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Volume 3469
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
1896-1897
B Troop ~ 7th U.S. Cavalry
Fort Grant, Arizona Territory


Ed Burroughs and the Members of the 
"May Have Seen Better Days Club"
Fort Grant 1896
 
A short time before his graduation from the Michigan Military Academy, Ed Burroughs received an official notification from the Office of the Secretary of War that he had been selected to write an entrance exam for West Point on June 13, 1895. Brothers Harry and George, prominent Idaho cattlemen, had campaigned for him through Idaho Congressman Edgar Wilson. George reminded his young brother of the importance of doing well on the exam: "Your friends have done all for you now that is in their power. I feel sure youi will pass, Ed, but remember the exam is a rigid one, don't spare yourself in the short time left you to prepare." Only 14 of the 118 hopefuls who wrote the exam passed -- Eddie Burroughs was not one of them. His dreams of a military career were kept alive somewhat when he was hired on by the Michigan Military Academy as an Assistant Commandant, where he taught cavalry, Gatling gun and geology. By the end of the school year though he had decided to join the regular army through which he hoped rise up through the ranks to win a commission as an officer.


Gatling Gun

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 S. Grant.

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 since."

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       Apache Kid

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.


Marching On The Mountains

Saddled Cavalry Horse

A Tumble from the Trail
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 for dysentery."

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, Arizona

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 3470)

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 as "excellent."

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.

Arizona 30 Years Later

Ed returns to Arizona with son Hulbert in 1927.


THE ERB / WILD WEST CONNECTION
The War Chief
Apache Devil
The Bandit of Hell's Bend
The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County
The Mucker
The Mucker: eText
ERB: Cassia County, Idaho Years
Burroughs Sweetser Connection Part I
Burroughs Sweetser Connection Part II

ERB: The War Years
1896-1897 at Fort Grant with the U.S. 7th Cavalry

1. Arizona Adventures
2. Sketch Book Memories
3. Fort Grant Today
4. Fort Grant Photos
5. Bloody 7th Scrapbook
6. Apache Kid Scrapbook

EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS AND THE APACHE

ERBzine 3482
Captain Bourke's Influence
On the Border with Crook
ERBzine 3483
Text and Illustrations
ERB References
ERBzine 3484
Scrapbook: Art and Photos 
Indian Wars and Apaches
ERBzine 3484a
Apache 3-D Photos
28 Stereoviews


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