Monday, August 5, 2019

Ada Bass: Pioneer Woman of the Grand Canyon

By Kristy McCaffrey

Ada Bass was the first European-American woman to raise a family at the Grand Canyon. In 1893, at the age of twenty-six and considered a spinster, Ada Diefendorf traveled from New York to the Arizona Territory to visit an aunt. In August 1894, she decided to take a tour of the Grand Canyon guided by William Wallace Bass. He was twenty years her senior, but Ada was smitten and within five months they were married. However, she would come to find that life with her charismatic but relatively poor husband wouldn’t be easy.

Grand Canyon

Their first year of marriage was a nomadic existence with treks from Williams, Arizona, to Ash Fork, Bass Camp, and The Caves. Ada cooked and cleaned and made camps while Bass guided tourists into the canyon. Six months into her marriage, Ada began using the abbreviation S.O.S. in her diary, meaning “same old stuff,” signifying the drudgery of her daily life. When they did acquire money, Bass frequently spent it on liquor.

Ada Bass

Ada would go on to have four children, but the family frequently had no home and so little money that Ada was forced to sell her possessions, including an embroidered bedspread, a fine-pieced quilt, pillow slips with lace, her silverware and a music book. Fed up, Ada left Bass more than once and went back East to live with her parents, but she always returned, saying many years later that, “You know, I love the Grand Canyon too.” And despite everything Bass put her through, including philandering, she remained with her husband until the end.

William Bass

By 1911, Bass had built a house for his family on the South Rim and his tourist business was netting a good income. But in 1919 the Grand Canyon became a national park and Fred Harvey became the park’s main concessioner. By 1923, Bass’s tourist business couldn’t compete. He and Ada eventually retired to Wickenburg, near Phoenix.

William Bass died in 1933 at the age of 85. Ada remained in Wickenburg until her death in 1951 and is buried at the Grand Canyon Cemetery on the South Rim.

Come along with Texas Ranger Nathan Blackmore and Emma Hart as they journey through Grand Canyon in 1877.
Click here to learn more about THE SPARROW.

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Alicia Haney said...

This book sounds like a very good read . Thank you for this blog. I will be adding it to my TBR list. I enjoyed reading this blog.

Elizabeth Clements said...

Kristy, an interesting blog, as always. I loved that comment..."she loved the Grand Canyon, too." I can't begin to imagine the life she had, but that's one thing about beautiful scenery being a gift...when one feels down and in her case, S.O.S., well, one simply has to look at the beauty around and feel one's spirits lift. And what an awesome gift the Grand Canyon is for the eyes and the spirit.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Hi Alicia,
Thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoy THE SPARROW. It was one of the hardest books I've ever written lol.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

I can't imagine how miserable Ada must have been, but she was determined to honor her marriage. It speaks much to her fortitude, of which any of the early settlers of the canyon certainly possessed.