Elizabeth Zane (1765-1823)
Betty Zane delivering the gunpowder
Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ62-2355]
Elizabeth (Betty) Zane’s family had taken refuge in the fort. Betty was loading a Kentucky rifle when her father was wounded and fell right in front of her.
Soon after, the captain of the fort realized they were out of gunpowder. With no men or time to spare, Betty volunteered to retrieve the needed gunpowder from her family’s cabin a short distance away.
Shocked at seeing a woman run out from the fort, the enemy didn’t try to shoot her on the way there. But, on the way back, they noticed that she was carrying gunpowder in her apron. They opened fire, barely missing her with arrow and musket shot. The new supply of gunpowder enabled the fort to hold off the attack until reinforcements arrived two days later.
Betty’s story is best told by John S. Adams, who wrote a poem called Elizabeth Zane, which he penned more than one hundred years after the event. (Many accounts of Betty's act of bravery say she wrapped the gunpowder in her apron. This poem says a tablecloth.)
This dauntless pioneer maiden’s name
Is inscribed in gold on the scroll of fame.
She was the lassie who knew no fear
When the tomahawk gleamed on the far frontier.
If deeds of daring should win renown,
Let us honor this damsel of Wheeling town,
Who braved the savages with deep disdain,
Bright-eyed buxom Elizabeth Zane.
‘Tis more than a hundred years ago,
They were close beset by the dusky foe;
they had spent of powder their scanty store,
And who should the gauntlet run for more?
She sprang to the portal and shouted,
“I. ‘Tis better a gril than a man should die!
My loss would be but the garrison’s pain
Unbar the gate!” said Elizabeth Zane.
The power was sixty yards away
Around her the foemen in ambush lay;
As she darted for shelter they gazed with awe
Then wildly shouted, “A squaw! A squaw!”
She neither swerved from left or right,
Swift as an antelope’s was her flight.
“Quick! Open the door!” she cried amain,
For a hope forlorn! ‘Tis Elizabeth Zane!
No time had she to waver or wait
Back must she go ere it be too late;
She snatched from the table its cloth in haste
And knotted it deftly around her waist,
Then filled it with powder –never, I ween,
Had powder so lovely a magazine;
Then scorning the bullets’ deadly rain,
Like a startled fawn, fled Elizabeth Zane.
She gained the fort with her precious freight;
Strong hands fastened the oaken gate;
Brave men’s eyes were suffused with tears
That had been strangers for many years.
From flintlock rifles again there sped
‘Gainst the skulking red-skins a storm of lead.
and the war-whoop sounded that day in vain,
Thanks to the deed of Elizabeth Zane.
Talk not to me of Paul Revere
A man on horseback with naught to fear;
nor of old John Burns with his bell-crowned hat
He’d an army to back him, so what of that?
Here’s to the heroine, plump and brown,
Who ran the gauntlet in Wheeling town;
Here is a record without a stain
Beautiful, buxom Elizabeth Zane.
Betty Zane's great-grandnephew, the author Zane Grey, wrote a historical novel about her, titled Betty Zane, which includes an account of Betty’s bravery. Unable to find a publisher for it, he published it himself in 1903. Grey later named his daughter Betty Zane after his famous aunt.
Betty was buried in the Walnut Grove Pioneer Cemetery in Martins Ferry, Ohio. Her heroism is remembered each year during Betty Zane Pioneer Days.
Susan F. Craft is the author of the Revolutionary War suspense, The Chamomile, which won the SIBA Okra Pick award. Her book, Laurel, a post-Revolutionary War suspense, will be released by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas on January 12, 2015. Susan is represented by Linda S. Glaz, Hartline Literary Agency.