By Jeff Louderback
What happened to Glen and Bessie Hyde?
To this day, many adventure seekers who pass along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and are aware of the Hyde story contemplate the answer to that long-lived question.
In 1928, the Hydes were a newlywed couple attempting to run the ferocious rapids of the Colorado River. If they had succeeded, Bessie would have been the first known woman to accomplish the feat. Instead, they were last seen on the river in November 1928, and they were never heard from again.
The Hydes met on a passenger ship traveling to Los Angeles in 1927. They were married on April 12, 1928 – on the 16th anniversary of the Titanic sinking and a day after Bessie’s divorce from her first husband was finalized.
Glen was an expert boat builder who had rafting experience traversing the Salmon and Snake rivers in Idaho a couple years earlier. Bessie was more of a novice. Glen built a 20-foot-long wooden sweep scow and the couple embarked on a honeymoon adventure down the Green and Colorado rivers in October 1928.
To Glen, it was more than just a casual float. He was committed to setting a new speed record for traveling through the Grand Canyon, and he wanted Bessie to make history as the first documented woman to run the canyon.
According to Bessie’s detailed journal, the couple was ahead of schedule and making remarkable progress. The couple stopped to resupply on November 16, hiking along the Bright Angel Trail where they met brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, legendary photographers who operated a cliffside studio.
Glen and Bessie knocked on the studio door and introduced themselves to the Kolbs, explaining that they were honeymooners who had been rafting on the river for 26 days. The Kolb brothers said that the couple asked to have their photo taken on the canyon rim, and they would return to retrieve it after the trip was completed.
According to Emory Kolb, Glen said that they did not have life preservers, a comment that evoked a warning from Kolb that Glen responded to with a laugh. Bessie, Emory Kolb said, looked nervous about the remaining journey ahead. As Glen and Bessie prepared to depart and walk down the trail to their boat, Emory Kolb’s daughter Emily appeared, nicely dressed. Bessie remarked, “I wonder if I shall ever wear pretty shoes again.”
Some historians have noted that a man named Adolph G. Sutro accompanied the couple back into the canyon, taking photographs and even riding a short distance with them in the boat. If this is true, Sutro was likely the last person to see them alive.
By early December, Glen and Bessie had not been heard from. Emory Kolb initiated a search of the area that included a small plane that flew through the inner gorge of the canyon. The pilot saw the Hydes’ scow snagged in the rocks on the river.
When the rescue party – which included Kolb – reached the boat, they found everything securely packed. Food, clothing, books and even Bessie’s journal were neatly in place. A camera found in the boat revealed the final photo to have been shot near river mile 165 on or about November 27.
Glen’s father, Reith Hyde, hired a group of men to search the canyon within the area where Glen and Bessie likely traveled. Days, weeks and months passed with no success. Because of the story’s romance, along with the lack of conclusive evidence regarding the couple’s fate, a myriad of legends and theories have surfaced over the years.
One theory suggests that Glen was an abusive husband whose prolonged exposure to the extreme conditions of the canyon heightened his nasty behavior. It is speculated by some people that Bessie grew tired of the rough treatment of her new husband, murdered him and hiked out of the canyon to start a new life. Many of Glen’s friends and family members discounted that theory; however, stating that he was not an abusive person and that he dearly loved Bessie.
Another story supports the speculation that Bessie shot and killed Glen because of his abusive tendencies. Some friends of Georgie Clark, a woman who gained notoriety for her rafting adventures in the Grand Canyon, speculate that she was Bessie Hyde.
Conversations about Clark’s connections to Bessie started when friends were perusing her personal items following her death in 1992. People who had known her for decades had never been invited inside her home.
Upon looking at Clark’s personal effects, her friends learned that her birth certificate indicated that her real name was Bessie DeRoss, not Georgie. Clark or Georgie White (which was another surname she sometimes used). The latter two were the last names of husbands she had divorced.
