For a River Heritage Museum at Grand Canyon National Park

The Galloway Boats

The Galloway Boats: Stone, Edith, Defiance, Glen

Nathaniel Galloway is considered the father of modern whitewater rowing technique. He was a trapper from northern Utah who devised his own boat and rowing style to cope with the challenges of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Rather than using a deep-keeled boat like Powell, he devised flat-bottomed upturned boats for shallow draft and ease of pivoting. And rather than pull downstream with his back to the view, he chose to face the rapid, pull upstream to slow his momentum, and ferry gently back and forth to miss the obstacles. His system revolutionized whitewater boating, enabling him and those that followed to navigate rapids with greater safety and success.

In 1897 Galloway and a fellow trapper ran the entire Grand Canyon using his new boats and technique. In 1909 Julius Stone, an Eastern industrialist, hired Galloway to lead a group of four Galloway-style boats down the Green and Colorado. Galloway traveled to Detroit to supervise the construction of four boats to his specifications, built from elm and white pine. Stone rowed his own boat, which is now the centerpiece of the Grand Canyon National Park collection. Theirs was the first trip simply for sport, and Stone’s subsequent enthusiasm helped popularize river running and the Galloway’s boat design and technique of descending rapids.

Two years later Grand Canyon photographers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, after much communication with Stone, rowed similar boats down the river, making photographs and movies as they went. They began showing their films and photographs at their South RIm studio shortly thereafter, and the show became the longest-running film in the history of the world. Ellsworth’s book about the trip went through 27 printings during their lifetimes. Both their boats, the Edith and Defiance are in the collection. Built in Racine, Wisconsin, they are similar to Stone’s boat in shape, but built with a stronger lapstrake construction.

The wilderness aspect of the adventure began to fade in 1923 when the United States Geological Survey completed their mapping survey of the Green, San Juan, and Colorado Rivers. More than just charting the terrain, they were looking for damsites, several of which were eventually used to tame the muddy torrent. One of their boats, an oversized Galloway-style named Glen, is part of the NPS collection.

Although the Galloway boats were far better adapted to whitewater than Powell’s Whitehalls, their narrowness and consequent tippiness, combined with their thin, fragile plank sides, mandated limited loads and frequent portages while leaving scant room for passengers. Still, Galloway boats dominated river travel for four decades before more modern materials—plywood and neoprene—brought new designs to the river.

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