John Wesley Powell

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John Wesley Powell
John Wesley Powell at National Portrait Gallery IMG 4439.JPG
Powell as he appears at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Born March 24, 1834
Mount Morris, New York
Died September 23, 1902(1902-09-23) (aged 68)
Haven Colony, Brooklin, Maine
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery, Section 1
Nationality American
Known for Traversing Colorado River of the Grand Canyon
Spouse Emma Dean Powell
Powell was the second Director of the United States Geological Survey, having served from 1881–1894. This portrait was taken early in his term of office.

John Wesley Powell (March 24, 1834 – September 23, 1902) was a U.S. soldier, geologist, explorer of the American West, professor at Illinois State University, and director of major scientific and cultural institutions. He is famous for the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers, including the first known passage through the Grand Canyon.

Powell served as second director of the US Geological Survey (1881–1894) and proposed, for development of the arid West, policies that were prescient for his accurate evaluation of conditions. He was director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, where he supported linguistic and sociological research and publications.

Biography[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Powell was born in Mount Morris, New York, in 1834, the son of Joseph and Mary Powell. His father, a poor itinerant preacher, had emigrated to the U.S. from Shrewsbury, England, in 1830. His family moved westward to Jackson, Ohio, then Walworth County, Wisconsin, before settling in Illinois in rural Boone County.

Powell studied at Illinois College, Wheaton College and Oberlin College, acquiring a knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin. Powell had a restless nature and a deep interest in the natural sciences. As a young man he undertook a series of adventures through the Mississippi River valley. In 1855, he spent four months walking across Wisconsin. During 1856, he rowed the Mississippi from St. Anthony, Minnesota, to the sea. In 1857, he rowed down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to St. Louis; and in 1858 down the Illinois River, then up the Mississippi and the Des Moines River to central Iowa. At age 25, he was elected to the Illinois Natural History Society in 1859.

First camp of the John Wesley Powell expedition, in the willows, Green River, Wyoming, 1871.
John Wesley Powell and his wife, Emma, in Detroit in 1862.

Civil war and aftermath[edit]

Powell's loyalties remained with the Union and the cause of abolishing slavery. On May 8, 1861, he enlisted at Hennepin, Illinois, as a private in the 20th Illinois Infantry. He was described as "age 27, height 5' 6-1/2" tall, light complected, gray eyes, auburn hair, occupation—teacher." He was elected sergeant-major of the regiment, and when the 20th Illinois was mustered into the Federal service a month later, Powell was commissioned a second lieutenant. He enlisted in the Union Army as a cartographer, topographer and military engineer.[1]

During the Civil War, he served first with the 20th Illinois Volunteers. While stationed at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, he recruited an artillery company that became Battery "F" of the 2nd Illinois Light Artillery with Powell as captain. On November 28, 1861, Powell took a brief leave to marry the former Emma Dean.[2] At the Battle of Shiloh, he lost most of his right arm[3] when struck by a minie ball. The raw nerve endings in his arm would continue to cause him pain for the rest of his life.

Despite the loss of an arm, he returned to the Army and was present at Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge on the Big Black River and in the siege of Vicksburg. Always the geologist he took to studying rocks while in the trenches at Vicksburg.[4] He was made a major and commanded an artillery brigade with the 17th Army Corps during the Atlanta Campaign. After the fall of Atlanta he was transferred to George H. Thomas' army and participated in the battle of Nashville. At the end of the war he was made a brevet lieutenant colonel, but despite this he continued to be referred to as "Major".[4]

After leaving the Army, Powell took the post of professor of geology at Illinois Wesleyan University. He also lectured at Illinois State Normal University for most of his career. Powell helped expand the collections of the Museum of the Illinois State Natural History Society, where he served as curator. He declined a permanent appointment in favor of exploration of the American West.[5][6]

Adventures and expeditions[edit]

Expeditions[edit]

Powell (right) with Tau-gu, a Paiute, 1871–1872.

After 1867, Powell led a series of expeditions into the Rocky Mountains and around the Green and Colorado rivers. In 1869, he set out to explore the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Gathering nine men, four boats and food for 10 months, he set out from Green River, Wyoming, on May 24. Passing through dangerous rapids, the group passed down the Green River to its confluence with the Colorado River (then also known as the Grand River upriver from the junction), near present-day Moab, Utah, and completed the journey on August 13, 1869.[6]

The expedition's route traveled through the Utah canyons of the Colorado River, which Powell described in his published diary as having

". . . wonderful features—carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds and monuments. From which of these features shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Canyon."

