and what Ed described as "boulevard
building". The commanding officer, enormously fat, and lazy, set an uninspiring
example of leadership for the other officers. Ed commented scathingly about
the colonel that he 'conducted regimental maneuvers from an army ambulance.
It required nothing short of a derrick to hoist him onto a horse. He was
then and is now my idea of the ultimate zero in cavalry officers. . . Fort
Grant was superimposed upon a chaos of enormous boulders, some of them
as large as a house. . . .' The soldiers' first appalling task was
to remove these before the road work began." ~ Porges
Fort Grant, Arizona
Ed had very few kind words to say about the top sergeant
of B Troop, Sgt. Lynch: "He would have been nice to me if I had bought
beer for him and if I had it to do over again, I would keep him soused
indefinitely, for by that route would come favors and promotion." He had
a much more flattering description of Lieutenant Tompkins: "Tommy Tompkins
was our troop commander. I think he was a first lieutenant then. He had
risen from the ranks. Tommy had a set of mustachios that were the pride
of the regiment. He could curl the ends back over his ears and the yellow
cavalry stripes on his breeches were so wide that little of the blue could
be seen. Tommy was a great character and at drill he was a joy. He called
us long-eared jackasses and a great many other things, but this is the
only one that is printable; yet none of the men ever took offense. There
were many other officers in the post who were cordially hated, but Tommy
was universally loved."
Horse-drawn water cart at Fort
Grant, Arizona, C.1890
Water from this stream was normally
clear and potable and was the main source of drinking water for the post
but heavy rains in 1896 made
it quite unsafe to drink much of the time.
Ed Burroughs was hospitalized
with dysentery from it.
It was soon evident that Ed was already an expert in army
drill and cavalry riding, but contaminated drinking water put him into
hospital with severe dysentry. The hospital stay was an unpleasant ordeal
thanks to the incompetent staff and drunken doctors: "I was so weak that
I could scarcely stand and they would not give me anything to eat, which
I suppose was the proper treatment; that is they would not give me anything
but castor oil, which it seemed to me in my ignorance that I did not need.
I was absolutely ravenous for food and one day one of the men on the opposite
side of the ward had a crust of toast that he did not want and he told
me that I might have it. He was too weak to bring it to me, so I managed
somehow to totter over and get it."
Ed was punished for this infraction by an unpleasant orderly
named Costello, and Ed "spent the next few weeks concocting diabolical
schemes for killing Costello, after subjecting him to various sorts of
torture. . . . I do not know whether he believed it or not, but before
I was able to carry out my threat he deserted and I have never seen him
Ed often claimed that the most disagreeable part of his
service involved his contacts with the doctors. Soon after his arrival
at the Fort, was examined by the doctors who recommended an immediate discharge
because of heart disease. "He told me that I might live six months, but
on the other hand I might drop dead at any moment." Washington ordered
Ed to be held for observation: "it evidently being cheaper to bury me than
to pay transportation back to Detroit."
Fort Grant Hospital
It was soon evident that soldiers' morale and the level
of discipline were extremely low and one could hardly imagine a worse post
than Fort Grant. He believed that the men had the basic good qualities
of good soldiers but their response to repressive treatment brought out
hostility and hatred toward the officers -- many of whom lived in constant
fear of attack from the 200 regulars under their command.
Commanding Officer's Quarters Fort Grant
Renegade and unruly Apaches had been confined to a nearby
post, but there was an ongoing worry that they would break loose and go
on a rampage. Indeed, The Apache Kid and Black Jack and their bands of
outlaws terrorized the surrounding settlements. Ed actually welcomed conflict:
"We were always expecting boots and saddles and praying for it, for war
would have been better than camp life at Fort Grant under Colonel 'Bull'
Sumner." When Ed heard that his B Troop were being sent out to capture
the Apache Kid, he lied his way out of the hospital and joined the troop
in a weakened state. It was a rugged and nightmarish journey led by Tommy
Tompkins across the Arizona mountains to the Mormon settlement at Salmonville:
"I knew that there was an army wagon with us part of the
time, because I remember distinctly assisting it along mountain trails
where there was only room for the wheels on one side of the wagon. We would
pass ropes from the opposite side over the top of the wagon and the entire
troop dismounted and clinging to the mountainside above the wagon would
manage to keep the whole business from pitching into the abyss below, while
the mules stumbled and slithered along ahead like a bunch of mountain goats."
Ed, in his weakened state, struggled to keep up
with the troop. The pain in his abdomen became so severe that he could
dismount only by falling off his horse.
They were surprised by their welcome at Salmonville.
The inhabitants, even though they had requested their help, refused to
provide water by padlocking the wells and even set their dogs after them.
After overcoming these obstacles they started their hunt for the Apache
Kid in earnest, but suffered further discomforts:
"We each had two blankets that the men, recently from
Fort Sheridan, had nicknamed the Chicago Heralds because they were so thin.
