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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 as
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.