11 September 2014

The Zanes & Lewis Wetzel: The Second Siege of Fort Henry (WV), Zane Grey's Border Trilogy

You know how when you read a good book and find that you put yourself in the role of one of the main characters? Well on occasion that can be dangerous!!!
Helen Sheppard & Jonathan Zane Frontispiece of The Last Trail
"He was clad from head to foot in smooth, soft buckskin which fitted well his powerful frame. Beaded moccasins, leggings bound high above the knees, hunting coat laced and fringed, all had the neat tidy appearance due to good care. He wore no weapons. His hair fell in a raven mass over his shoulders. His profile was regular, with a long, straight nose, strong chin, and eyes black as night. They were now fixed intently on the valley. The whole face gave an impression of serenity, of calmness."

"Helen was wondering if the sad, almost stern, tranquility of that face ever changed, when the baby cooed and held out its chubby little hands. Jonathan's smile, which came quickly, accompanied by a warm light in the eyes, relieved Helen of an unaccountable repugnance she had begun to feel toward the borderman. That smile, brief as a flash, showed his gentle kindness and told that he was not a creature who had set himself apart from human life and love."  (The Last Trail, Zane Grey, pg. 31)
Jonathan Zane & Lewis Wetzel illustration from The Last Trail

Sounds like a good looking man, well-respected and valued from other descriptions. Not one to be messed with as he could be a tough enemy to have. Saved many a family from trouble on the border between WV and OH. He also had his bad side (depending on which side you view it from.) He was judge, jury and executioner many times when one caused trouble for the towns. Unlike some (Lew Wetzel for one) he was not wholly of the opinion that "the only good Indian was a dead one", but those who had fallen under the spell of those "white redskins" like Girty, Eliot, McKee, etc. he had no use for. Why? Because unlike the groups who had become peaceful to the settlers who treated them fairly, these men were vindictive, stole for the sake of it, were brutal to the women they abducted, etc. I do not feel Native Americans were treated fairly by whites. That's a given. But, just as not all whites treated the Native Americans unfairly, not all Native Americans were horrible. The greater numbers were only reacting to the wrongs they had suffered. So many times we see history as black and white and yet there are all kinds of grey areas. For the settlers who had paid for their lands and treated the Native Americans fairly, they still had to endure the attacks of those who were not treated fairly by other settlers. But they relied on men like Wetzel and the man I described above. 

The weird part comes in reading a book where you do find yourself imagining you taking the place of a main character. Harmless enjoyment of the story right? Except when you realize the book is about a person that if not for them, you might not exist! As in the case of my reading of Zane Grey's fictional, yet based on history, stories set on the border of WV/OH, the Border Trilogy. Betty Zane, The Spirit of the Border and The Last Trail.  (All of the links are to free versions of the books on Google Play. Project Gutenberg also has all three books for free.) All three have as main characters men like Col. Ebenezer Zane (aka Eb) and his wife Bess (a sister of the famous Maj. Samuel McColloch of McColloch's Leap renown), a stronger woman than I could ever be; his brothers: Isaac, kidnapped at age 9 by members of the Delaware tribe along with brothers Andrew, Silas (killed by Indians along the Scioto River), and Jonathan; as well as people such as their only sister Betty, and borderman Lewis Wetzel. Andrew was killed trying to escape, Silas and Jonathan were ransomed. But not Isaac. No, he was adopted into the tribe and called "White Eagle" and was the son-in-law of Chief Tarhé (also known as "The Crane" or "Standing Crane"), after marrying Tarhé's daughter, Myeerah, or "White Crane". Isaac was a translator, and helped with many treaties between the US government and the Delawares. Jonathan became a borderman and Silas was in charge of the garrison at Ft. Henry, which was located in present-day Wheeling, WV. Betty Zane, youngest sibling and only sister of the Zane brothers is considered the "Heroine of Ft. Henry" during the attack of the fort because on Sept. 11, 1782 Betty made a run from the fort to her brother's home to get powder. Why send a woman and especially a young one such as Betty? Well, first, few in the area were faster at running than she was. She was typically only bested by her brothers and Lew Wetzel. Second, they were out of powder, depending on the source you believe, her brothers had "carelessly" according to the Wiki article left the powder at the home of Ebenezer. Now, he had stayed in his home in order to protect it along with his slave Old Sam, Jonathan Zane and Martin Wetzel, (according to Martin Wetzel's Find A Grave, their father, John Wetzel/Whetzel was also present at the second siege) Lewis Wetzel's brother, as Silas was commander of the fort at the time. (Although many sources state Ebenezer was the fort's commander, see "Story of Fort Henry" source 12 for comment re:Silas being in charge of fort .)

