Hell or High Water: James White's Disputed Passage through Grand Canyon, 1867

Hell or High Water: James White's Disputed Passage through Grand Canyon, 1867

Hell or High Water: James White's Disputed Passage through Grand Canyon, 1867

Hell or High Water: James White's Disputed Passage through Grand Canyon, 1867

Excerpt

When I was in the sixth grade, we had a test on the history of the American West; one of the questions was “Who was the first white man to go through the Grand Canyon?” The textbook answer was “Major John Wesley Powell,” but I wrote “James White.”

Naturally the teacher marked this answer incorrect, but her curiosity was aroused, for she asked me, “Who, pray tell, is James White?”

“He went through the Grand Canyon in 1867,” I said, “two years before Major Powell.” Then I added, “He was my grandfather.”

She replied that family loyalty was commendable, but it was not a substitute for historical fact. She returned my test (with its B+) and said she would allow me an A, if I corrected my error.

Ignoring the warning signal, I insisted that our textbook was wrong and I had a book to prove it.

Suddenly, family loyalty became insubordination. Her smile vanished; she said sternly that I was not there to teach but to learn. She refused to look at my book.

No doubt imagining myself too noble to consider the cost, I protested that I couldn’t change my answer. As it turned out, the cost was an F; so much for heroism.

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