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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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.”


Hall of Fame

The Colorado Plateau Horseman’s Hall of Fame is holding our second annual induction ceremony at the Mesa County Fair this coming Thursday, July 14.

Representatives of the Ute Indian Tribe from Utah, officials from Dinosaur National Monument and family members of two longtime horse-breeders from western Colorado and eastern Utah will be present Thursday, July 14 at 6 p.m. for the ceremony, which will be in the main rodeo arena of the Mesa County Fairgrounds.HoF Logo

Colorado Plateau Horseman’s Hall of Fame’s mission is to recognize and honor those horsemen and horsewomen and organizations, as well as those special horses that have made a significant contribution to the equine industry in western Colorado and eastern Utah.

With that in mind, this year’s honorees include:

  • The Ute Indians, who were the first horsemen and horsewomen of western Colorado and eastern Utah, and who developed the first horse-breeding and horse-trading programs in the region, while also developing the first system of horse trails. They were one of the first Indian tribes in the United States to acquire horses.
  • The Carnegie Horses of Dinosaur National Monument, which collectively hauled more than 350 tons of dinosaur fossils from the monument to a railroad station more than 60 miles away. They were instrumental in the early development of the monument.
  • The late Ben Johnson, a nationally recognized Appaloosa breeder, horse trainer and horse-show judge from the Appleton area of Mesa County. He also helped establish horse programs locally and nationally, worked with young horsemen and horsewomen and became a renowned sculptor whose work depicted horses and the West.
  • The late Joe Taylor, a Moab-area rancher known for raising some of the top quarter horses in the country, including several world champions. He was a dominant breeder during the 1970s and 1980s. For many years, he also served as a judge for horse shows for multiple breeds.

The induction ceremony is made possible with the assistance of supporters such as Absolute Prestige Limousine Service Ltd.; Bud Signs and Neon; and the Mesa County Fairgrounds.

Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor

Reflecting on the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July is a timely tradition. After, the Declaration is the reason for the holiday. And those important early phrases are still critical, even if they have been applied imperfectly in this country throughout our history:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,”

But I have always been struck by the final lines of the Declaration, which don’t receive as much attention. After laying out their case for becoming independent from England, and laying out their case against the king of England, the Founding Fathers knew full well their words would be taken as treason by British authorities, and they could be hanged for signing the Declaration. So the final words of the document are especially meaningful:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.”

I wonder how many people today, myself included, would be willing to pledge their lives and all of their material fortune for this country.

Dinosaurs and horses

I couldn’t come up with anything especially patriotic to write about for my next Daily Sentinel history column, which is scheduled to run July 4, so I decided to write about horses.

In particular, the column will focus on the Carnegie horses — dozens and dozens of teams of horses and mules that hauled bones from the quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, south some 60 miles to Dragon, Utah. Once there, the fossils were loaded on the Uinta Railway, hauled over Baxter Pass into Mack, Colo., and reloaded onto Denver and Rio Grande Western trains for shipment to the Carnegie Museum at Pittsburgh, Pa.

Here’s a photo of several of those teams beginning the trek from Jensen, Utah to Dragon.

You Can’t Get There From Here

The main branch of Mesa County Public Libraries will be hosting me at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (June 22) for a presentation called “You Can’t Get There From Here.” I’ll focus on the variety of obstacles that have made travel difficult in Western Colorado over the centuries, and the means by which humans surmounted those obstacles.

This photo shows some of the obstacles faced by motorists in the early 20th century, from a 1912 expedition from Mack to Salt Lake City.

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Bone horses

Gordon Hirschi and I spent a great afternoon Monday with Sonya Popelka of Dinosaur National Monument, learning about the Carnegie Horses. Over 15 years, beginning in 1909, they carried 350 tons of dinosaur bones, wrapped in plaster, from what is now the national monument to railroad sidings 60 miles away so they could be shipped to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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Skidding dinosaur bones from Carnegie Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

The bones were recovered by Earl Douglass, the man who discovered the great paleontological find near Jensen, Utah, and helped establish Dinosaur National Monument.

Colorado Plateau Horseman’s Hall of Fame will be honoring the Carnegie Horses at our second annual induction ceremony, July 14, during the Mesa County Fair. And I will be writing a history column about the horses, probably for July 4.

The Relative merits of smoking and drinking

Nearly everyone knows that Albert Einstein, who died on April 18, 1955, was famous for his theory of relativity and for his work on quantum mechanics. But austere photos of the genius, such as the one accompanying this blog, don’t do him justice. He was not some uptight science geek who thought only of physics.

The young Einstein enjoyed partying and drinking quite a bit. He belonged to a Swiss drinking – and-debating club called the Olympia Academy, which he said had a great effect on his career. He also wrote at one time that he and his then wife, Milevea Maric, both ended up “alEinsteinas, dead drunk, under the table” at the club.

Einstein also long resisted his doctor’s advice that he give up smoking his pipe. Smoking the pipe, Einstein said, helped him quiet his mind and think better. Even when he finally quit smoking, he continued to use the pipe, propping it in his mouth and chewing on the stem.

I’m not advocating smoking and drinking here. I’m only noting that one of the world’s smartest men indulged in those activities.

My favorite con man

The stories about con artists are familiar enough that we’ve immortalized them in jokes and songs:

Want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

I have some ocean-front property for sale in Arizona.

But this g

Count Victor Lustig

uy may have been the best ever. Count Victor Lustig actually sold the Eiffel Towner in Paris. Twice.


He also was involved in many other confidence schemes prior to being arrested and ending up in Alcatraz.  There’s more at the link below.

Enjoy. And by the way, I’m considering selling the Mount Sneffels if anyone is interested. article on con man

Desert bighorns and wild horses

This ride actually was research for a history article I’m writing about early days in what’s now the BLM’s Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range. It’s just the sort of sacrifice I’m willing to make for my writing.

It was a beautiful spring day, and Lila, Moose and I had a great ride of several hours up Main Canyon and Spring Canyon. We sheephorsessaw several bands of wild horses and this group of desert bighorn sheep. Moose is always interested in the wild horses, but he was positively fascinated by the sheep. He wanted to go charging up the hillside to get closer.

Museum Award

Monday night was a great night, for me and for a number of other people who were recognized by the Museum of Western Colorado for our work related to the museum and its mission. I received the 2016 Historian Award. It was both gratifying and humbling, and I deeply appreciate the museum even considering me for this. In this photo, I’m standing with John Lindstrom of Palisade, who was the recipient of the 2016 Archaeologist Award.

The Awards themselves are aspen-wood vases, made by a volunteer at the museum, so they’re pretty special, as well.

As I said when I received the awarJohn Bob awardsd, I couldn’t write my columns, or produce the books I have written, without the assistance of the folks at the Museum of Western Colorado, especially the staff and volunteers with the Lloyd Files Research Library. Members of the Mesa County Historical Society and the Palisade Historical Society have also helped me a great deal. And The Daily Sentinel has been great in allowing me a free hand to write about whatever historical event strikes my fancy.

Special thanks to all of the wonderful readers who frequently tell me how much they enjoy my history columns.