White Lies, Major Distortions, and Several New Stabs at the Truth—8 recent publications on James White and Major John Wesley Powell

History is perhaps the most subjective of sciences—so malleable that it might better be called an art. Although most historians begin with fastidious research, rooting far and digging deep for facts, for “truth,” it is inevitably up to the historian’s discretion which “truths” to accept, which to qualify, which to discredit, and which to discard altogether. Often these judgments reveal more about the author than the subject. The stories of James White and John Wesley Powell are cases in point.
Original source material for the Colorado River journeys of James White, in 1867, and John Wesley Powell’s first expedition in 1869, are spare, often vague, and at times entirely contradictory. As a result, historians have had the delightful opportunity to pick and choose from sources, to mix and match, to rationalize and discount, to portray White and Powell anywhere from saints to slimeballs, from messiahs to murderers.
Little appeared about White for several decades after his 1867 journey other than newspaper stories—often highly distorted—and the occasional broadside in books about the river. Powell’s early documentation is equally distorted: the river segment of his 1875 Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and its Tributaries, Explored in 1869, 1870, 1871, and 1872, was actually a slightly reworked article he originally wrote for Scribner’s, a popular magazine who specifically requested “more incidents of the expedition of a bloodcurdling nature.” Powell exaggerated, altered, and combined expeditions to comply—but unfortunately did not remove the dramatics in his otherwise brilliant and geologically ground breaking government report.
The primary fodder for much debate appeared in the aptly titled Colorado River Controversies. The book presents two edited segments of Robert Brewster Stanton’s two-volume manuscript, The Colorado River of the West and the Exploration, Navigation, and Survey of its Canyons from the Standpoint of an Engineer. The original manuscript was far too ponderous, with too little market appeal, for any publisher to touch it before Stanton’s death in 1922. Some ten years later river runner and industrialist Julius F. Stone, a longtime friend of Stanton, hired James M. Chalfant to edit a portion for print, addressing two topics: James White’s River Journey of 1867, and The Affair at Separation Rapids. In the first section, after a review of White’s story and an interview between White and Stanton, White’s journey is removed from Grand Canyon and launched at Pearce Ferry. (White simply mistook a two-day walk from the San Juan north to the Colorado River, Stanton explains, for a forty-five day walk south to Pearce Ferry.)
In part two, Jack Sumner and Billy Hawkins, members of Powell’s 1869 trip, are called upon in their old age for the true story of the expedition and the motives for the departure of the Howland Brothers and Bill Dunn at Separation Rapid. Both Sumner and Hawkins tell of an incident somewhere near the foot of Cataract Canyon where Dunn inadvertently dunked Major Powell’s watch, ruining it. In Powell’s explosive rebuke he orders Dunn to pay for the watch and his keep, or leave the expedition. Hawkins includes a brawl with Walter Powell, Sumner adds his own invitation to duel Walter (declined) as well as a series of spats between Powell and O.C. Howland. Both Sumner and Hawkins claim their own leadership in continuing downriver from Separation.
In the end, Stanton and Chalfant conclude that the primary reason the men left at Separation was that Powell ordered Dunn to go (over a month earlier) and this was the “first promising side canyon” (Apparently Hite, Crossing of the Fathers, and Lees Ferry did not look promising). Oramel Howland left because he was tired of being picked on by Powell and was standing up for his friend Dunn, and Seneca Howland went because he was Oramel’s brother. Hence Powell virtually ordered the men to their deaths.
Although there is certainly much truth in Colorado River Controversies, and it should be standard reading for all full-time guides, it is also quite evident that a great deal of the book goes over the top, as much or more so than those books that worship Powell. Just what to make of Controversies has colored river history for seven decades.
