John Wesley Powell

John Wesley Powell

(1834-1902)
Inducted 1969

Explorer,geologist,anthropologist, and conservationist, John Wesley Powell unlocked many secrets of our great Southwest more than a hundred years ago. After serving as lieutenant in the Civil War, and losing a forearm in battle, Powell accepted the position of professor of natural history at Illinois State Normal University. Conducting field trips along the Colorado River infused him with a passion for exploration, and led to his determination to embark upon a 1500-mile expedition along the River from Wyoming to Yuma, Arizona in 1869.

Mishaps, near-starvation, and the desertion of three men who climbed out of the canyons only to be slain, hindered the trip, but Powell and his remaining companions emerged with a wealth of scientific data. Funded by a Federal grant, Powell's second survey of the Colorado River, known as the Powell Survey lasted two years, during which he studied the geology and mapped the course of the River.

Powell's field work led to the concept of land, water, vegetation, and man as combining to constitute a delicate balance of nature. In the first edition of his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, he pleaded for the reform of land-use laws to help maintain that balance.

Major Powell remained a public servant, director of the Bureau of American Ethnology and director of the U.S. Geological Survey. He initiated the great irrigation surveys of the Southwest and fought unsuccessfully for the establishment of a Federal department of science. His was a vision of people and the land in the broadest sense of their mutual interdependence.

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