What's a Kwagunt?

A home page URL or domain name should be unusual, short, and ideally easy to remember. Being enamored with the Grand Canyon, Bob chose the Indian name of one of its many beautiful side canyons as an internet handle several years ago. While the place may be familiar to a few of you, the origin of this 19th century name is obscure to most.

As a boatman and backpacker, Bob was repeatedly struck by the beauty of the campsites between the Nankoweap Trail and the Little Colorado. The most exciting rapid in this section of the Canyon also happens to have a great camping beach with a wonderful side canyon to hike. The name of both the canyon and the rapid is Kwagunt. A friend recently sent us a story about the origin of this name so we thought we would include much of it here for your enjoyment.

Helen Fairley writes in the Grand Canyon River Guides Boatman's Quarterly Review Volume 10, #4 (Fall 1997 issue):

About 56 miles downstream from Lees Ferry, the Colorado River flows over yet another boulder strewn debris fan at the mouth of a large side canyon. It is Kwagunt Rapid, with a 6 rating in the Stevens guide, and big hole in the middle. For many river runners, that is all they need or want to know about it. But some people may have wondered, where did that funny sounding name come from? Perhaps you happen to be one who knows that it was named after a Southern Paiute man who once roamed that part of eastern Grand Canyon in the mid-to-late 1800's. If so, did you ever wonder what kind of man he was and why his name is attached to that canyon?

His name is spelled variously as Kwagunt or Quagunt or sometimes simply Quah; it is an anglicized version of his Paiute name, Qua-gun-ti, which means "Quiet Man". As the name implies, Kwagunt, unlike his contemporaries Tapeats and Chuarumpeak, was not a politically outspoken leader. He was born sometime in the first half of the 19th century, probably in the 1850's, and for the first years of his life, he lived with his family around several springs in House Rock Valley. The family traveled seasonally into Grand Canyon to gather "yanu" (a clonal species of agave) in the springtime; in the fall, they moved up onto the Kaibab Plateau to hunt deer and gather pinyon nuts and other wild foods. During the rest of the year, they resided along the eastern flanks of the Kaibab Plateau, gathering grass seeds, hunting rabbits, and growing small gardens of corn, beans, and squash. . . .

. . . . According to Southern Paiute oral tradition, Kwagunt, along with a brother and sister, discovered the canyon that now bears his name while trying to hide from Apache raiders. The brother and sister lived there for a while, and after their deaths, Kwagunt claimed the area as his own. They say he discouraged visitors to the valley "because he wanted to keep the sage seeds to himself". He was still using the area when John Wesley Powell undertook his topographic survey of the Arizona Strip in 1871-1872, and it was probably while accompanying Powell and H. C. Demotte on a reconnaissance of the Kaibab Plateau in August, 1872 that Kwagunt informed Powell of his claim to the area. By the mid 1870's, however, most Southern Paiutes had abandoned efforts to live off the land in the traditional manner and had moved into settlements adjoining the Mormon communities at Kanab and Pipe Springs, leaving Kwagunt to eke out a lonely existence without the support of family or friends. Eventually, Kwagunt gave up trying to live on his own in the traditional manner, moved to Kanab, earned meager wages chopping wood and doing other chores for whites, and died on the Kaibab reservation as he had lived - quietly.

Private Trip at Kwagunt Beach (1974)

Updated on Thursday, December 8, 2006 @ 4:30 MST
© 1995-2006 by Robert R. Marley