In 1869, 10 men, including expedition leader Major John Wesley Powell, and four boats set out on a 1,000 mile journey through uncharted territory. Three months later, five of the original team members would emerge from the Grand Canyon, much changed by their epic struggles. Five members of the team would never return, lost to the depths of the canyon.
Powell planned his journey to the best of his ability. He took along 10 months worth of supplies and every conceivable tool his team might need, and yet the raging river conspired against them every step of the way. The expedition started at the head of the Green River and swept down to the confluence of the Green and the Grand Rivers, which merged to form the mighty Colorado. Rafters say that before the Glen Canyon Dam, the river ran wild and was loaded with silt — they saying was that it was “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.”
During the first weeks of the journey, the team lost one of the boats and all the supplies it contained. At the one-month mark, an Englishman by the name of Frank Goodman walked away from the expedition to a nearby settlement. He said he had had more excitement in one lifetime than one man deserves. He lived for many years among the Paiute Indians of eastern Utah.
At times, the team had to portage around raging rapids and others, Powell sent one craft at a time through the rough water. At a place now called Separation Canyon, three of the team members approached Powell, asking him to abandon the expedition. When they failed to convince Powell to abandon the river, they walked away from the remaining five men. Sadly, the Howlands and Dunn climbed out of the canyon walking towards civilization only to meet their death at the hands of Shivwits Indians who mistook them for miners that had killed a Hualapai woman on the south side of the river.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the entire journey was the fact the Major Powell had lost an arm during the Civil War. A two-handed man has a hard enough time rafting the Grand Canyon — to do it with just one arm is nothing short of amazing.
The John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, Utah, celebrates Powell’s life and journeys (he made many exploring the Southwest), as well as celebrating the historic value of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The museum offers a 25-minute movie “Journey into the Unknown” in the 180-seat theater equipped with surround sound and HD, making a trip down the rivers very realistic. The River Gallery features the work of wildlife, western and prehistoric artists. In addition, the museum offers a fine gift shop with books and all types of gifts and artwork for sale.
The museum is open year-around, although the hours are shorter during the winter months. The minimal admission price is well worth the wonder you will experience.
John Wesley Powell River History Museum
1765 East Main Street
Green River, Utah 84525