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  The Story of a Boat
  BQR ~ spring 1998

The Utah. Near the rim of the Canyon, at El Tovar Hotel, is a steel boat, sixteen feet long, scarred and battered, showing signs of the roughest usage, named the Utah. Here is its story:

Loper Plans to Explore the Canyon. For ten years after Galloway's first trip was made, no one was found venturesome enough to risk the dangers of the Canyon journey until the man who built the Utah and his two companions resolved to “dare and do.” These men were Charles S. Russell, of Prescott, Arizona, Edward R. Monett, of Goldfield, Nevada, and Albert Loper, of Louisiana, Missouri. Russell was thirty-one years of age, Monett twenty-three, and Loper thirty-eight years.

The plan originated in the mind of Loper, in a mine in Cripple Creek, in 1899. Six years later, Loper had been attracted to the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado in Southeastern Utah, by the excitement created by the discovery of placer mining there. He confided to Russell his belief that the Colorado River offered much greater chances of richer placer mining.

Difficulty in Finding Companions. The men planned to make their start in the spring of 1900. But they presently discovered that the undertaking they had faced so lightly presented almost insurmountable difficulties. At the outset, the men found it was necessary to have at least one more companion if they were to accomplish their undertaking, and four men were preferable to three.
But the most daring of the men they met in the mines refused to consider such a trip.

Plans Begin to Materialize. It was consequently not until April of 1908 that their long-laid plans began to materialize. Loper met Monett, a boy in appearance, seemingly not strong, and unusually quiet, as he did his day's work in the Mohawk mine in Goldfield. But that Monett was not a boy—in courage at least—and not as weak as a casual glance suggested, was presently evidenced. Loper notified Russell, then foreman of the mine near Prescott, that the third man had been found. A meeting was arranged at Green River early in September.
Boats Are Made. Three boats were made, with stout wooden frames, covered with hulls of steel plates. Each boat was decked over, fore and aft, with sheet steel covers, bolted down by means of a row of small bolts along each gunwale. Covers, on decks, reached from each end to the bulkhead placed near the center of the boats, thus leaving an open compartment, three and a half feet long, for the oarsman. All the loads were placed under cover, and securely lashed to prevent shifting. The boats were also provided with air-tight compartments in each end, and under the seat, containing sufficient air to float both boat and load, should all the other compartments be full of water. The boats were named the Arizona, the Utah, and the Nevada. Each was equipped with provisions for three months.
The Start. The start was made down the Green River, September 20. Four days later, the trio had reached the junction of the Green and Grand Rivers, the beginning of the Colorado, having covered a distance of one hundred and twenty miles. From this point to Hite, a small town near the Arizona line, the first bad water was encountered in the forty-one miles of Cataract Canyon. Loper's boat met with disasters here—dashing on a rock and tearing a long rent in its side—and giving warning of the inferiority of these thin metal boats to the stout oak craft used by the Powell party. The party managed to reach Hite, however, towing the damaged boat, and there made the necessary repairs.

Loper Stays at Hite. Loper had acted as photographer of the expedition, and had the camera and the plates in his boat, when it was filled with water. Examination showed that the plates were ruined, and the camera shutter badly rusted. It was decided that Loper should remain behind at Hite, and await the arrival of a new shutter for which he had written. It was agreed that he need not be thus delayed more than two weeks, and should be able to rejoin his companions at Lee's Ferry, a Mormon settlement of three families, one hundred and forty miles below Hite, within twenty-one days.

Russell and Monett Start. Accordingly, Russell and Monett pushed ahead, and put in many days prospecting along the shores of Glen Canyon. After forty-three days of waiting at Lee's Ferry, Russell and Monett decided that if they were to complete the trip before their now rapidly decreasing supply of provisions was exhausted, they must start on without Loper, for whom they had waited more than twice the time agreed on. Friday, December 13, had no terrors for the intrepid pair, and on the morning of that day they started on down the river, with the sixty-six miles of Marble Canyon in front of them, an introduction to the two hundred and seventeen miles of the Grand Canyon below.

