Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

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Dangerous rapids, narrow canyon walls offering no escape, terrifying river waterfalls, capsized boats, near drowning, lost equipment and disillusioned men are dramatically described by John Wesley Powell, leader of this adventurous party. A half-century after its original publication, Edward Abbey's classic novel, Fire on the Mountain , still retains its beauty, power, and relevance.

This extraordinary tale by the legendary icon of the environmentalism movement and author of The Monkey Wrench Gang proudly celebrates rugged American individualism, as it tells the story of one tough old loner's stand against the combined, well-armed forces of government that are determined to clear him from his land.

On May 24, a one-armed Civil War veteran, John Wesley Powell, and a ragtag band of nine mountain men embarked on the last great quest in the American West. The Grand Canyon, not explored before, was as mysterious as Atlantis - and as perilous. Ninety-nine days later, six half-starved wretches came ashore near Callville, Arizona.

The Colorado River is a crucial resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado's headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes listeners on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghost towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the US-Mexico border where the river runs dry.

Joe Allston is a retired literary agent who is, in his own words, "killing time before time gets around to killing me. His job, trafficking the talent of others, had not been his choice. He passes through life as a spectator. But a postcard from a friend causes him to return to the journals of a trip he had taken years before. One of the finest American authors of the 20th century, Wallace Stegner compiled an impressive collection of accolades during his lifetime, including a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a National Book Award, and three O.

Henry Awards. His final novel, Crossing to Safety is the quiet yet stirring tale of two couples that meet during the Great Depression and form a lifelong bond. In , President Thomas Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, to lead a voyage up the Missouri River, across the forbidding Rockies, and - by way of the Snake and the Columbia rivers - down to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and his partner, Captain William Clark, endured incredible hardships and witnessed astounding sights. With great perseverance, they worked their way into an unexplored West.

When they returned two years later, they had long since been given up for dead. Scarred by the senseless death of their son and baffled by the engulfing chaos of the s, Joe Allston and his wife, Ruth, have left the coast for a California retreat. And although their new home looks like Eden, it also has its serpents: Jim Peck, a messianic exponent of drugs, yoga, and sex, and Marian Catlin, an attractive young woman whose otherwordly innocence is far more appealing—and far more dangerous.

My own special self is nothing". In Donald Worster's magisterial biography, John Muir's "special self" is fully explored as is his extraordinary ability, then and now, to get others to see the sacred beauty of the natural world. Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner recounts the remarkable career of Major John Wesley Powell, the distinguished ethnologist and geologist who explored the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, and the homeland of the Southwest Indian tribes.

In masterful prose, Stegner details the expedition, as well as the philosophies and ideas that drove Powell. The powers of greed and avarice did their very best to destroy him and pretty much succeeded. Yet, his legacy has endured in spite of the intellectual midgets of his day. I have been aware of this book for years and regret taking so long to finally get to it. This book is not for the casual reader, but is a delight for anyone interested in John Wesley Powell, exploration of the West, or the history of western land and water policies.

Stegner is a great story teller. He gives a more nuanced explanation of Powell's exploration of the Grand Canyon than Powell himself does. Of even more interest to me was the story of Powell's career with the Geologic Service and his insight into the problems with western settlement into the "arid lands". Powell was a keen observer and was a true scientist who dealt with observable facts as opposed to the "boosterism" of western congressmen and developers.

It is worthwhile reading this book just to compare Powell's observations to today's problems with water policy. The first few chapters describing Powell first descent are incredibly well written and exciting but then Stegner turns his descriptive prose to a discussion of the ethereal beauty and geography of the plateau country. For those who delight in details, the time may be rewarding but for me, it goes on far too long. A broad and deep picture of a visionary man who's impact while not fully realized within his lifetime helped to create the blueprint of many of our current institutions.

A life fully examined in frequently beautiful prose, it reveals a richness and clarity worthwhile to any reader interested in how post civil war America evolved, warts and all. Would you consider the audio edition of Beyond the Hundredth Meridian to be better than the print version? No, but very good. Maps help Roderick Frazier Nash. Skull Wars. David H. American Serengeti. Dan Flores. River Notes. Wade Davis. Old Man River. Paul Schneider. Lauret Savoy. Empire of Shadows. George Black. Blackfoot Redemption. William E.

Myths of the Cherokee. James Mooney. A Passion for Nature. Donald Worster. The Promise of the Grand Canyon. John F. George E. Northern Slave Black Dakota. National Parks.

