Ada Bass: Prescott to the Grand Canyon

By Marjory J. Sente

Ada Diefendorf Bass, music teacher and wife of Grand Canyon pioneer William Wallace Bass. Ca 1890. Courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park’s Museum Collection, Bass Family Collection. #17796.

Ada D. Bass was the wife of renowned Grand Canyon guide William Wallace Bass. Her Arizona roots, however, were first planted in Prescott, when she arrived as Miss Ada Lenore Diefendorf to visit her aunt, Mrs. Anna C. McGowan, in January 1894. Ada’s aunt was the proprietress of the Williams House, a Prescott hotel.

Twenty-six-year-old Ada traveled by train from her parents’ home in East Worchester, New York, for a visit that lasted almost a year. A teacher and musician trained at the Boston Conservatory of Music, she became involved in the Prescott community, offering music lessons during the spring and summer of 1894.

In 1894 after learning about guided Grand Canyon trips, Ada and her aunt decided to take one of W.W. Bass’s excursions. They paid $25 for the six-day adventure from Williams to the Canyon and back, accompanied by Miss Kate L. Heizer, Frank S. Emmal and Arizona Journal-Miner editor J. C. Martin. The trip was well-documented by Martin in his articles in the Journal-Miner and by Ada’s composition “My First Trip to Grand Canyon.”

The group traveled from Prescott to Williams by train on August 17. They stayed in a hotel that night and met Bass, owner of the Grand Canyon Stage Line, the next morning. He had improved a trail from Williams to the South Rim so they could travel in coaches in relative comfort. Martin’s September 5, 1894, article stated that they traveled 32 miles the first day to Cataract Glen, where they planned to cross Cataract Creek. Instead of a dry creek bed, they encountered a raging torrent. When the water receded, they crossed safely and camped for the night.

Bass Tour Group ca 1910. Courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park’s Museum Collection. # 07175.

The next day, after another long stage ride, they reached the Canyon at dusk, took a quick look and went to bed. Ada wrote about their first morning on the rim, “Bright and early before the sun was out the next morning, the entire party was out again to feast their eyes on what we briefly looked on the night before.”

Bass led the group to Supai Village where they met Havasupai Tribe members. In the September 12, 1894 Journal-Miner article, Martin wrote, “The trail leading to the village was fatiguing and dangerous, and yet we felt amply repaid for it all.” Martin also stated that seeing the Bridal Veil and Mooney Falls were “worth the trip there as they are magnificently grand.” They spent a day and two nights at Supai before returning to the Rim and preparing to return to Prescott. Ada and Aunt Anna arrived home on August 29.

Example of Bass ad for an excursion to the Grand Canyon in the May 29, 1895 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner. Courtesy of Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner.

The Grand Canyon fascinated Ada; however, W.W. Bass impressed her more. While on the excursion, she learned he not only knew about the Grand Canyon, he also played the violin and recited poetry. Bass apparently was impressed with Ada too.

After returning to Prescott, Ada traveled back to New York, visited with family and friends, packed her belongings and set out for Arizona again on December 27, arriving in Prescott on the 31st in time to attend the Knights of Pythias New Year’s Ball.

For January 4, 1895, Ada wrote in her diary, “Left Prescott for Williams with W.W. . . W.W. went to Flagstaff to get license.” On Sunday, January 6, 1895, Methodist minister Rev. McFadden married Ada and W.W.

They stayed in Williams two days before heading to the Canyon. Their “honeymoon” trip accompanied by two other men and filled with rain, snow and high water, gave Ada a rude introduction to the many hardships she would endure over the next three decades helping her husband make a living as a Grand Canyon guide.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to dayspast@sharlothallmuseum.org Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at archivesrequest@sharlothallmuseum.org for information or assistance with photo requests.

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