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The Heritage of the Desert (1910)

08 Jul
Credit: Galactic Central

Credit: Galactic Central

The Popular Magazine starting 15th June 1910 (5 episode serial)
Harper & Brothers, New York 1910
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine starting May 1947
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine (Australia) Dec 1949, Jan 1957, and Jan 1961 (Galactic Central)

The Heritage of the Desert is set to cirka 1878 in Arizona: Lee’s Ferry and Painted Desert (ZGWS).

The Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park;  Credit: Lsaldivar, 20th July 2011

The Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park;
Credit: Lsaldivar, 20th July 2011

John Hare is discovered dying in the desert by Mormons. Because of his settings, Zane Grey often writes about Mormons. Some of his novels are scathing in their critique of their practice of polygamy. But in general he treated them as he treated any other character in his novels. Some were creeps and others were obviously admired by him.

At the very beginning of The Heritage of the Desert we meet a group of men who happen to be Mormons. These guys were worried about helping John Hare who was obviously out to get the outlaw Dene.

“Leave him here,” said one, addressing a gray-bearded giant. “He’s the fellow sent into southern Utah to spy out the cattle thieves. He’s all but dead. Dene’s outlaws are after him. Don’t cross Dene.”

I imagine most of us can relate to not wanting to mess with the baddies. Some of the group decide to leave while August Nabb and his boys decide to save Hare from death by desert.

August Nabb’s party consisted of himself, his sons and his adopted daughter Mescal, wife and other comely women.

Sunset in White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument;  Credit: PDTillman, 15th October 2012

Sunset in White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument;
Credit: PDTillman, 15th October 2012

John Hare had come West for his health. He had been thought a spy. These accusations made it necessary for him to run. Hare had gotten lost and one simply does not get lost in the desert. We quickly see that the outlaws have not given up on finding him.

What Hare discovers is that the regular settlers are harried by two main parties. One of those is the Dene outlaw gang. For the most part these guys steal cattle from the ranchers in the area. Holderness steals something that the people there hold much dearer: Land.

“August, some of our young men need no one to corrupt them. Dene had no great task to win them. He rode in here with a few outlaws and now he has a strong band. We’ve got to face it. We haven’t any law, but he can be killed. Some one must kill him. Yet bad as Dene is, he doesn’t threaten our living as Holderness does. Dene steals a few cattle, kills a man here and there. Holderness reaches out and takes our springs. Because we’ve no law to stop him, he steals the blood of our life—water—water—God’s gift to the desert! Some one must kill Holderness, too!”

Not only does John Hare learn of the troubles the Mormon settlers encounter, he also learns about their faith and discovers that he is in love with Mescal. Loving Mescal is a problem because August Naab would like her to marry one of his own sons.

Painted Desert, Utah;  Credit: Eddie Lluisma

Painted Desert, Utah;
Credit: Eddie Lluisma

As with a couple of his earlier biographical works, we see Zane Grey favoring the romance genre in his writing. I find it fascinating that a man like Grey would be attracted to the romance industry. However, I have come to realize that men often wrote romance back in the day. Most of the authors on the market had male names. I don’t know what the tendency is today.

Back to The Heritage of the Desert. John Hare is very much aware of how much he owes August Nabb.

“They said I fell among thieves,” mused Hare, when he was once more alone. “I’ve fallen among saints as well.” He felt that he could never repay this August Naab. “If only I might live!” he ejaculated. How restful was this cottage garden! The green sward was a balm to his eyes. Flowers new to him, though of familiar springtime hue, lifted fresh faces everywhere; fruit-trees, with branches intermingling, blended the white and pink of blossoms. There was the soft laughter of children in the garden. Strange birds darted among the trees. Their notes were new, but their song was the old delicious monotone—the joy of living and love of spring. A green-bowered irrigation ditch led by the porch and unseen water flowed gently, with gurgle and tinkle, with music in its hurry. Innumerable bees murmured amid the blossoms.

How on earth is he supposed to resolve his obligations to Nabb, his feelings for Mescal and being wanted by Dene and possibly Holderness?

Zane Grey often anonymized real life characters. Given the timeline of the story Cap Brown is a likely candidate for the role of Dene and his gang. (Nichols) It is probable that Holderness was based on the story of the land hungry character of the cattle baron I.W. Lacy.

