The Desert of Wheat (1918)

19 Jun


The Country Gentleman, May 4, 1918 ff.
Harper & Brothers, New York, 1919
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, December 1948
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine (Australia) Aug 1950, Oct 1959 (Galactic Central)

During World War I, German saboteurs in the United States used anthrax and glanders to sicken more than 3,500 horses before they were shipped from U.S. ports to the British and French armies. (Biowarfare Against Agriculture)

Produce and live stock that need to be transported into battle-fields are great targets for the enemy. The Germans were no strangers to biowarfare during World War I, so Desert of Wheat was well within the realm of possibility of what might have occurred. Not only that, but Desert of Wheat made a wonderful piece of propaganda for the US and allied side of the war in its depiction of young Dorn going off to fight his German ancestral lands.

The changes brought about by the new century were many. Most of these were of an industrial nature but also included a change in the desire of the working person to be used and abused by their employers. All change has the potential of changing the lives of some into something not quite as exclusive as it used to be and will often be perceived as a threat. As such, Grey’s Desert of Wheat also made for a wonderful work of propaganda.

Zane Grey's Western Magazine; V 2 #10 December 1948

Zane Grey’s Western Magazine;
V 2 #10 December 1948

Through thrills, romance, adventure and nature Zane Grey had the needed tools to get his message across to the reader. Propaganda is a daily factor of our lives. Sometimes it is cleverly hidden and sometimes the messages are fairly clear. Seen as far from the events as 2014 is, I find it fairly simple to realise what Grey is doing with Desert of Wheat. He does it cleverly and it might not have been such a simple matter to become aware of his tactics back in 1919. Hind-sight is, after all, such a wonderful thing.

He went into the big, dimly lighted dining-room. There was a shelf on one side as he went in, and here, with his back turned to the room, he laid the disjointed gun and his hat. Several newspapers lying near attracted his eye. Quickly he slipped them under and around the gun, and then took a seat at the nearest table. A buxom German waitress came for his order. He gave it while he gazed around at his grim-faced old father and the burly Neuman, and his ears throbbed to the beat of his blood. His hand trembled on the table. His thoughts flashed almost too swiftly for comprehension. It took a stern effort to gain self-control.

Evil of some nature was afoot. Neuman’s presence there was a strange, disturbing fact. Kurt had made two guesses, both alarmingly correct. If he had any more illusions or hopes, he dispelled them. His father had been won over by this arch conspirator of the I.W.W. And, despite his father’s close-fistedness where money was concerned, that eighty thousand dollars, or part of it, was in danger.

Kurt wondered how he could get possession of it. If he could he would return it to the bank and wire a warning to the Spokane buyer that the wheat was not safe. He might persuade his father to turn over the amount of the debt to Anderson. While thinking and planning, Kurt kept an eye on his father and rather neglected his supper. Presently, when old Dorn and Neuman rose and left the dining-room, Kurt followed them. His father was whispering to the proprietor over the desk, and at Kurt’s touch he glared his astonishment.

WORLD WAR I: BATTLEFIELD. Gun crew, Regimental HQ Co., 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division, firing a 37mm gun during an advance through Belleau Wood, France, June 1918.

WORLD WAR I: BATTLEFIELD. Gun crew, Regimental HQ Co., 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division, firing a 37mm gun during an advance through Belleau Wood, France, June 1918. Image No. 0004498. Credit: The Granger Collection, NYC

When Kurt arrives at the battlefield he discovers what war is all about and what its ramifications in in his life and in the lives of the other soldiers out fighting each other.

The Desert of Wheat on Gutenberg



  • 1965: Vesten i flammer (Norwegian)
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