Grand Canyon’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries

The Fate of the Powell Expedition Crew

In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a civil war veteran who was wounded in battle and had his right arm amputated, led a party of nine men on the first American boating expedition through Grand Canyon on the uncharted waters of the Colorado River.  After nearly 100 days of monster rapids, near death experiences, and starvation rations, the expedition split at Separation Rapids.  Brothers Oramel and Seneca Howland, and William Dunn abandoned the river party; apparently fed up with Powell’s questionable leadership and also unwilling to risk running any more life threatening rapids.  The three men somehow managed to forge a route out of Grand Canyon, only to be reportedly killed by Shivwits Indians.  However, recent evidence unearthed by Grand Canyon historians possibly indicccates they were instead murdered by Mormons associated with the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857.  The exact fates of the three men may never be known.

Newlywed River Runners Vanish

Newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde attempted to boat the Colorado River through Grand Canyon in 1928.  Glen was allegedly driven by a desire for stardom in a bid to guide Bessie through Grand Canyon, thus making her the first woman to accomplish such a feat.  Unfortunately, and in all likelihood, the adventure came to a tragic ending.  After being reported overdue, the boat containing nearly all of their possessions was discovered towards the end of Grand Canyon near Diamond Creek, with no trace of Glen or Bessie.  The two were not outfitted with life jackets and their bodies were never recovered.

The James White Controversy

One of the more controversial unsolved mysteries of Grand Canyon occurred two years before the Powell expedition, in 1867.  A man named James White was found barely alive on a makeshift raft of driftwood near the end of Grand Canyon.  According to White, he had floated about 500 miles of the Colorado River over nearly 3 weeks, escaped an Indian ambush, and while on the river lost a fellow prospector to drowning.  But White’s unprecedented rate of travel and inconsistent description of his surroundings has fueled volumes of skepticism.  Was White actually the first American to float the entire Grand Canyon?  It seems unlikely, but the truth will probably remain a mystery.

Lee’s Lost Gold Mine

John D. Lee was a Mormon pioneer who ran a ferry later named for him at the head of Grand Canyon, one of the few practical Colorado River crossing sites for hundreds of miles.  Brigham Young sent Lee to this desolate outpost for Lee’s involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 (a crime for which he was later executed).  During his exile in the Grand Canyon region he allegedly discovered large quantities of silver and gold while keeping the location a secret.  Many of The Canyon’s first prospectors and settlers searched for Lee’s Mine, perhaps finding traces of Lee’s presence, but his riches were never rediscovered.

Exodus of the Ancients

Evidence of prehistoric cultures is scattered throughout Grand Canyon and dates back as far as four thousand years (one archeological find suggests their presence as far back as ten thousand years).  The most recent inhabitants are commonly referred to as the Ancestral Puebloan or Anasazi.  Their communities thrived on hunting, gathering, and farming in The Canyon until about 1200 AD when they seemingly vanished.  So why did they disappear and where did they go?  The leading theories are that drought and overpopulation contributed to their departure, and there culture was absorbed into other tribes in the area, such as the Hopi in northeastern Arizona.


  1. good picture.thanks .

  2. “Brothers Oramel and Seneca Howland, and William Dunn abandoned the [John Wesley Powell] river party… recent evidence unearthed by Grand Canyon historians possibly indicates they were instead murdered by Mormons associated with the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857.”

    I hadn’t heard this before. I’d love to learn more about this hypothesis. Can you point me to your source?
    Email don (@)


  3. Hi Don,

    We could point you to several other historical sources, but perhaps the most recent summary of these events is in Ghiglieri’s book “First Through Grand Canyon”.

    – SY

  4. I would like to know if anyone had died of coyotes and fake tour guides. I was thinking of having a tour of The Grand Canyon and I wanted to make sure I choose the right people.

  5. Oh Susanna, don’t you cry for me
    cuz I went to The Canyon with a fake tour guide
    and got eaten by a coyoteeee

    But seriously, I wouldn’t worry about it, unless your tour guide is a coyote, in which case you’d probably be well south of Grand Canyon. Also, if you are lucky enough to see a coyote in The Canyon, it may come in handy to be a faster runner than your tour guide, whether they are fake or not.


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