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  Woman of the River
  BQR ~ spring 1998

Richard Westwood is the logical person to write a book about Georgie. Dick was raised in the hardscrabble rural life of southeastern Utah by a family that used the Colorado River from time-to-time to augment a living in-and-around a Great Depression and a World War. He lived in Georgie's era and understands Georgie's playground: the Colorado Plateau.
Westwood's best qualification is that he never spent intimate time with Georgie. Instead he spent intimate time with the people who knew Georgie best, and so, a balanced perspective is maintained by Westwood throughout the book. Georgie was a chameleon and if a friend or an enemy had written the book, we might still be distanced from the truth about Georgie's life that is missing from the older literature. There is a case-in-point here, about biographies in general, worthy of a brief discussion in the example of John Wesley Powell.
If you read Robert Brewster Stanton's book Colorado River Controversies, including the Preface and Commentaries, one would be inclined to believe that John Wesley Powell was a creep. I am speaking personally here, as I came to such a conclusion. I decided that it was not fair to judge a man by the events that followed the results of a three month long river trip, so I read Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner, and this book succeeded in changing my viewpoint favorably. Later, I felt that I had become a victim to pendulum thinking and so I decided to find out for myself.
The first thing I did was to read John Wesley Powell's professional papers. This included Report on the Arid Region and Geology of the Eastern Portion of the Uinta Mountains. The first thing I noticed was that there was an obvious lack of wanderlust in Victorian adventure travel as found in The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Tributaries. What I discovered in these professional papers was a brilliant Victorian visionary.
The second thing I did was read a compilation of memoirs found in the annual reports by the United States Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ethnology. I also read the biographies of Grove K. Gilbert, Clarence Dutton and Charles Walcott, thinking what better way to know a man than through his closest associates? What I discovered in reading these memoirs and books was a validation of Powell's fine character, that he is worthy of mentorship, and that he was also very human—successfully rising above his character defects.
So it is with Georgie and I thank Mr. Westwood very much for allowing us to see Georgie the way she really was. But I also know that there is a lot of Georgie still missing from the pages of this fine book and that those memories went with Georgie at her death. Again, Georgie was a chameleon—a very public person and a very private person—molding to the person(s) and the occasion. For example, the Georgie I saw at Lees Ferry rigging boats is not the Georgie I saw working on boat repairs in a cold and lonely Las Vegas warehouse.
There is one particular event I recall more than any other when reflecting upon my very brief life with Georgie. It occurred on my first trip with her in 1985 while camping at Separation Canyon. It was a hot afternoon and everybody had settled down quietly into a very peaceful funk. Georgie ambled up the canyon a short ways, put her long hands on her hips and stared up to the distant rim. After about a minute, she threw down her hands, simultaneously shaking her head, and walked back to the boat staring aimlessly into the hot sand as she walked. I may be wrong, but I think she lapsed into an unpleasant memory that was never properly settled. John Wesley Powell would have done the same.

John Weisheit


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