Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

Uncle Lee lost his left leg between the knee and the hip before he came to Moab. He still had to make a living though. His leg had to be amputated because he had tuberculosis of the bone. That’s what they called it in those days, but it was probably cancer or something else.

Most people were in the agricultural business and Uncle Lee, Uncle Roy and Albert Beech came over from Molen to Moab together and found out that the Maxwell House Hotel needed help. Mrs. Maxwell Aunt Ad also owned the millinery shop.

My mother’s name was Alvina Larsen. She and Millie Beech came over in 1899 and got jobs working at the hotel cooking. That’s how Dad met Mom. I have their marriage license dated May 19, 1900 on my desk.

My background is Norwegian and German. In 1760, Branstetter came over. He was a captain in the Royal Guard and asked permission from the Emperor in Germany to leave. His request was denied, so he got a group together and left on a ship anyway. They left a few minutes late because a kid had gotten lost and had to be found before they could leave. Branstetter found the boy and then the ship left. As the ship left the dock, the Royal Guard came after Branstetter, but they were too late because they had missed the tide and couldn’t follow the ship.

The Japs ruled Formosa (named by the Portuguese) for 50 years. The Chinese got it back after the war and gave it back its original name, Taiwan. J.J. Wang is from Taiwan and comes from a leading family there. His father owned and ran a newspaper on mainland China until communism got too bad. He got his family and then himself out to Taiwan.

J.J. bought a little motel off on a side street, the bought a bigger motel down on Main Street. He made it a point to visit with us every week. He was very courteous and wanted the Europeans to stay at his 2 motels while they were in Moab on trips with us. J.J. never missed a week. Some motel owners called occasionally, but J.J. never missed a week, so we gave him the majority of the business.

When I started my tour business, I started with a 1950-something model jeep. I had worked on the river before and wanted to get some rubber boats. Georgie White was a great boatman and ran trips down Cataract Canyon and I would fly them back. There were no lakes in those days and they’d land on a dirt strip near the river bottoms. Her husband, Whitey, liked to booze. He might be there and might be somewhere else, drunk. He was there one time and I asked where Georgie was. He pointed on the jeep –she had on a skimpy bra and panties with 2 holes in the seat and was bending over doing something. I’ll never forget that! She came down and we met. I told her that I would fly her clients as long as she wanted me to. She inspired me to get into the river business. If she could do it, I could, too! I’ll never forget Georgie, especially the view! Oh, my!

I knew a guy running trips on the upper Green River. He lived in a little town near Vernal, Utah.

I bought 3 ten man rafts. They were Army surplus rafts. I had never rafted Cataract Canyon before, but we had some experience from our younger days, so we just did it! Lee Herron was my employee. They had just started to build Lake Powell, but it was way down from where it is now, so we still had lots of rapids to run.

We figured the best way to go down the river. Brown Betty is the first rapid, which was pretty easy. After that, we’d pull up close to the lip of the rapids and row. If we thought we’d have to be on the other side, we’d row upstream. We never had a bit of trouble with the really difficult rapids. We look ’em over and figure the best way to get over them. The biggest rapid is called “The Big Drop”. It’s a series of three rapids. The first is the most fun of all with the mightiest waves I have ever seen when the water is running really fast. # 1 is so much fun, #2 had to get through the Eddie and #3 is “The Biggie”, or “Big Drop 3”.

Every run is different depending on the flow of the water. The river can rise or fall and change the rapids. In the old days before we stared running it, we sometimes got 100,000 feet per second of water flow. Now it’s 60,000 feet per second, if you’re lucky! The Green River and Colorado join together 4- 5 miles above Brown Betty.

I never tipped a raft over, fell out or had anyone fall out, either. We’d use the motor to get across the lake because it would have been a long way to row, especially if there was a wind. It was spectacular! We ran the upper Green, too, which was a 100 mile trip!

I had a friend from the Army who had been a B-17 bomber pilot in Europe. His name was Art Swap and his wife was Jackie. Art and I traded stories about the war. Art flew one mission over Germany with a large number of bombers. They hit their target and swung south over France, which was occupied by the Germans. They flew over some broken clouds and he was “Tail End Charlie” -he was flying in the clouds and he called the leader to tell him that they were headed for a German fighter base, Foche Fowlf.

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