Mystery on the Colorado

  • Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde, by Brad Dimock. Fretwater Press, 2001. Paperback: $18. 304 pages, 170 blac-and-white photographs.

 


Glen and Bessie Hyde floated the Green and Colorado rivers on their honeymoon in 1928. Aboard a two-ton sweep scow made from scrounged wood, and with a little experience gleaned from rivers in Idaho, the newlyweds made their way through Labyrinth, Stillwater, Cataract and Glen canyons before facing the awesome power of the Colorado in Marble and Grand canyons. They were last seen at Hermit Rapids on Nov. 18; their empty boat was found upright 142 miles downstream one month later.


The story of the Hydes struck a chord with Brad Dimock, author of The Doing of the Thing. Now he has written Sunk Without a Sound, about Glen and Bessie Hyde. Dimock is hardly a newcomer to this river world, having earned his keep for the past quarter-century by rowing in Grand Canyon as well as on rivers in Utah, Alaska, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Stories of Glen and Bessie had swirled around many of his campfires in the Canyon. With every telling, the myth seemed to grow larger, the implications darker. Had Glen Hyde really forced his young wife to endure a brutal trip that she did not want to make? Had Bessie really shot her new husband and escaped, only to reappear on the Colorado four decades later?


Dimock felt that he could tell Glen and Bessie's story more accurately if he followed in their footsteps. With his wife, Jeri Ledbetter, he, too, built a scow and they struggled to guide it through the Grand Canyon. The trip came close to doing them in, with the scow's sweep oars thrashing them daily. They learned to dive cowering into the boat's bottom through the worst of the rapids. No points for style; many points for survival. With each twist and turn of the canyon, Dimock better understood what motivated Glen and Bessie, what they experienced, where they were going and why they didn't get there.


Dimock could have taken any number of cheap shots with this book, stirring up waters that have long been muddy. Instead, he wrote about two real people who gambled and lost. He writes with poignance about Glen's honor and Bessie's spunk. He draws a remarkable picture of Glen's father, tenaciously clinging at first to a thin hope of rescue, then left haunted by catastrophe. And Dimock does a beautiful job of depicting the Canyon in which this drama played out. He knows and loves this country, and it shows. His story-telling runs as high and fast as the river.


Sunk Without a Sound will take its place among a handful of books which have made Grand Canyon's history come alive.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Michael Collier