Since it happened so before 99% of us were born, it’s unlikely that the ice-cold trail of missing Glen and Bessie Hyde will ever be solved. We can only speculate on what might have transpired during their epic journey down the Colorado.
There are as many diverse theories as there are rapids on the river but no proof that any of them are true.
Glen was a potato farmer from Twin Falls, Idaho. He was aboard a ship en route to Los Angeles in February 1927 when he met attractive fellow passenger Bessie Louise Haley and fell head over heels in love with her. Born in 1905, she was seven years younger than him and grew up in West Virginia but after leaving school moved to California seeking fresh pastures, signing up at the School of Fine Art in San Francisco.
Finding your match on a cruise is a plot used in numerous books which often happens for real.
The lovestruck couple tied the knot on 12 April 1928.
What floated the couple’s boat?
Bessie loved acting and poetry. In high school she played the role of Juliet in the famous Shakespeare tragedy. She wrote an unpublished volume of poetry called “Wandering Leaves.”
Glen was a highly experienced river runner. While still at school he’d been on many a family canoe trip on the Skeena River in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. After school he and a close friend spent six months boating, fishing and hunting on the Peace River in Canada.
In 1926 he and his young sister Jeannie took a sweep scow, which looks like a sort of cross between a raft and an ark, down the Salmon River from Idaho all the way to the Pacific.
In October 1928 the young newlyweds left their potato fields behind and travelled to Utah on a belated honeymoon adventure.
When they arrived, Glen designed and built his own twenty-foot flat wooden sweep scow. It took him just two days and fifty dollars.
Glen’s plan was to break the speed record down the Colorado. Bessie would get into the record books as the first recorded woman to do the hazardous trip.
They began their boat journey on the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado on 20 October.
They intended to finish the trip at Needles, California around 9 December.
Nature of the Beast: Vital Stats of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a massive nick in the earth’s surface 277 miles (446 km) long and over a mile (1.6 km or 1600 m) deep in places with a width of up to four to eighteen miles (6.4 – 29 km).
There are over 200 white water rapids on the river. They weren’t mapped in the fine detail they are today. In 1928, this area was so rugged and wild that pioneers who ventured there had to be prepared for whatever the wilderness may have in store for them, without the instant backup we are accustomed to in 2017. Those pioneers would have thought us soft…
The surrounding land includes raised plateaus interspersed with steep side canyons, desert basins, numerous caves and pockets of forest at high elevations.
Although arid and unforgiving terrain, it teems with animal and plant life, and fern-clad waterfalls and wildflowers abound in the well-watered side canyons. There are bighorn sheep, coyotes, ringtail cats and mule deer as well as numerous species of birds to be seen by the fortunate visitor.
Fully aware that the first woman to do the Grand Canyon would secure lucrative book deals and lecture circuits, and perhaps even a film, Bessie kept a detailed log of their progress.
On 16 November they left the canyon by way of the tortuous Bright Angel Trail to replenish their supplies. They had now been on the river 26 days and needed a bit of a break.
On reaching the South Rim they knocked on the door of famous photographer Emery Kolb. They introduced themselves to the Kolbs and asked to have their photos taken.
Here’s a picture which Emery Kolb took of them on the canyon rim:
They told Emery they’d collect the prints on their way home after completing their trip.
When he heard that the Hydes didn’t have life jackets aboard, Emery offered them some, but Glen refused the offer. Bessie was worried about this and on the point of giving up, but after they spent the night with the Kolbs the cheerful morning sun changed her mind.
As they left the house to return to the canyon, Emery’s daughter Emily appeared on the scene in her best clothes. In a moment of feminine introspection Bessie remarked: “I wonder if I shall ever wear pretty shoes again.”
On reaching the river again they met a young guy named Adolph G. Sutro, whose grandfather was Mayor of San Francisco from 1895-1897. He asked if he could go along with them so they offered him a lift to Hermit Creek, eight miles further downstream, where he left the canyon and hiked out.
Adolph was probably the last known person to have seen them alive. It’s unlikely they encountered anyone else as they approached some of the remotest stretches of the Canyon.
When they didn’t pitch up at Needles on the agreed date Glen’s father took a train to Las Vegas. He got together with the Kolb brothers to begin a search.
Mr Hyde hired Native American trackers to scour the canyon rim and organized several search and rescue parties to get down to the river. But it’s not an easy area to get to. There are no trails down from the rim in this inaccessible area where the river flows between rugged and towering precipices.
Eventually he got authorization to hire a search plane small enough to fly safely through the canyon.
On 19 December the plane’s pilot spotted their scow on the river and immediately flew off to notify the rescue team.
Mr Hyde and the Kolb brothers quickly arranged to hike down Peach Spring Wash and salvage an abandoned boat at the mouth of Diamond Creek Mile 225, the nearest practical access point. It took an agonizing three days to make it river-worthy. They finally set off on 24 December. On Christmas morning they came across the scow, floating on a calm pool near Mile 237. There was no sign of life and their calls went unanswered.
