Q: Disaster Falls kind of pops up suddenly, after what kind of a warning? What happened there?|
MG: Well, Powell had a lot of experience on flat water and he designed a program -
it worked for me, when I was young, it'll work here. And, that was to space the boats
well apart and to signal if you saw anything bad and pull over, deal with it. At
Disaster Falls, they were met with a surprise because they were running down the
river in these ill-suited boats, it filled up with water and became unmanageable, and
the last boat saw no signal. No signal was given probably and they crashed and burned.
They ran into the middle of a rapid and a rocky island, smacked against it and people
were jarred all over. The river pulled them off the rock, smacked
another rock, the boat breaks in half, everybody's crying for their lives, no life jackets,
rats abandoning a sinking ship and they're stuck out there on an island. Their boat's
demolished. And, up until this time, the trip had been a lark. They'd run these
little waves and had a great time. It's kind of a roller coaster mentality and as soon
as this happened, the whole trip changed into a very serious expedition, into unknown
territory with no spare tires anymore. They couldn't afford anything to go wrong
at this point, too much had been lost in one place.
Q: Be explicit about now that they lost a boat, there were so many men, if they lost another
boat, what would happen.
MG: The specific situation that Powell faced with regard to logistics was, he had
three boats left on a four boat trip. One more boat gone and that meant that everyone started
out on this trip, would be in half the boats. They wouldn't fit, it wouldn't work, there
wouldn't be enough supplies, the expedition would be over. Now they might survive to a point
where they could hike out but the expedition would be over. That would mean that he would
have to go back to Congress, he would have to seek new funding, he would have to try again,
he would be a failure, trying to get money, to try again. There's so much at stake here that
the loss of one boat, was an unacceptable risk, so they ran everything as conservatively as
possible, and they portaged a hundred times, a hundred rapids. It was hideous work for the men.
Q: How hideous was it?
MG: It was hideous enough that their boots turned into rags and then, were abandoned and
they were making moccasins out of big horn sheep skins and their pants were rotted away and
they're beat up and they'd fall down and smash their faces and have cuts all over them
and they were just working like they probably never worked in their life, nor would they ever
work again, to that level, that hard, and that difficult circumstance. Sleeping among boulders
because they didn't finish a portage and so on, it was horrendous work.
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