The First Descent of the Grand Canyon
John Wesley Powell was born in Mount Morris, New York, in 1834, the son of Joseph and Mary Powell. His father, was a poor minister, 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 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. He was a U.S. soldier, geologist, explorer of the American West, and director of major scientific and cultural institutions. He is famous for the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition (Powell, Exploration), a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers that included the first known passage through the Grand Canyon. Powell served as second director of the US Geological Survey from 1881 to 1894 and proposed policies for development of the arid West, which were perceptive for his accurate evaluation of conditions (Stegner 6). He was director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, where he supported linguistic and sociological research and publications. He was one of the foremost explorers in American history, and his first descent down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is one of America’s greatest adventure stories. Although he is not as well known as other explorers, his travels and his contributions to American...
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