Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West
Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West
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John Wesley Powell

 

(March 24, 1834 - September 23, 1902)

 

John Wesley Powell was born in Mount Morris, New York and followed the family to Illinois just outside Chicago. Powell studied botany and geology, but never received a degree.

 

At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was in the Union army being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Artillery. At the battle of Shilo in Tennesse, Powell lost his right arm.

 

Powell was professor at two Illinois universities (Illinois Wesleyan U., and later Illinois State U., the first public U. in Illinois).  At the latter he was also curator of the natural history collections and requested (and received) funds from the state legislature for his first Colorado trip. With a class in tow, Powell took a number of field trips to the Rocky Mountains. His ascent of the 14,255 foot Longs Peak along the front range was the first documented challenge of this peak. Even today this climb with it's well worn trail is a victory.

 

In 1869 funded by the Smithsonian Institution, Powell and 11 men left Green River, Wyoming floated through the Gates of Ladore, Glen Canyon and finally the Grand Canyon in wooden boats. His group was the first to travel by boat through the Grand Canyon. In places where the rapids were vicious and rocks made the passage dangerous, the boats and supplies were carried along narrow ledges to calmer waters. Powell's boat was equipped with a chair and he would sit precariously high in the middle of the boat. This allowed Powell to see far downriver. During times of extended layovers, the one armed Powell would climb the walls of the canyon sometimes to the top. On one occasion, Powell became stranded unable to go up or down. He was recused by a member of the expedition who used his long johns as a lifesaving instrument. Another trip through the Grand Canyon was made in 1871.

 

Later, Powell worked for the U.S. Geology Survey Department in various capacities finally becoming the director in Washington D.C.

 

Respected by many scientists for his work in the west, Powell gave credit in his written materials to members of his expeditions. The manmade body of water in northern Arizona - southern Utah called Lake Powell was named for John Wesley Powell. Prior to being flooded, Glen Canyon was part of the area explored by the Powell group.

 

John Wesley Powell is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in Section 1. You can get a "precise" location at the visitors center after waiting in line and filling out senseless forms. You do need to know the date of death (1902) and the branch of military service (army). Why? Don't they have these listing by name? I guess not.

 

 

Information compiled by Steve Grimm

Books about John Wesley Powell

 

The Romance of the Colorado River by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh

 

A member of the second expedition in 1871, Dellenbaugh provides a detailed account of this fingernail biting journey. A great armchair adventure.

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http://www.WildWestHistory.org

© Wild West History Association - a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation

http://www.WildWestHistory.org