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John Wesley Powell

Alfred Runte. The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek. Richard Kluger. Blood and Land. The Making of America's Culture Regions. Richard L. The Essential West. Elliott West. Mining California. Andrew C. Clash of Cultures. James Lincoln Collier. Dispossessing the Wilderness. Mark David Spence. American Indians of the Northeast and Southeast. Britannica Educational Publishing. American Indian Policy in Crisis. Francis Paul Prucha. Murder in Their Hearts. David Thomas Murphy. Professor Jon T. Vermont: A History. Charles T. Donald L Hardesty. Historical Dictionary of Early North America.

Cameron B. Hornaday's War. Stefan Bechtel. Flags of the United States. Alton Pryor. Koma Kulshan.


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Devil's Gate. Tom Rea. Masterfully written--it's Stegner, after all--it includes important reminders about water in the West, especially as it becomes more scarce. It also argues convincingly that this "second opening" of the West required collective action--I could say "socialism" if I wanted to be provocative--on a scale that had never been seen before in the U. Those are the big federal water projects, without which we could not hav Essential reading for people who, like me, who feel at home in the American West.

Those are the big federal water projects, without which we could not have settled the West in anything like the way we actually did. Lovely, lovely book. View all 5 comments. Jun 20, Feisty Harriet rated it really liked it Shelves: environment , american-west , explorers. The high desert, red rock canyon country of south-east Utah was the last part of the contiguous United States to be mapped, and with good reason.

That country is harsh, blistering, and difficult to navigate by foot, horse, boat, or, frankly, jeep. Powell is the first white explorer to attempt this country and try to map the rivers and mountains and plateaus. This book is that history and follows Powell's political career for several decades as he tries to convince Congress and the public so ho The high desert, red rock canyon country of south-east Utah was the last part of the contiguous United States to be mapped, and with good reason.

This book is that history and follows Powell's political career for several decades as he tries to convince Congress and the public so hot for the Homestead Act that agricultural farming just will not work in vast areas of the arid, desert West. He failed, and it wasn't until decades later that the US Government started to understand his points. The subsequent water war that has lasted and heightened in the last 15 or 20 years was predicted by Powell over years ago, he knew exactly what would happen to the lands of the West if farming and ranching were left unchecked and the water resources were not protected.

His descriptions are fantastic and, in many ways, a love letter to the red rock country I hold so dear. The rest of the book is more political and details the history of homesteading and immigration through the western United States, bits of the wars and treaties and decimation of the Native American tribes, and a lot of congressional arguments and acts and vetoes that led to the "opening" and settlement of the West.

Stegner wrote this in the 's and it is fascinating how much still holds true 75 years later on the fight for water and other sustaining resources in the hot desert mesas and mountains. View 2 comments. Oct 07, Mike rated it liked it. If I didn't appreciate Wallace Stegner so much I wouldn't have bought the book, and I probably wouldn't have finished it either.

Stengner is an awesome writer. When describing Powell's intellect, Stegner writes, "He learned from every book, acquanintance, experience; facts stuck in his mind , and not like stray flies on fly-paper but like orderly iron filings around magnetic poles. That kind o If I didn't appreciate Wallace Stegner so much I wouldn't have bought the book, and I probably wouldn't have finished it either.

That kind of writing made the account of Powell's career with the U. Geological survey tolerable. Jun 29, Kristen rated it really liked it Shelves: west , history. I listened to this on audiobook Blackstone audio , which I highly recommend. The narrative of the trip down the Colorado was dramatic, especially compared to the descriptions of failed attempts by contemporaries. I was amazed that they traveled all the way down the river with only flour, dried apples, bacon and a few other supplies for food.

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They were obviously better foragers than people are today. Well an I listened to this on audiobook Blackstone audio , which I highly recommend. Well and of course they had guns to shoot animals, when there were some around to be shot. There were some really amusing bits in the beginning and middle regarding someone named "Gilpen" and others like him that told stories of how the West would become some sort of fertile Eden, that somehow plowing would increase rainfall. Such stories were obviously NOT supported by Powell.

I grew up in the desert, so it strains credulity to think that someone could tell such a tale, and that others would believe it. The second half, about the geological survey, got a bit bogged down in technical details for a while. But the latter part discussing Powell's plans for division of land and water rights in the west, was truly amazing. He was a visionary in land planning, and could see how success of Western settlement was more likely if arranged around a community rather than independent homesteaders.

The last section that discussed the political machinations over Powell's geological survey and land proposals was most compelling. I was surprised, but then not surprised, to see how the business interests of land speculators and others overwhelmed reason and defeated Powell's proposals in Congress. It read just like today's news of politics ignoring science e. Here we are more than a hundred years later, still fighting bitter legal battles over water in the West. Jul 07, Michael Perkins rated it really liked it.