Their Remarkable Nerve. In telling of this stage of the journey, Russell seemed to lose sight entirely of the remarkable nerve both men showed in starting down through what is admittedly the wildest stretch of continuous bad water in the whole river. And that, too, without the third companion, who at the outset had been considered absolutely indispensable to the success of the party. Instead, he emphasized rather his belief that Loper had elected to face no more dangers, and had voluntarily remained behind at Hite.

First Seven Days Passed in Safety. In seven days they had passed the length of the roaring stream, in its descent through perpendicular walls of marble, reaching up to an average height of two thousand five hundred feet, and had come through the worst rapids to that point, without damage to either boat. At one stage there are fifty-seven falls of from sixteen to twenty feet in a distance of nineteen miles, according to Stanton's records, in which was kept an accurate count of all the rapids in the river.

Enter the Grand Canyon. They entered the Grand Canyon December 20. For the first fifteen miles below the entrance of the Little Colorado, and the beginning of the big Canyon, they found comparatively quiet water. But from this point, on to the beginning of the first granite gorge, their way was threatened with the worst falls they had met thus far. The good luck which had attended them from the start, however, still prevailed, and they managed to shoot their way safely down over the almost continuous cataracts for five long days. Christmas found them only fifteen miles above Bright Angel. In describing the manner of their celebration, Russell remarked casually that they certainly “hung their stockings”—to dry. From beginning to end of their journey, the adventurers were obliged to depend entirely for fuel on such driftwood as they could find lodged in eddies and on the rocky shores. More than one night they spent in clothes soaked through with the icy water of the Colorado,with no fire to warm them. Their Christmas camp, however, was on a narrow strip of sand, with a greater supply of driftwood at hand than they had found at any point along the river.

Dangerous Rapids. Beginning immediately below this camping place, and continuing for ten miles, the river dashes madly through that stretch of foaming water called by Stanton the “Sockdologer.” To make matters worse, Russell found it impossible to follow his usual custom of “picking a trail” through the rapids. Ordinarily the elder man climbed along the precipitous sides of the Canyon beside each cataract, leaving Monett above the rough water in charge of the two boats. From his vantage point, Russell could pick out the most dangerous places, and chart a course through the rapids accordingly. But throughout these ten miles of granite, the walls are sheer and smooth for the first fifteen hundred feet of their rise. Russell could find no foothold, and the men for the first time faced the necessity of “shooting” unknown waters.

Russell's Method of Shooting Rapids. As always, Russell led the way in his boat, swinging it into the boiling current stern first—his own method of taking each cataract—making the frail craft respond to his will, when possible, by a forward pull on one or the other of his oars. For half an hour the men were hurled down the seemingly never-ending length of tossing waters. After the first minute, the cockpit in which each man sat was filled to the gunwales with icy water, in which the oarsmen worked, covered to the armpits. Hundreds of times great waves totally submerged them, the little boats each time staggering out from under the weight of water, only to plunge into more.
Russell Gets Safely Through. With less than a quarter of a mile still to be covered, before the less turbulent water below was reached, and just as Russell was sweeping around the last great curve beyond which he could see the placid water, he heard his companion in the rear cry out in alarm. Before he could turn to see the cause of the cry, he was driven round the curve. Mooring his boat to the bank as quickly as possible, Russell half climbed, half waded along the shore of the river, and made his way back up the side of the rapids.

Monett in Danger. Monett, his boat wedged tight between two jagged rocks, a foot below the surface of the sweeping water, was hanging desperately to the gunwale of the little craft, his body straightened out horizontal by the rush of the water about him. The boat was completely wrecked. But Russell, when he threw a rope to his companion, was astounded to see the boy work his way slowly nearer the boat, and begin to tie its contents securely with the line intended for his own salvation.

