THE CASSIA COUNTY, IDAHO YEARS
The first in a series of articles chronicling
the adventures of young Edgar Rice Burroughs
in America's "wild west."
Featured in this installment are extracts from the book:
Photos from the ERB, Inc. Archives
Extracts From Chapter 2: Early Settlers
Lew Sweetser--Cattleman and Miner
Andrew Sweetser was one of the early cattle ranchers in Cassia County. Arriving in the early 1870s with a herd of cattle from California, he and his various partners ran thousands of head of cattle in the Raft River Valley.
His son Lewis "Lew" H. Sweetser was three years old when he joined his father in Idaho. Andrew was prosperous enough to send Lew to Yale University in 1885, where he met George and Harry Burroughs of Chicago. In 1890 Lew returned to Idaho with the Burroughs brothers where they formed a cattle company. The Cassia County record book noted that "Sweetser and Burroughs, Dealers in Livestock," had purchased 320 acres from "Sweetser Brothers and Pierce" for one dollar.
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The three established the Bar Y ranch, named for Yale University. Later a post office named Yale was also established there. They were operating the ranch in 1891 when George and Harry's younger brother Edgar Rice Burroughs arrived to work on the ranch for a short time.
Ed Burroughs: The Teenage Cowboy
The Sweetser & Burroughs Gold Mining Dredge
By 1897 with an overstocked range and less profit in ranching, Burroughs and Sweetser turned to mining. They had seen miners along the banks of the Snake River using pans or rockers to extract the fine gold dust. Thinking that there must be a better way, they formed the Yale Dredging Company, later the Sweetser and Burroughs Mining Company, and built a dredge to mine the river. The dredge was "a platform like contrivance with a towering funnel, containing a suction hose to draw up the gravel, sand and gold. At the front of the dredge were tables covered with burlap; as the sand washed over the tables, the gold particles were left behind, caught in the burlap. The dredge worked up- or down-stream, floating through whatever open channels it could find, leaving large mounds of gravel in its wake." The mounds of sand and gravel became sandbars, visible during times when the water in the river was low.
Burroughs and Sweetser also built a houseboat that accompanied the dredge. It provided headquarters for the company and a home for the Burroughs and Sweetser families and their workers. With sixteen rooms, including one large common room, the double-decker houseboat was an elaborate affair.
The dredge succeeded in extracting gold, and at first the Burroughs and Sweetser mining company prospered. Then Burroughs and Sweetser decided to try dredging in the Salmon River, but that venture failed completely. Lew returned to Cassia County where he raised sheep for a short time. In 1908 and 1910 he was elected Lieutenant Governor for the State of Idaho. In 1912 he returned to farming at Yale, becoming, in addition, a noted local writer and lecturer. In 1936 he and his wife Clara were vacationing in California when Clara died. Lew remained in California, where he died on June 9, 1944, a day after the death of his friend and former partner George Burroughs. Their bodies were cremated together.
Tarzan in Cassia County
Anyone living in the United States during the mid-twentieth century would have heard about the African adventures of Tarzan. From the time the first magazine story, "Tarzan of the Apes," was published in 1912, a steady stream of newspaper serials, magazine stories, books, and movies made Tarzan a household word.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, "the man who created Tarzan," wrote forty-seven other novels in addition to his twenty-eight Tarzan books, but his Tarzan books were the most famous. Over a period of fifty years, beginning with the silent picture, "Tarzan of the Apes," in 1918, forty Tarzan movies were produced.
Burroughs had never been to Africa, and his Tarzan books reflect nothing of African culture and history except the stereotypes of the times. But he did spend a few years in the West early in his life, and some people have suggested that his novels reflect his early Western experiences.
Burroughs first came West in the fall of 1891 -- and he came to Cassia County. He had come to live with his older brothers George and Harry on their ranch in the Raft River valley. He and his brothers were among the many emigrants who came West for their health.
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After graduating from Yale University in 1889, George and Harry worked at their father's American Battery Company in Chicago until Harry developed a cough from the battery fumes. A persistent cough was considered the precursor to lung damage and possible tuberculosis, a common and deadly disease. In those days before antibiotics, the sunny, dry climate of the West was prescribed as a prevention and cure for tuberculosis. The Burroughs brothers came to Cassia County where they joined Lew Sweetser in ranching.
Meanwhile Edgar, the youngest Burroughs brother, was not doing well in school and also appeared to have poor health. When in February 1891 an influenza epidemic broke out in Chicago, his father decided to send fifteen-year-old Edgar to join his brothers in Cassia County.
Edgar was fascinated by the people he met, and loved working with animals. "When I got my leg over a horse I owned the world," he wrote years later in his autobiography.
Idaho Cartoon by E. R. Burroughs ~ Copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
"I did chores, grubbed sage brush and drove a team of broncos to a sulky plow," he wrote. "I recall that once, after I unhooked [the team], they ran away and evidently, not being endowed with any too much intelligence, I hung onto the lines after tripping over a sage brush and was dragged around the country three times on my face."
