Pioneering the Grand Canyon: The Triumphs and Tragedies of Peter Berry
It was 1895, and Peter Berry was riding his dark brown mule up a winding, narrow trail that connected the Last Chance Mine at the bottom of the canyon to Grandview, a house and operational center that Pete had built on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The sun was shining through the clouds, lighting up the canyon’s north rim in a dazzling array of purple and orange shades that stretched out to the horizon and ended at the deep blue Colorado River. Pete couldn’t help but be awestruck by the beauty of the scenery, never tiring of the view.
Pete and his partners, Ralph and Niles Cameron, had been coming to the Grand Canyon since 1888 to search for valuable minerals. These long trips from Flagstaff often lasted for weeks or even months, but it all paid off in 1890 when they discovered a rich vein of copper on Horseshoe Mesa. They quickly registered their claim and began excavation, building the finest trail in the Grand Canyon to connect the mine to Grandview.
Their hard work had paid off, as the copper ore from their mine was of exceptionally high quality, with a purity of 15-30%. In fact, two years ago, they had even won the top prize at the World’s Fair in Chicago for the purity of their copper ore, putting their mine and the Grand Canyon on the map.
Pete stood with his left hand on the harness and his right hand tightly gripping the whip. Delilah, his stubborn mule, was causing trouble again, wiggling her head and shifting the harness to the side. She was also prone to stopping for a snack, earning her the nickname “the unruly” among the group. Pete was in charge of a caravan of ten mules, including old Joe bringing up the rear. These mules, known for their strength and reliability, were all from Tennessee. Some were black, others were dark brown, and there was even one white mule with dark spots. Each mule was carrying two large sacks of copper ore, weighing 200 pounds, on either side of their body.
Tomorrow, they would be making the journey back down the steep trail, this time carrying food and other supplies. The caravan traveled up and down the canyon every day. Pete was bothered since the cost of transportation to the processing center in El Paso, Texas, was eating into their profits. He knew the Santa Fe Railroad company was planning to raise prices again and worried it could put them out of business. The good ore was running out, and Pete knew he needed to come up with a plan and discuss it with Ralph and Niles.
As the fiery sun hung high in the sky, its light cast a striking array of pink and purple clouds over the canyon. The layers of gray and red rock above the turquoise river added to the rugged beauty of the scene.
Pete surveyed the landscape. He was a tall, lean man with a strong, erect posture and sharp, intense features, including a bushy imperial mustache. But it was his eyes that really stood out – small and piercing, they radiated a sense of willpower.
At 37 years old, Pete had been living full-time at Grandview for five years, and he looked every bit the part of a pioneer in his dark clothes, high leather boots, gloves, and wide-brim leather hat.
“If only my business success could match my marriage situation, that would be great. But it’s not like that at all. It’s just one drama after another, filled with heartbreak and sorrow. It’s the kind of material that could make for a good novella, but it’s not a novella. It’s my life. And when was the last time I even read a novella or any other book, anyway?” Pete’s thoughts drifted as Delilah steadily made her way up the trail.
“I know I wasn’t the most present or the best husband, but to do what she did? I just don’t know. Yeah, I was away from Flagstaff a lot, prospecting in the canyon and all that, but having an affair while I was working my ass off and with that low-life Frankforter, who used to work for me? I just don’t know.
It was never love between us. I just did my duty when my brother John was killed at his saloon in Flagstaff. He was a brave little guy; I miss him. Why he had to intervene in that brawl, I don’t know. And to be killed by a stray bullet… I’m not even sure it was a stray. He and Mary had three kids.
I left everything in Colorado, came over, took over his saloon, kids, and wife. No, it wasn’t love, but she had her talents, no doubt about that. At least I had the chance to shoot and wound Frankforter before they took off.”
Pete’s thoughts tumbled out in long, unpunctuated sentences, the way the mind constructs thoughts with no clear beginning or end.
“A good story,” Pete mused to himself, “maybe the best in the Wild West, but to hell with all that. Now she’s gone with the kids, and I’m here, in this beautiful canyon. Hooray!” He let out a high-pitched shriek that Delilah took as a signal to speed up, but it was really just a release of emotion.
“I need to think ahead,” Pete continued to ponder. “I’ve got these two crude lodging rooms that I sometimes rent out to the few brave visitors who come here on the 12-hour stagecoach ride from Flagstaff. They always look so rattled and exhausted when they step off the carriage and always ask for food and gear that I don’t have to offer. I could actually make a killing if I set things up right. Maybe I should even build a lodge. It would be the first one at the Grand Canyon, with a dining hall and a gift shop. There aren’t many visitors right now, but if I build it, they’ll come.”
Now, almost 130 years later, visitors to the Grand Canyon are still coming in droves, with estimates ranging from 4 to 6 million people per year. In 1897, Pete and his new wife, Martha, opened the Grandview Hotel, which is credited with starting tourism at the Grand Canyon. Pete also began offering mule tours down the Grandview trail, and for a time, Grandview was the most popular tourist destination at the Grand Canyon, advertised as the “only first-class hotel at the Grand Canyon.”
However, things changed in 1901 when the Santa Fe Railroad reached Grand Canyon Village, located just 11 miles west of Grandview. Many tourists chose to take the smoother train ride rather than the bumpy stagecoach journey to Grandview. Today, little remains of Pete’s lodge on the rim, but if you visit the Grand Canyon and drive east along the south rim, be sure to stop at the Grandview observation point – it truly is grand!
If you’re wondering about the accuracy of Peter Berry’s story, you can rest assured that it is based on factual information that is readily available online. The only fictional part of the story is the description of Delilah, the mule I rode on a recent descent into the Grand Canyon.