Rescued with Difficulty. Against the roar of the rapids, it was useless for Russell to call to his companion to let the provisions go and save himself. Four times the lad let Russell drag sides of bacon and sacks of beans through the thirty feet of roaring water between him and the shore, before he finally caught the rope and was dragged to safety. He had been in the water for more than twenty minutes, and was nearly exhausted when Russell lifted him to his feet.
Loss of Boat. The loss of the boat seemed at fist to mark the end of their attempt to equal the record of their predecessors. But Monett insisted that they try his plan of straddling the stern of the remaining boat. “If we strike too rough water, I can always swing overboard,” he urged. “And we've needed a drag that wouldn't get fouled on the rocks all along.”

Reach Bright Angel. It was noon, January 6, when the trail party from the hotel on the Canyon's rim at Bright Angel, forty men and women, eating their luncheon at the river shore, saw two men swing out of the rapids two hundred yards up the river, and row leisurely toward them. In the thirty years that tourists have visited the bottom of the Canyon at this point, it is safe to assert that not one ever saw a sight like this.

Rest for Three Days. Two horses were placed at the disposal of the miners. Their clothes were torn and soaking wet, their faces covered with an undisturbed growth of beard of one hundred and ten days' accumulation. While they had planned to climb out of the Canyon at this point to mail and receive letters, they had no intention of remaining. With all their provisions now confined to the limited quarters of one boat, and with other incentives to push on with all speed possible, it was with difficulty that they were persuaded to remain at the hotel three days.

A Fresh Start. January 9 the entire community, guests and employees of the hotel, accompanied the two men to the river edge, and bade them an enthusiastic farewell. With a responding shout, the miners pushed off into midstream and headed down river. For the first time in their four months' fight against the river, the adventurers faced water too wicked-looking for them to dare. It was out of the question for both men to try to ride in the little rowboat, and the shores on each side afforded no foothold, after half the length of the rapids was passed. Russell would not leave Monett behind to shoot the rapids alone in the boat.

Attempt to Lower Boat through Rapids. Accordingly they took out all the provisions and camera (the latter obtained at El Tovar), and tried to lower the boat through the rapids by means of a long rope, to which they clung from their station on the shore. The force of the current was so great, however, that to save themselves from being dragged into the water they were forced to let go the rope. The little boat shot down the whirling cataract, and the men saw it pounded against two sharp rocks below.

Boat Is Lost. To lose their boat at this point meant death. They could not climb out of the Canyon. Their only chance was to follow and overtake the boat, now floating slowly down the still water below the rapids, the forward air-tight compartment filled with water and only the stern showing. Russell made the plunge first, followed quickly by Monett. How they managed to live through these rapids is a mystery. But they struck the still water together, neither having suffered a scratch. The shores continued to be so steep they could not climb out of the water, and they kept on in their chase of the boat. When they were within one hundred yards of it, they saw it swept over the top of Boucher Rapids, and at the same time discovered a landing place on the south shore. They gave up the boat as lost, and spent the night where they were, with no matches with which to light a fire.

Boat is Recovered and Men Resume Journey. Thursday morning, as Boucher came down his trail to go to work, he found the two men, who had climbed down beside the rapids at daybreak, engaged in hauling the badly battered boat out of the water. They had found it being swept round and round in a big eddy at the foot of the cataract. Two holes in the boat's bottom amidships bore witness to its trip over the rocks. The men persuaded Boucher to go to the blacksmith shop at El Tovar, and secure the necessary material for repairs. He did so, and after everything was again on good order, the intrepid fellows pushed off again, and continued their wild and exciting ride down to tidewater. Past Bass's Trail and under his cable crossing, past the mouth of Havasu Creek, and Diamond Creek, where over forty years before, Wheeler's party had camped, down the gorge up which Wheeler had climbed with incredible labor, they finally reached the Grand Wash, and entered the placid water below Black and Diamond Canyons, soon to find themselves at the town of Needles, where they were welcomed by the cheers of practically the whole community. A banquet was tendered them, and the one remaining boat of the expedition secured as a memorial of their adventurous trip.

The Grand Canyon of Arizona: How to See It
Chapter xxxi, 1910.
George Wharton James



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