A journey down the Snake River of Hells Canyon is not only an opportunity to experience heart-racing whitewater and beautiful scenery, but also a chance to learn about the history and heritage of the homesteaders and natives that settled this canyon. When imagining those who lived in Hells Canyon in its early days, the image that often comes to mind is the rugged mountain men or the tough and weathered mining crews that lived there. Less discussed are the stories and the resilience of the women who made their lives out here, which is why it is important to acknowledge their history as well.
As a guide on the Snake River, I love to learn about the women who came to this canyon before me and made a habitat out of the landscapes of Hells Canyon. Grace Jordan, Violet Wilson Shirley, and Georgie White are just a few of the women whose stories inspire me everyday when I am in Hells Canyon.
Grace Edgington Jordan was a writer and a homesteader, the wife of Len Jordan and mother of three children. Grace’s family lived in Hells Canyon on a sheep ranch in the 1930s and her memoir about their time in the canyon, Home Below Hells Canyon, is one of the best-known works about life in Hells Canyon. Her book tells tales of how her family sustained themselves in one of the most remote canyons in the country, virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Her ingenuity and resilience remains a remarkable example to those who learn about her and their home can still be visited today during a trip down Hells Canyon with a memorable stop at Kirkwood Historic Ranch.
Violet Wilson Shirley
Violet Wilson Shirley was the fourth child out of the eight children in the Wilson family, who lived at Saddle Creek Ranch in Hells Canyon. She writes about her childhood and growing up in Hells Canyon in her book My Heaven in Hells Canyon. No book paints a more idyllic picture of a childhood in the wilderness as her tales do. My favorite part of the stories that Violet tells in her book is the feeling of peace and the descriptions of beauty she weaves through the tales of her youth. Even after she moved out of Hells Canyon Violet continued to come back for many years. Following her retirement she worked as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service at the Kirkwood Historic Ranch visitors center to tell the tales of her adventures and instill her love of Hells Canyon to countless visitors.
A legend among whitewater boaters, Georgie White is best known for being the first woman to row a boat through the Grand Canyon, but she also spent time on the Snake and Salmon Rivers in Idaho and Oregon. She ran commercial expeditions on the Snake for a few years and eventually phased out the operations after the construction of dams above Hells Canyon, but during her time here she referred to the rapids as some of the best whitewater in the Pacific Northwest. Georgie White is a pinnacle example of what it means to be a river guide and an explorer of wilderness and whitewater.
Violet, Grace, and Georgie are just a few of the women whom I have learned about and felt inspired by through the marks they have made on Hells Canyon history. Not only am I grateful for the women of Hells Canyon but the team of women we have at Hells Canyon Raft. I am so thankful to be a part of HCR and work with our crew of women and guides on every trip. Experience the history for yourself by booking a trip with Hells Canyon Raft!
Haley McBride – HCR GUIDE