Georgie White


Georgie White

Georgie White Clark (1911-1992) was a river-running guide in the Grand Canyon. She was the first woman to run the Grand Canyon as a commercial enterprise, and she introduced several innovations and adjustments to the way that guides ran the Colorado. In particular, she used large army-surplus rafts, often lashing together multiple rafts, to maintain stability in the large rapids. In 2001, the United States Board on Geographic Names renamed Mile 24 Rapid in her honor.Grand Canyon River Guides, [http://www.gcrg.org/bqr/14-4/history.html "Georgie Rapid" Official at Federal Level"] . Retrieved Dec. 30, 2006.] Grand Canyon Treks, [http://www.grandcanyontreks.org/georgie.htm "Georgie White! Colorado River Rapid named for controversial river runner!"] , November 30, 2001. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2006.]

Early years

Born Bessie DeRoss in Oklahoma, she was raised in Denver, CO from the age of 9. She married Harold Clark while still in high school and had a daughter, Sommona Rose, at the age of 17. Jeffrey D. Nichols, [http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/utah_today/daredevilgeorgiewhiteranutahsgreatrivers.html "Daredevil Georgie White Ran Utah's Great Rivers"] , August 1995. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2006.] She moved to Chicago for several years, then to New York City with her husband, finding office work at Radio City Music Hall, and divorced him not long after a cross-country bicycle trip in 1936. She was briefly married to James White.

The West and the Grand Canyon

Georgie and her daughter were close companions after her divorce from Clark, engaging in outdoor activities such as mountain and rock climbing, skiing, skating, and bicycling. In 1944, her 15-year-old daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver while bicycling. She took to hiking in the desert with a friend, Harry Aleson. In 1945, unable to afford a boat or raft, the two swam the lower part of the Grand Canyon. Wearing a swimsuit, sneakers, and a life jacket, they swam 60 miles of cold, fast water from Diamond Peak to Lake Mead. In 1946, they again swam down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, this time from Parashont Wash, twice the distance of the previous year. They also used a 1-person raft to carry supplies. In 1947, they used a war-surplus inflatable raft to run the Green and Colorado—among the first people to do so.

White was the first woman to row the full length of Marble and Grand Canyons in 1952. She made her name when, in the early 1950s, she lashed three rafts together to achieve better stability in big rapids and began taking paying customers to "share the expense" of running the river. Her methods were controversial, as those who ran the river in wooden rowboats such as dories disdained the rubber rafts. She shrugged off her detractors and kept her river-guiding business going for 45 years. Her "Royal River Rats" achieved some fame, being featured in Life Magazine, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and countless newspapers. At the age of 73, she could be seen holding her motor rig's tiller with one hand and a beer with the other, wearing a full-length leopard-pattern swimsuit. Her last Grand Canyon trip took place in September of 1991 as she was approaching her 80th birthday. She died of cancer in 1992 at age 81.

Following her death, those who examined her personal effects found artifacts which led some to speculate that White had, in fact, been Bessie Hyde, the woman who had vanished with her husband during a honeymoon float of the Grand Canyon in 1928. Rumors had floated that Bessie had killed her abusive husband and hiked out of the Canyon. Among White's personal effects were a copy of the Hydes' marriage license and a pistol in her lingerie drawer. However, river historian Brad Dimock and White's biographer Richard Westwood have discounted the rumor that White and Hyde were the same person.

The renaming of Mile 24 Rapid in her honor was controversial. Georgie's detractors were many; in addition, her friends would have liked to see a bigger, more prominent rapid named for her. Rapids such as Crystal and Granite were unlikely to be re-named,Grand Canyon River Guides, [http://gcrg.org/bqr/6-3/georgie.htm "Georgie’s Rapid" Project"] . Retrieved Dec. 22, 2006.] and on October 11, 2001, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names followed the Arizona State Boards on Geographic and Historic Names and approved renaming Twenty-Four Mile Rapid as Georgie Rapid in a split 3-2 vote.

Further reading

* DeRoss, Rose Marie (1970). "Adventures of Georgie White, TV's "Woman of the Rivers". Gardner Printing and Mailing Co. ASIN B000IK2KKK.
* Westwood, Dick (1997). "Woman of the River: Georgie White Clark, White Water Pioneer". Utah State University Press. 0874212340.
* Dimock, Brad (2001). "Sunk Without a Sound : The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde ". Fretwater Press. ISBN 1892327988.
* Briggs, Don (1999). [http://www.whitewatervideo.com/cgi-bin/WWVStore/Perlshop.pl?ACTION=thispage&ORDER_ID=389880736&thispage=DonBriggs.htm "River Runners of the Grand Canyon"] , VHS/DVD

References


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