Powell: The Fifty Year Bloom
Powell books seem to come out in clusters about every fifty years. The decade of Powell’s 1902 death brought several eulogies for Powell and two books by Frederick Dellenbaugh, who accompanied Powell during the 1871–1872 river and overland survey, and developed a lifelong case of hero worship for Powell. His Romance of the Colorado River (1902) is a history of human visitation to the river, and A Canyon Voyage (1908) a detailed account of the second Powell river expedition—a trip Powell rarely acknowledged. Dellenbaugh blasts away at James White as a grand prevaricator, stoutly defending Powell as the first down the river. And although Dellenbaugh preceded Colorado River Controversies by three decades, and consequently did not have to refute the charges against Powell made therein, he may actually have done much to precipitate them.
For although Powell may or may not have cared much for Dunn or the Howlands, he took pains to defend their honor. Not so Dellenbaugh. Those men abandoned Powell in his time of need. In Romance, Dellenbaugh labeled them deserters, and later campaigned successfully against having their names included on the Powell Monument on the South Rim of Grand Canyon. Such a branding scalded both Hawkins’ and Sumner’s sensibilities and may well have added the necessary steam for a rebuttal by these long silent men—men who had stuck with Powell at Separation, and later agreed to work for Powell again.[1]
The Second Bloom
Almost five decades passed after Powell’s death before his significance began to dawn on Americans, his name and achievements largely fading into obscurity in the interim. Then, in the late 1940s William Culp Darrah collected, transcribed and, with the Utah Historical Society, published the lion’s share of journals and correspondence from Powell’s river expeditions. [2]
In 1951 Darrah published his 400-page biography, Powell of the Colorado—well researched, containing much praise, and precious little criticism. To his credit, when Darrah did his research he made the best of his opportunity to interview many of Powell’s coworkers from his years in Washington, and gives a unique picture of the workings of Powell’s bureaus. But from a boatman’s perspective, the river history is sloppy and ill-informed. Darrah had never been on the water.
Within three years, three more biographies appeared. Paul Meadows’s 1952 John Wesley Powell: Frontiersman of Science was a 100-page summary of Powell’s life and theories. Little notice was taken of it then, however, or now. A year later Elmo Scott Watson’s The Professor Goes West was released posthumously. It was a essentially a supplement to the Powell chapter in Watson’s history of Illinois Wesleyan University (iwu), where Powell had taught. The book consists primarily of a wealth of correspondence from Powell and other iwu folk who accompanied him on the river and overland during his surveys. There are many stories from the Bloomington Pantograph, and a great deal of correspondence from H.C. DeMotte about the overland surveys. All this material sheds a unique light on Powell’s career, and little of it can be found elsewhere to this day.
Then, in 1954, came the big one, the one fellow Powell biographer Donald Worster says “explains Powell’s resurrection to sainthood after World War Two,” Wallace Stegner’s masterpiece, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West.
Where Darrah assembles facts in a row, Stegner paints with bold strokes, comparing and contrasting Powell with the people, politics, and ideology of his day. He focuses especially on Powell’s prescience in water issues in the West and chronicles his downfall, shaking his head as he sees history repeating itself in the 1950s. Planning versus expediency. The good of the common man versus the greed of development and industry. Stegner writes magnificently, with humor and panache; his book became an instant classic and remains required reading to this day in college courses on the West.
Stegner’s descriptions of the river and canyon scenery were far better than Darrah’s, as Stegner had been down the San Juan and Glen Canyon with Nevills. Still, you can tell his trip ended at Lees Ferry, and that he never rowed the boat.
As far as Colorado River Controversies was concerned, Darrah blew the book out of the water, saying it “was actually written by Chalfant and does not represent the opinions of Stanton. The facts are manhandled in a reprehensible manner.” [3] Stegner, too, dismissed Hawkins and Sumner’s tales as bad blood, bombast, and sour grapes. “Powell may have done some bad things,” Stegner is alleged to have muttered, “but he’s not going to do them in my book.”
The Current Bloom
Another fifty years went by with a small burst of Powell books commemorating the centennial of his 1869 trip, but nothing too huge appeared until suddenly, almost 100 years after his death, a bumper crop of five new major Powell works came off the press (and more on the way). Moreover, this bloom was accompanied by three publications about the disputed challenger to Powell’s seniority on the river: James White.