The expansion of Utah’s cattle industry during the 1870s and 1880s was built upon four cornerstones that included small operations throughout the state, the cattle barons–ranchers like Preston Nutter, B. F. Saunders, James W. Taylor, the Whitmores, and the McIntyres whose animals numbered in the thousands, Mormon cooperative enterprises some associated with United Orders and others such as the Bluff Pool in southeastern Utah which grew in response to outside threats by the Lacy Cattle Company to take over rangeland and control access to water and other resources, and corporate cattle companies who tapped resources in Great Britain, Pittsburgh and other eastern cities, and even Utah investors to found such companies as the Carlisle Cattle Company, the Pittsburgh Land and Livestock Company, the Webster City Cattle Company and the Ireland Cattle Company among others. (UHG)

"Herd Quitters";  By Charles Marion Russell, 1902

“Herd Quitters”;
By Charles Marion Russell, 1902

Another main character of Zane Grey’s novels becomes extremely visible in The Heritage of the Desert. This character appears in every single one of his Western Romances. In The Heritage of the Desert the name of that character is Painted Desert in Utah. On his earlier journey with Buffalo Jones, Zane Grey seemed to fall in love with the landscapes of Utah, Nevada and New Mexico. Having lived in Utah for a few years I see his point.  Grey’s writing captures the beauty of nature in a manner that even my brain manages to envision.

For Mescal was there. Far away she must be, a mere grain of sand in all that world of drifting sands, perhaps ill, perhaps hurt, but alive, waiting for him, calling for him, crying out with a voice that no distance could silence. He did not see the sharp peaks as pitiless barriers, nor the mesas and domes as black-faced death, nor the moisture-drinking sands as life-sucking foes to plant and beast and man. That painted wonderland had sheltered Mescal for a year. He had loved it for its color, its change, its secrecy; he loved it now because it had not been a grave for Mescal, but a home. Therefore he laughed at the deceiving yellow distances in the foreground of glistening mesas, at the deceiving purple distances of the far-off horizon. The wind blew a song in his ears; the dry desert odors were fragrance in his nostrils; the sand tasted sweet between his teeth, and the quivering heat-waves, veiling the desert in transparent haze, framed beautiful pictures for his eyes.

Wolf kept to the fore for some thirty paces, and though he had ceased to stop, he still looked back to see if the horse and man were following. Hare had noted the dog occasionally in the first hours of travel, but he had given his eyes mostly to the broken line of sky and desert in the west, to the receding contour of Echo Cliffs, to the spread and break of the desert near at hand. Here and there life showed itself in a gaunt coyote sneaking into the cactus, or a horned toad huddling down in the dust, or a jewel-eyed lizard sunning himself upon a stone. It was only when his excited fancy had cooled that Hare came to look closely at Wolf. But for the dog’s color he could not have been distinguished from a real wolf. His head and ears and tail drooped, and he was lame in his right front paw.

Hare halted in the shade of a stone, dismounted and called the dog to him. Wolf returned without quickness, without eagerness, without any of the old-time friendliness of shepherding days. His eyes were sad and strange. Hare felt a sudden foreboding, but rejected it with passionate force. Yet a chill remained. Lifting Wolf’s paw he discovered that the ball of the foot was worn through; whereupon he called into service a piece of buckskin, and fashioning a rude moccasin he tied it round the foot. Wolf licked his hand, but there was no change in the sad light of his eyes. He turned toward the west as if anxious to be off.

“All right, old fellow,” said Hare, “only go slow. From the look of that foot I think you’ve turned back on a long trail.”

Again they faced the west, dog leading, man following, and addressed themselves to a gradual ascent. When it had been surmounted Hare realized that his ride so far had brought him only through an anteroom; the real portal now stood open to the Painted Desert. The immensity of the thing seemed to reach up to him with a thousand lines, ridges, canyons, all ascending out of a purple gulf. The arms of the desert enveloped him, a chill beneath their warmth. (Chapter XIV. Wolf)

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The Heritage of the Desert available on Gutenberg, LibriVoxas MP3

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Posted by on 2014-07-08 in Books

 

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