Swept Away

The Grand Canyon is 270 miles long, 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep. It is truly one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Thousands of people flock to the Grand Canyon every year. According to some scientists, people have been making their way to the mile deep canyon for over 10,000 years.

It was at this beautiful place that newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde, like so many, decided to spend their honeymoon. But given the couple’s sense of adventure, Glen determined it would be a trip that neither of them would ever forget.

The fact that these two people, from opposite ends of the country, with completely different backgrounds ever found each other is astonishing. It was the sort of thing that some call fate. No matter what you call it, Bessie and Glen Hyde sensed it from the moment they first met.

Bessie was from West Virginia but she traveled to California in 1926 to attend the California School of Fine Arts. That was one of the reasons she told people when they asked. But Bessie had another reason for heading off into the sunset. She was escaping her unhappy marriage. Earl Helmick had been Bessie’s high school sweetheart. Though everyone had warned her against marrying Earl, Bessie believed the stories he told her of the grand life they would share far away from West Virginia.

But it didn’t take long for Bessie to realize that Earl was never going to fulfill any of her dreams. She packed up and moved to California where she found a job in a bookstore and signed up for art classes.

It was at school that Bessie met Eraine Grastedt. Eraine was 19 and worked as a nude model at the school.  Blonde and beautiful, Eraine was everything Bessie hoped to be. The girls moved in together. They would stay up late talking about their dreams. Eventually Eraine came up with a plan. They would move to Los Angeles where Eraine was sure she would make it as an actress. They bought one way tickets on a ship bound for Los Angeles.

Glen Hyde had already experienced many adventures in his life. He was born on December 9, 1898 and was a farmer with his father in Twin Falls, Idaho. But Glen’s passion was running his boat down the rivers. He had learned this trade with Henry Guelke, a man who knew the rivers in Idaho like no other. Glen had ridden all the big rivers in Idaho and British Columbia; the Peace, the Frasier and the Salmon Rivers.

It must have felt like it was meant to be when Bessie met Glen on the ship that was taking her to a new life in Los Angeles. Glen swept her right off her feet and Bessie bid Los Angeles and her friend, Eraine goodbye. The plan was for the couple to be married immediately but Bessie hadn’t taken the time to divorce her first husband. The day after that divorce was granted in April of 1928, Bessie became Mrs.Glen Hyde.

The couple had made grand plans during their time in Idaho. Glen had a dream of running the Grand Canyon portion of the Colorado River. His plan was to travel the complete 277 miles of the canyon. The canyon portion began in Lee’s Ferry in Arizona and ended at Lake Mead. But Bessie and Glen planned to boat into the canyon adding even more miles to the trip

In 1928, less than 50 men had made the trip successfully. Glen’s plan was to ride the river but to do it faster than anyone else had. Glen calculated that the trip should take about six weeks for the entire trip. He felt that Bessie would be the perfect co-pilot. The fact that she would be the first woman to do it only made the trip even more exciting.

Both of their families were hesitant about the couple’s plans, especially when Glen announced that they would be making their attempt with no life preservers. Glen’s training under the great Guelke made him feel that he was qualified and prepared to make the trip successfully. There was nothing the families could say to change his mind. Bessie seemed to be captivated by the whole plan.

The couple made their way to Green River, Wyoming where Glen purchased the supplies to build the craft for their journey. The style was a Idaho drift boat, called a scow. It looked like a long horse trough. It was 20 feet long, 5 feet wide and three feet deep. Glen put a lot of thought into its design and added bed springs and a small cook stove so that they could sleep right on the boat. He felt that this would cut out the time for setting up and tearing down camp every day.

The people of Green River were used to men starting their trips on the Colorado from their town. But the boat that Glen built had the whole town talking. Some of the men tried to convince Glen that using such a shallow boat would be crazy on the Colorado. They also mentioned that the couple should really take life preservers. But Glen felt confident in his plan.

The couple set off on their adventure on October 20, 1928. The trip started off easy with 100 miles of flat calm river before they ran into their first test, Cataract Canyon. It had an impressive
28 rapids. Though there were no witnesses to their trials, they shared some stories of the hardships they faced. One of the scariest moments had been when Bessie was thrown from the boat and Glen lost sight of her for a moment. That must have given the over confident Glen pause.

He was disturbed enough to discuss the design of the boat with some of the men along the route. The boat was fashioned from Glen’s experience on the Idaho rivers. It was built square and didn’t cut through the waves like he thought it would. In fact, he and Bessie named the scow “Rain in the face” because of the scoops of water it threw on them when they entered the rapids.

The men advised Glen that his boat wasn’t the type he needed for this particular trip. But Glen choose to ignore their words. Some of the men thought that Bessie appeared startled by the discussion and hoped she would talk some sense into Glen.

By mid November, the couple had traveled an impressive 424 miles from Green River. They decided to stop near the present day Phantom Ranch and restock their supplies. They used the Bright Angel Trail to hike to the South Rim Village of the canyon.