James White: Studies in Obscurity
Almost since the day White was plucked from the Colorado baked, blistered, and “some loco’ed” on September 7, 1867, his tale has been a subject of fierce debate. At first it was championed by all who heard it, and quickly passed on, often with elaboration. Some of his admirers went so far as to assign localities to his vague descriptions of terra incognita, and soon his launch point was designated as the Grand River (now the upper section of the Colorado) shortly above its confluence with the Green. It was here on the Grand, claimed reporters such as Dr. C.C. Parry, where White and his friend George Strole built their raft of cottonwood logs. They were fleeing hostile natives who had slain their leader, Captain Baker, and late that same night, Strole and White set off downriver. After four days of smooth sailing they hit rapids. Strole was washed overboard and drowned. White clung to his raft for another ten days, occasionally flipped over or washed from the raft in rapids. After the loss of Strole, however, White had tethered himself to the raft with a long lariat, much as surfers do today, and could drag himself back onto whatever happened to be the top of his craft. At one point he wrecked on an island and built a new raft from logs found nearby. He ate his leather knife sheath. He traded his revolver to some Indians for the hindquarters of a dog, half of which he accidentally lost in the river before he could gulp it down. Slowly starving, nearly drowning, steadily losing his senses, he drifted as far as Callville, Nevada, some sixty miles below Grand Canyon, where he was dragged from the river by a group of Mormons.
White’s story spread via word of mouth, newspaper, and mention in books about the new and scarcely known West. But White’s story began withering two years later when Powell and his men encountered the fury of Cataract Canyon where White’s tale, according to most printed versions, described smooth sailing. Powell pronounced White’s tale poppycock, as did most subsequent river runners. But whereas Powell, Kolb, Freeman, and others simply discounted the tale as fiction and passed on, Dellenbaugh got downright mean about it. Stanton took it as a personal affront and launched his own vendetta.
Yet throughout the last 134 years, White has drawn fans, some who went so far as to publish their support. Unfortunately these publications vie with one another for being the most obscure and unattainable of all works on the Colorado.
Thomas Dawson assembled a potpourri of newspaper articles, book excerpts, and letters from White himself, and was able to get it published as Senate Document #42 in 1917. He presented some very good—and some not so good—evidence for White’s tale. Yet good or bad, Dawson’s pamphlet remained so scarce as to be all but irrelevant to the layman.
In 1920, William Wallace Bass, of Bass Trail, Camp, Rapid, and Limestone, published Adventures in the Canyons of the Colorado, containing one of Billy Hawkins’s accounts of the Separation affair and a pro-White article. But it, too, remains as scarce as hen’s teeth.
In 1950, Frances Farquhar, river runner and Sierra Clubber, reprinted a previously unheralded 1867 newspaper article about James White by J.B. Kipp. It was one of the earliest printed accounts of White’s tale and lent White much credence. But the small book, called The Colorado, with only 180 copies printed, is exceedingly rare.
Then, in 1958, James White warranted a full book by Richard E. Lingenfelter. Called First Through Grand Canyon, the book makes a strong case for White. Strong, that is, until Lingenfelter adopts Stanton’s premise of White heading south from the San Juan. He then has White enter the Colorado through Navajo Canyon and spend four days floating the flatwater from there to the Little Colorado. Oops. Even with this flaw, the book could have helped spread the word of White’s possibilities, but only 300 were printed.
Harold Bulger wrote a good defense of White in 1961, in the Missouri Historical Society’s The Bulletin. Bulger rerouted White to the Colorado via White Canyon, the closest yet to White’s own testimony. But who reads The Bulletin?
