Its wild spirit is true to the life of the West

Posted by | January 4, 2017

Zane Grey is rightly known today as the “Father of the Adult Western.” The author wrote more than 80 books, featuring rich western imagery and highly romanticized plots with often pointed moral overtones. He’s the best-selling Western author of all time, and for most of the teens, 20s, and 30s, had a least one novel in the top ten every year, inspiring scores of imitators.

Yes, but what’s that got to do with Appalachia? Well, Grey’s ancestors had been vigorous pioneers in America’s “First West”, the historic Ohio Valley, and his boyhood thrill at their adventures would eventually motivate the grown writer to novelize both his family’s own story and the stories of many another pioneer, as the great migration Westward coursed across the continent.

Pearl Zane Gray was born on January 31, 1872, in Zanesville, OH. The town was founded by Ebenezer Zane, an ancestor of his mother, Alice Josephine Zane Grey. (The spelling of the Gray family name was changed to “Grey” sometime during the late 1890s.)

author Zane Grey and his childrenZane Grey with his three children, Romer, Loren and Betty in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, ca. 1916.

Ebenezer Zane’s exploits played a very direct role in the shaping of Zane Grey’s book ‘The Spirit of the Border': “The writer is the fortunate possessor of historical material of undoubted truth and interest,” he explained. “It is the long-lost journal of Colonel Ebenezer Zane, one of the most prominent of the hunter-pioneers, who labored in the settlement of the Western country.

“The author does not intend to apologize for what many readers may call the brutality of the story; but rather to explain that its wild spirit is true to the life of the Western border as it was known only a little more than one hundred years ago.”

‘The Spirit of the Border’ was the final book in Zane Grey’s first trilogy, which had begun with ‘Betty Zane,’ followed by ‘The Last Trail.’

Inspired by the life and adventures of the author’s great-great grandmother, ‘Betty Zane’ tells the story of the last battle of the American Revolution, in which the heroine was a young, spunky, and beautiful frontier girl named Betty Zane.

In ‘The Last Trail,’ a woman is kidnapped from Fort Henry by a band of renegades and hostile Ohio Valley Indians, and Lewis Wetzel and Jonathan Zane set out in pursuit, with little hope of survival.

Finally, in ‘The Spirit of the Border,’ Lewis Wetzel must single-handedly save Fort Henry, armed only with his long rifle and knife.

The true-life narratives of Betty Zane & Ebenezer Zane weren’t the only stores of family tales Zane Grey had to draw from.

Ebenezer’s youngest brother was one Isaac Zane.

It has long been the family history of all the Zanes that Isaac, who was captured in his youth and brought up and remained with the Wyandots, was adopted by the Chief and made a member of the Chief’s family – and it was a part of that well understood history that he married what they were pleased to call an Indian princess, the daughter of the Chief.

That he was in the family of Chief Tarhe is almost unquestioned for Tarhe was the Wyandot Chief in this section of Ohio for many years,-his home town being Solomonstown, near to and just south of Richland in this county – and somewhat known by all persons trading and trafficking with the Indians.

Isaac Zane was captured and carried away from Virginia in the year 1762, being at the time nine years of age and being the youngest of five brothers. He was carried to Buffalo, thence to Detroit, thence to Sandusky, and to what is now Logan County. His brother Jonathan, who was captured with him, was ransomed and released and returned to Virginia.

Isaac was adopted into the family of the Chief of this particular tribe and like hundreds of other captives became enamored of Indian life,–and sometime in 1796 or 1797 must have married for in 1786 when General Logan came from Kentucky to destroy the Indian towns in the Mad River Valley, Zane was living in what is now Zanesfield, and what was then his home protected by a fort, or blockhouse, and had some four or five children.

He was not disturbed, it being understood that he was friendly to the whites. His eldest daughter married William McCulloch, the eldest of the three McCulloch brothers, William, Solomon and Samuel, all of whom were brothers of Ebenezer Zane’s wife of Wheeling.

Before the time of his (McCulloch’s) marriage, Tarhe, the Crane, had removed his village from Solomontown to the crossing of the Hock Hocking, at Lancaster, and it is family tradition that William McCulloch, who with his brother Jonathan was assisting Ebenezer Zane in cutting the road from Wheeling to the Limestone, there met the daughter of Isaac Zane, Nancy, who had gone to the home of Tarhe, her grandfather, on a visit and they were married in the year 1797, and afterward lived for a time at Zanesville.

—“Tarhe and the Zanes”, by E. O. Randall, in Ohio History magazine, Volume 26, No. 1, January 1917

Zane Grey didn’t stay in Zanesville. He lived for a time in New York, and spent most of his adult life in Altadena, CA. But Zanesville most surely stayed in him.


2 Responses

  • Marie says:

    This is a fascinating article! Not only have a I read about Betty Zane, I have also visited Zane Grey’s cabin at the Mogollon Rim here in AZ before it burned. Thanks for sharing such an interesting bit of American heritage!

  • Gayle H "Scott" McColloch, Jr says:


    A couple of corrections: I want to correct the record. Betty Zane was Ebenezer Zane’s sister and Elizabeth “Betsy” McColloch Zane was Ebenezer’s wife and Zane Grey’s great-great grandmother.

    Elizabeth’s brothers were Samuel, John, and, my immediate ancestor, Abram McColloch. There were also two additional sisters. I’m not sure where William and Solomon fit in, but there have been multiple Samuel and John McCollochs, for example. I have access to good, carefully researched genealogy to check, but don’t have it with me. We are an old lowland Scots family where names are repeated frequently through the generations, a good way to confuse historians.

    Although few of my ancestors have spelled the name McCulloch. That generation spelled it McColloch. I have seen their signatures myself.

    We would love to get a copy or even a look at the Ebenezer’s Journal, but Zane Grey’s descendants are naturally very much into protecting literary works.

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