Pearl Zane Gray studied dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship, and later played with a minor league team. He met and later married Lina Roth, whose inheritance helped support his efforts to become a writer. He pioneered the Western genre: his first western, Heritage of the Desert, became a bestseller in 1910, and he went on to write over sixty books, many of which became films.
The Spirit of the Border is based on the journal of Col. Ebenezer Zane, a prominent hunter-pioneer. The novel chronicles life on the frontier in the early days of settlement. Grey said "the author does not intend to apologize for what many readers may call the 'brutality' of the story; but rather to explain that its wild spirit is true to the life of the Western border as it was known only a little more than one hundred years ago."