Desert Heritage

Written by Zane Grey
Review by B. J. Sedlock

This is a revision of Grey’s first Western novel, altered by the publisher when it was released in 1910 as Heritage of the Desert. The present edition restores Grey’s original manuscript version, which had been thought lost but recently resurfaced.

Jack Hare is rescued from a desert death by Mormon patriarch August Naab. Hare grows fond of the old man and his family and wishes to repay them for their kindness. He stays on to herd sheep with Naab’s adopted part-Navajo daughter Mescal, and feels the clan’s distress when cattle rustlers steal stock and try to ruin Naab’s watering holes. Naab cites his religion as the reason he is unwilling to take action against the rustlers. Then eldest son Snap, to whom Naab has promised Mescal as his second wife, turns on his family and takes up with the rustlers. Hare realizes he’s in love with Mescal himself. Can he save her from being forced to marry Snap? And can he repay his debt to Naab by taking on the rustlers single-handedly?

As virtual father of the Western novel, Grey is just about critic-proof, so his fans probably won’t heed any carping of mine. Characterization is not Grey’s strong point. Most women are mere stick figures: Naab’s daughters-in-law are glossed over as “stalwart women, fit to make homes and rear children.” The Navajo and Mormons are portrayed sympathetically, which I didn’t expect in such an early Western. Grey does evoke beautiful images of the landscape: “The winding columns of snow merged into straight lines of leaden rain; the rain flowed into vapory mist, and the mist cleared in the gold-red glare of endless level and slope.” If adventure and setting are more appealing than complex characters, then this reissue of Grey’s seminal Western will please.