A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

By Donald Worster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Myths and Maps

The nation's capital was badly bitten by a small novel in the year 1880. Published by an anonymous author under the mocking title Democracy, it featured a rich widow from New York who moved into Lafayette Square, across from the White House, wishing to study more intimately “the clash of interests, the interests of forty millions of people and a whole continent, centering at Washington; guided, restrained, controlled, or unrestrained and uncontrollable, by men of ordinary mould; the tremendous forces of government, and the machinery of society, at work. What she wanted was POWER.” 1

Mrs. Lightfoot Lee found herself drawn, to the verge of marriage, by a powerful senator from Illinois, Silas P. Ratcliffe, a two-hundredpound ego in a white waistcoat who wanted very much to be president. He was a great statesman, everyone said, but his only principle turned out to be “the want of principles.” Almost too late the widow discovered that he was “a moral lunatic” who talked about virtue and vice “as a man who is color-blind talks about red and green.” 2 Democracy was no better than any other form of government in its capacity for corruption, she discovered, and much worse in its tendency toward hypocrisy. The natural grace of the Potomac River, the soft, languid air of the southern spring, the thickly wooded hills nearby could not redeem the raw streets and ugly cynicism of this city.

Major Powell was on speaking terms with the novel's author, Henry Adams—four years Powell's junior, son of New England and descendant of two presidents, formerly historian at Harvard University, admiring friend of the geologist Clarence King, and now himself resident in Lafayette Square. They met in the same clubs, but they saw a different Washington. For Powell the capital abounded with

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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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