“God may have forgotten Arizona in some respects, but he certainly remembered to give her the most wonderful mornings in the world.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Bandit of Hell’s Bend

This August, the “great-grandfather of contemporary popular culture,” the late, great Edgar Rice Burroughs, makes his return back to where it all began; the mean streets of Fort Grant in southeastern Arizona.

The 2019 ERB-Fest (AKA the annual “Dum Dum” event – ask a Tarzan fan…) will be held in Willcox, Arizona, just a stone’s throw away from the aforementioned Fort Grant where Burroughs, as a soldier in the turn-of-the-century cavalry, literally helped build some of those “mean” streets. (Streets that maintain their “meanness” today as a state prison complex.)

Edgar Rice Burroughs returns to Arizona with ERB-Fest 2019

In case you’ve been hiding under a boulder for the past hundred-plus years, Edgar Rice Burroughs went on to become the creator and author of world-renowned adventure heroes such as Tarzan, Carson of Venus and John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

In fact, many believe that Burroughs’ 1912 pulp magazine story, “Under the Moons of Mars” (printed in book form as “A Princess of Mars” in 1917) was the catalyst for almost every major pop culture creation that we treasure today, including: Star Wars, the Marvel and DC universes, Star Trek and the highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar.

In addition to creating classic science-fiction and fantasy icons, Burroughs also dabbled in Western tales like The Bandit of Hell’s Bend, The War Chief and Apache Devil – all set in the early days of the Arizona Territory and undoubtedly influenced by the author’s time spent at Fort Grant and the Willcox area.

Even Burroughs’ original, groundbreaking story, A Princess of Mars, has its roots in the Arizona desert, where John Carter is chased by Apaches into a mystical cave and is astral-projected to Mars, and our “real” world of adventure storytelling was never the same.

The upcoming ERB-Fest in Willcox is a once-in-a-lifetime event for fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs and a chance for them to see and learn important pop cultural history at the actual site where it all began.

Edgar Rice Burroughs returns to Arizona with ERB-Fest 2019

We interviewed the coordinator of this year’s event, Frank Puncer, about the significance of the 2019 gathering in Arizona:

How and when did you first become an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan? What are your favorites of his books?

I became an ERB fan around age 7 or 8 in the mid-1950s in Wauwatosa (Milwaukee County), Wisconsin.  I had acquired two Dell Tarzan comic books in trade from next door neighbor boys, Rich and Jerry Lund. These beautifully illustrated comic book stories by Jesse Marsh inspired me to subscribe to the Dell Tarzan 10 cent monthly comics. 

A few years later my Mom brought home some old Grosset & Dunlap hardcover Tarzan books. Among them were Tarzan of the Apes, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Tarzan and the Ant-Men. They are still my favorites.

What do you see as the significance of Burroughs’ time in Arizona (Fort Grant and Willcox) and how did the early Arizona Territory influence his writing?

Many of Burroughs’s tales are basically frontier adventures, whether set in Africa, Mars, or the American West. ERB was seeking adventure when he joined the 7th U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory, in 1896-97. His firsthand observations of Army life included his personal experiences with black Buffalo Soldiers and Apache scouts. 

It’s easy to see this influence in his two Apache War novels, The War Chief and Apache Devil. Also, the green men of Mars, the Tharks, are very nomadic and warlike as were the Apaches of the Southwest. In Chapter One of A Princess of Mars, Burroughs has Apaches chasing Captain John Carter into a mysterious Arizona cave, next thing you know Carter finds himself transported to the warlike Red Planet of Mars, where he encounters the Tharks. The Martian/Barsoom novels have made classic pulp fiction history.

The 2019 ERB-Fest (Dum Dum) in Willcox seems like a homecoming of sorts for the late author. Outside of the Chiricahua Museum exhibit you created, has the city ever acknowledged or promoted the Burroughs’ connection before?

The Sulphur Springs Valley Historical Society (SSVHS, located in Willcox, Arizona) was unaware of the Edgar Rice Burroughs/Fort Grant connection to local history until I approached them in 2012 with the information, to which they responded enthusiastically.

They were happy to provide space in their excellent Chiricahua Regional Museum on Maley St. in the Willcox historic district for a display of “Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Soldier at Fort Grant.” The SSVHS are co-sponsors of the Willcox ERB-Fest/Dum-Dum along with the Apache Devils chapter of The Burroughs Bibliophiles, Inc.

Why should the average ERB fan make the pilgrimage to Willcox and ERB-Fest? Why would this also be a fun event for someone interested in Arizona history?

Arizona (and New Mexico, and Texas) ERB fans will want to be in Willcox for this ERB-Fest which honors Burroughs’s military service in the 7th Cavalry.  The Huckster Room (312 W. Stewart St.) is free admittance and will have many dealers, fans, as well as representatives of ERB Inc., selling all manner of ERB collectibles, from books and movie memorabilia to T shirts and other ERB related ephemera.

Southwestern history buffs can hear our guest speakers talk about the history of the Apache Wars, Tom Jeffords, and Cochise, and the recent discovery of the Juh/Cushing battle site. (Lt. Howard Bass Cushing was a probable real-life role model for ERB’s first fictional hero John Carter.) 

Banquet attendees will be treated to a talk by Bob Boze Bell, owner of True West magazine, writer, historian and artist, followed by a book signing by Mr. Bell. This will probably be the only time an official “Dum-Dum,” or gathering of the great apes of Tarzan, will be held in Willcox. 

Plus, ERB fans won’t want to miss the Friday 5 p.m. showing of “Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure” at the Willcox Historic Theater, with Gordon Scott as Tarzan and pre-James Bond Sean Connery as one of the bad guys. It’s a fantastic color film shot mostly on location in Africa!

Why do you think Burroughs’ adventure stories are still relevant today?

ERB’s adventure stories haven proven themselves as having timeless appeal to readers, both male and female, for over a century now, and have shown no signs of slacking off. Some of the finest ERB books are being published today in deluxe editions that will last for centuries. ERB Inc. has artists and writers adapting ERB’s stories in new on-line illustrated strip form. As long as people still read books they’ll be reading Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have no doubt of that.

What are you most excited about with ERB-Fest in Willcox?

Willcox and the Fort Grant surrounding area is one of the last places in the United States which had a lasting influence of the life and creativity of Edgar Rice Burroughs that has not yet been the locus of an official gathering of ERB fans. Until now.

It’s all about honoring Ed Burroughs’s Army service. His Troop B 7th Cavalry hunted a famous outlaw, the Apache Kid, in 1896. ERB wrote about that experience in his autobiography. Besides the festivities and friendships to be enjoyed in the Huckster Room, the highlight of this event is the Saturday car caravan to Fort Grant (now a part of the Arizona state prison system.) This tour is for fully registered guests only. ERB fans can view the Fort Grant complex from the parking lot and get a close-up view of the Graham Mountains in the background, where ERB’s cavalry troop crossed over in August of 1896. A true odyssey for serious ERB fans!

More details regarding the 2019 ERB-Fest are available here. Contact Frank Puncer directly for additional information or to register for the event at email fwpuncer@gmail.com.


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Bob Leeper
Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.