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Burroughs graduated from the Michigan Military Academy in 1895 but, not really knowing what to do with his life, accepted the Academy's offer of an instructorship. (He had tried for an appointment to the West Point Military Academy but failed the entrance exam.) Hankering to see some action, Ed quit his position with the Academy early the next year and signed up with the U.S. Army as a buck private in the hopes of eventually becoming an officer. Being a natural horseman Ed got his wish and was assigned to the Seventh United States Cavalry (General Custer's old regiment) stationed at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory.

Burroughs would define this as a time where he "chased Apaches, but never caught up with them." The best he succeeded in catching was dysentery. The work was far from glamorous, mainly digging ditches and repairing the rickety fort. Burroughs went out on patrols but the few Apache renegades still roaming free proved quite elusive. To compound matters, during a routine medical exam the post doctor determined that Burroughs had a heart murmur ~ and thus ineligible to be promoted to the officer class. With an army career now out of the question, Ed received his discharge in early 1897.

Ed made another go of it in Idaho, punching cows for his brothers and others, even running a dry goods store for a time. This rather freeform life couldn't last forever, so in 1899 it was back to Chicago and work at his father's American Battery Company. With a steady paycheck he decided to marry his childhood sweetheart, Emma Centennia Hulbert, in 1900. But a regular routine apparently wasn't what Ed wanted, so in 1904 he and Emma struck out again for Idaho.

The next several years would be a frustrating search by Ed for his place in life. His brothers George and Harry had given up cattle ranching for gold dredging, but this program fizzled shortly after Ed arrived. He got a job as a railway policeman in Salt Lake City but gave up after awhile and took Emma back to Chicago. Among his many short-live jobs were door-to-door salesman, an accountant, the manager for the clerical department of Sears, Roebuck & Company, peddler for a quack alcoholism cure and, finally, a pencil sharpener wholesaler. By this point (1911) Burroughs had two children (Joan and Hulbert), was flat broke, and was left with only one way out of this cycle: he could dream.

So the story goes, Edgar Rice Burroughs was sitting in his rented office and waiting for his crack pencil sharpener salesmen to report in, supposedly their pockets bulging with orders. Besides waiting, one of Burroughs' duties was to verify the placement of advertisements for his sharpeners in various magazines. These were all-fiction "pulp" magazines, a prime source of escapist reading material for the rapidly expanding middle class. Verifying the pencil sharpener ads didn't exactly take much time. The pencil sharpener salesmen never showed up, so Burroughs spent his idle time reading those pulp magazines. And an idea was born.

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