'Betty Zane' Launched Career


A slice of the American Revolution has come to Arizona through an unlikely source -- the famous western novelist Zane Grey. A rare 1903 first edition of "Betty Zane," Grey's first novel, was donated by Alberta Jarboe of Indiana to the recently dedicated Zane Grey Cabin in Green Valley Park. The book chronicles the true story of Grey's great great aunt, Betty Zane, who was a Revolutionary War heroine.

"This is an incredible gift for the cabin and for Zane Grey fans everywhere," said Dick Wolfe, president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation (ZGCF). "Few people have ever laid eyes on this book -- it is that rare."

Through the efforts and fund raising of the ZGCF, an authentic replica of Grey's central Arizona hunting lodge was completed this year. "Betty Zane" is a proud addition to the Zane Grey exhibits on display at the cabin and at the adjacent Rim Country Museum.

At the time he wrote it, Grey was a discontented dentist in New York City. Longing for an adventurous life in the out-of-doors, he found inspiration and pride in the thrilling and courageous pioneering spirit of his ancestors. Grey commented, "I chose the story of Elizabeth Zane, a sister of Colonel Ebenezer Zane, my great great grandfather, who held Fort Henry for 20 years against the Indians and British. During the last siege, September 11, 1782, Betty Zane saved the fort by running the gauntlet of fire carrying an apron full of gunpowder over her shoulder."

Local publishers did not share his enthusiasm and responded with rejection slips. With borrowed money, Grey paid the Charles Francis Press to publish "Betty Zane." His $600 bought only 2,000 copies, which makes "Betty Zane" the rarest and most valuable of all his works. In addition, it is the only one of his scores of books and hundreds of short stories and articles which was accompanied by Grey's original illustrations. Rare book dealers say that copies sell for as much as $15,000.

"Not only is this edition of "Betty Zane" rare of itself," explains Wolfe, "but it is also autographed by the author to C.J. Jones, aka Buffalo Jones." Although not a household name, Jones is credited with kindling Grey's passion for writing about the west. Buffalo Jones was an eccentric character who captured mountain lions in the Grand Canyon, and who operated a ranch where he worked to save the buffalo from extinction. Enthralled by Jones' lecture before a New Jersey outdoors club, Grey proposed he travel to Arizona with Jones in order to write about these adventures. He gave Jones a copy of "Betty Zane" as a sample of his writing abilities. It was the turning point in Grey's life. Duly impressed, the two headed west together.

Grey was able to publish "The Last of the Plainsmen" as he had promised Jones. His first real commercial success, "Heritage of the Desert," was also born from that Arizona trip and served as a forerunner to "Riders of the Purple Sage," considered to be the quintessential western classic of all time.

A most remarkable souvenir of the life-altering trip, Jones' inscribed copy of "Betty Zane" is now on exhibit at the Rim Country Museum and reads, "Dec. 16, 1906 to Col. Charlie (Buffalo) Jones. Very truly yours -- Zane Grey." "Betty Zane" was not celebrated in 1903, but it was Grey's ticket west three years later. Thus, it opened the door to an unprecedented career, earning Zane Grey the title of Father of the Western Novel.

The Zane Grey Cabin is located next to the Rim Country Museum in Green Valley Park. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (928) 474-3483.

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