And for that matter, even Colorado River Controversies sold poorly—only 500 copies were rumored to have made it to the public—and remained one of the rarer river texts until 1982, when Bill Belknap brought it out in paperback. It quickly became a staple of boatmen’s ammo cans and opinions, and almost as quickly went back out of print. Well, we can now add two more obscure works to the list. In early 2001 Brad Smith released a limited run (100 copies) of a 28-page well illustrated pamphlet called First to Journey Through the Grand Canyon: The Life Story of James White. Although the river portion errs in following Lingenfelter’s flatwater run of Marble Canyon, the booklet supplies a good deal of new information on Captain Baker’s background as one of the first to explore the Silverton area, becoming the namesake of Baker’s Park. Unfortunately the pamphlet appeared only briefly for sale on the internet, and vanished.
Shortly after that, Five Quail Books produced a reprint of the 1917 Dawson document, including a new bibliography. Its value lies in the number of sources Dawson draws into one place, most especially the letters from White to Dawson, and it is one of the seminal pieces of the White saga. Although Five Quail still has a few of the 150 softbound reprints, all but one of the 50 leatherbound reprints (get this!) were stolen from the bindery parking lot. Talk about scarce!
But finally in late 2001, Utah State University Press released, in both hard and soft cover, (thousands of them!) Hell or High Water; James White’s Disputed Passage of Grand Canyon, 1867. At 191 pages plus notes, this unabashedly pro-White book traces the origin, evolution, and ramifications of White’s saga, chronicling the changes in details and “facts” as the decades progressed. The author, Eilean Adams, has good reason to be thorough—James White was her grandfather. Her case for White is strong, bringing him to the Colorado River via Moqui Canyon in Glen Canyon—finally giving us a geography that matches White’s most consistently repeated details. It was a route discovered and brought to Adams’ attention by the late Bob Euler, who lived just long enough to see the book in print. In the course of telling the tale, Adams makes two remarkable points I would like to share.
First: Although White’s journey was certainly unplanned and his vague descriptions of points unknown did little to enrich human knowledge, his voyage may well have hastened and changed the course of Southwest history, to wit: The November 6, 1867 Rocky Mountain News reports that Powell was “making preparations for a more ambitious expedition to culminate in a passage of the Grand River to its junction with the Colorado.” Yet after White’s tale began to circulate, it made two things evident: a well equipped trip should be able to make it down the Colorado and, if that were so, and White had done it, Powell, in hoping to make history, would find it hard to be credible halting at the confluence of the Green and Grand. White’s story, true or not, forced the issue. Powell had to run the Colorado. And he did.

Second, and far more important: Stanton’s facts may not be what they seem. The final blow against White in Colorado River Controversies is Stanton’s 1907 interview with White. In that interview (a notarized transcription of which he exhibits) Stanton, at times condescending, at times combative, batters away at old White with a line of questions, followed by a well prepared set of statistics, leaving White befuddled and nearly speechless. Stanton then deduces that White actually went south from the San Juan for a month or more rather than north for two days—and in fact never ran or saw Grand Canyon at all.
In Hell or High Water, Adams gives context for the interview, including White’s subsequent denunciation of Stanton’s deductions. Then Adams produces the smoking gun: a letter from Stanton to his old boatman William Edwards, asking him to take the enclosed transcript of the White-Stanton interview to Roy Lappin, the stenographer who recorded it, and have him swear before a notary as to its faithfulness to what was actually said. Why doesn’t Stanton send it straight to Lappin? Stanton explains that Lappin’s transcription was inaccurate and that he, Stanton, had revised it such that it was “not an exact copy of the words but is absolutely exact in facts.” (Whose “facts” he does not state.) “Now I fear that if I send this to him,” Stanton continues, “either he would go to White with it and White would want him to change it or object to his verifying it at all…” Apparently the “facts” that Stanton’s revision were true to, were not likely to agree with White’s facts. I believe that’s called cooking the books. Herein is the lesson prosecutors keep relearning to this day. No matter how strong your case may be, you only have to get caught planting evidence once to blow the case, your career, and your everlasting credibility.
