A Page Out of the Book Cliffs
Page 5 — Harry Ballard — Part 3
by AJ Rogers
Feb 01, 2018 | 873 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In my last column, part two of this Harry Ballard series, the young English-born cowboy had spent a miserable winter living in a dugout on the Uintah reservation on the north side of the Book Cliffs, in the vicinity of Ouray, Utah. The following summer of 1889 was undoubtedly an easier time, but a respiratory problem caused him to catch a November train to Denver where he was diagnosed with catarrh. His Denver doctor charged him $40 but apparently fixed him up pretty well — well enough that Harry applied for and gained a position with the Stanton expedition to make a winter float trip down the Grand Canyon.

This was a survey expedition to look at the possibility of building a railroad to southern California, following the mighty Grand River that was just beginning to be called the Colorado. Now the young cowhand was about to become a river runner on one of the wildest and least known rivers in the land, in a boat very similar to the ones the Powell expedition had used on prior trips.

Once again, I’ll let Harry tell you the story, in his own words and copied in its entirety from yet another letter to his mother, written in good cursive with excellent spelling:

Grand Canyon of the Colorado River

Just below the mining camp of Ticaboo

December 12th, 1889

My Darling Mother,

We are laying around camp this afternoon. I thought I would write you a few lines to tell you how we are making it. I have not received any letters from England, but as I was passing Thompsons Spring Station on my way from Denver to Green River, I jumped off the train and rushed to the agent who gave me two newspapers from England for me, directed in Amy’s handwriting. Also, I received a notice from the postmaster at Cisco saying there was a registered letter for me at that office. So, when I reached Green River I wrote to the postmaster at Cisco to forward the registered letter to Lee’s Ferry, a place on the Colorado River that we will reach about X-mas time, and I fervently hope it will be a letter from you dear mother.

There are twelve men in all on this expedition and three boats, four men in each. The boats are very strongly built with four airtight compartments in each. Each man is provided with a cork life belt. We transported the boats across the desert 120 miles in wagons before we launched them. The first rapid we ran, we took the wrong channel and all three boats struck rocks and were nearly capsized, but we got out of it all right with the loss of two oars, which the boss man in my boat let go and began jerking off his boots. We have run six or seven rapids since then without any trouble.

We have come upon a placer miner today who has been prospecting and he says he is going to make for the settlements in a few days, so we have given him our letters to mail. The next place we can send mail from is called Lee’s Ferry, 125 miles below here, and which we will probably reach about Christmas time as we travel very slowly (except when we get in a rapid) and I do hope I shall at last get a letter from home when I get there. It is now nearly nine months since I got a letter from you. Well dear mother, I must conclude with my very best love to you and Amy and Alice and all, and sincerely hoping all is well with you at home. Believe me, your loving son,


In further letters we find that Harry Ballard had some incredible adventures as his company continued shooting the big river. He became convinced that there was silver and gold to be found there, so he spent much of the 1890s exploring and staking claims in the depths of the Grand Canyon. I’ll try to wrap the story of this amazing man up in my next column so I can get on to other stories of good folks and earlier times in the Book Cliffs.

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