USGS Logo Geological Survey Professional Paper 670
John Wesley Powell and the Anthropology of the Canyon Country


On May 24, 1869, John Wesley Powell and nine volunteers started down the Green River from Green River Station, Wyoming Territory. Their aim was to map and to collect scientific information about the Canyon Country—those areas of Utah, western Colorado, northern Arizona, and northwestern New Mexico drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Powell and his men completed the trip on August 30, 1869, when they arrived at the mouth of the Virgin River below the Grand Canyon. Powell and other volunteers made a second trip in 1871-72 but concluded their exploration at the mouth of Kanab Creek in the Grand Canyon. The story of these trips is well known and will not be repeated here.4

4See Darrah (1951) and Stegner (1954). Several diaries and journals of both trips were kept. See Gregory (1919), Darrah, Chamberlin, and Kelly (1947), Darrah, Gregory, and Kelly (1945-49), Dellenbaugh (1905), Fowler and Fowler (1969a). Powell's own published narratives (1875a, 1895) telescope the events of both trips and report them as taking place in 1869.

Powell's exploits made him a national hero. After his 1869 trip, Powell sought and received a congressional appropriation to continue his research. The appropriation, continued in later years, established the Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, J. W. Powell in Charge. Powell's Rocky Mountain Survey became the fourth of the so-called great surveys (Bartlett, 1962) operating in the American West after the Civil War. The others operated under F. V. Hayden, Clarence King, and Lt. G. W. Wheeler.

Throughout the 1870's, Powell and the men who worked under him carried out extensive geological and topographic studies in the Canyon Country. Some of these studies remain as classics in the field, especially Powell's (1875a, 1876) on the canyons of the Colorado and the Uinta Mountains, G. K. Gilbert's (1877) on the Henry Mountains, and C. E. Dutton's (1880) on the Grand Canyon.

This paper is concerned with yet another facet of Powell's work in the Canyon Country—his studies of the archeological remains and of the historic Indian tribes of the region.

Research by D. D. Fowler on the materials in the introductory and ethnography sections of this paper were made possible by a National Research Council postdoctoral visiting research associateship at the Smithsonian Institution in 1967-68 and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This support is gratefully acknowledged. R. C. Euler wishes to express his appreciation to the Arizona Power Authority, the National Park Service, Dr. and Mrs. F. E. Bumgarner, and the National Science Foundation (Grant GS-1078) for financial support of his Grand Canyon research, of which this study is a part. To the late Rod Sanderson and his sons, of Page, Ariz., who expertly piloted him on four Colorado River trips through Grand Canyon, and to Wayne Learn, the skilled helicopter pilot with whom he has spent so many hours flying the tortuous byways of the canyon, his everlasting gratitude for those always exciting yet always safe journeys. Finally, a note of thanks to his wife, Elizabeth, for smoothing the archeology section with her editorial comments.

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Last Updated: 13-Jan-2009