Back to Powell
The 2001 crop opened with Donald Worster’s massive biography, A River Running West. At 573 pages (plus 100 pages of notes, bibliography, and index) it needs to be good, especially when Worster prefaces it by stating “Stegner’s biography was based on limited research into its subject or the nation’s development.” Well, the opposite of limited research is unlimited, i.e. obsessive. Which Worster’s was. Which is a good thing.
Whereas Stegner paints primarily in blacks and whites, Worster does fine detail work in shades of gray. He gives us a very human Powell, warts and all, not always likable, not always right, certainly not perfect. Born to a methodist zealot, Powell rebels early, desperate for a good education, soon adopting his own non-religion, science, with a lifelong fervor. He sprints from one project to the next, scarcely noticing the loss of an arm, oblivious to those he steps on along the way, intolerant and uncomprehending of those who lack his zeal, heading for something, somewhere, that does not yet exist. No matter—he will create it.
And he does, masterminding the United States Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ethnology, both of which he heads for decades, gathering about him many of the greatest scientists, artists, and visionaries of his day. Powell proves a poor detail man in most fields, leaving that up to his scientists, but he is unquestionably one of the grandest big picture thinkers that ever lived—a synthesizer, a facilitator, and a surprisingly gifted administrator. Yet in the end his grandest schemes are shot down, their brilliance doomed by the radical socialism that Powell packaged with them.
Interestingly, Worster is the first and only Powell biographer to give James White his due, saying that although White’s journey was improbable, the alternatives given by Stanton and others are even more so. He paints Stanton as a petty man, although he gives Hawkins and Sumner’s tales fair play. Worster also gives the first good airing of Powell’s less-than-deft management of his 1871–1872 river and land survey, detailing the impatience and frustration of his crew as Powell abandoned them for weeks and months at a time.
In this biography, even more than its predecessors, Powell’s river trips are shown to be only the tiniest part of who Powell was and what he did. They were the stunt that launched a brilliant career. Powell, it becomes clear, never fell in love with the river as so many of us have. To him it was a rather inconvenient path to get through an area he wished to survey—a thing to be measured, allocated, and put to use—but not necessarily loved. If he could have explored the Colorado River in a horsecart, he undoubtedly would have. The river’s works of erosion captivated Powell’s analytic mind, but not the living river itself. River magic is not quantifiable in science-speak, and to Powell, it did not exist. The scenery was grand, the river was a nuisance.
Although his first river trip was spectacular, he merely used it as a springboard to the next scientific endeavor, never in his old age looking back fondly to his time on the old Colorado. And to him the second river trip was not an expedition at all—it was merely part of the overall survey, which happened to be in boats for a while, no more noteworthy than the endless monotonous triangulation work that progressed overland. In fact, the river held little enough of his personal interest that he left much of that second trip up to Thompson to lead, while Powell traveled elsewhere.
And although Powell’s personnel skills grew to be startling in the 1880s, on his first river trip his leadership was far from brilliant. Rather, it was rough and raw (although I daresay I have run with worse trip leaders). Powell was not a whitewater addict, nor a worshiper of the mystique of wild rivers. He was a scientist first and last. And perhaps that is one thing about the Major that many river-smitten critics find hardest to forgive.
Edward Dolnick’s Down the Great Unknown is less a biography of Powell than an in-depth treatment of Powell’s 1869 river expedition. Dolnick feels, and rightly so, that most folks don’t quite realize how difficult and dangerous that trip was, nor do they understand what it might have felt like to be there. To remedy that he uses analogies by the bushelful to try to convey to the layman what it might have been like to be one of those men, in one of those boats, on that river, way back then. And although analogies can never be precise, I think he comes closer than most to describing the feel of running those boats. Since Dolnick is not a professional boatman, he quotes the opinions of many modern guides—Drifter Smith, Michael Ghiglieri, Regan Dale—even me—in an attempt to find accuracy, to resolve unsolved minutia such as, “Did Powell have sweep oars on his first expedition?”[4]
A few things come through particularly vividly in Down the Great Unknown. Notably, Dolnick’s flashback description of the chaos and horror and insanity and utter ineptitude of the Battle of Shiloh, where Powell lost his arm—a battle so horrible and deadly that both sides lost. But it got worse for Powell, with the unbelievably ghastly “medical” care he and others received in the field, severed arms and legs stacked outside the stinking, festering tents. Makes your skin crawl. Later, Dolnick does a fine job of making the reader realize what it might be like to slowly starve, trying to row and line and portage those monster boats through lower Grand Canyon on a diet of hot wet rotten flour and coffee.