Her friends’ curiosity was further peaked when they found the marriage license of Glen and Bessie Hyde at her home, and a pistol in her lingerie drawer. Colorado River historian Brad Dimock – whose book, “Sunk Without a Sound – The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde,” investigates the couple’s story and the subsequent theories – looked at the items from Clark’s home and concluded from photographs that Clark and Bessie Hyde were not the same person.
Richard Westwood, who wrote a biography about Clark, has also said that there is little proof to substantiate the theory that Clark was actually Bessie Hyde.
Many historians surmise that another theory likely describes what happened to the Hydes. Glen and Bessie, according to this opinion, accidentally drowned in the Colorado River. According to historians, the mile 232 rapid was not well-known and was not charted in 1928, yet it is regarded as one of the most brutal areas of the river. The Hydes did not have the appropriate equipment to tackle this rapid, it is speculated. Those who crave a romantic tale have said that Bessie fell into the rapids, Glen leaped in to save her and both drowned.
In the 1970s, two additional stories surfaced regarding Bessie Hyde. In 1971, an elderly woman on a commercial boat tour spoke up when the story of Glen and Bessie Hyde was told by a guide during a campfire dinner. The woman claimed that she was Bessie and that, after she had enough of her husband’s abusive behavior during the trip, she napped, stabbed him, left him for dead and hiked out of the canyon to start a new life.
The guide told about the woman’s claims, and researchers looked into the story. They determined that, though the woman resembled Bessie with her features and her height, she was a retired psychologist who liked to tell tales. Though it could not be proven that, without a doubt, the woman was not Bessie Hyde, her claim was discounted, keeping the legend of what happened to the Hydes alive.
In 1976, skeletal remains with a bullet inside the skull were found on the canyon rim on the property that belonged to Emory Kolb, who was reportedly one of the last people to see the Hydes alive. Eventually, though, a forensic investigation found that the skeleton belonged to a man no older than 22 who died no earlier than 1972, which ruled out Glen Hyde.
Today, the question of what happened to Glen and Bessie Hyde remains unanswered. Like the Hydes during their ill-fated honeymoon expedition, adventure seekers today can encounter areas of the Grand Canyon that can only be seen from the water – like emerald pools, hidden waterfalls, colorful flowers and thriving wildlife. Grand Canyon Expeditions offers eight-day motorized boat tours and 14-day to 16-day Dory boat trips on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
The guided tours include hiking remote areas of the canyon, learning about the natural splendor and scintillating history of the area, swimming in side canyons and running class IV whitewater rapids.
The Grand Canyon features a diverse and majestic geological extravaganza. It stretches for 277 miles, measures from four to 18 miles in width, and averages a mile in depth. Covering more than 1.2 million acres, the semi-arid canyon consists of raised plateaus, steep-walled canyons, desert basins at lower elevations and forests at higher elevations. Canyon walls provide wide-ranging fossil specimens, a vast array of geological features and rock types, and numerous caves.
Though the Grand Canyon is a desert, it is teeming with plants and wildlife. Cactus and wildflowers dot the riverbanks as well as cool glens with tumbling waterfalls and ferns. Grand Canyon Expeditions passengers might see bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes, and ringtail cats along the riverbanks and in tributary canyons. Hawks, golden eagles, falcons, great blue herons and egrets fly overhead.
The eight-day excursions cover the entire 277 miles of the canyon, beginning at Lees Ferry, Arizona (in Grand Canyon National Park) and ending at Pearce Ferry on Lake Mead. During the adventure, passengers will negotiate nearly 200 exciting white water rapids in safety and first-class comfort.
For people who want to experience the grandeur of the river and the canyon at a more leisurely pace, Grand Canyon Expeditions offers the 14-day to 16-day Dory trips. Sturdy wooden vessels that are designed to withstand the rigors of whitewater, Dory boats allow passengers to see the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon much like Powell and his men.
Before embarking on one of the tours, guests can get a preview of the Grand Canyon’s splendor at the National Geographic Visitor Center. Located at the south rim entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park, the Visitor Center is home of the IMAX film, Grand Canyon: The Movie and the famous Condor Encounter Live Bird Show.