Tarzan creator once lived here
State Journal ~ July 26, 2011
By Albert W. Strickland
The Phantom of Pocatello, Edgar Rice Burroughs, lived here, worked here,
visited the raucous saloons on Saturday night, smoked cigars with the railroad
boys, and told tales of far-off adventures on Mars and the deep dark jungles
He was a cowboy and a storekeeper, but he was, foremost, a writer. He
was an enigma, mysterious, sometimes shy; he was a secretive person sharing
with only a few people his visions of other worlds that years later he
would put to pen.
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) lived and worked in Pocatello from
June 1898 to January 1899. During this time, he owned and operated a newspaper
and stationary (i.e., dry goods) store at 233 West Center.
How did a young man (born Sept. 1, 1875) from Chicago come to live in
Pocatello? What was he like during his Idaho years? What did he write while
Edgar's father, Maj.
George T. Burroughs, a veteran of the Civil War, had a significant
influence on his life. The major's wife (Mary Burroughs) conveyed her husband's
sternness as well as his war-story adventures in "Memoirs
of a War Bride." (1914).
She retold these tales to "Eddie" (the family's nickname for Edgar)
most of his life.
Young Eddie attended Brown School until the sixth grade. His classmates
included showman Florenz Ziegfeld and entertainer Lillian Russell. Edgar
was reported to be a fair student with poor attendance habits. A few years
later, he was pulled out of the Chicago public school due to a terrible
diphtheria epidemic and sent to Mrs. K.S. Cooley's Maplehurst School for
Girls (a private school). However, the epidemic became so widespread that
Edgar, at age 15, was sent to Idaho to live with his older brothers, George
Harry, George and Yale classmate Lew Sweetser purchased a section of
land from Idaho "Cattle King" Jim Pierce. The Bar Y was along the lower
Raft River in Cassia County, Idaho, about 30 miles from American Falls.
Both Harry and George were at the Pocatello depot when Edgar's train arrived
on the Oregon Short Line Railroad. Harry and George had brought the wagon
into town to buy supplies for the long summer roundup. Edgar was thrilled
to be with his brothers and even more excited about becoming a cowboy.
Upon arriving at the Bar Y, hands decided to test the young "tenderfoot"
by prodding Edgar to ride an unbroken horse they called Killer. To everyone's
dismay Edgar displayed amazing equestrian skill riding "bareback." The
cowboys were impressed by Edgar's agility and skill, and quickly embraced
him into their clan.
In his autobiography (unpublished; started in 1925 and completed in
1929), Edgar reflected on his first weeks at the Bar Y Ranch:
I did chores, grubbed sagebrush and drove a team of bronchos [sic] to
a sulky plow. I recall that once, after I unhooked them, they ran away
and evidently, not being endowed with any too much intelligence, I hung
onto the lines after tripping over sage brush and dragged around the country
three times on my face…(p .63).
After about three weeks, Edgar and Harry went to Pocatello to buy supplies
and a cowboy "outfit" for Edgar before they began the roundup: Pants, batwing
chaps, several shirts, a Stetson and a pair of boots. Edgar recorded the
following about this purchase:
I bought a .45 caliber Colt Single Action Army revolver and a pair of
Mexican spurs inlaid with silver. My spurs had enormous rowels with silver
dumb bells. As I walked across a floor, the rowels dragged behind me, the
dumb bells made a clatter as (I) walked across wooden floors (p. 77).
Before returning to the Bar Y, the brothers went to a saloon on the
west side of Pocatello. It was filled with men who were either bad or those
who wanted to be bad. Edgar went to pay for his and Harry's drink and won
distinction, which also caused the entire crowd to laugh: He paid for the
drinks in pennies. Most of the crowd had never seen a penny - drinks were
"two-bits" (a quarter). Cigars were "two-bits." In fact, most items were
priced at "two-bits," "four-bits," "six-bits" or a silver dollar.
Later, Edgar remarked in a letter to his mother that he was pleased
there were few bathtubs in Idaho since he had gone three weeks on the roundup
without a bath or even taking off his boots or Stetson. He enclosed a piece
from the Pocatello Tribune showing a picture of the town, but on the other
side of the paper, there was a reported shootout at one of Pocatello's
saloons that resulted in one man killed.