Unfortunately Dolnick swallows Colorado River Controversies unchewed, dismissing James White in a few sentences and giving Hawkins and Sumner’s stories perhaps a bit more weight than they deserve—especially in light of Adams’ recent revelations about Stanton’s accuracy. But all in all, it’s a good book to give the layman a feel for the Powell Expedition.
William deBuys, the brilliant writer and historian who gave us Salt Dreams (about the lower Colorado and Salton Sea) released a fine anthology of Powell’s writings in 2001. Called Seeing Things Whole: The Essential John Wesley Powell, it contains sixteen selections, of Powell’s writings on the river, ethnology, geology, and much about his land use ideas in the arid West. He closes with two sections on Powell’s final fixation, the science of man. With so much written about Powell, this helps us find out what Powell was actually thinking; what he thought important. The bulk of the book centers on Powell’s prescient perceptions of, and plans for, the arid region. He was the first to understand it, yet in spite of decades of fighting for reform in the West, he died the same year the the Bureau of Reclamation was formed—an agency that would make extremely limited and often grandly misguided attempts toward his master plan.
It is good to remember when reading this book than Powell wrote very little himself and answered few letters. Rather, he spoke nearly every word of his essays and books aloud to an “amanuensis”—a person hired specifically to write down what he said. Hence, although he edited his works somewhat, it is wonderful to picture as you read, Powell pacing back and forth in his cluttered bookstrewn office, puffing his cigar, organizing his thoughts and orating them succinctly, word by word.
Although deBuys’s selections provide enlightening and informative reading, equally so is the connective tissue he supplies between selections, his context and insights illuminating the significance of Powell’s thoughts. If I were to fault the book, it might be for running a little heavy on Powell’s land use planning and a little light on his ethnology. But hey, nobody’s perfect.
In addition to all the nonfiction works, two novels about Powell’s journey have been written. Historical fiction is an interesting genre—it can be utterly impossible hogwash or, due to the lack of restrictions placed on nonfiction writers, it can pry closer to the real truth than a biography. In the case of these two novels, thankfully, they are both based on good research and ethical conjecture. The first, John Vernon’s The Last Canyon, is a split tale. Vernon follows Powell’s men, coarse and crude, as they struggle down the river, chronicling the inevitable collapse of morale as conditions deteriorate. Alternate chapters follow a band of Paiutes as they circumnavigate Grand Canyon in an attempt to rescue a missing child. Powell’s journey is told well, if somewhat predictably to us boatfolk, and is salted with a large helping of Stanton’s ire. What I found more captivating was the story of the Paiute Toab and his relatives working slowly across the Canyon, east toward Navajo Mountain and back through Glen Canyon to the Kaibab Plateau. Vernon’s attempt to reveal the Native American world view and mindset is convincing and at times disturbing to Caucasian sensibilities—yet Vernon places no moral values on their lives. The inevitable collision of Toab’s band and Powell’s men on the Shivwits Plateau forms the climax of the book.
Vernon, a veteran of ten novels, writes with grace: “The exposed earth here spilled unexpected secrets, and the rattleboned men were going back in time, sliding deep into the past. Wes felt it more than he knew it, sensed all of them devolving. They’d lost weight, their clothes drooped like rags, some had no shoes, their nerves had been frayed, the leaky boats were lighter and felt ready to collapse at the flick of a wave into piles of clattering wood. And every foot forward stripped off more human padding.”