Jun 17, Mary rated it it was amazing. At few weeks ago, I was feeling blah. But then I saw a Facebook friend's pictures of his hiking in Colorado. However, this book is about so much more than his trips into undiscovered country. It discusses all the political wrangling in DC to get funding for these expeditions.

Powell is also like Muir one of the first to realize At few weeks ago, I was feeling blah. Powell is also like Muir one of the first to realize that natural resources like water and minerals are not inexhaustible. Powell wanted to protect those individual farmers in the arid west by insuring their access to adequate water for their crops. Although published in , Stegner's book is still relevant today.

With record heat searing the southwestern US, the demand for water is critical. Powell looked to the federal government to police private industries monopolizing and over utilizing our natural resources. Yet even in the late 's there were those in Congress who supported unrestricted development and overuse. A well written and researched worked that would be enjoyed by those with an interest in history and the environment.

Aug 10, Susan rated it it was amazing Shelves: shelves , american-history , california , environment , history.

This is a riveting book about John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River and his subsequent quest to focus lawmakers in Congress on the terrain and water available in the arid west. I knew that Powell had explored the Grand Canyon, and I knew that Lake Powell is named after him, but I didn't know much more about him before I started reading this book to prepare for our trip to the Southwest. I did not know that Powell was the founder of the US Geological Survey, urging his country to This is a riveting book about John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River and his subsequent quest to focus lawmakers in Congress on the terrain and water available in the arid west.

I did not know that Powell was the founder of the US Geological Survey, urging his country to produce accurate maps of the west and arguing that its arid climate precluded the development under the Homestead Act that many senators and bureaucrats aspired for it. And Stegner, the author, is amazing. There is a reason that it is not out of print and it was written in Stegner is ironic, witty, and his passion for the West and its arid dry beauty is obvious on every page. He attacks those who support the homesteading movement. His descriptions of Powell's disagreement with those propounding false science is interesting and prescient.

I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. Highly Recommended! Jun 07, Bob Peru rated it really liked it. Aug 07, Nancy Lewis rated it liked it Shelves: arizona , yellowstone. This book was published five years before Alaska and Hawaii became states, and at a time when the last soldiers of the Civil War were dying.

Stegner makes references to events that must have been common knowledge in , but that have since been lost to the present consciousness. For example, Stegner refers to Jay Cooke's collapse three times, but doesn't explain who Jay Cooke was or what kind of collapse he experienced. Stegner says in his Author's Note that he has "dwelt somewhat long on an e This book was published five years before Alaska and Hawaii became states, and at a time when the last soldiers of the Civil War were dying. Stegner says in his Author's Note that he has "dwelt somewhat long on an early and relatively unimportant, though adventurous, episode: the running of the Colorado River.

Jan 19, Rob Bauer rated it it was amazing Shelves: western-history , environmental-history. This is an extended review of this fine, and classic, book on the American West. In his address he painted a picture of the American West as bright as the hot sun that shone down on his listeners that day. For Gilpin, the West was a place of unlimited possibility and inexhaustible natural resources.

Beyond The Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell And The Second Opening Of The West

The land was perfectly arable, capable of supporting three domestic animals for every bison that currently grazed on its blue grama and buffalo grass. Plows were not even a necessity in this virtual Eden; underground water irrigated the crops, which were also undisturbed by heat, cold, or drought. Meanwhile, camped to the North in what would within weeks become Wyoming Territory, a small group of explorers led by a thirty-four-year-old Civil War veteran named John Wesley Powell prepared for an expedition to the Rocky Mountains.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, by Wallace Stegner, is an account of how John Wesley Powell came to see and understand the American West in a way that was fundamentally different from William Gilpin and his acolytes. But more than that, Stegner describes how Powell attempted to use his knowledge to influence government policy toward developing the West. And unlike the emotional vision of Gilpin, whose rhetoric transcended fact, Powell arrived at his views based on science and systematic study.

In time, John Wesley Powell saw the West for what it really was, and endorsed a vision of the West that was decades ahead of its time. But before Powell could play a role in the future of the West, he had to make a name for himself. In the tradition of John C. Fremont, he accomplished this through exploration. On July 6, , Powell and eight companions drifted into the current of the Green River. Their goal was to float the Green until it merged with the Grand to form the Colorado River. From there, the party would continue down the Colorado until reaching its lower and previously mapped stretches.

The entire trip would be through an area largely unknown to geographers; it was one of the rare white spaces remaining on contemporary maps. On August 30, six of the men reached their destination, the other three having killed by Shivwits Indians when they left the party mere days before the end. Powell and his companions gained renown for their impressive achievement. From this beginning, John Wesley Powell embarked on a scientific career that took him to the very top of the American scientific bureaucracy.

