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 Creat Wallace Stegner Bernard DeVoto go inside Books 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.. Good Books 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.
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian John Wesley Powell and the Beyond the Hundredth Meridian is an excellent biography of Major John Wesley Powell I, like probably almost everyone with a bit of history in their veins, knows of Powell as the first documented leader of a party to successfully run the rapids of the Green and Colorado Rivers But Beyond the Hundredth Meridian John Wesley Powell and the Beyond the Hundredth Meridian is a pioneering history of John Wesley Powell, who was not only explorer of the American west but also an individual who developed scientific method and documentation in Beyond the Hundredth Meridian by Wallace Stegner About Beyond the Hundredth Meridian From the dean of Western writers The New York Times and the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety, a fascinating look at the old American West and the man who prophetically warned against the dangers of settling it Beyond the Hundredth Meridian John Wesley Beyond the Hundredth Meridian is a pioneering history of John Wesley Powell, who was not only explorer of the American west but also an individual who developed scientific method and documentation in Beyond the Hundredth Meridian John book by Wallace Stegner Once upon a time, Gilpin saw the land beyond the th meridian which runs through the center of Nebraska and Kansas through a mystical fervor The semiarid Beyond the Hundredth Meridian John Wesley Powell and the Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, by Wallace Stegner, is a work of non fiction concentrating on the expeditions, government career and scientific work of Major John Wesley Powell The book begins in and continues until Powell s death in Powell was raised in Midwest America in the years leading to and including the Civil War.