Lastly (so far) is Ardian Gill’s The River is Mine, due out in the next month or two. Gill’s story unfolds from the pen of George Bradley, who in real life was the most consistent and entertaining chronicler of the 1969 Powell trip. [5] Gill has studied Bradley’s journal well and then extended it into a book-length story. Bradley is a loner, uncomfortable in the camaraderie of the other men, and spends much of his spare time to himself, writing. In Gill’s version we get a far more detailed account of the daily work on the expedition, the rapids consistently taking up much of the day and leaving the men exhausted and in danger from dawn until dusk. In camp, Bradley records much of the other men’s conversations, and takes pains to write down the lyrics of the songs the men sing—actual lyrics of the songs from that era. I have studied Bradley myself and find it hard at times to tell when Gill is using Bradley’s real voice and when he is improvising. In other words, he does a good Bradley.
The real Bradley was constantly annoyed by Powell’s lack of religion and failure to observe the Sabbath. Gill’s Bradley follows this strain, yet gradually finds himself reassessing Powell’s “religion” of science. One afternoon up Bright Angel Creek, he writes:
“It’s the sound of the river that does it. It takes hold of you like a child demanding attention. It’s calmed Walter so he hardly prays in the boat anymore; it’s kept Jack uncommon quiet, and it’s made me sit and think…I used to think that if I did good toward man and served the Union and worshiped God, all would be well, but it turned out that it set my mind aroil the same as the rocks rile up the river, and sometimes I didn’t know what to think. So far I’d always come back to faith in the Creator, but it was becoming more and more of a chore. It occurred to me that I hadn’t prayed for over a week.”
Ivo Luchitta opened a recent Geology Symposium at the South Rim with a premise. Somewhere out there is Truth, he said, the great Truth that we can approach but can never fully grasp or describe. Each investigation we make can give us another fact, another perspective, another little truth. And each of these little truths brings us a step closer to the actual Truth. This is equally true for history. Each of these new books builds on a multifaceted legacy of White and Powell. [6] Each chips away in some manner at old falsehoods, each adds errors of its own, each adds new truths to the greater Truth. Thanks to these new works, our pictures of White and Powell are richer than ever. But don’t be like one of the six blind men, each touching a different part of the elephant and pronouncing it to be something different. Read widely, keep an open mind. For the serious river historian, Adams and Worster are must-reads. For the river enthusiast, read ’em all. [7]
Brad Dimock
[1] Sumner planned to join the second expedition but got snowed in; Hawkins later worked as a packer for the Powell overland survey.
[2] These journals, long out of print and hard to find, have now been released on cd form by the Utah Historical Society. In word-searchable form, they are a tremendous resource.
[3] Even Stone, the financier of Controversies alludes to this on the rarely-seen dustjacket: “The original documents and records of Stanton have been so cleverly revised and edited that, although it is primarily of historical significance, Colorado River Controversies now contains much of interest to the general reader also.”
[4] Dolnick ends up disagreeing with my hypothesis that Powell’s men could not have completed the trip without inventing the sweep oar. Unfortunately the last time I spoke to him I had not yet found my greatest bit of ammo: Billy Hawkins’s account of running the middle section of Separation Rapid in August, 1869. “I said, ‘Watch my smoke this time!’ and I told Hall to put all his strength in the oars, and I would do the rest…I headed for the lower side of the cove… Hall had the boat under such headway that I could manage it with my steering oar…”
[5] And as if there weren’t enough Powell books at once, it appears there is another Bradley book coming soon, too. Michael Ghiglieri has located the original Bradley journal and done what he says is a far more accurate and complete transcription. He hopes to release The Secret Journal of George Young Bradley by early summer.
[6] By thte way, there are a couple dozed more Powell and White books and references that did not fit.
[7] As we go to press, Five Quail Books is making an attempt to have each of these eight new books in stock.