To the last man, p.1
To The Last Man
It was inevitable that in my efforts to write romantic history of thegreat West I should at length come to the story of a feud. For long Ihave steered clear of this rock. But at last I have reached it andmust go over it, driven by my desire to chronicle the stirring eventsof pioneer days.
Even to-day it is not possible to travel into the remote corners of theWest without seeing the lives of people still affected by a fightingpast. How can the truth be told about the pioneering of the West ifthe struggle, the fight, the blood be left out? It cannot be done.How can a novel be stirring and thrilling, as were those times, unlessit be full of sensation? My long labors have been devoted to makingstories resemble the times they depict. I have loved the West for itsvastness, its contrast, its beauty and color and life, for its wildnessand violence, and for the fact that I have seen how it developed greatmen and women who died unknown and unsung.
In this materialistic age, this hard, practical, swift, greedy age ofrealism, it seems there is no place for writers of romance, no placefor romance itself. For many years all the events leading up to thegreat war were realistic, and the war itself was horribly realistic,and the aftermath is likewise. Romance is only another name foridealism; and I contend that life without ideals is not worth living.Never in the history of the world were ideals needed so terribly asnow. Walter Scott wrote romance; so did Victor Hugo; and likewiseKipling, Hawthorne, Stevenson. It was Stevenson, particularly, whowielded a bludgeon against the realists. People live for the dream intheir hearts. And I have yet to know anyone who has not some secretdream, some hope, however dim, some storied wall to look at in thedusk, some painted window leading to the soul. How strange indeed tofind that the realists have ideals and dreams! To read them one wouldthink their lives held nothing significant. But they love, they hope,they dream, they sacrifice, they struggle on with that dream in theirhearts just the same as others. We all are dreamers, if not in theheavy-lidded wasting of time, then in the meaning of life that makes uswork on.
It was Wordsworth who wrote, "The world is too much with us"; and if Icould give the secret of my ambition as a novelist in a few words itwould be contained in that quotation. My inspiration to write hasalways come from nature. Character and action are subordinated tosetting. In all that I have done I have tried to make people see howthe world is too much with them. Getting and spending they lay wastetheir powers, with never a breath of the free and wonderful life of theopen!
So I come back to the main point of this foreword, in which I am tryingto tell why and how I came to write the story of a feud notorious inArizona as the Pleasant Valley War.
Some years ago Mr. Harry Adams, a cattleman of Vermajo Park, NewMexico, told me he had been in the Tonto Basin of Arizona and thought Imight find interesting material there concerning this Pleasant ValleyWar. His version of the war between cattlemen and sheepmen certainlydetermined me to look over the ground. My old guide, Al Doyle ofFlagstaff, had led me over half of Arizona, but never down into thatwonderful wild and rugged basin between the Mogollon Mesa and theMazatzal Mountains. Doyle had long lived on the frontier and hisversion of the Pleasant Valley War differed markedly from that of Mr.Adams. I asked other old timers about it, and their remarks furtherexcited my curiosity.
Once down there, Doyle and I found the wildest, most rugged, roughest,and most remarkable country either of us had visited; and the fewinhabitants were like the country. I went in ostensibly to hunt bearand lion and turkey, but what I really was hunting for was the story ofthat Pleasant Valley War. I engaged the services of a bear hunter whohad three strapping sons as reserved and strange and aloof as he was.No wheel tracks of any kind had ever come within miles of their cabin.I spent two wonderful months hunting game and reveling in the beautyand grandeur of that Rim Rock country, but I came out knowing no moreabout the Pleasant Valley War. These Texans and their few neighbors,likewise from Texas, did not talk. But all I saw and felt onlyinspired me the more. This trip was in the fall of 1918.
The next year I went again with the best horses, outfit, and men theDoyles could provide. And this time I did not ask any questions. But Irode horses--some of them too wild for me--and packed a rifle many ahundred miles, riding sometimes thirty and forty miles a day, and Iclimbed in and out of the deep canyons, desperately staying at theheels of one of those long-legged Texans. I learned the life of thosebackwoodsmen, but I did not get the story of the Pleasant Valley War.I had, however, won the friendship of that hardy people.
In 1920 I went back with a still larger outfit, equipped to stay aslong as I liked. And this time, without my asking it, differentnatives of the Tonto came to tell me about the Pleasant Valley War. Notwo of them agreed on anything concerning it, except that only one ofthe active participants survived the fighting. Whence comes my title,TO THE LAST MAN. Thus I was swamped in a mass of material out of whichI could only flounder to my own conclusion. Some of the stories toldme are singularly tempting to a novelist. But, though I believe themmyself, I cannot risk their improbability to those who have no idea ofthe wildness of wild men at a wild time. There really was a terribleand bloody feud, perhaps the most deadly and least known in all theannals of the West. I saw the ground, the cabins, the graves, all sodarkly suggestive of what must have happened.
I never learned the truth of the cause of the Pleasant Valley War, orif I did hear it I had no means of recognizing it. All the givencauses were plausible and convincing. Strange to state, there is stillsecrecy and reticence all over the Tonto Basin as to the facts of thisfeud. Many descendents of those killed are living there now. But noone likes to talk about it. Assuredly many of the incidents told mereally occurred, as, for example, the terrible one of the two women, inthe face of relentless enemies, saving the bodies of their deadhusbands from being devoured by wild hogs. Suffice it to say that thisromance is true to my conception of the war, and I base it upon thesetting I learned to know and love so well, upon the strange passionsof primitive people, and upon my instinctive reaction to the facts andrumors that I gathered.
ZANE GREY. AVALON, CALIFORNIA, April, 1921
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