A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

By Donald Worster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
A Mission to America

John Wesley Powell was born on 24 March 1834 in Mount Morris, New York, a tidy village of brick churches and clapboarded houses newly planted in the back country. His parents, Joseph and Mary, were immigrants from England in need of work. Their son was delivered in the Methodist parsonage where they had taken temporary shelter and named after the great hero of their lives, John Wesley, founder of the evangelical Protestant movement called Methodism. He would grow up, they prayed, to become a spiritual leader and be for America what Wesley had been for the old country, a magnetic prophet who drew sinners out of corruption.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, ” advised the Book of Proverbs, “and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The parents took Solomon's advice seriously. Although their outward circumstances were not impressive, they intended to train this child carefully in biblical doctrine and instill in him a strong moral character. They would teach him to put the love of God above the things of the earth and subdue his naturally selfish will. He must learn to make Jesus his lord and master and trust in the promise, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (St. John 8:12).

Such were the hopes of this pious couple. What they did not reckon with was the competition they would have from the world outside the parsonage windows. An aggressive, self-confident, and at times intensely secular society was out there, filled with energy and purposes of its own. No parents could altogether protect their progeny from its competing influence and certainly not these parents, who had come to America to join that society and improve their material condition.

-3-

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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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