Significance of the 1922 Trip

Two Navajo [?] women hold their babies who are in cradleboards at Kayenta, Arizona.
[click the image to enlarge]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Zane Grey Rainbow Bridge photograph collection,P0672, Box 1, Image 202)

Zane Grey’s visit to Rainbow Bridge in April of 1922 provided him with much of the inspiration for his book, The Vanishing American which was published in 1925. In The Vanishing American, Zane Grey’s protagonist is a Nopah Indian, named Nophaie who was kidnapped by horse thieves as a child and raised as an white American. After Nophaie attends college, he decides that he needs to return to the West and live among his tribe, who are being taken advantage of by both missionaries and the government. In this story, Grey incorporates several non-fiction elements into his story. He bases the Nopah tribe off of the Navajo tribe living in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah; he bases the trading post “Kadaib” off of Kayenta, a trading post built by John and Louisa Wade Wetherills; and even includes both John and Louisa Wade Wetherill as “John Withers” and “Mrs. Withers.”[1]

In The Vanishing American, Grey describes how the events of the early 1900s affected Native Americans in the area, by incorporating how World War I affected the Nopah (Navajo) peoples and how the 1918 Epidemic, known as the Spanish Flu, devastated the American Indians. In “Down in the Desert,” Grey’s published account of his 1922 Rainbow Bridge Trip he explains how his experiences on this trip “lent [him] intense vigor” to writing his book:

“The war had raised the price of wool over fifty cents a pound and that had ruined the Navajos. During the war they were rich. But they were prodigal with their riches, riches and when the inevitable reaction came and wool fell to nothing, while prices of flour and supplies went up, the Navajos became poverty stricken. Then the influenza struck that part of the desert, a terrible plague which almost killed them on their horses. Thousands of Indians died, and thousands more were left blind or deaf or afflicted in some way. [John] Wetherill had put in several hard years. He had kept many Navajo families from starving and had all but impoverished himself.

“This catastrophe to the Indians shocked and saddened me, and lent me intense vigor to my purpose of writing my novel of the vanishing American. I had been ten years in studying the Indians. The tragedy of the Indian had long obsessed me. The white race had wronged the red man; and now it seemed that nature had reached out a black clutching hand of plague.”[2]

[1] Granger, “The Myth of the Cowboy and Westerner,” 128.
[2] Zane Grey, “Down into the Desert,” The Ladies’ Home Journal 41, no. 1 (January 1924), 44.