A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

By Donald Worster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Redeeming the Earth

Slender white spires and stained-glass windows said that Washington was a city of churches. But churches were not where Powell spent time outside of work. He turned to competing institutions—scientific societies and gentlemen's clubs, several of which he had a hand in founding. They provided a sanctuary where he met other men of like interests and where together they could let their imaginations soar to the most grand and esoteric ideas of the day. Several nights a week they listened, held forth, and took their ease among comrades who shared their need for an alternative to religion. Together, they sought a more secular future for America.

True to his parents' example, Powell was saturated with moral fervor. Like them, he aspired to transform the world into a better place. Instead of the Protestant doctrines of Wesleyan Methodism, however, he turned to those other great nineteenth-century gospels of salvation, the nation-state and natural science. His clubs and societies were populated by scientific men who believed as he did that science held out the prospect of radical improvement. Science was to be a means of redemption. That redemption should begin with the nation they loved, cleaning out the cobwebs of its past—the sectional rivalries, the outworn creeds, the destructive greed. Thus redeemed, America could lead the world toward enlightenment.

On 16 November 1878 Powell called several friends to his home to organize a social club for “men devoted to or interested in Science, professionally or otherwise.” The inspiration was Clarence Dutton's, who upon returning from the Century Club in New York had laid before Powell and Garrick Mallery the prospect of a similar institution for the capital. The friends gathered in the Powell parlor agreed that

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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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