Ada Bass, Pioneer Woman at Grand Canyon. (Insider's Look Webisode 053)

Uploaded by GrandCanyonNPS on 24.02.2012

Welcome to this week’s webisode of Insider’s Look at Grand Canyon.
Hi I’m Ranger Patrick, one of your hosts of the show. And I have come out with my jeep
thirty miles west of Grand Canyon Village to somewhat of a remote place.
It is a trailhead here, great views.
My companion today is park volunteer Gene Sullivan.
Gene welcome to the show.
Volunteer Gene Sullivan: Thank you, I am glad to be here.
So, we have come all this way out and we are far from the village.
And I understand that we have the Bass trail, South Bass trail here, North Bass trail on
the North Rim all named after a certain family.
I know you are interested in that family’s history.
How did you become interested in it?
When I first got here to the canyon I was given a lot of research material to go through.
As I was researching I ran across a story of a woman who took her laundry, by packhorse,
down to the canyon and did her laundry in the Colorado River, coming back up.
It took her three days!
I was so amazed by that story! I was expecting this big, big woman and hefty clothes.
I ran across her picture and I was totally amazed and shocked!
Here was this frail looking delicate woman in her Victorian garb.
It just totally shocked me!
Well, who was Ada Bass?
She was someone who grew up in New York State.
She was an indoor person, never played outdoors as a child or very rarely.
She read, she played organ and piano, she taught herself violin, and she became a teacher
at the age of sixteen.
What brought Ada to Arizona?
Well, in those days it was considered rather shameful if a woman wasn’t married by twenty
and having children.
And she was still unmarried at the age of twenty-six.
At those times New York State had more women than men.
Whereas it was opposite here in the Arizona Territory, it was not a state yet in the 1890’s.
So, she decided to move to Arizona and live with her aunt who was managing a hotel in
How did she come to meet her husband?
She heard about the Bass excursions, run by William Wallace Bass, to the Grand Canyon.
And that is how she met him, she signed up for the trip.
Can you tell our audience about William Bass?
Well, he is the most amazing character I think I have ever read about!
He had evidently had a nervous breakdown in the East where he was from.
His doctor told him to get out to the West and have a more active lifestyle.
He came to the Grand Canyon as a miner and actually had an asbestos mine.
But he realized the real dollars were in tourist money.
So he created a wagon road from Ashfork and Williams.
They met up at a place called “the Caves” and came forward to the Grand Canyon where
he had the Bass camp right here on the rim.
He had a very good relationship with the Havasupai tribe.
He went to Washington at one point and lobbied on their behalf for restoration of their lands.
They rewarded him by showing him the Bass trail, which was an ancient Native American
trail originally.
He improved upon it and that is where we are standing right now, at the head of the South
Bass trail.
He wanted to have this tourist business way out here far from Grand Canyon Village and
I know he used to have someone go over to the village and try to drum up business.
And I know that the Fred Harvey Company/ Santa Fe railway didn’t really want that advertising
going on.
Could you read to our audience one of the ads that he would have going in the village?
Yes, he or Bert Lauzon would sit on the porch at Verkamp’s and pass out these leaflets.
It says; W.W. Bass independent guide, poet, and geologist of the Grand Canyon may be found
in front of Verkamp’s independent store on the walk east of the El Tovar hotel.
He will arrange for your drives and camping trips.
His rates will please you, so will his service.
Thirty years canyon experience as trail builder, guide, and miner renders this possible.
Before we even get to them being married, what did attract Ada to William?
He was said to be charming and convincing. He told great stories. He actually wrote poetry.
I have one of his poetry books here with me.
He played violin, which must have impressed Ada.
After her excursion at the Grand Canyon she went home to New York, got all of her possessions,
and came back and married William Bass five months later in 1895.
How did that work out for Ada?
It was really rough for awhile!
She had a lot of hard work to do.
The honeymoon was no honeymoon.
On the way back they were stuck at the caves because of a flood.
She got ill.
Her life here was pretty miserable at times.
A lot of taking care of tourist and I told you about the washing trips down to the Colorado
River, and she would have to wrangle horses.
A lot of times she was left alone. And after she had children he would be off on lecture
circuits leaving her and the children alone.
Sometimes they would run low on food. And so, it was not an easy life for Ada.
Even though there is so much hardship, why did she stay with him?
Well, she left twice; once when she had her daughter Edith. When she pregnant she left
and went back to New York and stayed for a year and half.
But each time she would leave; William Wallace Bass would convince her to come back somehow.
Actually she went on a vacation with her son when she was in her eighties and he took her
to the North Rim.
And I guess, her son Bill, asked her the same question, why she kept coming back?
He said; she looked into the canyon for a long time and then she finally said; “You
know, I love this canyon too.”
I understand that both William and Ada are buried in the pioneer cemetery here at Grand
Canyon Village.
Ada’s grave is next to her daughter Edith’s’. William’s headstone is next to Ada’s,
but as usual William is missing.
What do you mean?
Following Williams’ death in March of 1933 a plane left Grand Canyon airport and flew
low into the canyon.
It circled what we looking at right now, which is known as Holy Grail Temple. And, as it
circled it dropped a tin container which held the ashes of William Wallace Bass.
Thereafter the family referred to that structure as Bass tomb.
Gene, I have been out here several times to come hiking, it is such a beautiful area.
Even though it is so difficult to get out here on the dirt road, especially when you
are in the monsoon like we are right now, but I gotta say coming here with you today
and learning the history that has been going on here a hundred years ago makes this place
even more special.
Thanks so much for being here, being on the show, and sharing this with our audience.
I’ve enjoyed it too. Thank you.
We’ll catch you folks next time on Insider’s Look at Grand Canyon.