A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

By Donald Worster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
Journey's End

“Turn, ” a rotation or change of direction. “Century, ” a period of one hundred years, measured from the birthday of the founder of the Christian religion. As the 1890s drew to a close, Western nations began to buzz with excitement over the “turn of the century.” The Nineteenth was passing into history, the Twentieth was about to commence. Arbitrary though it may have been, the “turn” generated talk on both sides of the Atlantic. The world, it was said, was approaching a momentous change of direction from good to better, or from good to worse.

For those who had gained in wealth and power during the preceding years, or for those who had seen their personal hopes realized, the future looked exceptionally bright. Turn did not portend decline. The new century would surely build on the unparalleled success of the last in invention, enlightenment, and prosperity. For others, however, the mood was more pessimistic. Some, particularly among those whom the French called les intellectuels—Emile Zola, Henry Adams, Friedrich Nietzsche—had doubts about the sacred verities of progress. They had discovered a few flaws in the modern gods of rationality, science, and technology. Alienated in different ways were those experiencing a decline in their freedom or security, America's rural and minority people among them, who were suffering at the hands of lynch mobs, segregationists, urban capitalists, poor prices, and poor weather. Optimism had never been a universal feeling, but by century's end a growing number of disenchanted people were challenging Herbert Spencer's observation that progress “is not an accident, but a necessity…. It is part of nature.” 1

Those rising hopes and those anxieties of the fin-de-siècle surfaced just as Powell was ready to retire from active life and seek a

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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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