West Virginia has produced some amazing characters. And while I typically write Twentieth Century historical fiction, that doesn’t keep me from chasing rabbit trails further into the past. Like reading about Betty Zane . . .

When she was very young, her family moved to what is now Wheeling, WV. Of course, in the 1760s, that was the frontier. The Zane family settled in direct defiance of a royal decree reserving the land for Native Americans.

Betty was sent to Philadelphia to school but returned home to her father’s cabin near Fort Henry when she was a lovely young woman of sixteen in 1781. The Revolutionary War was still underway and the possibility of attack by the British or area tribes was a constant.

In 1782 a large force led by the notorious Simon Girty (who had been captured by Indians as a boy) march on Fort Henry where local families had taken refuge. There were about 100 people inside–40 of them men and boys who could handle a rifle, the rest women and children. (I’m betting some of the women knew their way around a rifle, too.) Outside, there were around 250 Native Americans along with 50 British soldiers.

The nearly impregnable fort held on just fine until they ran out of gunpowder. BUT–just 60 yards away was the Zane family cabin where gunpowder had been buried. Guess who offered to go fetch it?

The attacking force was likely astonished to see the gates of the fort open to allow a girl to slip out and run for a nearby cabin. It wasn’t until she was on her way back, obviously carrying something important in her apron, that they opened fire.

But Betty, in spite of having been awake and reloading guns for the past 40 hours, ran not only for her own life but for the lives of everyone in the fort. The following morning, the enemy gave up and left.

The Western author Zane Grey–Betty’s great, great nephew–wrote his first novel about his historic aunt, launching an impressive writing career. Which confirms for me that it’s always worth digging into your family’s past to find some good material . . .