The Spirit of the Border: A Romance of the Early Settlers in the Ohio Valley

This etext was prepared by Bruce Metcalf of Chattanooga, TN.

THE SPIRIT OF THE BORDERA ROMANCE OF THE EARLY SETTLERS IN THE OHIO VALLEY

BY ZANE GREY

1906

To my brother

With many fond recollections of days spent in the solitude of theforests where only can be satisfied that wild fever of freedom ofwhich this book tells; where to hear the whirr of a wild duck in hisrapid flight is joy; where the quiet of an autumn afternoon swellsthe heart, and where one may watch the fragrant wood-smoke curl fromthe campfire, and see the stars peep over dark, wooded hills astwilight deepens, and know a happiness that dwells in the wildernessalone.

Introduction

The author does not intend to apologize for what many readers maycall the ”brutality” of the story; but rather to explain that itswild spirit is true to the life of the Western border as it wasknown only a little more than one hundred years ago.

The writer is the fortunate possessor of historical material ofundoubted truth and interest. It is the long-lost journal of ColonelEbenezer Zane, one of the most prominent of the hunter-pioneer, wholabored in the settlement of the Western country.

The story of that tragic period deserves a higher place inhistorical literature than it has thus far been given, and thisunquestionably because of a lack of authentic data regarding theconquering of the wilderness. Considering how many years thepioneers struggled on the border of this country, the history oftheir efforts is meager and obscure.

If the years at the close of the eighteenth and the beginning of thenineteenth century were full of stirring adventure on the part ofthe colonists along the Atlantic coast, how crowded must they havebeen for the almost forgotten pioneers who daringly invaded thetrackless wilds! None there was to chronicle the fight of thesesturdy, travelers toward the setting sun. The story of their stormylives, of their heroism, and of their sacrifice for the benefit offuture generations is too little known.

It is to a better understanding of those days that the author haslabored to draw from his ancestor's notes a new and strikingportrayal of the frontier; one which shall paint the fever offreedom, that powerful impulse which lured so many to unmarkedgraves; one which shall show his work, his love, the effect of thecauses which rendered his life so hard, and surely one which doesnot forget the wronged Indian.

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

And while the border produced such outlaws so did it produce huntersEke Boone, the Zanes, the McCollochs, and Wetzel, that strange,silent man whose deeds are still whispered in the country where heonce roamed in his insatiate pursuit of savages and renegades, andwho was purely a product of the times. Civilization could not havebrought forth a man like Wetzel. Great revolutions, great crises,great moments come, and produce the men to deal with them.

The border needed Wetzel. The settlers would have needed many moreyears in which to make permanent homes had it not been for him. Hewas never a pioneer; but always a hunter after Indians. When not onthe track of the savage foe, he was in the settlement, with his keeneye and ear ever alert for signs of the enemy. To the superstitiousIndians he was a shadow; a spirit of the border, which breathedmenace from the dark forests. To the settlers he was the right armof defense, a fitting leader for those few implacable and unerringfrontiersmen who made the settlement of the West a possibility.

And if this story of one of his relentless pursuits shows the man ashe truly was, loved by pioneers, respected and feared by redmen, andhated by renegades; if it softens a little the ruthless name historyaccords him, the writer will have been well repaid.

Z. G.

The Spirit of the Border