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Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Spanish American War


Tarzan Gets Rejected by the Rough Riders!

By Jack L. McSherry, Jr. 
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Edgar Rice Burroughs, the man who invented the character of Tarzan and wrote many novels about the Englishman orphaned in the African wilds, tried to join Roosevelt'sRough Riders in 1898.

In response to his request, he received the following note from Theodore Roosevelt:

                                                        "First Regt. U. S. Vol.
                                                        In Camp near San Antonio, Texas
                                                        May 19th, 1898

Edgar Rice Burroughs
Pocatello, Idaho

Dear sir, I wish I could take you in, but I am afraid that the chances of our being over-enlisted forbid my bringing a man from such a distance.

Yours very truly,
T. Roosevelt
Lt. Col."


Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was a graduate of  the Michigan Military Academy in 1895. After his graduation, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point by a member of the United States House of Representatives, Edgar Wilson,but he failed his entrance examination and did not enter the Academy.

He then went back to the Michigan Military Academy in 1895, and served as assistant commandant for less than a year.  He abruptly resigned his position, and with his father’s permission, on May 13, 1896, he enlisted in the US Cavalry at the age of twenty.  He was assigned to Troop B, 7th US Cavalry at Fort Grant in the Arizona Territory.

Burroughs was very unhappy with the boredom of mundane work in the desert as a private with the Cavalry.  Therefore, in August 1896, only three months after enlisting, he wrote to his father discussing buying himself out of the Cavalry, or transferring closer to home, or better yet, getting a medical discharge because of his poor health.

His father, being an influential businessman, and having many influential friends managed to get the attention of the Secretary of War.  The government, moving very slowly, finally came up with the discharge for Burroughs  on March 23, 1897, seven months later.

The preceding was the extent of Burroughs' military background when he heard that Theodore Roosevelt was assembling his Rough Riders to join in therecently declared war between Spain and the United States.  Still having military ambitions, Burroughs wrote directly to Roosevelt volunteering for the Rough Riders.  The response was prompt, terse, and disappointing (see above). Perhaps the rolls were full or perhaps the well-connected Roosevelt got wind of the young man's history of not "sticking it out"inhis previous military positions.

Edgar Rice Burroughs wandered aimlessly through many locations and many jobs for the next  thirteen years.  Finally, in 1912, he wrote his first successful story, “Tarzan of the Apes”.  He finally found his niche in life, and became a famous and very successful writer.


Porges, Irwin,  Edgar Rice Burroughs. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975.

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