Burros were brought to Grand Canyon in the late 1800s by prospectors in search of gold. It seems that a couple of John Wesley Powells’s crew members found a little flour gold near the mouth of Kanab Creek that set off a minor gold rush. The prospectors found zinc, lead and asbestos instead of gold and didn’t stay long. However, they left many of their pack animals behind. Because burros originated in northeastern Africa they survived well in the canyon’s dry, hot environment where their population grew.
Bright Angel, or Brighty for short, was named after the side canyon that he wintered in. But during the hot summers, Brighty came up to the North Rim where it’s much cooler. In fact we still use the trail he created today and call it the North Kaibab Trail.
In the early 1900s, a game warden named “Uncle” Jim Owens befriended Brighty who would help carry water from a nearby spring in exchange for pancakes. Later when the national park was formed and the McKee family developed tourist accommodations Brighty again helped carry water. In fact Brighty and Uncle Jim were the first to cross the new silver suspension foot-bridge that crossed the Colorado River in 1928. Brighty joined a burro herd on the south side of the canyon and lived a long life.
Over the next 50 years burros flourished to the point that they were damaging the environment and competing with the native Bighorn sheep. During that time the Park Service would shoot burros to try and reduce the population. By the 1970s that was not considered acceptable by the public. In the late 70s the Fund for Animals received a permit from the Park Service to remove the remaining burros and used helicopters and rafts to remove almost 600 burros from the park.
There are still some burros in the western part of the canyon and the Haulipai tribe still struggle to keep them from destroying the land. Yet biologists say they are not a viable population. Of course the Bureau of Land Management protects many wild burros on public lands throughout the Southwest.
Some days I present a program about Brighty and burros in the Sunroom of Grand Canyon Lodge. To learn more about Brighty read Marguerite Henry’s Brighty of the Grand Canyon published in 1953, a delightful book for young and old alike.
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