Garth Marston on Willie Taylor


Garth Marston told a group of us his account of Willie Taylor’s passing as we stood at the grave on September 11, 1994.

   Well Garth, tell us a story.

   Garth: Well, it’s a true story. I can’t tell you that. [laughter]

   Voice: Were you on the trip?

   Garth: Yeah. Yeah.

   Voice: Using your boat?

   Garth: Um hmm. And, uh, we’d known Willie for years. Friend of my dad’s. Who drank too much, smoked too much and sang tenor…not enough. He was a friend of my dad’s from the Bohemian Club. He came down the river, I think, two, two and a half times. And this last one being the half time. [noise from group] Huh? Four times?

   Voice: The plaque says four times.

   Garth: Four times? That’s good. Cause he just loved it and as I said he was a bachelor. Okay, so then the event takes place, and he had a heart attack. Did he have one or two heart attacks before he had the major one that killed him? I’m not sure about that. What I do know is that he had some problems the day before. And everybody was concerned about him.

   Now one of the questions that people often ask: “Why don’t you just crank up the motors and go?” We were in outboards—we had twin thirties I think. So, you know, from here on down to Phantom Ranch and a helicopter it isn’t really very far away. But the problem was that the water was coming up and this place here was filled with debris, with sticks and logs and we kept shearing pins, you know. Try to go someplace and all of a sudden: Prrrrrr… So we really had no way of getting him out—any way that we could think about. We probably would have used the same technique that we used in the jet trip when Bill Austin fractured his leg, and we went down and summoned a helicopter and the helicopter came in the next morning and flew Bill in. Could of done the same thing for Willie if we cold have gotten someplace, to a telephone for example.

   So then we pulled in and we worked on him the day before… (we, uh… broad we…) we’d worked on him the day before and he was generally hurting. And we got him in the boat the next morning and, uh, he couldn’t take it after just a minute or two and he said… [sniffle]… can’t tell you… [pause to pull it together] uh… [long pause] “I’m gonna die.”

   So we took him over to the shore. [group becomes audibly emotional as well]

   Garth: Sorry.

   Voice: You have us going too.

   Garth: Anyway, we brought him over to the side and put him up. It was about ten o’clock, you know, right about now. And I went down to do something with the… with the boat.

   And the guys came around the corner and one said, “Well, we’re looking for something to bury Willie in.”

   And then the other decision was, what do you do with him? Do you leave him here? Or do you take him back out to, um, Berkeley or wherever? And the decision was made, I think, without dissent, I’ve never heard that there was any dissent. The decision was made to bury him here. He loved the Canyon, more than anything he’s ever done outside. And he was a bachelor, and he owned Taylor’s Leather Goods on the east side of Shattuck Avenue. And so there was really no reason to haul him out.

   And here’s a sort of macabre aspect of this thing. They wrapped him in a tarp, like the kind we all use every night, wrapped him in a tarp. And we buried him right here, just the, you know, whoever remained, seven or eight or nine. And we got down to Phantom Ranch. And the guy, the ranger came out, you know, and he didn’t say “Hello, it’s a nice day, how was your trip?” “To hell with you guys, you’re illegal,” et cetera. He didn’t say that. The first thing he said, before even saying hello is “ By the way, you guys, I’m here to tell you that if you ever lose anybody on the river, don’t pack him in a tarp, just dig him in and let the bugs start working on him right away.”

   And I just… I’ve thought about that, you know, since then… I say “Here’s a guy with tender feelings.” But no, he didn’t know that Willie was dead. He had no idea. [laughter]

   So there was no, there were no repercussions about, that I was ever aware of, that Willie, that we buried him here. I guess we had to get, what do you have to get, a birth certificate? Or a death certificate? [mumbled concurrence] Birth, death, yeah, right, you have to get a certificate. And I don’t think there was any problem with it.

   So, that, in general, is the story which I think is, well relatively, close enough. We keep building the story up and it makes a good one.