John Wesley Powell


John Wesley Powell : biography

March 24, 1834 – September 23, 1902

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 . The latter three disappeared; historians have speculated they were killed by the Shivwitz band of the Northern Paiute.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) 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.

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

After the Colorado

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.Reprinted in Boas and Powell, infra.

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.