It didn't take long for Edgar's parents to demand their son return home.
Edgar's mother, Mary Zieger Burroughs, was horrified when her son stepped
off the train hiding his face with a big Stetson hat, wearing a black leather
vest, Levis, a brightly colored shirt, cowboy boots with spurs, and a .45-caliber
Colt Single Action Army revolver riding low on his hip.
Several days later, George T. Burroughs enrolled his son in Phillips
Academy in Andover, Mass. Afterward, he enrolled in the Michigan Military
Academy at Orchard Lake, 26 miles northwest of Detroit. During the summer
of 1893, Edgar worked at his father's American Battery Co. exhibit in the
Electricity Building at the World's
Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
As a reward, Edgar's father let him drive one of the first horseless
surreys (early automobiles) in Chicago. At 5 feet 10 inches and 165 pounds,
Edgar was a standout in football. In the final game of the season, his
team held the University of Michigan to a tie.
Mysteriously, before graduation Edgar left Chicago to join the U.S.
Army's 7th Cavalry and was stationed at Fort Grant in the Arizona Territory.
Edgar had enlisted as a private, choosing not to reveal his family background.
He was assigned to Troop B, whose mission was to hunt the Apache Kid and
his band of marauders.
Through correspondence with Edgar's brothers, his father learned of
When his father contacted Edgar, he admitted he had made a mistake and
asked his father to help him gain a discharge. This was formally achieved
on March 23, 1897.
In April 1898, Edgar decided to rejoin his bothers at the Bar-Y ranch
for the spring roundup. Harry and George lived on a houseboat docked on
the Raft River. After the roundup, which was producing slow results due
to a late winter, Edgar went to Pocatello, where he met Mr. V.C. Roeder,
city engineer, who wanted to go to war and offered to sell his store to
On June 25, 1898, the Pocatello Tribune reported:
Mr. V.C. Roeder has sold his book and stationery store to Mr. E.R. Burroughs
who is now in charge. Mr. Roeder has not yet decided upon what he will
do, but if he does not go to war with the volunteer engineers now being
recruited by Mr. F.F.J. Mills at Salt Lake, will probably locate some place
in California. Mr. Roeder's departure from Pocatello is a matter of genuine
regret to all. He is one of the old timers in Pocatello and will be missed
by everybody. Mr. Roeder's successor, Mr. Burroughs, is a recent arrival
in Pocatello but a young gentleman of due x [sic] abilities, and we have
no doubt "Roeder's," as it has always been known, will continue as popular
as ever under his management.
Edgar advertised that he could supply Pocatello readers with any periodical
from America, or elsewhere.
He sold several varieties of cigars, including Cuban cigars. He delivered
out-of-town newspapers to his local patrons on his black horse, named "Crow."
His store was probably one of the few places in town where photographs
could be developed.
Edgar took many photographs, which he offered for sale in the local
newspaper. He frequented most of the 23 saloons in Pocatello, but his favorite
was the Q P Saloon located at 301 West Center where Porterhouse steaks
were 35 cents and two fried eggs 20 cents.
In October, Edgar had a supply of photo bills printed for the store.
His first major work, "Minidoka," was later written on the backs of some
of these bills, but it was promptly stored away and wouldn't see publication
for more than five decades. At the same time, he wrote rough notes regarding
a young cavalry officer in Arizona who is mysteriously transported to the
planet Mars … the beginning of his 14-volume series "John Carter of Mars."
Volume one, "A Princess of Mars" (1917), and the remaining volumes have
a strong parallel to the Star Wars trilogies. He also wrote "Tarzan" (7
novels), "The People that Time Forgot," "At the Earth's Core," "The Land
That Time Forgot" and "The Lost Continent."
In late 1899, Edgar Rice Burroughs contributed a poem to the Pocatello
Tribune, "The Black Man's Burden," a parody of Kipling's "The White Man's
Burden," which had been published in February 1899.
In late January 1900, Edgar sold the store back to Victor Roeder and
later wrote "God never intended me to be a retail merchant." Thus, Edgar
Rice Burroughs, the Phantom of Pocatello, spent seven months in Pocatello;
then left Idaho and is seldom remembered for his days here-a true phantom.
More on the Dum-Dum coverage and interviews tonight.
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