One man (Goodman) quit after the first month, and another three (Dunn and the Howland brothers) left at Separation Canyon in the third. This was just two days before the group reached the mouth of the Virgin River on August 30, after traversing almost 930 mi (1,500 km). The latter three disappeared; historians have speculated they were killed by the Shivwitz band of the Northern Paiute.[7] How and why they died remains a mystery debated by Powell biographers.

Powell retraced the route in 1871–1872 with another expedition, resulting in photographs (by John K. Hillers), an accurate map and various papers. In planning this expedition, he employed the services of Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon missionary in southern Utah and northern Arizona, who had cultivated excellent relationships with Native Americans. Before setting out, Powell used Hamblin as a negotiator to ensure the safety of his expedition from local Indian groups. Powell believed they had killed the three men lost from his previous expedition. Wallace Stegner states that Powell knew the men had been killed by the Indians in a case of mistaken identity.[7]

Members of the first Powell expedition:

  • John Wesley Powell, trip organizer and leader, major in the Civil War;
  • J. C. Sumner, hunter, trapper, soldier in the Civil War;
  • William H. Dunn, hunter, trapper from Colorado;
  • W. H. Powell, captain in the Civil War;
  • G.Y. Bradley, lieutenant in the Civil War, expedition chronicler;
  • O. G. Howland, printer, editor, hunter;
  • Seneca Howland;
  • Frank Goodman, Englishman, adventurer;
  • W. R. Hawkins, cook, soldier in Civil War;
  • Andrew Hall, Scotsman, the youngest of the expedition;
  • F.M. Bishop, cartographer.
Charles Doolittle Walcott, John Wesley Powell, and Sir Archibald Geikie on a geological field excursion to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, May 1897.

After the Colorado[edit]

In 1874, the intellectual gatherings Powell hosted in his home were formalized as the Cosmos Club. The club has continued, with members elected to the club for their contributions to scholarship and civic activism.

In 1881, Powell was appointed the second director of the US Geological Survey, a post he held until 1894. He was also the director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution until his death. Under his leadership, the Smithsonian published an influential classification of North American Indian languages.[8]

In 1875, Powell published a book based on his explorations of the Colorado, originally titled Report of the Exploration of the Columbia River of the West and Its Tributaries. It was revised and reissued in 1895 as The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons.

Views and ideas[edit]

As an ethnologist and early anthropologist, Powell was a follower of Lewis Henry Morgan.[9] He classified human societies into "savagery," "barbarism" and "civilization".[10] Powell's criteria were based on consideration of adoption of technology, family and social organization, property relations, and intellectual development. In his view, all societies were to progress toward civilization. Powell is credited with coining the word "acculturation", first using it in an 1880 report by the U.S. Bureau of American Ethnography. In 1883, Powell defined "acculturation" as psychological changes induced by cross-cultural imitation.

Powell was a champion of land preservation and conservation. It was his conviction that part of the natural progression of society included making the best use of the resources. Powell created Illinois State University's first Museum of Anthropology and it was called the finest in all of North America at the time.[11]

Powell' s expeditions led to his belief that the arid West was not suitable for agricultural development, except for about 2% of the lands that were near water sources. His Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States proposed irrigation systems and state boundaries based on watershed areas to avoid disagreements between states.[12] For the remaining lands, he proposed conservation and low-density, open grazing.[9]

Powell's Profile, a rock formation named for John Wesley Powell in Knowles Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.

The railroad companies, who owned vast tracts of lands 183,000,000 acres (740,000 km2) granted in return for building the railways, did not agree with Powell's views on land conservation. They aggressively lobbied Congress to reject Powell's policy proposals and to encourage farming instead, as they wanted to cash in on their lands. The US Congress went along and developed legislation that encouraged pioneer settlement of the American West based on agricultural use of land. Politicians based their decisions on a theory of Professor Cyrus Thomas who was a protege of Horace Greeley. Thomas suggested that agricultural development of land would change climate and cause higher amounts of precipitations, claiming that "rain follows the plow".

At an 1883 irrigation conference, Powell would prophetically remark: "Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land."[13] Powell's recommendations for development of the West were largely ignored until after the Dust Bowl of the 1920s and 1930s, resulting in untold suffering associated with pioneer subsistence farms that failed due to insufficient rain.

