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Lost in the Grand Canyon – The Adventure of Bessie and Glen Hyde

Indian Garden and Three-mile Resthouse from Bright Angel Trail.
Indian Garden and Three-mile Resthouse from Bright Angel Trail. Public Domain

The Fated Honeymooners

They were young, handsome, adventurous and on their honeymoon. Bessie and Glen Hyde began their journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers on October 20, 1928. A month later, they hiked Bright Angel Trail (pictured) up to the South Rim for supplies, then returned to their boat and continued down the river. They never came out.

When the couple did not return by their due date, an exhaustive search, funded largely by Glen’s father, was launched. Emery and Ellsworth Kolb found Bessie and Glen’s boat just after Christmas, a month after they’d last been seen. The scow, still fully loaded and full of water, was floating in a calm eddy, one rope jammed to something beneath the surface of the river. It was empty. The Kolbs found Bessie’s journal packed away carefully to stay dry. Her entries documented their last days, but gave no hint of tragedy. She wrote simply of the rapids passed, their camps, and the surrounding scenery. Bessie and Glen’s tracks were found on beaches upriver from the abandoned scow, along with some discarded tins and a few scattered lima beans leftover from meals. No other trace was left. Bessie and Glen had disappeared. The most common theory is they fell overboard in a rapid at Mile 232 and were drowned. They did not have life jackets.

The Many Legends

Bessie and Glen’s story quickly became legend, developing a life of its own. According to some, Glen was domineering and abusive, and Bessie nurtured a private hatred for him that bubbled over after weeks on the river resulting in her murdering him and walking out of the canyon to restart life under a pseudonym. A skull with a bullet hole in it was found in the canyon in 1976 and immediately people believed it was Glen’s. It wasn’t.

Another story circulated about an older woman on a Grand Canyon trip who claimed she was Bessie Hyde. According to this story, the woman said she had stabbed Glen and then hiked out. She supposedly said, “It doesn’t matter if I say I murdered him now. No one will believe me anyway.” But that story did not pan out either. The woman later denied having ever made such a confession. Furthermore, she was several inches taller than the diminutive Mrs. Hyde.

Some flip the murder story, saying Glen killed Bessie and then returned to civilization where he picked up his life again as Glenn, with two n’s Hyde. There are some amazing parallels between the two Glens, both of whom are historical figures, but that’s as far as the story goes. Coincidences, no more.

Finally some people believe the pair, spooked from a scary experience in a rapid, abandoned their boat and tried to hike to the rim, dying from starvation and exposure on the way. But even this scenario seems unlikely. Glen and Bessie had been through worse whitewater upstream and her journal gives no indication of a growing despondency or fear.

It’s Still a Mystery

No one will ever really know what happened to the young pair. But their dramatic effort, two months on the river in an unwieldy wooden scow, dragging box springs onto the beach at night to sleep, cooking over fires, moving through the canyon day after day, just the two of them, continues to haunt river runners nearly 100 years later.