According to "The Story Fort Henry"1, "In September, 1782, occurred the last siege of Fort Henry, regarded by some as the last battle of the Revolution. A force of forty irregular British soldiers and 238 Indians, under Captain Bradt [possibly Brady?] , made the attack."  The total number of the fort's defenders was around 40 and that included the garrison, the local men and young boys who could handle a rifle as well as women who could load the rifles, cool the overheated rifle barrels, etc for the men. The Zane men had just days before seen barrels of powder in the store room of the fort. Yet when defenders went to retrieve them during the siege, they were gone. So, the logical thing was to send someone to Eb's cabin just outside the fort, which they knew had a quantity of powder. But sending even a young boy would have been sending that boy to his death. He'd be mowed down by the bullets of the British and their Native American allies. So Betty volunteered. The women had been helping defend the fort by making bullets, reloading guns, nursing injuries, cooling the gun barrels and she heard her brother Silas, Lew, and some of the other men discussing the need for powder. Legend has it that she volunteered knowing she might not make it or might get shot. Her brother Silas was not wanting to send his only sister to what he feared would be her death. But, she prevailed & Lewis Wetzel had faith in her ability as well. The story goes that once they saw her, the Indians jeered "Squaw!" and let her alone as she made her dash to the cabin. But on the return trip, realizing that she was taking supplies to the fort, they began to shoot at her. She made it back to the fort, with her skirts having been shot through at least once and having been grazed by a bullet. 

Illustration of Betty Zane's heroic run for gunpowder
during the attack on Ft. Henry on 11 Sept. 1782
Heroism of Miss Betty Zane at Ft. Henry 11 Sept. 1782

Why is it odd though that I am imagining the man I described as being one darn fascinating,  good-looking, appealing, downright sexy man? And why do I find the history of him, his family and friends like Wetzel so fascinating?  Because he is one whom, without him, I'd not be here. He was my 4th great-grandfather, Jonathan Zane. So, that is why it can be dangerous to imagine yourself in the story!!! It's a bit disconcerting to find yourself imagining that you are the heroine who finds herself growing to love Jonathan when he's an ancestor of yours. With the reputation both Jack and Wetzel had, you'd think I'd find them repulsive or to have hands too stained by blood to find them fascinating. But, it is precisely their reputations that draw my fascination.
Jonathan Zane
From HISTORY OF THE PAN-HANDLE, West Virginia, 1879, by J. H. Newton, G. G. Nichols, and A. G. Sprankle. Pages 131-134. 
 JONATHAN ZANE was, also, born in Berkeley county, Virginia. He accompanied his brother, Ebenezer Zane, to the West in 1769, when they explored the surrounding country, and located the town of Wheeling. He also made explorations in the summer and fall of 1771, in company with Silas Zane, up and down the Ohio - soon becoming familiar not only with the regions east of that river, but also the wilderness beyond. He was perhaps, the most experienced hunter of his day, in the frontier country.

