Working into the nights on the kitchen table in a dingy room, Zane Grey penned and rewrote his first book "Betty Zane."
When the Western novelist's cabin opens to the public later this year, a rare copy of "Betty Zane," inscribed to Charles (Buffalo) Jones, the man who introduced Grey to Arizona, will be part of the cabin's historical treasures.
Dick Wolfe, president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, said the rare book found its way to them.
"This lady -- Alberta Jarboe -- called out of the blue from Florida and asked me if I'd be interested," Wolfe said. "I told her I'd call her back. I called (Dr.) Joe Wheeler (president of Zane Grey's West Society and the leading authority on Grey) and he said, ‘Oh, by all means.'"
Wheeler called "Betty Zane" the book that changed Zane Grey's life.
The novel "Betty Zane" gives a fictionalized account of the role Grey's ancestors played in the founding of Wheeling, W.Va.
"Each of us, as we look back over our lives, will find ... certain days that cause one to say, ‘That day changed the course of my life.' It's like one moment, one is on a train racing west, and another moment one is on a train racing east. That is the kind of day Zane Grey experienced on Dec. 16, 1906."
That's the date Grey inscribed in the book, now in Wolfe's possession:
"To Col. Charlie (Buffalo) Jones
Very truly yours,
Thirteen months earlier, at the urging of his young wife, Grey had left his dental practice to give writing a try. He chose a family legend for the subject of his first book -- the story of how his great-grandfather Col. Ebenezer Zane defended Fort Henry at Wheeling, W.Va. during the revolution in 1782.
After several rejections, Grey self-published 2,000 copies.
When the book died in bookstores, Grey hit the road as his own salesperson. That's what he was doing on Dec. 16, 1906, in New York City.
"While there he chanced to attend a lecture given by a gentleman known as Charles (Buffalo) Jones -- the (legendary scout) who almost singlehandedly saved the American buffalo from extinction," Wheeler said. "After the lecture was over, Grey timidly approached Jones and asked if he might be considered as a publicity writer and photographer for (an upcoming) expedition to lasso mountain lions on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
"Jones boomed out, ‘How do I know you can write?' Well, Grey just happened to have with him a copy of ‘Betty Zane,' which he inscribed to Jones."
The rest, as they say, is history. Jones loved the book and invited Grey to come to Arizona with him.
The expedition out West took all the money the Greys had, but the decision proved to be a wise investment.
"Out of that first expedition would come ‘The Last of the Plainsmen' (published in 1908)," Wheeler said. "Grey's fictional world moved west," and in 1910 he published "his first great Western, ‘Heritage of the Desert,' set in that same lion-lassoing region, the Kaibab Plateau.
"It would be followed two years later by the book that is generally considered to be the greatest Western ever written, ‘Riders of the Purple Sage.' In the years that followed, Grey would almost singlehandedly create the myth of the West for America and the world ... and it is safe to say it all started with this one bedraggled looking old book," said Wheeler.
The story behind the fabled inscribed "Betty Zane" that is now in the possession of the foundation is an interesting story in its own right.
Jarboe's husband was a great fan of Zane Grey, and she frequently bought him books by the Western novelist as gifts.
"She went into a bookstore and she always asked, ‘Do you have any Zane Grey books?'" Wolfe said. "This guy told her, ‘I don't think so, but I just bought a lot of books from an estate sale, and you're free to go through them.
"She found this and took it up to him. He didn't open it, but if he had (seen the inscription) it probably would have been worth $5,000 or $6,000 more than what he charged her."
Jarboe wouldn't tell Wolfe what she originally paid for the book, but he estimated it's worth more than $15,000 today.
When the book arrived from Florida, it included a note from Jarboe that read:
"It makes me very happy to know that Col. Charlie (Buffalo) Jones book will be returning to its rightful place -- Arizona."
Despite the expense of Grey's rare leather-bound popular novels, Wheeler said the foundation's copy of "Betty Zane" might very well be the most valuable Zane Grey book of all.
"That's because of the incredible story behind the 10-word inscription at the front of this unexpected gift" -- an inscription written on a day that, in retrospect, "changed everything that came after it."