The Kolb Brothers' Biography
Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Chapter 7
Chapter 2 Chapter 8
Chapter 3 Chapter 9
Chapter 4 Chapter 10
Chapter 5 Chapter 11
Chapter 6  

A Biography of Ellsworth and Emery Kolb
Photographers of Grand Canyon

William C. Suran
(c)1991 by William C. Suran


In 1869 John Wesley Powell opened the door to the exploration of Grand Canyon and afterward felt the Canyon was his, for no one else would dare the hazards of the falls and rapids, the unknown danger that lurked beyond every bend in the mighty river, and above all the utter desolation. It did indeed take a person with courage and confidence in his ability, and lots of nerve to undertake the adventure. Someone with a devil-may-care attitude--and there were many who tried--some made it, others failed. Ellsworth Kolb was one of these. The word fear was not a part of his vocabulary. When he looked into the depths of Grand Canyon in 1901 and heard of the dangers the Colorado River offered he made up his mind to run it. His brother Emery, more cautious, lacked the adventuring spirit Ellsworth possessed and had second thoughts about risking his life in the dangerous waters. His desire was to make a living to support his wife and young daughter by selling photographs of the canyon and of tourists descending the Bright Angel Trail. Ellsworth's idea of taking moving pictures of a trip with the newly invented motion picture camera sold him on the journey. These pictures would make him rich and famous he thought. And they did.

While Emery lived he was known around the world, but it is surprising how soon one is forgotten. The stories, the adventure, the trials and tribulations of living at a place like Grand Canyon dealing with a dominating private enterprise that wanted and demanded sole possession of the Canyon rim, and a bureaucracy willing to be swayed and tempted by big corporate money were a part of his life. Emery, when backed into a corner, fought like a bantam rooster for his rights and won. Even after death he remained a thorn in the side of his oppressors.

The story of the Kolb brothers has only been told in part. Ellsworth more or less dropped out of the action in 1914 to reappear only briefly from time to time until his death in 1960, but remains an integral part of the story. Emery operated the business at the Canyon Rim until his death in 1976. While he dominates the story none of it would have come about without Ellsworth's dream of running the Colorado River.