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

So far I ve read two Wallace Stegner novels and this and this book about geography cartography ethnology and American politics is by far the best of the three I discovered my surprising weakness

So far I've read two Wallace Stegner novels and this, and this book about geography, cartography, ethnology, and American politics is by far the best of the three. I discovered my surprising weakness for geology writing after reading Basin and Range during my student days, and still regret feverishly selling it in order to buy ramen noodles.John Wesley Powell emerged one-armed from the Civil War (serving under Grant) and gathered up a motley crew in order to traverse the Colorado River. It had been done before, but casually, with more exploratory than scientific aims in mind. Powell was a self-taught scientist and university professor. In fact he would traverse the Colorado twice under U.S. government aegis; the first expedition had so many mishaps, overturned and destroyed boats in the rapids (during which food supplies, clothing, oars, scientific instruments, and notes and diaries were lost), and near drownings, that its data-gathering was severely hampered.Powell with his one arm, and a Paiute Indian, with his two.These two photos show one of the boats used in the second expedition, with an armchair bolted to the center.Not really having any idea whether the Colorado had rapids, or how bad they might be, Powell designed his boats blind for the first expedition. They turned out to be quite unsuitable, too heavy and lacking maneuverability. At times the going was so rough the boats had to be recaulked and repaired every night.Care for a ride down the rapids in an armchair?Before the very last set of rapids on the first expedition, the men were extremely anxious. The concern was that this set would be untraversable, and they would lose their lives. Their food supplies were nearly depleted, their bacon and most of their flour gone bad; they were eating biscuits the consistency of sandstone now. Powell gave the men a choice of riding the final set of rapids and finishing the journey, or hiking up and out of the canyon and quitting the expedition, no hard feelings. Three of the 10 or so men chose to hike up and out, whereupon the remaining men bounced their way down the river. Sadly, once the three hikers reached the top of the canyon, they were mistaken for three white men who had recently molested a Shivwit squaw and were shot with arrows as they slept. Later, not a man to hold a grudge, Powell met with the Shivwits and smoked a peace pipe in order to find out what had happened to his men. He used the time productively, recording Shivwit vocabularies, as he did repeatedly for other tribes. (If I'm not mistaken, he ended up with some 700 or so vocabularies.) Along with mapping, ethnology was one of his favorite pursuits.The next chapter in Powell's life entailed trying to persuade the U.S. government and the western states that west of the 100th meridian (a line through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) the lands were arid, and that the homesteading law should be changed. The standard 160 acres that a homesteader could acquire for farming could in no way be arable unless irrigated; and once it was irrigated, it would take more than one family to farm it. Land for pasturage was in a different category and could be owned or disbursed in much huger chunks since it didn't require irrigation. Powell battled with Congress repeatedly, both in trying to obtain funds for his scientific researches, and trying to persuade Western congressmen that their states were indeed arid. Much like today, the Congressmen of the 1870s-1890s did not always believe in science, or only when it suited them. It didn't suit them to believe that their state only got X amount of annual rainfall. If they had once seen a lush green farm somewhere in the west, that was proof to them lush green farms could exist everywhere at every time in the west ("we've got two feet of snow and it's 20°F, global warming can't possibly exist").I already knew the fallacy of this reasoning from reading The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Together these two books have me wanting to know everything there is to know about homesteading, irrigation, farming, and water rights in the western two-fifths of the U.S.As an example of Stegner's nonfiction writing, this paragraph is about as perfect as it gets:In the West the winter of 1886 clenched and loosened and clenched in blizzard and cold snap and January thaw, cold again, blizzard again. Sometimes after sundown the sky was the clear green of forty below, and sometimes wind reached down out of the north to whine across the flats. Snow moved before it, dry as sand, light as smoke, shifting in long ropy trails, and white coned against clumps of grass and the broken clods of fields, long cone and dark hollow formed in furrows and the ruts of wagon trails, and deeply, with edges like scimitars, around the corners of shacks and soddies. In some of the shacks, after five days, a week, two weeks, a month, of inhuman weather, homesteaders would be burning their benches and tables and weighing the chances of a desperate dash to town - lonely, half-crazed Swedes, Norwegians, Russians, Americans, pioneers of the sod-house frontier. Sometimes they owned a team, a cow, a few chickens; just as often they had nothing but a pair of hands, a willingness to borrow and lend, a tentative equity in 160 acres of Uncle Sam's free soil, a shelf full or partly full or almost empty of dried applies, prunes, sardines, crackers, coffee, flour, potatoes, with occasionally a hoarded can of Copenhagen snus or a bag of sunflower seeds. More than one of them slept with his spuds to keep them from freezing. More than one, come spring, was found under his dirty blankets with his bearded grin pointed at the ceiling, or halfway between house and cowshed where the blizzard had caught him.Good Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West Author Wallace Stegner Bernard DeVoto is Ebook John Wesley Powell fought in the Civil War and it cost him an arm But it didn t stop him from exploring the American West Here Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, gives us a thrilling account of Powell s struggle against western geography and Washington politics We witness the successes and frustrations of Powell s distinguished career, and appreciate his unparallJohn Wesley Powell fought in the Civil War and it cost him an arm But it didn t stop him from exploring the American West Here Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, gives us a thrilling account of Powell s struggle against western geography and Washington politics We witness the successes and frustrations of Powell s distinguished career, and appreciate his unparalleled understanding of the West.. Wallace Earle Stegner was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist Some call him The Dean of Western Writers He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S National Book Award in 1977.. A viral Book Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West On my top 10 of 10,000. No one can claim sufficient understanding of the expansion of the West in the late 19th & early 20th centuries without having read this. Stegner is a beautiful writer and you'll love this book. John Wesley Powell not only led the historic Explorations of the Grand, Green and Colorado Rivers and their Canyons, explored the blank areas of the western US, but founded the US Geological Survey & Bureau of Ethnicity. He also was a cofounder and inaugural attendee of very first meeting to consider the creation of a Society for the increase & diffusion of geogrphic knowledge -- The National Geographic Society.Beautiful, Pulizer-winning biography of JW Powell and a magnifiscent literary tour de force. Read this one.

