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The Suck

The Green River was once a place of mystery and danger, at least according to the wags who hung out at Jake Fields Store in Green River, Wyoming.  One of the most dangerous places was the mythical but nonetheless dreaded “Green River Suck.”  “The Suck” was supposed to be a deadly cataract somewhere on the Green River that was impossible to pass safely; to even attempt it was to court a certain death in its roiling, dangerous waters.   During high water periods, the water pooled and swirled as it entered Flaming Gorge, and the resulting whirlpools gave rise to the legend of “The Suck.”  The story began during the “Ashley Days” of the fur trappers, and it’s impossible to say just who first told the tale around a campfire.  The first time it appeared in print, though, was in 1856, in the memoirs of James P. Beckwourth, the “Chief of the Crow Nation.”

Beckwourth, an African-American trapper who was a former slave, was in Ashley’s party that came across the plains in 1825.  In his memoirs, narrated to an admiring and credulous writer in a California gold camp in the 1850s, Beckwourth claimed to have rescued Ashley from the “Green River Suck” when the latter fell out of their boat: “The current…became exceedingly rapid, and drew towards the centre from each shore.  This place we named the Suck.  This fall continued for six or eight miles, making a sheer descent, in the entire distance, of upwards of two hundred and fifty feet.” Beckwourth goes on to relate in breathless prose how he swam to Ashley, had him hold onto his shoulders, and started to swim for shore, but the current was too strong and soon they were in danger of being dragged to “inevitable death.”  Just when his strength was giving out, Thomas Fitzpatrick reached out a pole and Beckwourth was able to pull himself to safety, Ashley still clinging to his shoulders.

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