A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

By Donald Worster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
The Problem of the West

Twenty years had passed since the first expedition down the Colorado River, and nobody after Powell's men had risked it again—until 25 May 1889, when a new party put their wooden boats in at the old Gunnison's Crossing (now Green River, Utah), below a shiny new railroad bridge, and pushed off into the muddy current. Their leader was a Denver real estate investor, Frank Brown, who conceived the idea of constructing a railroad line on the banks of the river through the Grand Canyon down to the Gulf of California. His second-in-command was an Ohio engineer, Robert Stanton. Their six light boats took a beating, and in Marble Canyon, just below Soap Creek Rapid, Brown was upset and drowned. Five days later two more of the party drowned. Stanton called a temporary halt to the expedition.

A reporter for the New York Tribune asked Major Powell why Brown had failed. “He underestimated the perils to be encountered, ” was the reply; “nobody has ever successfully traversed the Colorado Canon but my parties.” But Powell did it without an arm. “I was lucky, ” he said with a smile. 1

Brown had consulted the Major in Washington and been told that his scheme was impracticable. A railroad track would have to hang suspended on the canyon walls. Not so, the surviving Stanton responded in an engineering newspaper; construction crews had mastered more difficult challenges than the Grand Canyon. He resented not only Powell's dismissal of the project's feasibility but even more Powell's failure—it was a disputed point—to warn Brown that life preservers would be needed. Stanton would go back to complete his river trip successfully, but for the rest of his life his consuming purpose became one

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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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