Edgar was given the job of driving a wagon to the nearest railroad station at American Falls to pick up mail and freight. "The team that I drove consisted of two outlawed broncos;" he wrote, "one was locoed and the other was too mean to ride. One day the wagon went through a bridge and I had to go about five miles to a ranch house to borrow the necessary tools to get it out. Being a tenderfoot, a horse to me was a horse and not knowing anything about the past lives or reputations of either of the team I naturally climbed aboard the bad one and rode him bareback five miles to the ranch. Here I loaded up with shovels, picks and crowbars and climbed back onto the bronco, riding the five miles back to the stalled wagon with assorted hardware bumping him on all his corners, which goes to show that Providence really does look after a certain class of people."
Later he described riding a horse that was considered too mean to ride. The owner, Jim Pierce, told Edgar that if he could ride the horse, it would be his. He managed to ride him, and "stayed on him all that day because I was afraid if I got off I could never get back on again."
"At this time I learned... to take care of my horses, especially their backs, and I became proud of the fact that I never gave a horse a sore back, nor have I in my life." During a fall roundup he was given two horses with sore backs and both of them were healed while he was riding them.
Edgar lived at his brother's ranch for only about six months before he was sent home to complete his education, but he always remembered those days with fondness. "I slept on the floor of a log cabin," he wrote, "and in the winter time the snow drifted in under the door. When I got up at four o'clock in the morning to do the chores, I had only two garments to put on, my hat and my boots. The hat went on easy enough, but the boots were always frozen. I wonder why we recall such hardships as among the happiest experiences of our lives."
Seven years later he returned to Cassia County to work with his brothers on the Bar Y Ranch, but this time conditions were different. His brothers' cattle shipping operations had not been successful, and they did not have the money to hire him. He remained at the ranch for three months, then went to Pocatello where he operated a stationary store for six months, then returned to the ranch to work in the spring roundup. He left for the East a short time later.
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Emma Burroughs on a stage coach in Idaho
Photo Copyright ERB, Inc.
ERB & Emma in Idaho
Although Burroughs and his wife would later live for a short time in 1903 in Stanley and Parma, Idaho, he would never again live in Cassia County. His experience in Cassia County had been brief, but it had a great influence on his life. Irwin Porges, his biographer, notes that some poems he wrote while at Pocatello show that "the philosophy so repeatedly expressed by Ed in later years -- his bitter indictment of civilization and its destructive, degrading effects upon the simple natives and the animals," was already apparent. pp.72-73
Others have noted that he may have transferred imaginatively his Idaho experience to his Tarzan and extraterrestrial stories. His first story, which was not published until after his death, was entitled, Minidoka 937th Earl of One Mile Series M. An Historical Fairy Tale. One of only two stories set in Idaho, it described two kingdoms that were "forever at war" separated by the Raft River. (p.89) Though the setting for his most of his other novels may have been far-off places, they reflected the influence of Cassia County on an impressionable boy.
Cassia County, Idaho: The Foundation Years
By Kathleen Hedberg
With a Ph.D. in history and the experience of growing up in Cassia County, author Kathleen Hedberg brings professionalism and an insider's view to her historical writing. Her book A Flood Cannot Happen Here won the Idaho Library Association award for 1993 for the best book on Idaho.
Hardcover 8.5 x 11 inches, 256 pages
Over 200 photos including 16 pages of color photos.
Tax: Idaho Residents Add 5% Sales Tax ($1.50)
Total Idaho Resident: $37.50
Order by e-Mail:
Cassia County Courthouse
1459 Overland Avenue
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More Idaho Features from ERB,
Inc. & ERBzine
ERB, Inc. & ERBzine References:
Tarzan of the Apes: ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. Encyclopedia
Tarzan of the Apes: 1918 Film
Edgar Rice Burroughs Bio Timeline
ERB's Personal Library
ERBzine Silver Screen
Minidoka 937th Earl of One Mile Series M.
An Historical Fairy Tale: ERB C.H.A.S.E.R.
Prindle's ERB, Religion and Evolution series
ERB Genealogical Notes
Major George T. Burroughs
ERBzine 2199: Ragtime Talking Eddie Burroughs:
Another Look At Minidoka by R.E. Prindle
ERBzine 0303: Nkima's Chattering From The Shoulder:
"The Wizards of California: Baum & Burroughs"
Burroughs Sweetser Connection Part I
Burroughs Sweetser Connection Part II
Edgar Rice Burroughs Country by John Martin
Part I | Part II | Part III
Jeddak of the North visits Megadoka
(A Ratnaz Parody)
Gloria Draper Sweetser Collection
Irwin Porges: The Man Who Created Tarzan
The Burroughs Bulletin No. 19 article by Phil Burger
Assorted ERB Fan Club, Fanzine and Website Materials
ERB the Contactee: UFO Info.com
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