Monday, February 1, 2016

Women Of The Grand Canyon

By Kristy McCaffrey

Elzada Clover (standing) and Lois Jotter (facing
the camera).
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. 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.

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, first woman river guide
in the Grand Canyon.
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.

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.

Glenn and Bessie Hyde, who disappeared on the
Colorado River in 1928. Their bodies were never
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.

And now, a fun snake story. In There's this River... Grand Canyon Boatman Stories edited by Christa Sadler, river guide Teresa Yates Matheson 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.

Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. She’s the author of several historical western romances, all set in the American southwest. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, two chocolate labs, and whichever of their four teenaged children happen to be in residence. 

Connect with Kristy


Zina Abbott Author said...

Great post! I learned quite a bit. The Grand Canyon is such a exciting place full of adventure. I enjoyed learning of these adventurous women who took on the river.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Zina! It's always interesting learning about the history of a place, especially as to the female contribution.