Major Powell, Colorado River Explorer

John Wesley Powell was a geologist and explorer of the American West. He had also been a soldier for the Union Army during the American Civil War. Powell, however, is most well-known for his series of expeditions throughout the Rocky Mountains and the Green and Colorado Rivers.

In 1869, Powell and nine other members of his team set out into the West to explore both the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. They had four boats and enough food for 10 months for their trip through Utah. Only six crew members made it all the way through the expedition. One quit early in the journey and three left right before the crew reached the mouth of Virgin River on August 30, 1869, where the journey ended.

The three men who quit headed out at Separation Canyon and were never seen again. There has been speculation for years as to what happened to these three. Because they were never found, many of Powell’s journals were lost because they had been sent out with them. We recently heard a story that a journal had been discovered by a young Mormon girl who wrote about three men entering their village. The elders took these three out of village, and nothing more was written.

The Marker

The Powell historical marker is located 1084 East Main Street in Elgin, UT – right in front of the Motel 6. Here is what is engaged on it:

The first organized attempt to conquer the swirling rapids and precipitous walled canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers was made by Major John Wesley Powell, Civil War hero and explorer. Warned by Indians and mountaineers they would never return alive, Powell and 9 companions started from Green River Station, Wyoming Territory, on May 24, 1869, with 4 boats, instruments for making scientific observations, and provisions to last 10 months. For 97 days Powell and his men battled the elements, enduring tremendous deprivation and hardship.

One man (Frank Goodman) left the company early in the journey, and 3 others (William Dunn, O.G. and Seneca Howland) later killed by Shivwits Indians, deserted near Grand Canyon, Arizona. On August 29, 1869, the 6 remaining men arrived at the junction of the Rio Virgin in southern Nevada, having navigated and charted over 900 miles of the river.

In May, 1871, 2 years after his first river voyage, J.W. Powell again led an exploring party of 11 men in 3 boats down the Green and Colorado Rivers. Well into 1873 members of Powell’s party continued extensive and significant exploration and surveys of the region bordering the rivers traversed. The Powell Surveys are some of the most significant explorations achieved anywhere in the world.

NW 1/4, NW 1/4, NE 1/4, Sec. 15, TWP 21S, R 15E

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