Saturday, September 1, 2018

Tarzan Creator, and Idaho Cowboy, Edgar Rice Burroughs [otd 9/1]

Edgar Rice Burroughs,
successful writer.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan and many imaginative worlds, was born September 1, 1875 in Chicago. Edgar tried many jobs, in many places, before taking up the writing career that made him world famous. He spent several of his most impressionable years as a young man in Idaho.

The Idaho connection began in 1891. An influenza epidemic in Chicago led his parents to ship young Edgar off to Idaho. There, brothers George and Harry were partners in a cattle ranch.

The brothers had met Lew Sweetser at Yale University. In 1890, the three founded a cattle company, purchasing – for the sum of one dollar – land from the Sweetser Bros. & Pierce Cattle Company. Lew’s father, Andrew, and his brother were among the earliest stockmen in this part of Idaho, establishing a ranch in 1866.

Idaho had just “graduated” from Territory to State when Edgar came, and was still wild and wooly: Citizens worried about Indian unrest, “colorful” characters – including known killers and bandits – frequented saloons and bunkhouses, revolvers were common apparel and sometimes used … people lived hard, dangerous lives.
ERB, cowboy. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

ERB [*] loved it all. He rode the wildest broncs, listened to the yarns of the colorful misfits, and punched cattle on the open (but disputed) range.

It was too good to last, however, and Edgar found himself back in school, the Michigan Military Academy. After graduating in 1895, he worked briefly as an instructor at the Academy, but gave that up for Army service in Arizona. Discharged for health reasons in 1897, he worked again for his brothers in Idaho. He also tried his hand at business, running a stationery store in Pocatello for awhile. Profits were meager to nonexistent, however, so he returned to Chicago in 1899.

After getting married and working for his father for a time, ERB brought his new wife to Idaho in 1903. His brothers had decided that dredging for gold fit their interests better than ranching. ERB worked with them for awhile, but overhead costs eventually doomed that enterprise.

They tried again on the river near Parma. A likable fellow with a hearty sense of humor, Burroughs did manage to “succeed” in politics there: Running for town trustee, he went to voters one-on-one and asked each to please make sure he got at least their one vote. He later wrote that, “enough of them tried to save me from embarrassment to cause my election.”

Still, this mining venture also ended in failure and Edgar and his wife moved back to Chicago. A succession of dead-end jobs followed until, in 1911, ERB sold his first story. Thus emboldened, he plunged deeper into writing. His second sale, Tarzan of the Apes, proved wildly popular and the rest … as they say … is history.

There is little doubt that ERB’s years in Idaho, and the West in general, made a deep impression on the young man. The colorful characters he met became models for the heros, and villains, that filled the action-laced pages of his prodigious string of stories. Although he died in 1950, a huge fan base keeps his name alive and many of his most popular titles are still in print.

[*] Fan web sites and magazines often use this shorthand.

Thanks to Bill Hillman (see comment):
      More ERB Idaho connection.
      ERB Magazine (online).
      Edgar Rice Burroughs site.
References: [Brit]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Edgar Rice Burroughs: Official Biography, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
John Taliaferro, Tarzan Forever: the Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan, Scribner, New York(1999).


  1. More starting at:

    Bill Hillman
    Editor and Webmaster for the
    Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute Websites and Webzines:

  2. Wonderful! Thanks for the additional information.
    Since URLs buried in comments do not seem to be "live," I have added them to the blog itself. (The link is already there.)