Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Going Downriver

Hard hats and rubber rafts

When I signed up up for the “smooth water” rafting trip, I kind of imagined that there might be 20 – 30 people in our group, all assigned to the same boat.  For some reason, I didn’t think it would involve a lot of humanity.

Wrong.  We had enough people and enough boats to launch an assault on the beaches of Normandy.  It took 3 buses and a number of vans to get everybody from the meeting point in Page to the base of Glen Canyon Dam.  That involved driving through a long, dark tunnel that began at the top of the dam and went down to the river below.  Kind of spooky in a bus full of strangers when you can’t see much of anything.

Then you had to wear a hard hat  from the bus to the launch point (that’s my wife in the picture holding the hat on with her right hand).  Then all the boats were loaded and then, finally, departure.

Not a bad ride all in all.  The water on that part of the river is calm and it’s quiet down there (most of the time).  All you had to do was sit and watch, and listen to the guide describe what you were seeing.  Our guide was a young girl named Megan, working to earn some money to return to college (a biology major, I think).  That’s her below.

Megan, the river guide

My only problem with Megan was that one of her “stories” (near the end of the trip) was not exactly true.  Now, I know almost nothing about the Colorado River, but I do know the story of John D. Lee, the guy who built the ferry crossing at Lee’s Ferry.  Lee’s Ferry, if you didn’t know, is the start of the eastern end of the Grand Canyon.  It was here that the Mormon Church ordered Lee to go in 1871, to build a ferry that would allow Mormon settlers to cross the river.  At the time, there were very few spots along the Colorado that could be safely crossed between Moab, Utah and Needles, CA.  Very inhospitable terrain.

Well, Megan told the story correctly – up to a point.  Someone in the boat asked her what happened to John Lee (and his many wives).  Megan responded by saying that Lee died a very rich man, since much of the money used to cross the river went to him.

Definitely not true.  John Lee, you see, was involved in an incident called the “Mountain Meadows Massacre” in southern Utah in 1857.  In a nutshell, a wagon train headed west was attacked by what appeared to be hostile Indians over a number of days.  The wagon train folks, however, managed to create a well fortified defensive position and the thing turned into a siege of sorts.

But while Indians were certainly involved, it was the Mormon militia of southern Utah that was really responsible.  For a number of reasons, they weren’t keen on non-Mormons invading their territory.  And they were there during the attacks.  After a few days, the Mormon leaders (including John Lee) decided that the siege had to end.  So they rode into the wagon train encampment and told the settlers that if they came out unarmed, the Indians wouldn’t harm them.

And that’s exactly what the settlers did.  At which point 120 of them (all but the smallest children) were shot and killed at close range.  And then hurriedly buried.

The U. S. government finally caught up with Lee in 1877.  After 2 trials in Utah, he was finally convicted and executed by firing squad.  He was the only person involved to ever be punished for this atrocity.

Anyway, he didn’t die rich (or peacefully).  The wife who was running the ferry operation finally sold it a couple of years later for 100 cows.

I didn’t, by the way, say anything to Megan the river guide.  Heck, maybe she’s a Mormon herself.  I don’t know.  But sometimes it’s best to just keep still.


6 Responses to “Going Downriver”

  1. oneowner

    Looks like you had a fine day for the raft trip, I see some short sleeves. Were there many photo-ops on the trip and was it calm enough to get some good shots? How far upriver (down river?) did the tour take you?
    The John Lee story is fascinating. There is probably a good story of his pursuit and capture after 20 years, too.

    • Paul Maxim

      Yes, definitely warm that day down in Glen Canyon. I would guess low 90’s or so. I did get some interesting pictures of 800 year old petroglyphs on the canyon walls. Very calm water in this area. It “heat ups” very quickly just past Lee’s Ferry. That’s where the white-water rafting trips through the Grand Canyon usually start. If you want to do that, you could wait a year or more to get a reservation. The NPS doesn’t allow a lot of people downriver from that point per year.

      Weather definitely cooling right now. We’re leaving Zion today, headed for Las Vegas to see our son and daughter-in-law. A strong storm system is cooling things down by 20 or 30 degrees (with thunderstorms). LV could be just in the high 60’s on Thursday. Kind of like Rochester!

  2. Earl

    Paul, your story/post is a fine example one should never assume their audience doesn’t know as much or more about any subject they may speak/write of. Either this young lady didn’t know the true end of John Lee, didn’t want to relate the true story for various reasons or she was having a hard simply saying…”I don’t know.”

    Enjoy LV and time with family.

    • Paul Maxim

      Yeah, it was hard to tell if she was purposely telling a story or just innocently trying to adlib. My gut says that she actually knew the “real” story but didn’t want to rattle anyone’s cage. It is, after all, an area heavily populated with Mormons. There very well could have been one or two in the boat.

      “Enjoying” LV a little too much at the moment………..

  3. Paul Lester

    The real story is certainly fascinating. Who knows if she knew or not, but that’s probably not something that you want to ‘share’ if you are in her position. She’s there to try to make sure that folks have a good time. 🙂 Thanks for the info about what really happened.

    • Paul Maxim

      You may be right, Paul, but if it was me I’d have told them the grisly truth. People usually find mayhem far more entertaining than the “they lived happily ever after” story. My opinion, anyway.


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