ahowardCould the adventures of Howard Cushing (right) have inspired the character of Luke Skywalker (below right)? Thanks to my college pal Ned White, who sent me this link to an article by Meg Jones in The Milwaukee Sentinel, I have learned of an amateur historian/ literary detective in Wisconsin named Jim Heinz who believes that could be the case.

Heinz has persuasively created a trail that leads from Howardaluke, who after the Civil War was a officer with the Third Cavalry stationed at Fort Grant in Arizona, to John G. Bourke, a Medal of Honor winner who served in Howard’s command, and who helped recover Howard’s body after he was killed fighting the Apache in 1871.. Bourke mentioned Howard frequently and glowingly in the several books he wrote about his career; indeed, he called Howard the bravest man he ever knew. Twenty five years later,  a young trooper named Edgar Rice Burroughs (below left) was stationed at Fort Grant, and read Bourke’s works. Burroughs eventually left the service, tried this and that for a decade or so, and then started writing pulp fiction. One of his earliest creations was Tarzan, who was featured in many adventures. A later creation was a Civil War veteran known as John Carter of Mars, who first appeared in the 1940s, and eventually made frequent appearances in films and comics (below right)

aedgarJim Heinz cites many similarities between the descriptions of Howard Cushing by Bourke and John Carter of Mars by Burroughs. Both are recklessly brave, good in the saddle, superb marksmen, and are “filled with fire and initiative,” as Burroughs wrote. Heinz is not the only scholar to note a connection.  “I’m aware of Cushing and I think Cushing is a good piece of John Carter of Mars — how a Civil War hero inadvertently found his way into literature,” said Michael Sellers, a Burroughs scholar and author of “John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.

Closing the loop to Luke Skywalker is an interview with the creator of the Star Wars ajohnuniverse, who in 1976 told American Film magazine that his new movie was “very surreal and bizarre and has nothing to do with science. I wanted it to be an adventure in space, like John Carter of Mars. That was before science fiction took over, and everything got very serious and science oriented.”

So there you have it: Howard Carter to John Bourke to Edgar Rice Burroughs to George Lucas in four easy, entirely plausible steps. The only thing that bothers me is the thought that Howard might be a model for Luke Skywalker. I don’t buy that yhe battle-scarred Civil War veteran turned Indian fighter could be a model for the altruistic young Skywalker. To me, Lt. Cushing was much more a soldier of the empire, subduing the indigenous populations who were in rebellion. In other words, Howard Cushing seems more of a model for Darth Vader, eh?

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