Powell firmly believed that the inhabitants of the North American continent before Columbus were in all instances barbaric and any evidence supporting a civilized society before that time should be discarded. This belief was known as the Powell doctrine and as a director of the Smithsonian he was in a position to enforce this view. His views became known as the Powell Doctrine, and were codified in his paper "On Limitations To The Use Of Some Anthropologic Data." [14]

Legacy[edit]

Maud Powell, niece of John Wesley Powell, photographed at his monument, Grand Canyon, Arizona, 1918.
  • In recognition of his national service, Powell was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, was named for Powell.
  • Powell Plateau, near Steamboat Mountain on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was also named in his honor.
  • Powell, Wyoming Major Powell never explored the Powell flats given his name.[15]
  • In Powell's honor, the USGS National Center in Reston, Virginia, was dedicated as the John Wesley Powell Federal Building in 1974. In addition, the highest award presented by the USGS to persons outside the federal government is named the John Wesley Powell Award.
  • The residential building of the Criminal Justice Services Department of Mesa County in Grand Junction, Colorado, is named after John Wesley Powell.[16]
  • John Wesley Powell Middle School is located in Littleton, Colorado.[17]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Weiner, Americans Without Law (New York University Press, 2006).
  2. ^ Worster, Donald. A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2001.pp. 89.
  3. ^ Curtin, Jeremiah. Creation Myths of Primitive America http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/39106
  4. ^ a b USGS: John Wesley Powell
  5. ^ Kemp, Bill (2009-01-17). "'Conqueror of the Grand Canyon' returned to Bloomington in 1896". The Pantagraph. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  6. ^ a b "The Beginnings of the U.S. Geological Survey". National Atlas of the United States. 2010. Retrieved October 9, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Stegner, Wallace (1954). Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-4133-X (and other reprint editions)
  8. ^ Reprinted in Boas and Powell, infra.
  9. ^ a b Donald Worster. A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  10. ^ John S. Haller (1971). Outcasts from Evolution: Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859-1900. SIU Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-8093-1982-4. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Powell, John Wesley, and William Eno DeBuys. Seeing Things Whole: The Essential John Wesley Powell. Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2001.
  12. ^ John Wesley Powell. Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, With a More Detailed Account of the Lands of Utah. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962.
  13. ^ Michael Hiltzik (2010-07-05). "The false promise of Hoover Dam". LA Times. Retrieved 2010-07-06. 
  14. ^ J.W. Powell (1881). "On Limitations To The Use Of Some Anthropologic Data". Bureau of American Ethnology. Retrieved 2014-04-14. 
  15. ^ http://www.cityofpowell.com/assets/pages/community/aboutpowell.aspx
  16. ^ http://cjsd.mesacounty.us/template.aspx?id=9958
  17. ^ http://powell.littletonpublicschools.net/
  18. ^ "Author Query for 'J.W.Powell'". International Plant Names Index. 

References[edit]

  • Powell, J. W. (1875). The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons. New York: Dover Press. ISBN 0-486-20094-9 (and other reprint editions).
  • Aton, James M. (2010). John Wesley Powell: His Life and Legacy. ISBN 978-0-87480-992-3
  • Boas, F.; Powell, J. W. (1991) Introduction to Handbook of American Indian Languages plus Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-5017-7
  • Darrah, William Culp, Ralph V. Chamberlin, and Charles Kelly. (2009). The Exploration of the Colorado River in 1869 and 1871–1872: Biographical Sketches and Original Documents of the First Powell Expedition of 1869 and the Second Powell Expedition of 1871–1872. University of Utah Press. ISBN 978-0-87480-963-3.
  • Dolnick, Edward (2002). Down the Great Unknown : John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon (Paperback). Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-095586-4.
  • Dolnick, Edward (2001). Down the Great Unknown : John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon (Hardcover). HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-019619-X.
  • Ghiglieri, Michael P., Bradley, George Y. (2003). First Through Grand Canyon: The Secret Journals & Letters of the 1869 Crew Who Explored the Green and Colorado Rivers (Paperback). Puma Press . ISBN 0-9700973-2-8.
  • National Geographic Society (1999) Exploring the Great Rivers of North America. ISBN 0-7922-7846-1.
  • Reisner, Marc (1993). Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (Paperback). Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-017824-4.
  • Stegner, Wallace (1954). Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-4133-X (and other reprint editions).
  • Weiner, Mark S (2006). Americans Without Law. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-9364-9.
  • Worster, Donald (2000). A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509991-5.
  • Reisner, Marc (1986). "Cadillac Desert: the American West and its Disappearing Water".
  • Powell, J.W. (1876). A Report on the Arid Regions of the United States, with a More Detailed Account of the Lands of Utah"

External links[edit]