Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cowboys and Indians

"The Zane family was a remarkable one in early days, and most of its members are historical characters." (Zane Grey, Betty Zane)

I never used to have much interest in the Western genre. However, since moving to California I have developed a taste for the novels of Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour and the movies of John Ford. I recently started re-reading Betty Zane, by Zane Grey. It isn't really a Western. There are no cowboys in it, although there are Indians. It's a historical novel set near the end of the American Revolution, in a frontier settlement on the Ohio River. Which I suppose makes it sort of a Western, as that was about as far west as you could get in those days—unless you were an Indian.

I have Betty Zane, along with many other books by Zane Grey, on my Kindle. Years ago, when I read it the first time, I did not have a Kindle. Nobody did. My father loaned me a worn, dog-eared paperback copy. He told me it was about some of our ancestors. He also told me it was out of print, and he wanted it back.

Dad's hobby was genealogy. Few things gave him as much pleasure as identifying a new branch on the family tree. In the beginning, he had to do his research by traveling to libraries in Indiana and neighboring states. As a child, I accompanied him on an overnight expedition to a library in eastern Ohio. I'm sure he was hoping that I would develop an interest in his hobby, and at first I found it exciting to be included on his quest. However, I soon became bored, and left him alone in the genealogy department to seek out the section of the library where the Hardy Boys could be found.

With the advent of the Internet, Dad suddenly had access to vast amounts of genealogical data, without leaving home. He quickly filled in more and more branches of both the Logue and Shorter—my mother's family—trees. (My mother was not amused when Dad discovered that the two of them were distant cousins.)

As I recall, it was shortly after Loretta and I moved to California that Dad discovered our family's connection to Zane Grey. We shared a common ancestor, described by Grey as "a Dane of aristocratic lineage, who was exiled from his country and came to America with William Penn. He was prominent for several years in the new settlement founded by Penn." However, "Being a proud and arrogant man, he soon became obnoxious to his Quaker brethren."

That obnoxious Quaker was one William Zane. His offspring included Betty (the heroine of Grey's novel), Ebenezer (Grey's ancestor), and Isaac (our ancestor).

When they were young, all of the Zane boys were kidnapped by Indians. Three of them, including Grey's ancestor Ebenezer, were ransomed. One was killed by his captors when he attempted to escape. The youngest, our ancestor Isaac, remained in captivity, held by bonds "stronger than those of interest or revenge such as had caused the captivity of his brothers. He was loved by an Indian princess, the daughter of Tarhe, the chief of the puissant Huron race." In the book Betty Zane—and in real life—Isaac Zane married that Indian princess, whose name was Myeerah.

Isaac and Myeerah were my father's great-great-great-great grandparents (give or take a "great").

My father was understandably excited to discover that we were distant cousins of Zane Grey, who practically invented the Cowboy (with a capital 'C') of American literature. He was even more excited that we were directly descended from a "chief of the puissant Huron race." When he told me the news in a telephone call, he announced that he was going to write to the current chief of the Wyandots and request membership for himself and my sister. He asked if I would be interested in joining as well.

"Are there any benefits?" I asked. "For instance, can I open a casino?"

I turned down my father's offer. He and my sister were dark enough to credibly claim a smidgen of Native American blood, whereas I inherited my mother's fair, northern European complexion.

I would have been laughed right out of the tribe.

(Many of Zane Grey's novels, including Betty Zane, are in the public domain and available as free downloads from Project Gutenberg.)

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