John Hance

The Life, Lies, and Legend of Grand Canyon's Greatest Storyteller

Shane Murphy

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9781607817536 (paperback)
9781607817543 (ebook)

A legend in his own lifetime, John Hance (1837–1919) was synonymous with early Grand Canyon tourism. Between the late 1880s and early 1900s, to say “John Hance” was to say “Grand Canyon.” Hance was well known to travelers and visiting dignitaries alike, men such as William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Theodore Roosevelt, the president who affectionately referred to him as “the greatest liar on earth.” It was said that Hance tried to jump the canyon on his horse Darby only to turn back when he was halfway over and realized he would never make it across.

The truth behind Hance’s life is remarkable even without embellishment. In this book, Shane Murphy chronicles Hance’s childhood in Tennessee and Missouri, his service in the Confederacy during the Civil War, his time in Union prisons as a POW, and his later adventures with the Hickok brothers crossing the plains. Settling in Arizona’s fruitful Verde Valley, Hance farmed and filled military contracts before taking up residence as Grand Canyon’s first permanent Euro-American settler, trail builder, guide, and renowned storyteller.

Hance left no correspondence, personal memoirs, or other writings. Only informal portraits from magazines and newspaper accounts remain. Murphy investigated assessors’ rolls, rare mercantile ledgers, and mining claims to create a full and compelling narrative of a man who was once an icon of the American West and should be remembered as the founding father of Grand Canyon tourism.