It would have been difficult to find a man of greater energy of character - of more determined resolution, or restless activity. He rendered efficient service to the settlers about Wheeling, in the capacity of a spy, and a guide to direct the forces through the wilderness in several of the important campaigns from the commencement of the Dunmore war until the close of the Revolution. He was a guide in the Wakatomica campaign of 1774. He also accompanied General Brodhead in the same capacity, in the expedition up the Allegheny against the Munsies and Senecas in 1779, in which he was wounded.* (Anthony Dunlevy's Declaration for a Pension, October 3d, 1832.) In the memorable campaign of Crawford against Sandusky, Zane was again one of the guides to direct the army through the wilderness, and was a confidential advisor of the commander, with whom his opinions had great weight. It is plain, too, that if his advice had been promptly acted upon, the terrible calamity that befell the unfortunate expedition would have been averted. When the army had reached the Sandusky plains and found a deserted town, Zane advised an immediate return, and Col. Crawford knowing him to be exceedingly well versed in Indian strategy was strongly impressed with his views and felt personally inclined to adopt them. Zane urged that the absence of any sign of the Indians on the plains was a certain indication that they were concentrating at some point not far distant for determined resistance. He also reasoned that a further march into their country was only giving the savages time to gather reinforcements at their place of rendezvous, and that they would be able to concentrate against the Americans an overwhelming force. But when the council of officers was held Zane's warning was not duly heeded-the officers and men did not want to return without firing a gun - the army continued its march until the Indians were met - and the lamentable disaster followed.

Jonathan Zane was remarkable for earnestness of purpose, an energy and inflexibility of will which often manifested itself in a way truly astonishing. Few men shared more of the confidence or respect of his fellow men than Jonathan.

He was one of the best marksmen upon the border. He prided himself particularly upon his skill in shooting. He was once returning home from hunting his horses, when, passing through some high weeds near the bank of the river at a spot within the present limits of the City of Wheeling, not far from his house, he saw five Indians jump into the stream and swim for the island in the Ohio, opposite the place. Having his rifle with him, he rapidly took aim at one of the savages -fired, and the Indian sunk. Loading and firing in quick succession, three more were killed before reaching the opposite bank. The fifth and last one, seeing the fate of his companions, concealed himself behind a "sawyer," near the shore of the island, hoping thus to escape the deadly aim of the white man. After several ineffectual attempts to dislodge him, the effort was about to be abandoned, when Zane noticed a small portion of his body protruding below the log. Drawing a fine sight on his rifle, it was discharged, and the fifth savage floated down the river. He piloted expeditions against the Indians; in the one under Colonel Brodhead, up the Allegheny, in 1779, he was severely wounded. He was one the pilots in Crawford's expedition, and, it is said, strongly admonished the unfortunate commander against proceeding; as the enemy were very numerous, and would certainly defeat him. He died in Wheeling, at his own residence a short distance above the present site of the First Ward Public School. He left large landed possessions, most of which were shared by his children.

The children were Catharine, Eliza, Cynthia, Sally, Hannah, Nancy, Isaac, Asa and Benjamin.
Jonathan "Jack" Zane
My great-grandparents were Amos and Cynthia Charlotte (Zane) Nichols. She was the daughter of Isaac (not the one previously mentioned, but his nephew) Zane and wife Mary French Zane. They died of what appears to be cholera when she was about 10 years old. Her grandfather Jonathan and uncle Asa were given custody of the children of Isaac and Mary. Cynthia was raised by Jonathan. She married in 1823, the same year her grandfather died and they moved from southeastern Ohio to central Illinois in the late 1820s or early 1830s. She and Amos as well as their son John, a Civil War veteran, are buried less than 4 miles as the crow flies from my Dad's house where we lived when I was born and where I spent a number of weeks during the summer. Never once did I hear family stories such as this. Or of my great-grandfather Benjamin Nichols, a Civil War veteran and one who thankfully missed being part of Custer's Last Stand thanks to drawing guard duty over some of the equipment Custer left behind. After that near miss, he left the army. The family story, which I learned from my Aunt Betty the week I spent with my family in April 2001 when my Dad died, was that Benjamin, partially deaf from having been too near cannons during the Civil War, also had a fondness for drink. He walked from his farm outside of Waynesville (in northern DeWitt Co.) to Heyworth (in southern McLean Co.) to the bar in Feb. 1917. The desire for drink and the companionship of friends must have been strong to induce him to walk over 4 miles from his farm into town in the middle of February!  The family story goes on that at some point he decided to return home. At some point, his diminished hearing and the amount of alcohol consumed caused him to pass out (or possibly fatigue caused him to decide to go to sleep). He would likely have been alright except for the fact that he passed out on the railroad tracks. In due time, a train came along. His diminished hearing in combination with the alcohol, caused him to be unable to hear the warning whistle of the train and so he was killed by the train. Whether a true story or not, I do not know. What I do know is that he died on 14 Feb. 1917, and was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery. I have been unable to find any record of such an accident around that time. I would think an accident such as that would make local newspapers. I hope to find out the truth at some point.

