Maurice Thompson got the idea for Alice of Old Vincennes from a scrap of a letter by Gaspard Roussillon dated 1788. The letter aroused Thompson’s curiosity. His research stirred his imagination to plug gaps in the historical record.
Roussillon, a wealthy and influential French trader, has adopted the lovely orphaned Protestant child, Alice Tarleton, and is bringing her up as his daughter.
When the colonies declare war on the Crown, the French at Vincennes side with the colonies against the British and their Indian allies.
Colonel George Rogers Clark sends the rough Lt. Helm and the suave Lieutenant Fitzhugh Beverley to take charge of the miliary post at Vincennes.
The British under Hamilton take the fort, but they don’t get the American flag: Alice takes it down and has it hidden. Hamilton determines to break “the frogs” of Vincennes.
Beverley escapes and heads for Clark’s encampment, surviving torture by Indians and torture by the elements of nature. Clark, though outnumbered, outsmarts Hamilton and retakes Vincennes.
Alice and Beverley marry and go to live with their kin in Virginia.
The facts Thompson unearthed were sufficiently romantic that little embroidery was necessary to create a plot. Unfortunately, the historical facts appear totally implausible when presented in novel form.
Literature demands plausibility that life does not produce.
If Zane Grey is synonymous in your mind with plot-heavy cowboy stories, The Man of the Forest might change your thinking.
Taking shelter from a rain storm in the Arizona mountains, Milt Dale overhears outlaws plotting to kidnap Helen Reyner so their boss, Beasley, can get the Auchincloss ranch to which she is heir. Milt decides to save her. He doesn’t know she’s also being stalked by an Eastern scumbag named Riggs.
With the aid of a quartet of Mormons, Milt rescues Helen and her younger sister, Bo, and keep them safe in his forest hideaway until Auchincloss comes for them. Bo falls for a handsome Texas cowboy, and Helen falls for Milt.
The requisite number of narrow escapes, show-downs and shoot-’em-ups occur before the story reaches its happy ending.
Grey uses the story to explore the virtue and destructiveness of a solitary life. Milt instructs Helen in the code of the lawless American frontier. He shows her the impulse for self-preservation in herself.
Helen teaches Milt that “work that does not help others is not a real man’s work.” By the end of the novel, Milt accepts Helen’s civilized values and saves her happiness just as he saved her life.
The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919 383 pages 1920 #1 bestseller Project Gutenberg Ebook No. 3457