Pearl Zane Gray was born on January 31, 1872, in Zanesville, Ohio, a town founded by his mother's ancestors. (The spelling of the Gray family name was changed to "Grey" sometime during the late 1890s.) As a youth in Ohio, he developed interests in fishing, baseball, and writing. All three pursuits would later bring him acclaim.
Grey's baseball prowess led to a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania's Dental Department. He graduated in 1896 with a degree in dentistry, but chose to play amateur baseball for several seasons, practicing dentistry intermittently. He established his own dental practice in New York City in 1898.
While residing in New York, he continued to play baseball. He loved to get away from the city, and began visiting Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania. There he fished and enjoyed the outdoors as in his youth.
Early Years at Lackawaxen: The Genesis of a Writer
Zane Grey often escaped to Lackawaxen with his brothers. On one of these outings in 1900, Zane ("Doc") met 17-year-old Lina Elise Roth, or "Dolly" as he called her, while canoeing near the Delaware House, a grand boarding house on the river.
Dolly was a positive influence in Grey's struggle to become a successful writer. Her encouragement and belief in his abilities led him to continue writing despite rejection by publishers.
Grey's first published article was "A Day on the Delaware," in Recreation magazine, May 1902. In 1903, Grey wrote, illustrated and published his first novel, Betty Zane, with money from his sister-in-law Reba Grey.
The Lackawaxen Years: 1905 - 1918
In 1905, Dolly became Zane's wife. He left dentistry to pursue writing full-time and the couple settled into a farmhouse overlooking the junction of the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers. In 1906, they took a honeymoon trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and to California - Grey's first trip west.
In 1907, Grey met Western conservationist Charles Jesse "Buffalo" Jones at a meeting of the Campfire Club in New York City. Using the last of his wife's inheritance, Grey accompanied Jones, as a writer and photographer, on a hunting expedition to the Grand Canyon. This trip marked a turning point in Grey's career as it opened up new vistas in subject matter for his writing. He wrote an account of this adventure, The Last of the Plainsmen, published by Outing Press in 1908.
In 1910, Harper & Brothers published The Heritage of the Desert, Zane Grey's first western novel and his first real success. Next came Grey's most noted work, Riders of the Purple Sage, published in 1912. By 1915, Grey had 15 books in print (frontier/baseball/juvenile adventure/western) along with many fishing and outdoor adventure articles and serialized stories.
Zane and Dolly's three children (Romer, Betty, Loren) were born in New York during the Lackawaxen era. In 1912, the family moved into the house built next door for Zane's brother, R.C. In 1914, Zane and Dolly purchased the house. They enlarged it in 1915 and 1916. Zane's study was decorated with a frieze of Hopi kachina doll designs painted by his brother Ellsworth Grey and and his office decorated with a frieze of Navajo sandpaintings painted by Dolly's cousin, Lillian Wilhelm.
Grey continued his travels to the Southwest. He fished in the Pacific off Catalina Island, in the Florida Keys, Mexico, and Nova Scotia. He moved his family to California in 1918. The family retained the house in Lackawaxen, visiting when they were on the East Coast. (Zane Grey's last visit was in 1929.)
Being in California allowed Grey to work closely with the developing motion picture industry, which had begun producing films based on his novels. For a few years, he had his own production company, Zane Grey Productions, which he sold to Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount). His new home also provided better access to the Western locations he utilized in his writing.
The Greys established a permanent residence in Altadena, California, with a home on Catalina Island and cabins on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona and the Rogue River in Oregon. Grey later had fishing camps in New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti. He reached many sites via his yachts, Fisherman (1924) and Fisherman II (1931).
Zane Grey's influence and success continued through the height of the Great Depression. He was a prolific writer, publishing one or more western novels every year and a fishing or outdoor adventure book every few years until he died. He left behind more than twenty manuscripts which were released after his death.
Zane Grey Museum
Quarterly newsletters from the Zane Grey's West Society feature current research and articles of interest for Zane Grey fans, collectors and scholars. Extensive web site provides complete book lists and biographical articles:
Zane Grey's West Society
More memorabilia is located near the site of Grey's cabin in Arizona:
Rim Country Museum
The Ohio Historical Society sponsors the Zane Grey Museum near Grey's hometown of Zanesville, Ohio:
National Road/Zane Grey Museum
The largest collection of Zane Grey books and periodicals, as well as personal correspondence and the Grey family Bible, in the G. M. Farley Collection, is available to the public for research and review through special arrangement from:
Northern Arizona University
Last updated: September 16, 2020