  1. Wallace Earle Stegner was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist Some call him The Dean of Western Writers He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S National Book Award in 1977.

216 Reply to “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West”

  1. On my top 10 of 10,000 No one can claim sufficient understanding of the expansion of the West in the late 19th early 20th centuries without having read this Stegner is a beautiful writer and you ll love this book John Wesley Powell not only led the historic Explorations of the Grand, Green and Colorado Rivers and their Canyons, explored the blank areas of the western US, but founded the US Geological Survey Bureau of Ethnicity He also was a cofounder and inaugural attendee of very first meeting [...]


  2. This book is not an easy read It was written in the 1950s and is a scholarly work That said it is not difficult to read, just slow if you want to think about what is packed into this book.John Wesley Powell gained fame as the first man to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon He was so much than that His career spanned the late 1860s when he mapped the Colorado region to 1894 when some Senators finally pushed him out of his work with the U S Geological Survey USGS and Irrigation Surve [...]


  3. So far I ve read two Wallace Stegner novels and this, and this book about geography, cartography, ethnology, and American politics is by far the best of the three I discovered my surprising weakness for geology writing after reading Basin and Range during my student days, and still regret feverishly selling it in order to buy ramen noodles.John Wesley Powell emerged one armed from the Civil War serving under Grant and gathered up a motley crew in order to traverse the Colorado River It had been [...]


  4. At times as dry as the land it discusses this book is a biography of John Wesley Powell, or perhaps hagiography Powell was the one armed amateur scientist who quickly morphed into a selfless, skilled bureaucrat whose vision for the American West was denied by Congress and the settlers of the West The first part of the book concentrates on Powell s expeditions and the latter part on his work in DC managing numerous surveys and agencies Surprisingly the second part is very instructive and interes [...]


  5. 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 of writing made the description of Powell s expedition down the Colorado River a quick read That kind of writi [...]


  6. Essential reading for people who, like me, who feel at home in the American West Masterfully written it s Stegner, after all it includes important reminders about water in the West, especially as it becomes 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.S Those are the big federal water projects, without which we could not have settled the W [...]


  7. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian deserves its iconic status it is a work of both scholarship and poetry It relates the life of a unique, talented, and farsighted man it also portrays that man s attempt to save the Western United States from its worst myths and preconceptions about itself One can come away saddened that then, as now, facts and science can be ignored by selfish, greedy, narrow interests However, one can also be heartened by the way in which finally, reality tends to vindicate those w [...]


  8. 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 hot for [...]


  9. I listened to this on audiobook Blackstone audio , which I highly recommend Since I grew up on a street named for Powell, I can hardly afford NOT to read this book 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 They were obviously better foragers than people are today Well and of c [...]


  10. At few weeks ago, I was feeling blah But then I saw a Facebook friend s pictures of his hiking in Colorado I remembered that I had this Wallace Stegner book Beyond the Hundredth Meridian on my to read list and plunged in to the Colorado River with John Wesley Powell and crew However, this book is about so much 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 that natu [...]



  11. This is an extended review of this fine, and classic, book on the American West.On the Fourth of July, 1868, Colorado Territorial Governor and veteran westerner William Gilpin addressed a gathering in Denver 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 The lands beyond the 100th meridian were not The Great American Desert, or [...]


  12. 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 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 Gilbert he [...]


  13. BEYOND THE HUNDRETH MERIDIAN John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West 1954 Wallace Stegner .This has been on my must read list for a long time, and I ve finally gotten around to it Stegner was one of our best writers, in general, and especially so when he was writing about the West In addition to his great reserves of knowledge, he also was a rabid preservationist a fact which is obvious in this work John Wesley Powell was an ethnologist and geologist who explored the Colorado River [...]


  14. 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 interestin [...]


  15. An awesome book This book in nominally a biography of Major John Wesley Powell, one of the influential men in the exploring and settling of the western US in the mid 1800 s However, it doesn t focus too much on dates or other trivial material, but rather gives a broad picture of the western and national issues of the day Powell gains notoriety by being the first man to explore many of the canyons of Utah and Arizona, including the Grand Canyon He then works his way up through the federal govern [...]


