Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The sun-dappled amber waters of the Lackawaxen River whisper their way through the templed hills of eastern Pennsylvania until they meet the more placid waters of the Delaware. At the confluence of the two rivers in Pike County is the hamlet of Lackawaxen. There, three quarters of a century ago, a young unknown dentist from New York City discovered the respite he desired from the harried life of a big city.

On the southern edge of the Lackawaxen, at the exact spot where it meets the Delaware, he purchased property and built a home. Today, few of the fishermen plying the waters of these rivers realize this is where one of America’s famous writers began his ascent.

That man, who fought his way from total obscurity to worldwide fame, was Zane Grey, the most well-known of all writers of western stories. In fact, he was, according to a poll made by author Frank Gruber in 1968, the best known of all American writers.

He was born Pearl Zane Gray, December 31, 1872, at Zanesville, Ohio. His father, Dr. Lewis M. Gray, was a den­tist who had been a hunter, farmer and preacher. His mother, Alice Josephine Zane, was the grand-daughter of Colonel Ebenezer Zane, who founded Wheeling, West Virginia, and Zanesville, Ohio, and who cut the first path – Zane’s Trace­ – from Wheeling to Maysville, Kentucky, thus opening the Ohio frontier to civilization. Zane was to change the spelling of his last name to Grey and to drop the Pearl either during or shortly after his college years.

When Zane was 17, his father gave up his offices in Zanesville and moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he continued as a dentist. Young Grey helped to make teeth and clean the offices. On occasions he made trips to nearby towns to drum up trade for his father. On one of these excursions, he managed to talk his way into a baseball game as a “ringer” – a player whose identity was not disclosed until the game had started. His pitching ability, especially in his ability to throw a curve ball, so upset the rival team that he had to flee the town or be tarred and feathered. A scout from the University of Pennsylvania saw his pitching and hunted for him in Columbus. As a result, Pearl Zane Gray found himself enrolled at that university.

By his own admission he was not a good student. Class­rooms were too confining, and the lectures bored him. He was a dreamer, and his restless spirit found it difficult to concentrate on his studies. But if he were a poor student, he excelled on the diamond and became a star baseball player. An escapade in which he pelted upperclassmen with potatoes, commandeered from a passing delivery boy, and made famous in his book, The Young Pitcher, caught the attention of Arthur Irwin, noted player and manager in baseball, and coach at the University of Pennsylvania. The young dental student was given opportunity to prove him­self, and he was not a disappointment. A seventy-five-page scrapbook, filled with newspaper clippings, attest to the eventual skill and fame of this future writer of Western romances. That scrapbook is now a part of the Zane Grey ex­hibit in the National Road – Zane Grey Museum.

In his last year at the university he played against the University of Virginia. The southern team was ahead and it seemed certain they would win the game. When young Grey came to bat, a Quaker professor shouted: “Grey, the honor of the University of Pennsylvania rests with you.” Grey swung the bat, connected solidly, and hit a home run. The crowd covered him with roses, a practice not altogether rare in those days.

Dr. P. Zane Grey opened his dental practice in New York City but found city life entirely too confining for his restless and adventuresome spirit. Somehow he learned o’f the fishing qualities of the Delaware and Lackawaxen rivers. Along with his younger brother R.C., he frequented this area to fish and canoe.

In the summer of 1900, while canoeing the Delaware, Zane met a young New York woman, Lina Elise Roth. Lina and her mother were vacationing at the Delaware House at Lackawaxen. The young couple courted until 1905, when they were married in New York City. Immediately Zane gave up his dental practice and moved to Lackawaxen to devote his entire time to writing.

Zane Grey’s first story was published in May, 1902, by Recreation Magazine. While living in New York he joined the Camp Fire Club. Among the illustrious members was the editor of Recreation who heard Grey tell of an experience on the Delaware and suggested he write it in story form. The author received $10.00 for the story and inspiration that would launch him into his writing career.

From the sale of one short story to writing a full-length novel is a tremendous and seldom successful feat. The aspir­ing writer was determined to make the effort. It was his brother R.C. who suggested he write about his famous great-great aunt Betty Zane. Unable to interest a publisher in the completed manuscript, he borrowed money from his future wife to publish it.

From the time Grey gave up his dental practice and moved to Lackawaxen until his first major sale, he labored for seven discouraging years. And yet these were wonderful years, the first time since childhood he had really been happy. He had his beloved Dolly. With the exception of his father, the rest of the family moved to Lackawaxen. He had his work, and when overtaxed emotionally, he had the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers, Mast Hope Brook, and the mountains. His unpublished diary is interspersed with references to the mountains in eastern Pennsylvania.

