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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Grand Canyon: Part IV ~ Women of the Canyon

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.

Photo Credits

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.


  1. I have read some about Glen and Bessie Hyde. Their disappearance story is so intriguing, I'm sure many who love mysteries would love to figure that one out. Me? I think they walked away because they wanted too--for some reason unknown to anyone else.
    Bless her heart, Georgie White spent one too many days in the sun without sunscreen. She was one brave lady, wasn't she.
    I love your Grand Canyon stories, and especially the photos.
    Thanks for a trip down the river.

    1. The Hyde disappearance is quite a mystery. It seems most likely that their scow got loose and in trying to retrieve they both drowned. Although bodies were never discovered, and it seems they would've appeared further downriver at some point.
      From what I've heard, Georgie White was quite a lady and character.
      Thanks for stopping by, Celia!

  2. Loved this series! Wonder if Georgie really was Bessie Hyde . . .

    1. Hi Sara,
      Thanks for your nice comment. :-) It does seem odd that Georgie White was in possession of the Hyde's marriage certificate, although she no doubt knew of the mystery and maybe was a collector. The theory about Glen Hyde being a controlling husband is further bolstered by the fact that the Hyde's spent some time with the Kolb brothers, who famously photographed all aspects of the Canyon in the early 1900's. Apparently one of the Kolb brothers took a shine to Bessie, and she supposedly reciprocated. Perhaps being in an unhappy marriage left her vulnerable. So, maybe Glen killed her and dumped her body in the river.
      So many questions...

  3. @Sara, I was wondering the same thing. How would Georgie have possession of the Hyde's marriage license if she was not---that and the pistol. Maybe Georgie returned to the canyon as a way of paying restitution for murdering her husband. A sort of self imposed prison. A lot of great information Kristy.

    1. When the Hyde's disappeared, their scow and all their gear remained. It's possible, over the years, that others found these items in the river corridor. With Georgie spending so much time down there, she could've come into possession of them this way.

      But others have speculated that Bessie killed her husband, hiked out, started a new life in California then returned after the tragic death of her daughter.

      Thanks for stopping by, Barn!

  4. I think its possible Georgie was Bessie Hyde. How else would she have had the Hyde's marriage license and pistol? Maybe she murdered Glen and then returned to the canyon as a self imposed prison out of grief for murdering her husband.

    1. I will say that the river current is strong, and if either of the Hyde's had fallen in, it could have easily led to a drowning. However, they had traversed more than 2/3 of the Colorado River when they disappeared, so they'd been journeying a good while. Misery and tension could've been running deep at this point, leading to a scuffle between them especially if Glen was in a jealous rage over the Kolb brother.

  5. Kristy, (hope this doesn't post twice...troubles logging in)

    I've enjoyed your Grand Canyon series. I've never been there, so the 'armchair' tour has been great.

    Now, I have to say that what I'm really going to remember is the lady in the sleeping bag who maintained her decorum while the rattlesnake crawled out over her body. 0_o Wow! Tough lady.

    1. Kaye,
      I agree. I'm not sure how I would react, but screaming and flailing would have been a bad idea on all accounts.

      I heard another story of a woman on a river trip---the husband came to the river guide in camp and said 'You must come help my wife.' The river guide was skeptical, he'd dealt with a lot of rattlesnakes and likened them to puppies, they were that docile. When he saw the woman, however, he was shocked. While she lay on the ground in her sleeping bag, a rattler had slithered atop her chest and now lay coiled on her, likely using her warmth to sleep. The head was right next to her throat, so they didn't want to startle the reptile for fear it would bite right into her jugular. They sat with that snake and woman for awhile before they could coax it off. *yikes*

      Thanks for stopping by, Kaye!

  6. Kristy,

    Thank you so much for sharing this journey through one of the great wonders of the world. The stories of determination, courage and loss along with the mysteries make for great reading.

    I don't know that I will ever traverse the Colorado river through the canyon, but that doesn't stop the imagination from running wild.


    1. Doris,
      Grand Canyon has many stories to tell, that's for certain. I'm glad you enjoyed the series! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  7. Kristy, I have sure enjoyed your pictures and posts on the Grand Canyon. I have only been there once, as a young child, and don't know if I'll ever get back there or not, but I am loving the history and these fascinating pictures, too. Wonderful stuff!


    1. If you can't visit in person, a book/blog is the next best thing. So happy to share great info about this place with you all. I really had to whittle it down, however. So many things I didn't include. Maybe I'll do another series in the future. Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl!!

  8. You warned me about the snake story, and I read the dang thing anyway. Now my skin is crawling. Not that I fear snakes, mind you, but I do have a healthy respect for rattlers and water moccasins. **shudder**

    I've so enjoyed this series! Haven't been to the Canyon in years, but I'll never forget its grandeur. The Grand Canyon is nothing short of awe inspiring. It gives us a very personal understand about how small we really are in the world.

    I would like to have met Georgie White. She sounds like quite the character! Got a laugh out of Celia's comment about her spending one too many days in the sun with sunscreen. :-D

    Thanks again for the series, Kristy! :-)

    1. Kathleen,
      You must share some water moccasin stories one of these day.

      I'm sure Georgie was a hoot, much like you. :-)

      Thanks for stopping by, Tex!

  9. Georgie White sounds like a fun person to know! You have to admire that sort of determination and ingenuity.

    Um, I could've done without the slithering. :shudder: I grew up in rattlesnake country and that's one thing I do not miss.

    I've been to Hells Canyon, which is deeper (pretty spectacular, too) but never to the Grand Canyon. It's definitely on my bucket list and I've really enjoyed your series.

    1. Jacquie,
      I have a healthy respect for snakes but really am happy to leave them be. Where is Hells Canyon? I'll have to check it out!
      Thanks for stopping by!!

  10. Ohmagosh, I just discovered I missed the last part of your series on the Grand Canyon.
    I loved the picture of you with the Grand Canyon in the background. I have never seen the Grand Canyon in person. I'm certain pictures do not do it justice. I know you must be glad you got to see it first hand.
    The story of the rattle snake crawling into the sleeping bag really got to me. I don't know that I would have had the presence of mind not to jump up screaming until my lungs bled. Yikes! My old bones object to camping on the ground, but it was fun back in the day.
    All the best to you, Kaye.