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Canyon Legends
Three unsolved mysteries from the great gorge By John Annerino

James White: Accidental Tourist
The Backstory: In September 1867, prospector-turned-drifter James White washed up in the town of Callville, Nevada, on a raft of three lashed cottonwood logs. He claimed he took to the river to escape a Native American ambush, floating from Glen Canyon to the site of today's Lake Mead in 14 days, and becoming the first to run the length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. White told of subsisting on beans (the only food he was carrying), lizards, his leather knife scabbard, and, at one point, the "hine pards of a dog," he wrote in a letter to his brother.

The Evidence: When White landed in Callville, he looked haggard enough to be convincing (no boots, no pants). But his account of Grand Canyon geography was too error-ridden for many to buy his tale. Still, many modern-day canyon scholars believe White made the journey, and in 1988 Manfred Kraus successfully swam the Colorado in 14 days without developing hypothermia, proving the possibility of such a feat.

The Verdict: Quite possibly, the title of "first down the Colorado" rightly belongs to White, the scrappy prospector.

Photo: John D. Lee
John D. Lee

John D. Lee:
Secretive Polygamist
The Backstory: Mormon John D. Lee contributed to the slaughter of 122 pioneers in Utah's 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, a deed for which he was later prosecuted and executed by church leaders. In the interim, Lee went on the lam in the canyon and, according to a letter written to one of his 19 wives, hid his life savings there.

The Evidence: Reports of the nature of the treasure vary widely, from "seven cans of almost pure native gold" to $100,000 in gold coins stolen from the slaughtered immigrants. The location of the riches is just as mysterious. A map given by Lee to one of his wives allegedly located the treasure off the Tanner Trail. Other sources have placed it in the western canyon.

The Verdict: It's likely Lee did stash some treasure somewhere, but since all firsthand accounts are lost to history, it's unlikely anyone will ever find it.

Photo: Glen and Bessie Hyde
Glen and Bessie Hyde
Glen and Bessie Hyde:
Lost Honeymooners
The Backstory: When Bessie Haley married Glen Hyde in 1928, she wanted her honeymoon to be one for the record books. On October 20, in a hand-built scow equipped with a mattress and a stove, the couple set out to make Bessie the first woman to float the Grand Canyon. The newlyweds resupplied near river mile 95 on November 18. They were never seen again.

The Evidence: It wasn't their clunky craft that did the couple in. Searchers found it intact at river mile 237. Bessie's increasingly obvious disenchantment with the trip led many to suspect that she had murdered her husband and hiked to freedom. But no remains of Glen—or Bessie—were ever found.

The Verdict: A camp log at Diamond Creek indicates that the Hydes made it to river mile 225. Most likely, they drowned in the rapids at mile 232 the following day.

For Adventure's full Big-Ditch coverage—including a fact-packed mega-map—pick up the March issue.

From the print edition, March 2004

The Grand Canyon Tool Kit: Essential strategies for doing the canyon right
Hiking the Grand Canyon: Three ways to hoof the hole
Rafting the Grand Canyon: The best way to run the Colorado
Canyon Legends: Three unsolved mysteries
High Holy Days: Cleansing your karma on Tibet's Mount Kailas
The Adventures of Tim Cahill: Why a little bird is picking on a whale
Special Report: Wreck diving's deep frontier, on the S.S. Aleutian

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Related Web Sites

Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. An IMAX Film

Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets
Experience the thrills of the great gorge with a preview of the IMAX film Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets

Grand Canyon Maps
For the maps you need to explore every inch of the Grand Canyon—including Trails Illustrated's new topographic version—visit National Geographic Maps.

Grand Canyon Quest
While prolific author David Quammen kayaked the Colorado in September of 2001, the whole world changed—except the Grand Canyon. Check out photos and audio dispatches from his trip.

Grand Canyon Travel Guide Online
Get in-depth information from National Geographic, including historic sites, driving tours, photographs, links, maps, and more online.

Grand Canyon National Park
For more tips on traversing the Grand Canyon, consult the National Park Service.

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March 2004

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