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Scott Thybony's Canyon Commentary: Romance in the Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collections

Grand Canyon stirs the imagination in more ways than just the scenery. Canyon romances have led to spur of the moment elopements and professionally packaged weddings on the rim. River trips down the Colorado have long had a well-earned reputation as marriage makers – and breakers.

In the untamed frontier days, romances occasionally ended in gunplay. The noted Indian trader, Don Lorenzo Hubbell, left home in 1873 when he was 16-years old. He found work in the town of Panguitch, Utah, and began courting a local girl. When the relationship took a serious turn, the town elders insisted he marry her. Instead, Lorenzo packed his bags and took off on horseback for Lees Ferry. Soon a posse overtook him.

One version of the story had him getting wounded in an exchange of gunfire. He managed to escape on foot, descending below the rim of Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. The fugitive jumped into the strong current and got swept far downstream. Once on the other side he hobbled back to the rim, making his getaway. To prove the veracity of the story, Don Lorenzo once pulled up his shirt and showed the skeptics his bullet scars.

Pete Berry, a well-known canyon pioneer, first came to Arizona in 1887. He intended to avenge the death of his brother, a saloon keeper killed trying to break up a barroom brawl. But the citizens of Flagstaff beat him to it. A mob forced its way into the jail and shot the suspects when they naturally resisted being dragged out and lynched. Pete ended up with the saloon and married his brother’s beautiful but restless widow.

He spent much of his time prospecting in the Grand Canyon and developing the Last Chance Mine. May grew lonely and took up with the bartender. Hearing the rumors, Pete returned to town and shot his wife’s lover in both legs. Frontier justice prevailed when the case was dropped after Pete claimed the shooting had been accidental.

In 1928 the famous honeymoon couple, Glen and Bessie Hyde, headed downriver in a homemade boat. They intended to set a speed record through Grand Canyon, and left their life jackets behind to heighten the thrill factor. Weeks later their boat was found snagged in mid-river, deep within the lower gorge. All gear appeared to be intact, and Bessie’s diary was still onboard. The searchers thought Bessie might have been holding the bowline when the current pulled her in above a rapid. Glen dove in to save her. No sign of the missing couple has ever turned up, and the mystery has taken on a life of its own over the years.

One report claimed Glen had forced Bessie to continue the trip against her will. She later stabbed him and pushed his body in the river. But after careful research, river historian Brad Dimock concluded the couple either drowned in the rapids below Diamond Creek or died trying to climb out of the gorge.

Not all canyon romances have ended tragically. One of the classic tales involved Barbara Hastings and Eddie McKee, the park service naturalist. Only one thing stood between them – the Grand Canyon itself. Eddie worked on the South Rim, while Barbara was busy collecting mammals on the North. On his days off he would hike across the gorge to see her, covering almost fifty miles round-trip. She finally agreed to meet him halfway at Phantom Ranch. While sitting with their feet dangling in Bright Angel Creek he proposed, and the canyon couple were married on New Year’s Eve, 1929.

The marriage remained strong, and they rarely disagreed. But once Eddie returned home after a collecting trip in the canyon. He brought with him several fresh-looking specimens of 11,000-year old ground sloth dung. When he placed them on top of the piano for safe-keeping, she drew the line. “No,” Barbara told him, “they look exactly like what they are!”

Scott Thybony has traveled throughout North America on assignments for major magazines, including Smithsonian, Outside, and Men’s Journal. An article for National Geographic magazine was translated into a dozen languages, and his book, Canyon Country, sold hundreds of thousands of copies. He once herded sheep for a Navajo family, having a hogan to call home and all the frybread he could eat. His commentaries are heard regularly on Arizona Public Radio.