The boat was completely intact. All the supplies including food, clothes, gun and journal were still neatly strapped in. There was no sign of Glen or Bessie. The last entry in Bessie’s journal indicated they made camp near Mile 226 and had conquered Mile 231 Rapid. There was no hint in the journal of anything amiss. They also came across photos taken in the vicinity of Mile 165, probably taken about 27 November.
The Kolbs filmed the scene after which the group salvaged what they could.
The search continued for the next few months but not a single clue to their whereabouts or possible fate was found.
What could have happened?
Perhaps Bessie fell overboard in the rapids and the Glen unsuccessfully tried to save her, drowning in the attempt. But then how come neither body ever surfaced?
What if Bessie left the water to answer a call of nature and was attacked by a grizzly? Supposing she screamed for help and Glen ran to her aid but was also attacked? Unlikely but possible, and if so the searchers never found the bodies. But this can easily happen, even today, especially in rugged terrain. Look at this link:
(His body was missing for about a year before being discovered)
(this guy was never found…)
For some unknown reason, maybe food poisoning or other illness, they may have left the shore and scrambled frantically up the canyon for help, dying in a remote spot far from anywhere. However, they would surely have carried some basic medical supplies aboard.
Their disappearance brought Glen and Bessie more lasting fame than if they had succeeded in their quest, in which case their exploit would have been all but forgotten.
Maybe historian Otis Marsden’s theory is the correct one. He suggests they might have hit submerged rocks and been swept overboard near Mile 232 where he writes “…pieces of granite wall lie submerged where they have damaged, snared, or capsized more boats than any other location in the canyon”.
Killer Fang Falls, named for two huge rocks which stick out from the water like an ogre’s teeth at Mile 232.3 may have claimed them and their bodies were sucked under, never to see the light of day.
It’s strange that their boat showed no sign of any damage. Did Glen build his boat so strong that it emerged unscathed and pilotless, having witnessed its occupants flailing helplessly in a maelstrom?
The Usual Bunch of Rumours and Speculations
One day in 1971 an elderly lady on a commercial rafting trip in the Canyon, evidently craving more attention than she was used to, suddenly announced to her fellow adventurers during dinner around the campfire that she was none other than Bessie Hyde and that she stabbed Glen to death in 1928 because of his abusive behaviour. Imagine the surprise this casual declaration must have caused among the happy campers.
But she was a retired psychologist who was apparently fond of telling tall tales, possibly to gauge people’s reactions and she later recanted this “memory”.
I think it highly unlikely that Glen was an abusive husband. For one thing, they hadn’t been married very long and needed each other to overcome the dangers of their trip. They certainly seemed a happy and loving couple. I can’t imagine them fighting and falling overboard in a scene reminiscent of the chandelier scene in War of the Roses.
Maybe the inexperienced Bessie panicked and became hysterical as they navigated ever tougher stretches of white water, but this is also pretty unlikely. She knew what she was in for and would trust Glen to pull them through.
The theory that Glen beat her once too often, causing her to crack, kill him and then hike up the canyon to begin a new life is rather absurd. Besides, she would have needed at least some supplies from the boat, and there was no sign any were missing.
Another theory was that the well known rafter Georgie Clark who died in 1992 had been Bessie Hyde, as a pistol and the Hydes’ marriage certificate were found among her effects, but her early life is well documented and no evidence ever came to light linking her to Bessie. The evidence is circumstantial at best.
It’s more likely Bessie was Georgie’s role model, and thus Georgie obsessively collected Bessie memorabilia to motivate her in her own quest for rafting fame, just like a boy with an interest in being an astronaut would collect anything to do with Neil Armstrong.
Historian Brad Dimock investigated all relevant photos and concluded that Georgie couldn’t have been Bessie, as there was little likeness between them. His book Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde is considered one of the most authoritative books about the disappearance.
Georgie Clark’s biographer also says there’s no evidence to indicate that Georgie and Bessie were the same person.
Some old human bones were discovered on the canyon rim in 1976. There was a bullet hole in the skull. This rekindled interest in the case. Some fingers were pointed towards Emery Kolb as the remains were found near his property. Forensic test results showed that the remains belonged to someone 22 or younger and that the person had died in or after 1972.
There’s no evidence or motive for any foul play to be involved in this disappearance.
More info about Mile 232 (Killer Fang Falls)
It seems the river will keep the fate of the Hydes a secret until the end of time.
All we’re left with are the haunting verses of one of Bessie’s poems:
Oh! Mamma dear, please come!
My dolly must be drowned,
When I put her on the creek,
She sunk without a sound.
Wee Betty’s eyes filled with tears,
Where could poor dolly be?
Perhaps she’d turned into a mermaid,
And drifted out to sea.