This rise was not without obstacles, however. Initially, Powell faced competition from other Western surveys sponsored by Congress. Constantly fighting battles for appropriations, Powell used an acute political sense to keep his Western Survey of the Plateau Province in operation.

Powell recognized that the usual farming methods of American settlers would be less effective west of the th meridian because the land was arid, receiving fewer than twenty inches of rainfall per year. Despite various acts of Congress designed to encourage farming and homesteading in the West, even despite free land if the farmer would farm it for five years, most who tried would fail. When water was available, the land was exceptionally fertile, but the availability and amount of water was very limited.

And by , Powell could see that much of the land with irrigation potential in the hands of corporations and cattlemen. He knew this meant despair and ruin for homesteaders who could not get access to water, and wanted to halt this development. He was taking on the vested interests and the vested prejudices by which they maintained themselves.

Through legislative sleight of hand, Powell transformed his Geological Survey into a bureau with national jurisdiction in By and , he had the power to withdraw ,, acres of public land from potential settlement until his Irrigation Survey completed its work. This was in accordance with his attempt to structure western settlement according to the availability of water. The attempt met with massive opposition from western Congressmen representing the vested interests. Appearing before Congressional committees, Powell had to defend his conclusions about aridity and the necessity of his maps.

When he realized that the extent of the irrigation program proposed by the Irrigation Congress was simply impossible, and told them so, they booed him. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian is an important book for many reasons. Even more than that, the systematic, scientific plans for resource use developed by Powell could have greatly reduced the wasteful resource exploitation strategies used in the West in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Furthermore, Stegner effectively illustrates how often reason and science are sacrificed to politics and the vested interests that back politicians.

I suspect that if John Wesley Powell were alive today, his vision of rational progress would be shattered by the fact that little has changed since the s.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian by Wallace Stegner

Besides the many useful points it makes, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian is also important because Stegner tells a good story. A story about irrigation and government bureaucrats could easily descend into a dull recount of names and statistics, but that is not the case. Instead, Stegner paints a picture that at times takes on the aspect of good Powell and friends versus evil Stewart and other special interests. While the author certainly liked Powell, and perhaps oversimplified his character a bit, the core lesson of the book remains as valid as ever.

When politics trumps science, reason, and fact, people suffer needlessly. When the executioners also delude their victims with layer upon layer of propaganda, the danger and suffering only increase. This realization has never been more timely than in the present. Jun 30, David rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: those interested in the early years of conservation in America, and of government-sponsored science. Shelves: essential. This is a masterful work of biography, "the history not of a personality but of a career," as Stegner writes in his introductory note.

As such, not only does Stegner follow John Wesley Powell down the frightful canyons of the Colorado River and into the even more fearsome halls of the national capital, but the author dwells on Powell's companions and antagonists, his allies and his would-be emulators. He devotes long admiring passages to Powell's associates Capt. Clarence Dutton and Grove Karl G This is a masterful work of biography, "the history not of a personality but of a career," as Stegner writes in his introductory note.

Clarence Dutton and Grove Karl Gilbert; he is almost rhapsodic about William Henry Holmes, who provided meticulous grand-scale scientific illustrations for Dutton's geological writings. He explains the dry, hard-rock conditions that Powell found in the west, and makes the connections to Powell's scientific report of , which argued for a pattern of settlement arranged by geology and watersheds and governed communally. Stegner is wittily cutting about Capt. Adams was convinced that the Colorado offered a navigable passage from the ocean to the Rocky Mountains, the author calls him "a preposterous, twelve-gauge, hundred-proof, kiln-dried, officially notarized fool, or else he was one of the most wildly incompetent scoundrels who ever lived.

Marsh on the one hand and Edward D. Cope on the other is an eye-opener. Stegner is also a writer of fiction, and he brings a novelist's command of language to this work. The conceit of human geological understanding being directly reflected in the rocks of the Province is particularly fine p. New Mexico's tagline is "Land of Enchantment.

Powell's virtue was in seeing clearly through the enchantment. Much of his work was truncated, at least in his lifetime, but "the only thing clearer than the failure of his grandiose schemes of study is the compelling weight of their partial accomplishment. Shelves: non-fiction , bookclub. I didn't end up listening to the entire book.

It is actually super long. For book club we were asked to read up through Powell's first expedition down the Green River into what is now The Grand Canyon. I actually went a little bit further but with the exception of the first expedition, the book was a bit too dry for me. The book certainly was exciting as the expedition was on the river. The group had so many different types of experiences on the trip, some seemed unbelievable. It was really inte I didn't end up listening to the entire book. It was really interesting. I certainly gained a greater appreciation for the state of Utah.

We have so many different types of terrain. The area that Powell explored was the last uncharted territory in the US.

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