My grandmother left a handwritten document recording everything she knew about the family. When my father had it typed, it ran to 12 pages, single-spaced. She had a remarkable memory for family history. There was one huge gap: aside from the date and place of his birth, there was nothing about her husband, my grandfather Monet Gould Metcalf. Many years later, my mother told me the reason. My grandfather was a half-breed, and she was ashamed that she married him because she was pregnant. Not only was he a half-breed, but he was a bastard. His parents weren’t married. They couldn’t get married because the anti-miscegenation laws prohibited marriage between a white person and an Indian (as they called Native Americans then.)
As he worked and traveled around Northern Arizona, my father collected history and stories about the places from the people he encountered. He would share these stories with my brother and me to keep up interested as we drove through the places he told us about. One of the stories was about the famous Pleasant Valley War between the sheepmen and cattlemen who ranched the Tonto Basin and Mogollon Rim region. He told us about Zane Grey’s love for this country and the location of his cabin where he lived and wrote many of his books.
While a work of fiction, To the Last Man is based on fact and has captured the imagination of generations of readers who love the Old West. Arizona was populated by proud, independent men who didn’t look to the law to right wrongs, but took matters into their own hands. Lawmen were few and far between and much could happen while a person waited for the law the step in.
In Grey’s version, the feud is a result of a stolen love. While Gaston Isbel is honorably fighting for the North in the Civil War, the dastardly Lee Jorth marries his girl. The woman dies after giving birth to his daughter, Ellen Jorth. Both families end up in Arizona. Isbel sends to Oregon for his half-breed son Jean Isbel to come to him in Arizona, bringing his woodcraft skills and a load of weapons and ammunition. Stopping to get directions, Isbel meets and falls in love with Ellen Jorth. Neither knows who the other is or the family history that lies between them.
Separated by their fathers’ hatred and the bloody war that rages around them, Isbel and Jorth have to fight their way to their own happiness.
Published in 1921, the book has accurate descriptions of the country and the men involved in the feud that counted nearly 50 men as its victims. The inspiration for Jean Isbel, Edwin Tewksbury, died in 1904 and is buried in Globe, Arizona. He was as handsome as Grey describes him: