Glen and Bessie’s Colorado River Trip, Part 1: Lee’s Ferry

Hoping for fame and wealth, Glen and Bessie Hyde began the adventure that has since then lived in infamy in Grand Canyon Lore. One of their last stops before entering the Grand Canyon was Lee’s Ferry.

John D. Lee, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded Lee’s Ferry in the early 1870s to function as a link between the Latter-day Saint heartland in Utah and new settlements in Arizona. A committed polygamist, Lee built several houses for his multiple families in the following years, naming this group of buildings Lonely Dell Ranch. After the authorities arrested Lee for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, Church leaders gave the title for the Ferry and Ranch to Warren Johnson and his family in 1879. The Johnson family was still living on the post when Glen and Bessie Hyde arrived on November 5, 1928, though the Ferry had permanently closed that summer.

The Hydes had started their journey from Greenriver, Utah, on October 20, well provisioned with food and other supplies. They came equipped with all the necessary tools to document their trek, including a small Kodak camera and a notebook which Bessie used to record daily events. Yet curiously they did not take any life preservers or personal floatation devices with them.

The Hydes’ trip to Lee’s Ferry was relatively uneventful, aside from Bessie falling out of the scow on October 27 in Cataract Canyon. Overall, both were in good spirits.

The inhabitants of Lee’s Ferry were aware of the hazards of the Colorado River. Glen and Bessie were just one in a series of river expeditions that came through Lee’s Ferry. Other private excursions, Latter-day Saint expeditions, and US Government Survey teams had all passed by the post through the years. Most of these groups had foundered in the rough waters south of the station, just before the entrance to the Grand Canyon. Also, three of the inhabitants had drowned when they tried to recover the outpost’s ferryboat after a summer flood washed it away in June. 

With these past events in mind, the Johnson family and the outpost’s government agent, Owen Clark, attempted to convince Glen and Bessie to abandon their trek. They warned them their scow wasn’t suited to the rapids downriver. If they continued, the size of their boat and their lack of life preservers could result in disaster. However, the Hydes did not take the resident's concerns seriously, convinced they were already through the worst the Colorado River had to offer.

After exploring the surrounding area for a few days, the Hydes left the station on November 8. They were bound for Grand Canyon Village. In an ironic twist, the last glimpse of the couple caught the station’s residents caught was of Glen nearly falling off the scow.

In the years following the Hydes’ disappearance, Lee’s Ferry became a backwater. The completion of the Navajo Bridge several miles downstream in 1929 rendered the ferry obsolete. The post became a ghost town by the early 1940s. Today, it’s a historic site maintained by the National Park Service.

Images

Ferry and ranch
Ferry and ranch View of Lee’s Ferry and Lonely Dell Ranch, ca. 1910–1924. There are houses to the left of the center brush. Source:

“Lonely Dell Ranch, Lees Ferry, Arizona.” Emery Kolb, 1910–1924. Courtesy of the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. https://cdm16748.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/cpa/id/65574/rec/3.

Creator: Emery Kolb
The ferry at Lee’s
The ferry at Lee’s View of the ferry at Lee’s Ferry, ca. 1915-1925. The two poles near the center constitute the ferry. Source:

“Lee’s Ferry, Arizona.” Emery Kolb, 1915–1925. Courtesy of the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. https://cdm16748.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/cpa/id/68470/rec/7.

Creator: Emery Kolb
Cataract rapids
Cataract rapids Rapids in Cataract Canyon, ca. October 27, 1928–November 1, 1928. Source:

[Hyde B5. From Foot of Big Drop 3 (Bottom of Big Drop 3), Cataract Canyon Mile 201, around 10/27 – 11/1, 1928.] Glen Hyde, 1928. Courtesy of the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. https://cdm16748.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/cpa/id/20824/rec/20.

Creator: Glen Hyde
View from the scow
View from the scow Picture of Cataract Canyon, taken from the Hyde’s scow, ca. October 27, 1928–November 1, 1928. Source:

[Hyde D1. Lower Cataract Canyon near Imperial Canyon, Cataract Canyon around 10/27 - 11/1, 1928.]. Glen Hyde, 1928. Courtesy of the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. https://cdm16748.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/cpa/id/9076/rec/35.

Creator: Glen Hyde
Dwellings at Lee’s
Dwellings at Lee’s Remnants of the stone buildings at Lee’s Ferry. Source:

Brent Davis and Dawn Davis. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/glca/planyourvisit/lees-ferry.htm.

Creator: Brent Davis and Dawn Davis

Location

Spencer Trail, Marble Canyon, AZ 86036

Metadata

William Knapp, Northern Arizona University, “Glen and Bessie’s Colorado River Trip, Part 1: Lee’s Ferry,” Intermountain Histories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/522.