Zane Grey

Zane Grey in the University of Pennsylvania's baseball uniform.
Zane Grey in his University of Pennsylvania baseball uniform.

Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Archives, from February 1918 publication of "The Book News".

Early Life

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.
Zane Grey and his brother Romer on the bank of the Delaware River.
Zane Grey and his brother Romer on the bank of the Delaware River.

c. 1902. UPDE Museum Collection, UPDE 650.

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.
Zane Grey's Farmhouse in Lackawaxen
Zane Grey's farmhouse in Lackawaxen, PA.

c. 1890.  UPDE Museum Collection, UPDE 942.

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.
Dolly and the children.
c. 1915 - pictured is Betty, Dolly, Marjory (niece), and Romer.  Dolly was pregnant with Loren.
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.)
Zane Grey in Monument Valley.
Monument Valley was an inspiration for many of Grey's works.

UPDE Museum Collection, UPDE 1046.

Later Years

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 with World Record Tuna
Zane Grey with a 316 lb Catalina Striped Marlin.

UPDE Museum Collection, UPDE 584

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.

Grey's success and wealth enabled him to travel the world in pursuit of his favorite sport - fishing. A pioneer in angling, Grey held over ten world records for large game fish. He was the first person to catch a fish over 1,000 pounds on rod and reel (1,040- pound blue marlin in 1930, Tahiti). His last recognized world-record catch, for a 618-pound silver marlin, was not surpassed until 1953.

Zane Grey died October 23, 1939, at the age of 67. When Dolly died in 1957, the ashes of both were interred in a cemetery near their home in Lackawaxen, fulfilling their wish to rest together beside the Delaware River.

Helen James - March 9, 1991
Helen James sitting on the back porch of the Zane Grey Museum.

National Park Service

Zane Grey Museum

In 1945, six years after Zane Grey's death, his wife Dolly sold their Lackawaxen house to Helen James, daughter of Zane's long-time friend Alvah James.

In 1948, Helen opened the Zane Grey Inn, which she operated for twenty- five years. Over the years, she collected memorabilia associated with Grey and discovered original artwork and other items of interest in her new home.

From 1973 until 1989, Helen and her husband, artist Albert H. Davis, operated the Zane Grey Museum to display the Grey memorabilia, photographs, and books in the rooms that served as Grey's office and study. The museum was sold in 1989 to the National Park Service. It was included in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River because of Zane Grey's association with the Delaware River and its effect upon the budding writer.

Today the museum is self guided with National Park Service rangers and volunteers available to answer questions and provide for sale a variety of Zane Grey books currently in print. Here, you can glimpse into the diverse life and character of one of the early twentieth century's most popular and widely-read western writers.

"I was overcome with the beauty, the sadness, the loneliness, the desertedness of it. Oh, Dolly, the rooms are haunted. Those are our spirits there. I thrilled and I wept. I recalled everything. I felt the cold of the old cottage. I saw you in bed - I heard Romer's tiny wail, I heard the wind, the river. For the first time I went into the room where my mother died. Something strange came over me there...The dust, the dirt, the decay, the ruin reproached me. Why have we not taken care of those places? They are a first and great part of our lives. Love, struggle, work, children - all came to us there."

Letter from Zane Grey to Dolly
June 1929, Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania


Other Sources of Information


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
15 Deer Oaks Drive
Pleasanton, CA 94588

More memorabilia is located near the site of Grey's cabin in Arizona:

Rim Country Museum
700 South Green Valley Parkway
P.O. Box 2579
Payson, AZ 85547

The Ohio Historical Society sponsors the Zane Grey Museum near Grey's hometown of Zanesville, Ohio:

National Road/Zane Grey Museum
8850 East Pike
Norwich, OH 43767
740-826-3305 or 1-800-752-2602

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
Special Collections Department
Cline Library
PO Box 6022
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6022

Last updated: September 16, 2020

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