From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Kevin J. Cook):
John Wesley Powell earned his fame twice: once for taking a direct hit from a cannon during the Civil War and once for passing through the Grand Canyon on a boat. The first made the second seem all the more remarkable.
But Powell was a remarkable person.
His mind was so eclectic that had his thoughts been light they would have been a rainbow. His ideas were like so many brilliant and distinctive hues; his ambitions were like so many gradations.
This trio of diversity, ideas and ambitions was simultaneously his strength and his weakness, a conflict that would stymie a lesser man.
Powell was the quintessential 80-percenter. He had the passion to pursue his ideas, but he only had the drive to get them going. Once one of his ideas was underway with a substantial measure of progress — 80 percent done — his heart and mind turned to the next idea leaving the previous project for others to direct and to complete.
And the one project for which he is best remembered is one that others finished, for Powell did not boat the Grand Canyon alone. Yet few can name those who ran the river with him. The leader gathers the glory.
Another tidbit also gets little attention: To get from Illinois to the Grand Canyon, he passed through Colorado. In other words, to get there he traveled here.
On July 8, 1868, Powell and his troupe known as the Rocky Mountain Scientific Exploring Expedition crossed into Colorado from Cheyenne, Wyo. They spent the summer engaging Colorado’s mountains and passes, parks and rivers.
Rather than passing through like so many sightseeing travelers, they came to engage this young territory. Powell intended to document what others knew but did not preserve in the language of maps.
Anyone could hire the guide services of a man like Kit Carson, but Carson was an illiterate who was good on the ground but incapable of preserving or passing on what he knew.
Powell put Colorado on the map; Powell put the map on Colorado.
Some people might argue that Powell’s time in Colorado was inconsequential because his work here was eclipsed by the trip through the Grand Canyon. A better argument would be that he made it through the Grand Canyon because he made it through Colorado.
Powell’s experiences in Colorado prepared him for the challenges that filled his life as a dreamer and a realist, as a conservationist before the word was coined, as an anthropologist and as a reluctant but motivated politician.
In Colorado John Wesley Powell found his muse.
If you go
The Noontime Nature lecture, “The Story of Getting There” at the Loveland Public Library, 300 N. Adams Ave., will be presented twice on Tuesday, March 3: noon to 1 p.m. and again 2 to 3 p.m. and will be repeated 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4. Third in a free year-long series about nature writing specific to Colorado sponsored by Friends of the Loveland Library, “Getting There” will feature John Wesley Powell’s passage through Colorado in the summer of 1868, as presented in Wallace Stegner’s book, “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian.”