After making trips into this area to do research for a book about Zane Grey, it is easy to understand how he could be content to live here. The drive from Port Jervis, New York, follows along the winding Delaware River, sometimes close along the edge of the river, and at other times climbing until one can look down upon the sparkling water from towering cliffs. Low, rolling mountains recede blue in the distance, and the river shines like spots of silver as it peeps from between the steep slopes.

 

Turning Point Arrives

Zane Grey’s lifetime companion was his younger brother R.C. They were inseparable and traveled together to many isolated areas of the world in search of new adventures. It was R.C. who first built on the property which became known as Cottage Point at Lackawaxen. Zane built a cottage but later bought the house built by R.C. and enlarged it to its present size.

The turning point in Grey’s career came when he was introduced to Col. Charles J. “Buffalo” Jones. Jones was a plainsman, an Indian fighter, a killer of buffalo, who had become an avid conservationist. He had helped to save the buffalo from extinction and was currently engaged in capturing wild animals for conservation purposes. He proposed to lasso mountain lions in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Young Zane Grey managed to get an invitation to accompany the expedition. The result of this adventure was a series of stories and novels about the West. His first ro­mance, after he returned to Lackawaxen, was Mescal, which Harper and Brothers published as The Heritage of the Desert. It was a success. He built a writing studio near his cottage and settled down to write another romance. The result was Riders of the Purple Sage. He rode the train from Lacka­waxen to New York City bearing the precious manuscript to Harper’s. They refused to publish the book on the grounds it would be offensive to their Mormon readers. Grey was crestfallen, but not defeated. He went to the head of the Harper’s firm and insisted he read it. The book was published in January, 1912, the same month it began as a serial in Field and Stream magazine. The rest is literary history.

From Lackawaxen, Grey traveled to Long Key, Florida, to California, New Jersey, Mexico and the islands of the Caribbean to fish. Eventually he became the best known fisherman since Issak Walton and still no doubt holds that title today. He continued to make trips into the remote areas of the West to gather material for his stories. Due to the severity of the winters at Lackawaxen, he bought a large house at Middletown, New York, and at times rented living quarters in New York City, but it was always the Lackawaxen and Delaware that sang their siren song.

In the days when he was struggling for recognition, days when discouragement all but overcame him, days when the task was too large, it was Dolly who encouraged him to continue. Grey had not considered writing as a career while at the University of Pennsylvania. Dolly, who had majored in English during her college years, taught him how to put his stories into publishable form. During the evenings they would sit at the kitchen table in their cottage and she would teach him.

One of Zane Grey’s best fresh-water fishing stories was published in 1908 under the title, “The Lord of Lackawaxen Creek.” By this time he had begun to develop a style of rhetoric that would help make him famous – and also draw considerable criticism from reviewers. He began the story by saying:

“Winding among the Blue Hills of Pennsylvania there is a swift amber stream that the Indians named Lack-a-wax-en. The literal translation no one seems to know, but it must mean, in mystical and imaginative Delaware, ‘the brown water that turns and whispers and tumbles.’ It is a little river hidden away under gray cliffs and hills black with ragged pines. It is full of mossy stones and rapid ripples.”

Zane Grey’s interpretation came close: Lackawaxen actually means “swift water.”

According to Grey he hooked a very large bass, a lunker in today’s fishing terminology, in an undisclosed deep hole of water. The fish was a tackle-buster, and Grey could not pass an opportunity to play a trick on his brothers. He led them to this hole just to watch the fish make a fool of them. Eventually, he hooked the fish with a determination to take it home. The fish had other ideas, and after a strenuous fight managed to wedge itself under a ledge of rock. Try as he may, the fisherman was unable to dislodge him. Finally Grey gave up, and the bass remained the undisputed “Lord of Lackawaxen Creek.”

The fortune Zane Grey earned with his writing made it possible for him to travel to the far corners of the earth in quest of new and larger fish. Eventually he bought a man­sion at Altadena, California, where he remained until his death. In his declining years, his thoughts turned more and more to his Lackawaxen home, and he began to yearn for old landmarks and haunting memories. In a letter to Alvah James, who still lived in the Lackawaxen home, Grey wrote:

“Just to get your letter made me see the old familiar places as vividly as it I had been there. I could see the October colors on the hills and the old Delaware winding down from the mountains, and the purple asters blooming along the trails, the smoky Indian Summer colors and the smell of pine.”

He was making plans to return to Lackawaxen when he died October 23, 1939, at his Altadena home.

Today Zane Grey rests beside his Dolly in a small cemetery a few yards south of the old homeplace, a fitting resting place so near the spot where he struggled for recognition. The murmuring Delaware flows placidly by, the purple hills look down upon the tranquil scene, and the winds sough softly in the tall pines.

The memory remains.