The Spirit of the Border: A Romance of the Early Settlers in the Ohio Valley (Ohio River II) (1906)

12 Jul
Treaty William Penn with the Lenni Lenapes; Artist: Nathaniel Currier

Treaty William Penn with the Lenni Lenapes;
Artist: Nathaniel Currier

A.L. Burt Company, 1906
Double Action Western Magazine, January 1936

The beginning of The Spirit of the Border has its roots in the peace treaty William Penn made with the Native Americans in 1682. The peace forged then ended by Governor Gordon at the Council at Conestoga, May 26, 1728. Naturally bad feelings started developing at this breach of trust. The Delaware People of the area tried to uphold their end of the peace. (Peace Treaty)

Artist: John Watson Davis

Artist: John Watson Davis

In his introduction to Spirit of the Border Zane Grey writes:

“The author does not intend to apologize for what many readers may call the “brutality” of the story; but rather to explain that its wild spirit is true to the life of the Western border as it was known only a little more than one hundred years ago.


The frontier in 1777 produced white men so savage as to be men in name only. These outcasts and renegades lived among the savages, and during thirty years harassed the border, perpetrating all manner of fiendish cruelties upon the settlers. They were no less cruel to the redmen whom they ruled, and at the height of their bloody careers made futile the Moravian missionaries’ long labors, and destroyed the beautiful hamlet of the Christian Indians, called Gnaddenhutten, or Village of Peace.


The border needed Wetzel. The settlers would have needed many more years in which to make permanent homes had it not been for him. He was never a pioneer; but always a hunter after Indians. When not on the track of the savage foe, he was in the settlement, with his keen eye and ear ever alert for signs of the enemy. To the superstitious Indians he was a shadow; a spirit of the border, which breathed menace from the dark forests. To the settlers he was the right arm of defense, a fitting leader for those few implacable and unerring frontiersmen who made the settlement of the West a possibility.”

Lewis Wentzel loads on the run; Artist:

Lewis Wetzel loads on the run (17 yrs old); From Conquering the Wilderness; Or, a New Pictorial History of the Life and Times of the Pioneer Heroes and Heroines of America; by: Colonel Frank Triplet, 1883

Lewis Wetzel did not become a hater of the Native Americans by chance. He and his brothers 13 and 11) were captured by Wyandot raiders in 1777.  Three days after capture the boys managed to escape in spite of Lewis being shot across the sternum.

From then on Lewis Wetzel made it his mission to become the best frontiersman that he could. Skills needed for that were fighting, tracking and deductive abilities. He fought the enemies of his people as well as he could, took the scalps of the enemy and sometimes rescued captured.

Consensus was that he was just killing “varmint” and doing society a service by getting rid of those pesky red-skins. Literature, propaganda and other media of the time reflected this vision of the Native Americans.

So well was he known among the Native Americans that he gained the name “Deathwind”.

Spirit of the Border is supposed to be based on the journal of Zane Grey’s ancestor, Ebenezer Zane. We continue on from Grey’s first historical novel, Betty Zane. The time is close to the time of the Moravian massacre. Most of the characters of The Spirit of the Border are based on real life characters. Artistic license has been taken with their presentation.

Nell Wells and her sister Kate have gone West with their uncle to be Moravian missionaries to the Native Americans living there. On the way there she had met Joe Downs. Joe had come West with for adventure. Adventure always sounds so much fun. Then you are in the middle of it, and well – sometimes it is, sometimes it is not.

I wanted to come West because I was tired of tame life. I love the forest; I want to fish and hunt; and I think I’d like to—to see Indians.

Joe seems to have fallen for Nell, makes his intentions clear, is rebuffed (except the rebuff was made toward his almost identical brother Jim). Zane Grey’s career as a romance writer is now a fact. So is his tendency to create love triangles. Joe, Nell, Jim and Kate are not real life characters.

Looks are not the only thing Jim and Joe have in common. Their interest in Nell is very much similar. Differences are clear to the reader, the brothers and their friends. Jim is a Moravian preacher while Joe is anything but.

Seeing things with hind-sight is always a wonderful way to read a story. Because I am an Asperger I get side-tracked easily while maintaining my focus on the main story. Facts are seductive to me. Simon Girty had been adopted into one of  the Seneca tribes as a child. Both sides in the American Revolution used Girty to their own ends. When the Americans arrested and tried Girty for treason he felt no incentive to help them any longer.

“He’s a traitor, and Jim and George Girty, his brothers, are p’isin rattlesnake Injuns. Simon Girty’s bad enough; but Jim’s the wust. He’s now wusser’n a full-blooded Delaware. He’s all the time on the lookout to capture white wimen to take to his Injun teepee. Simon Girty and his pals, McKee and Elliott, deserted from that thar fort right afore yer eyes. They’re now livin’ among the redskins down Fort Henry way, raisin’ as much hell fer the settlers as they kin.”

Joe is quite the prankster. Pranks always have unintended consequences, some of them more serious than others. Pranks across cultures are extremely difficult to pull off and Shawnee chiefs might not be the best people to pull one on. In fact Joe and Jim get captured by the same chief and his warriors not long after.


“On March 8 and 9, 1782, a group of Pennsylvania militiamen under the command of Captain David Williamson attacked the Moravian Church Mission founded by David Zeisberger at Gnadenhutten. The Americans struck the natives in retaliation for the deaths and kidnapping of several Pennsylvanians. Although the militiamen attacked the Christian Indians, these natives were not involved in the previous incident. The Christian Delaware had abandoned Gnadenhutten the year before, but had returned to harvest crops that were still in the fields.

On March 8, the militiamen arrived at Gnadenhutten. Accusing the natives of the attack on the Pennsylvania settlement, the soldiers rounded them up and placed the men and women in separate buildings in the abandoned village overnight. The militiamen then voted to execute the captives the following morning. Informed of their impending deaths, the Christian Delaware spent the night praying and singing hymns. The next morning the soldiers took the natives in pairs to a cabin, forced the natives to kneel, and proceeded to crush their skulls with a heavy mallet. In all Williamson’s men murdered 28 men, 29 women and 39 children. There were only two survivors, who alerted the missionaries and Christian Indians of what had occurred.” (Jim Cummings)

The Spirit of the Border available on Gutenberg




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Posted by on 2014-07-12 in Books


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