A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

By Donald Worster | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE
Green River Station,
1869

In the month of May 1869 two parties gathered in America's western wilds with travel and adventure on their minds. The larger party met at Promontory Summit, Utah, to celebrate the first railroad uniting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The smaller party, only ten men in all, encamped a few hundred miles to the east; their leader called them the Colorado River Exploring Expedition. Together the two groups created a pivotal moment in the nation's movement west. Both were filled with hopes and dreams, but they were in many ways different hopes, different dreams.

At the time the railroad builders drew all the attention. On 10 May they met on a sun-baked, desolate plain near the Great Salt Lake to lay the last rails and drive the final spike joining the two halves of the transcontinental line, one approaching from the east, the other from the west. Former governor of California and now company president Leland Stanford represented the Central Pacific railroad, while General Grenville Dodge and T.C. Durant represented the Union Pacific; around them massed a crowd of governors, congressmen, local officials, and assorted onlookers fortified with guns and whiskey bottles. When the maul came down on the spike at 12:32 P.M. local time, it sent an electrical signal all the way to Washington: “Done.” Church bells began to ring and cannon to boom in cities across the land, while orators clambered to their feet to proclaim what one newspaper writer called the marriage of “the gorgeous east and the imperial west of America, with the indisoluble seal of inter-oceanic commerce.” 1

For the first ticket-buying passengers the achievement of the railroad kings was more concrete and immediate. They could now board trains from New York to Council Bluffs, Iowa, cross the Missouri River

-ix-

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A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Prologue - Green River Station, 1869 ix
  • Part One - Northern Days 1
  • Chapter 1 - A Mission to America 3
  • Chapter 2 - Rising on the Prairie 37
  • Chapter 3 - The Hornets' Nest of War 85
  • Part Two - Canyons of the Colorado 107
  • Chapter 4 - Westward the Naturalist 109
  • Chapter 5 - Down the Great Unknown 155
  • Chapter 6 - Surveying the High Plateaus 203
  • Chapter 7 - Kapurats 261
  • Chapter 8 - The Sublimest Thing on Earth 297
  • Chapter 9 - Democracy Encounters the Desert 337
  • Part Three - Washington, D.C. 381
  • Chapter 10 - Myths and Maps 383
  • Chapter 11 - Redeeming the Earth 437
  • Chapter 12 - The Problem of the West 467
  • Chapter 13 - Journey's End 533
  • Notes 575
  • Bibliography 611
  • Acknowledgments 645
  • Index 647
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