According to Troy Taylor in his book, “Without a Trace”, the Hydes were using this stop for another reason. The couple wanted to meet and be photographed by the Kolb Brothers. Ellsworth and Emery Kolb were famous for the photographs of the Grand Canyon. Emery arrived first in 1901 and invited his younger brother to join him. The brothers ventured into the less known areas and captured incredible photographs.

Their reputation grew right along with the canyon’s. Their pictures brought folks from around the world to visit this stunning landscape. They would eventually build their studio right on the ridge of the canyon itself.

The canyon had such a hold on the Kolb brothers that they would be buried in the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery when they passed away. Their studio remains in the canyon even today. It is open to the public as a gift shop and filled with the brother’s stunning pictures.

When Glen and Bessie Hyde climbed up the trail to visit the Kolb brothers on November 16, 1928, none of them could know how significant this meeting would be. Bessie and Glen made good subjects and the couple chatted with Emery as he prepared to take their photo.

Kolb had been exploring all over the canyon and was quite a good river adventurer himself. Emery must have been shocked to hear of Glen’s plan to run the river without “artificial aids” as he called the life preservers.  Emery would later speak of this meeting stating that he stressed the foolishness of this plan. Emery even offered to give his very own life preservers to the young man. But all of his pleas fell on deaf ears.

As the couple prepared to return to the scow, Emery’s 20-year-old daughter Emily came out to meet the couple. She was a very pretty young lady and dressed attractively. Emily did not know what the group had been discussing before her approach. But she did recognize that Bessie was upset, even frightened. After their introduction, Bessie complimented Emily on her outfit. Then the young couple turned to the trail. Bessie turned back and remarked to Emily, “I wonder if I shall ever wear pretty shoes again.” Emily and her father were startled by these words and the look of sadness on the young woman’s face. It was the last time either of them saw the Hydes.

The Hyde’s had made plans for Glen’s father, Rollin C. Hyde to meet them at Needles, California on or around December 6th. When they hadn’t shown up by December 16, the frantic father called governor of Idaho himself. Rollin requested and was granted an air search along the river.

L.G.Plummer and H.G.Adams were ordered to conduct the search. They left March Field in California on December 19 for the dangerous flight through the canyon. They were the first to spot a deserted scow close to the 225.7 marker.

Emery and Ellsworth assisted Rollin and some authorities down the path with a wagon and horses. On Christmas day, they discovered the abandoned boat.

The Kolb brothers wrote of the search for the couple and their discovery of the boat describing it as eery. The scow contained all of the Hyde’s personal belongings including their gun. It looked like the couple had just stepped out and walked away. But there was no other sign of the young couple. The boat had some minor damage on the front and its rope had become lodged in the rocks but nothing to definitely point to what had actually transpired.

The authors Michael P.Ghiglier and Thomas M. Myers give Bessie the credit of being the first woman to ride the river in the Grand Canyon despite the fact she didn’t make it past River Mile 237. Their book, “Over the Edge: Death in the Canyon” is a fascinating history of the canyon and the Hyde’s story.

Rollin Hyde continued to look for his son and daughter in law for decades. The Kolb family also continued to be haunted by the story. Emery and his daughter were especially affected. Emily spoke for years about meeting Bessie and the feeling of foreboding that she experienced watching the young bride walk down the path toward her waiting husband.

Of course, everyone had their own ideas about what had happened. The obvious one was that they had been washed overboard. But it seemed strange that the boat hadn’t capsized. That made the theories turn to a darker explanation. Some theories suggested that Glen had lost his temper and harmed Bessie. Others speculated that Bessie had been the one to snap and that Glen had been the victim. More credence was added to this theory after the death of Emery Kolb in 1976.

Friends were cleaning out a building on Kolb’s property when they noticed a small boat in the rafters. They were astonished and horrified to find skeletal remains inside the boat. The skull had a hole in it that the medical examiner would state came from a bullet. Later, it would be determined that the body was from a man not older than 22 that had died no later than 1972. That stopped the rumors that the body might have been Glen Hyde. But it, like many of the other aspects in this story, led to more questions than answers.

Though over 90 years have passed since the young couple took that fateful trip down the Colorado River, their story continues to fascinate people as much today as it did all those years ago.

Glen Hyde wanted to make a name for himself and his new bride and one supposes that beating everyone else to the end in a faster time would have made that dream into reality. But in a true twist of fate, their disappearance has helped them to be remembered far longer than any record ever would.

Recommended Reading:
Dinnock, Brad. Sunk Without a Sound: The tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde, (2001).
Ghiglieri, Michael P. (and Myers, Thomas M.) Over the Edge: Death in the Canyon, (2012).
Taylor, Troy. Without a Trace, (2009).

Copyright © 2019, 2022 Kathi Kresol.