Late July tough on 1869 Powell expedition

Things weren’t looking good in the middle of what we now call Canyonlands National Park in the summer of 1869.

Jack Sumner, the second in command of the John Wesley Powell expedition to explore the Green and Colorado rivers, expressed his concern in his journal.

“July 17th – 18th – 19th – and 20th. In camp taking observations and repairing outfit; examined our stores and found we were getting very short as we were compelled to throw away 200 pounds of flour, that had got wet so often it was completely spoiled.”

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“RUNNING A RAPID” ENGRAVING MADE BY ARTIST R.A. MULLER TO ILLUSTRATE THE SECOND POWELL EXPEDITION THROUGH THE GRAND CANYON. CIRCA 1873

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Powell 3 9-29-14

They were camped just below the confluence of the Colorado River (then called the Grand) and the Green River. They hadn’t yet made it into the fearsome Grand Canyon, and they were already seriously short of food. There was grumbling about Powell’s leadership and debates about how and whether to continue.

Most of the expedition members would survive the trip, arriving at the Virgin River at the end of August. But Sumner would harbor animosity toward Powell would for decades.

Even so, the 1869 expedition remains one of the most spectacular tales of exploration of the American West. You can read more at the links above to my history columns. Or pick up a copy of Powell’s book, “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons,” or Wallace Stegner’s biography of Powell, “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian.”

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