Very few people these days probably remember the Zane Grey novels or the wonderful stories they tell. I have read a couple of them, but my favorites are the ones that pertain to the Zane family. The author himself was the great-grandson of Ebenezer Zane, and the great-grandnephew of Jonathan and Betty Zane. His family were the founders of Zanesville in Ohio, and great patriots and scouts of the frontier. So, he wrote a trilogy that elaborated on his family; as well as their relationship with great border man, Lewis Wetzel, or Deathwind as he was called by the Native American Indians.
The one thing people cannot deny when they read Betty Zane, Spirit of the Border, and The Last Trail is the utter and true masculinity of the men involved. The frontier of Ohio during and after the American Revolution did not tolerate weaklings and peaceful men. Those men came after the land had been settled and the area secured by more noble souls.
The two lead men who the reader hear most of in all three books are Jonathan Zane and Lew Wetzel. While the first book does focus on the courage and speed of Betty Zane, the books always have something to say about the two border men. Now, the definition of a border man was basically an Indian scout and tracker. Both Zane and Wetzel were intimate with the ways of the Indians, as they had both been held captive by them at least once in their lives. They had varying opinions about the Indians, for personal reasons. Jonathan did not hate all Indians, he just didn’t trust them as far as he could throw them. He had been kidnapped with all his brothers (he was one of five boys), and watched as his youngest brother, Isaac Zane, was separated from them for years. For Wetzel, it was different. When he was about eleven-years-old, he went hunting with his thirteen-year-old brother. Upon their return from hunting, they found their home burned and their parents and other siblings butchered and scalped by Indians. This set Lewis Wetzel on a path of revenge that consumed the remainder of his life.
The first book in the trilogy is about Betty Zane, the youngest and only girl in the Zane family. Naturally, she’s doted upon by her four (surviving) older brothers. Throughout the story, Wetzel is soft spoken and caring of Betty, and when one of the villains tries to forcefully kiss her, Wetzel almost kills him. That was how gentlemen viewed the honor of women: it was sacred. Eventually in the book, he reveals to Betty that he is in love with her; but because of all the men he’s killed, he feels he is not good enough for her. When the man she does love is stabbed in the dark by the aforementioned rogue, Wetzel hunts him down and kills him for Betty. Because he loves her, he kills for her. Then, he returns and helps defend Fort Henry against Indians and British forces, even holding an opening in the wall all by himself with just an ax. Tragically in the end, Lew Wetzel must abstain from women, and Betty Zane marries another man.
The second book does focus more on Wetzel as he traverses the frontier around historical Fort Henry. A wagon train has brought more settlers as well as Moravian missionaries, dedicated to converting the Indians, to the fort. Two, identical twin brothers take separate paths: one is a missionary and a peaceful man; and the other wants to follow in the steps of Wetzel. However, scheming renegades and dangerous Indians soon interrupt their lives and throw them all out of balance. Wetzel is reaffirmed in his life choices when he finds the bodies of the young scout and the young girl he loved. He buries them side by side and goes to save the second young couple. In one of the pivotal scenes in the book, the renegade, Girty, attempts to rape a woman, while the missionary is bound nearby. Wetzel and Zane come crashing in, and Wetzel savagely kills the outlaws for what they did before and what they were about to do. Once again, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.
In the third and final book, Grey focuses on his great-uncle, Jonathan Zane. Zane is described as being a lover of nature and of the wild; a quiet, thoughtful man. In the final book, he meets his match in the fiery Helen Shepard, a young girl from Virginia. She is immediately smitten with him, but he does not reciprocate her feelings. Through the matchmaking wiles of his siblings, Eb and Betty Zane; Jonathan and Helen are drawn into a sort of Much Ado About Nothing love trap. However, a traitor within the fort has his eyes on Helen, and hates Jonathan Zane. After being wounded, kidnapped, and then returned by Wetzel, Jonathan owns up to his feelings for Helen, but begs her not to return them. But, he must also confess this to Wetzel when she is taken from the fort (not to mention that Wetzel basically called it from the first moment he met Helen). His old friend tells him to leave their life of scouting and hunting and marry Helen, because he won’t let him miss his chance like he did with Betty. In the end, Jonathan makes the right choice, and Wetzel continues his path alone.
Zane Grey wrote about real men; rough and rugged, but also kind and caring. These men killed so that their families, or the families of others might live in peace. Isn’t that honorable? Isn’t that something to be admired; and not scorned? It is truly a twisted world that doesn’t acknowledge real men, and instead, tries to beat them down.
And on that note, it’s been real!