The Legend of Betty Zane (1766? – 1831?)
by C.K. Thomas
Author Zane Grey, a descendant of West Virginia frontier woman Betty Zane, wrote a novel about her in 1903.* However, the legend of Betty Zane first appeared in print in 1831 in Alexander S. Withers’ book, Chronicles of Border Warfare. While details are sketchy, the story of her heroic act survives.
Betty Zane had three older brothers, Ebenezer, Jonathan, and Silas, who founded the town of Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1769. Col. Ebenezer’s fortified house, located 50 yards outside Fort Henry, contained the settlement’s powder magazine. In September 1782, marauding Indians attacked. Wheeling’s citizens crowded into the fort for safety, but had no time to gather a supply of powder from the house.
Desperate to continue the fight when powder ran low, 16-year-old Betty, who had just returned from school in “civilized” Philadelphia, volunteered to run to the house for more. Objections were voiced all around, but Betty reasoned that a man could not be spared from the defense of the fort for such a mission.
When the Indians saw Betty running from the fort, they laughed and began to chant, “Squaw, squaw, squaw” and held their fire. However, when she ran back toward the fort carrying the powder, they recommenced firing. Miraculously Betty Zane returned safety to the fort with bullet holes in her clothing, but not a wound on her person. The settlers held the fort until reinforcements arrived.
While the whole of Betty’s life is not well known, there is some evidence she later married and moved to Martins Ferry, Ohio, where she spent her remaining years.
*In June of 1990, the Dude fire destroyed Zane Grey’s cabin retreat near Payson, Arizona. I had the good fortune to have visited the original cabin museum, which has now been reconstructed and is again opened to visitors. I noticed in reading about Grey’s life that he and his wife named one of their children Betty.
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.