Now, Wetzel, with all that can be said against him, which is plenty, was also fascinating. Long black hair that when combed out came down to below his knees. Hands too blood-stained to allow him to give reign to falling in love with a woman, although, reportedly there was one he possibly loved but knew he couldn't be worthy of. This was a man who could reload his gun at a dead run. Fleet of foot, sharp eyed, keen eared, quiet. Another person cast as the hero yet one with plenty of faults. And possibly distantly related to another of my 4th great-grandfathers.
Lewis "Deathwind" 'Le Vent de la Mort" "Atelang" "The Wind of Death" Wetzel

Even knowing there are many fictionalized stories, the ones that are known to be true of the Zane brothers and Lew Wetzel are fascinating. And the fictionalized stories are wonderful, yet they have their faults as well. But, as the author says in his introduction to Betty Zane, "Few of us are so unfortunate that we cannot look backward on kith or kin and thrill with love and reverence as we dream of an act of heroism or martyrdom which rings down the annals of time like the melody of the huntsman's horn....". In the introduction to The Spirit of the Border he 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." and  "It is to a better understanding of those days that the author has labored to draw from his ancestor's notes a new and striking portrayal of the frontier; one which shall paint the pioneer's fever of freedom, that powerful impulse which lured so many to unmarked graves; one which shall show his work, his love, the effect of the causes which rendered his life so hard, and surely one which does not forget the wronged Indian."

Last but not least, I cannot wait to read the Spirit of the Border in comic format! I found a number of Zane Grey books that were released in comic form on the Internet Archive. But of the Ohio trilogy, only Spirit was done in comic form.
Zane Grey's Spirit of the Border comic book
Last but not least, a description of each book in the Border Trilogy:

 Betty Zane (1903)

From Fantastic Fiction: "With an Indian attack looming on the horizon, the men, women, and children at Fort Henry wait for the conflagration and rely on the courage of Betty Zane."

From Google Books:(free to read/download) "During the American Revolution, Betty Zane helps her brothers save their frontier settlement from British troops and Indians."

Betty Zane can be read/downloaded for free from Internet Archive, & Project Gutenberg)

The Spirit of the Border(1905)

From Fantastic Fiction: "Wetzel, the Avenger, devotes his life to the defense of the settlers against the renegades who terrorize the frontier."

From Internet Archive (audio recording of book): "This is an early novel by the phenomenally successful author of frontier, western and sports stories. It deals with historical characters and incidents in the Ohio Valley in the late 18th century, especially with the foundation of Gnaddenhutten, a missionary village intended to bring Christianity to the Indians of Ohio, despite the violent opposition of both Indians and white renegades. This turbulent adventure romance features the heroics of a semi-legendary frontiersman, Lewis Wetzel, who attempts to protect the settlers from hostile Native Americans and the vicious white outlaws the Girty brothers."

The Spirit of the Border can be read/downloaded for free from Google Books as well as Internet Archive, & Project Gutenberg.

The Last Trail (1900)

From Fantastic Fiction: "Born to the lonely wilderness trail, famed borderman Jonathan Zane roams the rugged Ohio frontier, fighting to protect his homestead from attack. Braving certain death against a gang of outlaws and savage Shawnees, Zane struggles to save the life of the woman he loves."

From the Internet Archive (audio recording of book): "Return with us to those thrilling days of yesteryear as Mike Vendetti narrates this early Zane Grey novel of hardy pioneers taming the wild west. Yes, despite the difficult times, romance flourishes and the bad guys are eliminated almost single handedly as our heroes Jonathan Zane and his sidekick Lew “Deathwind” Wetzel fight their way through mud, blood, gore, savage Indians, and despicable outlaws, to make the land safe for pioneer families as they settle the wild west."

The Last Trail can be read/downloaded for free from Google Books as well as Internet Archive, & Project Gutenberg.

1. Brooks, A.B. "The Story of Fort Henry". West Virginia History, A  publication of: West Virginia Archives and History. Volume I, Number 2 (January 1940), pp. 110-118

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