Post by Kristy McCaffrey
This is the final installment of a 4-part series on the Grand Canyon.
Read Part I: Description & Early Exploration here.
Read Part II: Important Men of the Canyon here.
Read Part III: Native Americans of the Canyon here.
In 1938, Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter became the first women to descend the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Clover, a botany professor at the University of Michigan, and Jotter, a close friend and former roommate of Clover's who was a graduate student in botany at the same university, planned the trip to “botanize” underexplored parts of the canyon.
|Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter|
The journey lasted 43 days and covered over 650 miles. Though the botanical collections were not as comprehensive as originally planned, the two women made history by becoming the first females to successfully descend the Colorado River through its major rapids.
|The Clover-Jotter expedition|
Georgie White was the first woman river guide in the Grand Canyon. In 1955 she began taking customers down the Colorado River in a large rubber raft of her own design. These rigs were 37 feet long, 27 feet wide and consisted of strapping three large inflatable boats together, then mounting a 10-horsepower outboard motor on the rear of the middle boat. This mode was controversial, as those who ran the rapids in wooden dories held disdain for her methods. However, she was able to take paying customers en mass, introducing the rapids and the Grand Canyon to an entirely new group of people. Her effect on the river was tremendous. In 1955 only 70 people floated down the Colorado. By 1972, the number had risen to an astounding 16,400.
|Georgie White's river rafting design.|
Twice divorced, White first ventured into the canyon after the tragic death of her 15-year-old daughter in a hit-and-run accident. She kept her river-guiding business going for 45 years. At the age of 73, she could be seen holding her motor rig’s tiller with one hand and a beer with the other, wearing a full-length leopard-pattern leotard.
|Georgie White, the first female river guide|
on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.
A famous and unsolved mystery in the Grand Canyon involves a young couple named Glen and Bessie Hyde. They married in 1928 and shortly thereafter embarked on a grand adventure—a boat trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on a homemade scow. Bessie would be the first woman to attempt to ride the river. In November of 1928, about a month after they had set out, their scow was found floating and empty. No trace of them has ever been found.
|Glen and Bessie Hyde|
|The Hyde's homemade scow. They disappeared just short|
of their goal to traverse the Grand Canyon.
Several theories have been put forth as to what may have happened. It was said that Glen was a controlling husband and that perhaps Bessie had killed him, then hiked out of the canyon to start a new life. Some thought the famous river-runner Georgie White was Bessie Hyde, fueled when friends went through White’s belongings after her death in 1992. They found the marriage certificate of Glen and Bessie Hyde, along with a pistol similar to one they’d carried on their journey. This theory has been disputed because Bessie didn’t like river-running, so it’s unlikely she would return to Grand Canyon and make it her vocation. The most likely outcome was that Glen and Bessie drowned, and the bodies simply disappeared.
|A Grand Canyon rattlesnake.|
Finally, to end my 4-part series, I'll share the story of river guide Teresa Yates Matheson. In her short essay "Slithering Company," (There's this River... Grand Canyon Boatman Stories, edited by Christa Sadler, This Earth Press, 2006) she describes a trip she took on the Colorado River with her mother. Having set up camp along the shoreline earlier in the day, Teresa was shocked to find a guest at the bottom of her sleeping bag that evening. What felt like a coiled rope soon began moving up the length of her body. In an effort not to alarm her mother, and possibly startle the snake, she remained still and quiet until the reptile exited her bag, the rattles brushing past her face. Thankfully, they soon corralled the critter and moved him upstream.
|Summer storm over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.|
Grand Canyon both entrances and tests the human spirit. As Arizona author Leo W. Banks says, "...the Canyon is overwhelming...a far world, unknown, and unknowable."
Thank you for joining me on this armchair adventure through the history and people of Grand Canyon.
|Kristy at the Canyon last summer.|
Don't miss Kristy's short stories in Prairie Rose's summer anthologies. In Lassoing A Groom, U.S. Deputy Marshal Angus Docherty enters Grand Canyon in search of a fugitive, and instead finds a woman who can talk to the dead. In Cowboy Cravings, Mesquite Joe Riordan knows he isn’t the man for Lily Kingston, but in the Arizona desert his past finally catches up to him. And so has Lily. For more info, visit Kristy's website.