One of these blankets we used as a saddle blanket during the day, and the
other was in a roll at our cantel, but as it had no protection it was always
wet both from rain and horse sweat. At night we laid them on the wet ground
with our saddles at one corner and starting at the opposite side we rolled
ourselves up in blankets until our heads reached our saddles. This is great
In describing the inexperience of the troopers who patrolled
the Indian trails Ed commented: "It was just as well for us that there
were no renegades about, for these patrols would have been nothing more
than animated targets that no self-respecting renegade could have ignored."
Trailing the Apache Kid
Ed's notebook contains a litany of exhausting and dangerous
misadventures experienced by the troopers during their five weeks away
from the fort. When the three-days rations ran out they were reduced to
eating potatoes and grub infested jackrabbits. Ed lost all his money in
a poker game with Mexican vaqueros in the town of Duncan and had to borrow
funds from commanding officer Tompkins. They appear to have wandered aimlessly
until the order was given to return to the post which necessitated a 50-mile
detour around a raging flooding river.
Upon his return to the post Ed was to weak to resume active
duty and was given a task that removed him from drill and hard labour:
"I was placed in charge of headquarters stables where all I had to do was
to take care of fourteen horses. I cleaned them and their stables, hauled
manure, hay, and grain, and doctored those that were sick."
Corraled Cavalry Horses
In response to the dreary monotonous life on the post,
Ed helped organize the "May Have Seen Better Days Club."
The members really had seen better days and came from prosperous families:
"There was one chap whose father was a wealthy merchant from Boston; another
was a Canadian; and the third was a chap by the name of Napier who had
been an officer in the English army. We met in my quarters at the headquarters
stables once a month, immediately after payday when we were flush. We usually
managed to rake up a pretty good feed and plenty of wine, and then through
the balance of the month we were broke, for thirteen dollars does not go
far, especially when one has a lot of canteen checks to redeem on payday.'
Dress Parade at Fort Grant,
It was obvious to Ed that life as an enlisted man
was anything but romantic or adventurous. Especially unpleasant were the
dreary duties of ditch digging and boulevard building, which was "'Bull'
Sumner's idea of preparing men to serve their country in time of war."
Ed was impressed by the 24th Infantry, a Negro regiment that was quartered
at Fort Grant. He described them as "wonderful soldiers and as hard as
nails," who believed that "a member of the 24th was a rookie until he was
serving his third enlistment." When working under a black sergeant he remembered:
". . . without exception they were excellent men who took no advantage
of their authority over us and on the whole were better to work under than
our own white sergeants."
Ed developed a great respect for the Apaches he came in
contact with: "Their figures and carriages were magnificent and the utter
contempt in which they held the white soldier was illuminating, to say
the least." He made a friend with an Indian scout named Corporal Josh.
He had not surrendered with Geronimo and had joined the Apache Kid's band.
He decided to give himself up and came up with a gruesome plan to win forgiveness:
"[he] killed one of the Kid's relatives, cut off his victim's head, put
it in a gunny sack, tied it to the horn of his saddle and rode up from
the Sierra Madres in Mexico to Fort Grant, where he dumped the head out
on the floor of the headquarters and asked for forgiveness and probably
for a reward, so they let him enlist in the Apache scouts and made him
a corporal." Ed's experiences with the Indians in this wild Arizona territory
would serve him well many years later when he wrote the novels, The
War Chief and Apache Devil.
As a relief from boredom Ed returned to his hobby of sketching
and water coloring and his notebooks are full of realistic images of soldiers,
Apaches, horses and physical surroundings -- done with great skill and
often a display of his sense of humour. (See ERBzine
Disillusioned by military life in this remote "hell hole,"
and seeing no chance for advancement, he wrote letters to his father imploring
him to use his money and influence to bring about a transfer or to buy
his way out of the service. He does concede, however: "If you think best
I will make no attempt to transfer. I made my bed and I will lie in it.
. . . I think that if I ever get home again that I shall never leave, unless
you drive me away and then I will go and sit on the curb stone in front
of Rease's house and look at HOME."
The homesick boy was obviously pleased to receive a mailed
photo from his longtime girlfriend Emma Hulbert with a notation on the
back: "1896 Sent to E. R. Burroughs — and received on his 21st Birthday
at Duncan Arizona. Camp of the 7th U.S. Cavalry."
Ed's father, George Burroughs, through a series of letters
to influential people to whom he described his son's medical condition,
brought about the desired results. On March 19, 1897, George sent his son
a telegram: "Discharge has been ordered. Will mail draft today." The discharge
was dated March 23, 1897 and his commanding officer rated his character
Ed later explained: ". . . owing to the fact that I had
twice been recommended for discharge because of heart disease, once by
the major-doctor and once by the captain, it seemed wholly unlikely that
I should pass a physical examination for a commission, and my father therefore
obtained my discharge from the army through Secretary of War Alger."
As luck would have it, the discharge came in time for
Ed to meet brother Harry in the nearby Mexican border town, Nogales, where
the Burroughs brothers were to take delivery of a herd of Mexican cattle.
Ed's responsiblity was to help load them and ride with the stock to Kansas
City. It was a tough job as the cattle were in poor condition and Ed had
to mingle with them to keep them on their feet and to drag out dead animals
at every stop. From Kansas City he travelled on to Chicago where he took
on a position with his father's American Battery Company. His dreams of
a military life were on hold.