Mancos mapmaker chronicles John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 journey

Southwest Life

Mancos mapmaker chronicles John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 journey

In John Wesley Powell’s time, the Grand Canyon began at the confluence of the Grand (now the Colorado) River with the Little Colorado River. In his most famous lines from his book, he wrote that at that location on Aug. 13, 1869, “We are now ready to start our way down the Great Unknown ... we have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not. What rocks beset the channel, we know not ...”
This painting shows the six men who survived John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 boat trip through the Grand Canyon. Later, Powell took a train eastward from Salt Lake City and returned to Washington, D.C., as a preeminent explorer and hero of post-Civil War America. Though he left the Grand Canyon, it would never leave him. He spent the rest of his life engaged in science and understanding water in the West.
At a large square boulder in Disaster Falls in the Canyon of Lodore, John Wesley Powell’s men accidentally smashed a boat. They braved the raging spring waters to retrieve supplies including barometers Powell needed to gauge their drop in altitude. The boatmen were willing to return to the wreck because they had hidden a keg of whiskey in the forward compartment of the boat. The keg is pictured here.

Mancos mapmaker chronicles John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 journey

In John Wesley Powell’s time, the Grand Canyon began at the confluence of the Grand (now the Colorado) River with the Little Colorado River. In his most famous lines from his book, he wrote that at that location on Aug. 13, 1869, “We are now ready to start our way down the Great Unknown ... we have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not. What rocks beset the channel, we know not ...”
This painting shows the six men who survived John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 boat trip through the Grand Canyon. Later, Powell took a train eastward from Salt Lake City and returned to Washington, D.C., as a preeminent explorer and hero of post-Civil War America. Though he left the Grand Canyon, it would never leave him. He spent the rest of his life engaged in science and understanding water in the West.
At a large square boulder in Disaster Falls in the Canyon of Lodore, John Wesley Powell’s men accidentally smashed a boat. They braved the raging spring waters to retrieve supplies including barometers Powell needed to gauge their drop in altitude. The boatmen were willing to return to the wreck because they had hidden a keg of whiskey in the forward compartment of the boat. The keg is pictured here.

Mancos mapmaker chronicles John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 journey

The full John Wesley Powell 1869 Colorado River Exploring Expedition Map was designed by Frank Lister and Time Traveler Maps from Mancos. The map comes in a foldable version for river trips and in a large poster-style version for boathouse walls.

Mancos mapmaker chronicles John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 journey

Early in their expedition, John Wesley Powell’s men smashed one of their four wooden boats at Disaster Falls in Colorado’s Canyon of Lodore. With only three boats left, Powell was forced to take precautions. In the subsequent days and months, he had his men did the brutal, backbreaking work of unloading their hundreds of pounds of supplies, portaging the supplies around rapids and then lining the empty boats through the most difficult rapids.

Mancos mapmaker chronicles John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 journey

As soon as the Union Pacific transcontinental railroad was completed, Maj. John Wesley Powell was there at Green River, Wyoming, to off-load four wooden boats and begin his epic journey down the Green River to the Grand (now Colorado) River to make his way through the Grand Canyon. Today, a Wyoming state park includes Expedition Island, which commemorates other historic boat trips. Powell’s launch May 24, 1869, was the first.

Mancos mapmaker chronicles John Wesley Powell’s epic 1869 journey

A dramatic scene in John Wesley Powell’s account of his trip through the Grand Canyon was when he got rimrocked and could go not go up or down on a cliff face. He was hiking with another boatman, but they had forgotten to bring rope. The boatman above him took off his clothes, including his long, wool, red underwear, and used the long johns as a makeshift rope to lower them down. Powell leaned back with his only arm and grabbed the dangling long johns. He wrote, “and thus I am saved.”
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