  16. The story line is excellent as far as the part of the beginning trip on the Colorado River and beyond An adventure for all time to be the first to be challenged by this part of the west However it gets bogged down in the politics of the time and I skipped a lot of that part of the book But loved the adventure of these 9 men on a river for 2 months in the late 1800 s, with challenging rapids, and their unwieldy boats and equipment If you read this book you might also get a copy of It Must be.A Gr [...]


  17. Very interesting account of John Wesley Powell s discoveries through the great Mountain West Justin and I became interested in learning about him when we visited the Grand Canyon last month, and this book is quenching my thirst The day to day account of Powell and his team rafting through the Grand Canyon is amazing Cool to hear mention of Powell interacting with Brigham Young and Jacob Hamblin as in THEE Jacob Lake It s a bit factual in the beginning, but starts flowing better.


  18. RICH book and a slow read for me Perhaps that had something to do with reading it in the summertime with rivers and mountains and kids in swimming suites constantly beckoning to me I found this tricky to rate because if it wasn t so slow, maybe exposing a little of the personal character the controversial sides of Powell instead of giving him the pedestal and hero worship that Stegner does, then I would have rated it higher and I could ve used just a tiny bit of romance somewhereI mean the Wes [...]


  19. A Colossal Waste of Time Boring Would Be A ComplimentMr Stegnor should have stuck to his wonderful fiction Despite all the desperate situations the Colorado River crew lead by Powell faced, Stegnor s prose is flat and has a ho hum, ODTAA one darn thing after another , here we go again our lives are threatened quality about it As terrifying as drowning, or falling from a cliff to one s death is, the reader is barely moved the first time it happens The simple fact of its repetition oddly callouses [...]


  20. I read the book while listening to an audio edition.I was born and raised in the SF Bay area, San Mateo,Ca 1947 On my mother s father s side, my ancestors came to SF in 1846, from England, to sell arms to Mexico My dad migrated from Arkansas in the late 30 s from a very rural area So I am vested in the West This book has so much history and educational information that it could be used as an expanded text for an undergrad degree about the West hundreds if not thousands of years ago to understand [...]


  21. Quotable Among librarians I have yet to find a surly or unhelpful individual I think librarians will inherit the earth He Powell was an ex officer, and the habit of command stuck with him, but he was also a learner, and one of the growing few ready to grant the right of the Indian to his own habits and attitudes In All his work in the West from that winter on, he never went armed, and he never had trouble, and this in years and in regions where other scientific expeditions would hardly venture o [...]


  22. I feel kind of bad giving this book only 2 stars it is obviously, painstakingly researched and presents a detailed accounting Powell s exploration of the West and political struggles in Washington as promised For me, it was just way too much information I probably would not have finished the book, but I listened to it on audio so I was doing other things while listening.I did find it interesting that Powell was strongly against turning the prairies into homesteaded farms and that he basically pr [...]


  23. Heroic endeavors in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Oregon Early in these discoveries, the exploration carries with it an incredible need to sustain and protect these lands Many other books have continued that concern we live in such a beautiful and varied country We should heed the advice of these early pioneers and explorers Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he created all those national parks John Wesley Powell must have grown in regard as he was able to be the first traveler A promise needs to [...]


  24. If you want to learn the professional history of John Wesley Powell, the day to day bureaucratic struggles he incurred, the prescient prophecies of the great man this book is for you But if you re looking for the loving lush prose of Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety Wallace Stegner, stick with the man s classic fiction Nor will this book satisfy the geologic itch satisfied by the best works of John McPhee This book is a labor of love, Stegner s valentine to a worthy man, but it is not ligh [...]


  25. I m glad all the historians, geologists, ethnologists, etc loved this book Having come to it as a fan of Stegner s fiction, I found it a little too dry, and I might as well admit it, boring for my taste I enjoyed some of the adventures of the rank amateurs who set out to explore America s great West And I liked the first photos and paintings of the Grand Canyon, too large and cavernous to take in But I could not bring myself to finish it.


  26. I found this somewhat disappointing Stegner makes clear he is not writing about a personality, but about a career The first third of the book is fairly interesting as it describes how Powell explored the Grand Canyon But the rest of the book, about Powell s career in the USGS and his crusade for a realistic approach to settling the west, is pretty dreary, full of bureaucratic infighting.


  27. John Wesley Powell is a hero To understand what the world now calls the Western United States, people should take a peak at the history of what it is This book is marvelous Stegner writes well and this story is epic I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning of the west and the fantastic history of the old west.


  28. I d never than heard his name before reading this I learned about his trip down the Colorado I also learned about a civilservant that most could admire for his purpose a politician who would fight on the side of the people He was human, too Recommended read that you can learn a lot from without being beaten with someone s agenda.


  29. Outstanding biography of John Wesley Powell by a major voice in American Literature This is the type of in depth historical analysis that is critical for all Americans to know in order to interpret our current, seemingly ill, culture and forge a better path for the future.


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