- Part 1: Deadpan commentary and astonishment (January 2015)
- Part 2: Sound advice against dangerous feats (February 2015)
- Part 3: Reverence and the inadequacy of language (March 2015)
- Part 4: Praise for John Hance and his tall tales (April 2015)
- Part 5: The pursuit of wealth and happiness (May 2015)
Captain Hance: “Very gentlemanly, but a curiosity of the rarest type”
“Captain” John Hance told of digging Grand Canyon himself and piling the debris to the south, where it comprised the San Francisco Peaks. He described how, during an atmospheric inversion, it was possible to snowshoe across the canyon on cloud tops. He explained a missing fingertip by noting that he had “plumb worn it out” pointing at all the pretty scenery. Hance’s tall tales are legendary, and we know from his guests that his stories were well received.
One wonders about Hance’s degree of editorial influence over Personal Impressions. Certain passages suggest that Hance, if he was a vain man, might have enjoyed the project. There are countless testimonials in praise of his skills as a guide, the most famous of which was rendered by South Rim resident William “Bucky” O’Neill:
God made the cañon, John Hance the trails. Without the other, neither would be complete.
—Wm. O. O’Neill (“Bucky” O’Neill) — 25 January 1893 (pg 64)
Bucky O’Neill’s quote is commonly reproduced today. But the image of Hance as “half the canyon” is likely something that Hance himself encouraged — it appears repeatedly throughout the book:
The Grand Cañon is here … Captain John Hance is here, too. He will interest you if the cañon doesn’t.
Mrs. J.C. Streeter, Boston — June 10, 1891 (pg 33)
Hurrah of the Cañon and John Hance.
—Henry B. Thorn — July 1892 (pg 51)
By all means visit the Grand Cañon of the Colorado River, in Arizona. See Hance, too.
—ER Herman — California — September 1891 (pg 40)
In his way, Hance is as great as the cañon.
—James H. McClintock, Phœnix, Arizona — May 24, 1897 (pg 103)
Next to the Grand Cañon, Captain John Hance and his trail are two of the greatest wonders of the world. The half was never told.
—J. P. Campbell, Ashland, Kans. — May 31, 1897 (pg 103)
Any one who comes to the Grand Cañon, and fails to meet Captain John Hance, will miss half the show. I can certify that he can tell the truth, though it is claimed by his friends that he is not exactly like the Rev. Geo. W. in that particular, as he can do the other thing when necessary to make a story sound right. Long live Captain Hance.
—T. C. Poling, Quincy, Ill. — July 2, 1897 (pg 106)
John Hance is half and the Grand Cañon is the other half.
—Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Moss — October 16, 1897 (pg 112)
Captain John Hance — a genius, a philosopher, and a poet, the possessor of a fund of information vastly important, if true. He laughs with the giddy, yarns to the gullible, talks sense to the sedate, and is a most excellent judge of scenery, human nature, and pie. To see the canon only, and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show.
—Chester P. Dorland, Los Angeles, Cal. — August 26, 1898 (pg 121)
Many appreciations to Captain John Hance for adding greatly to the pleasure of my trip to the Grand Canon. A comedy without the comedian is not fully enjoyed; the cañon, without Captain Hance, is not complete.
—Ethel Valentine. San Francisco, Cal. — September 23, 1898 (pg 125)
There are also some deadpan, sarcastic remarks about Hance’s yarn-spinning:
In testimony of Captain Hance’s idea of truth.
—Edward Evertt Ser, Montgomery City, Mo. — May 22, 1897 (pg 102)
If Dickens had only been John Hance, what a book he could have written.
—John A. Beckwith, Oakland, Cal. — May 25, 1897 (pg 103)
As to John Hance, he is very gentlemanly, but a curiosity of the rarest type.
—E. W. Boyd, Pittsburg, Pa. — September 25, 1897 (pg 111)
Captain John Hance, our faithful guide, is quite as unique in his way as the cañon itself.
—J. D. Croissant, Washington, D. C. — September 29, 1897 (pg 111)
Captain Hance, with all his lies, is a most trustworthy individual.
—DeWitt Clinton Croissant, Washington, D. C. — September 29, 1897 (pg 111)
Special thanks to Captain Hance. Splendid guide, in spite of his economy of the truth.
—David Forbes, New York City, N. Y. — September 29, 1897 (pg 111)
Captain Hance’s birthday, forty-eight years old. May his years to come be as many as the tales he tells; but this, we are afraid, would prolong his life far into the millennium.
—J. K. Hare, New York City, N. Y. — September 7, 1898 (pg 122)
I believe all the Captain’s stories to be true, and if any one in the future should doubt, send him to me that I may do battle with him. To Captain John Hance, Grand Cañon of the Colorado.
—Arthur R. Reynolds, Chicago, Ill. — September 12, 1898 (pg 122)
The thing I most admire about Captain John Hance is his conscientious truthfulness. I have perfect faith in all of the stories he has told me.
—Wm. H. Zinn. — September 23, 1898 (pg 125)
There is also this testimonial, which, from a modern perspective, sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment:
Pleased with everything, even Captain John Hance.
—Margeurite Shonts. — September 14, 1897 (pg 111)
Some visitors so enjoyed Hance’s entertainment that they were inspired to leave their comments in rhyming verse. These are excerpts of the complete poems:
Full many a song and dance I’ve heard,
Upon the vaudeville stage,
But none can beat the yarns you’ll get
From Capt. John Hance, I wage.
—Jas. S. Nies, Brooklyn, N. Y. — August 1897 (pg 109)
Farewell to the gorge,
And to Captain John Hance,
Whose mendacious inventions outdo all romance.
—R. and E. E. F. Skeel. — October 1, 1898 (pg 126)
And there is this comment, in praise of Hance’s “wonderful information”:
We were much indebted to Captain Hance for his excellent arrangements, courtesy, and his wonderful information.
—F. Moulton Barrett, Devon, England. — June 1, 1897. (pg 104)
I wonder if this is sarcasm, or if some of Hance’s guests returned home believing all that they had heard.