Major John Wesley Powell was a one-armed Civil War veteran. His explorations have made him a popular legend throughout the southwest.
Born in 1834 in Mount Morris, NY, he was the son of Mary and Joseph Powell, a Methodist preacher and an immigrant from England in 1830. The couple moved with their family to Jackson, Ohio in 1838 where the young Powell began to take an interest in natural history. By age 12, the family had moved to a farm in Wisconsin and by 18, Powell was teaching.
Powell was one of the first to volunteer to fight in the Civil War following President Abraham Lincoln's call for troops. On May 8, 1861 he enlisted at Hennepin, Illinois as a private in the 20th Illinois Infantry. In November of that same year, he married Emma Dean, whose name he gave to one of the wooden boats used in his Colorado River expeditions.
During the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862, Powell was shot in the wrist injuring his right arm, unfortunately it had to be amputated below the elbow. He returned to service and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After the Civil War, Powell taught geology in Bloomington at Illinois Wesleyan University. In 1868, he began considering exploring the mighty Colorado River, despite rumors that earlier attempts had failed. He had four wooden boats built in Chicago to his own specifications and had them shipped to the Green River Station in the Wyoming Territory. On May 24, 1869 Powell, his brother Walter and eight other men launched their boats. Four men left the expedition in the midst of the 1,100-mile voyage, which lasted 99 days.
Powell and the remaining five men emerged from the Canyon on August 30th at the mouth of the Virgin River. Immediately Powell began making plans for a second expedition and he continued to make his mark upon the world founding organizations until his death on September 23, 1902 at the age of 68. He was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
More information about this legendary explorer can be found at the John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum, opened 100 years following his first expedition into the Grand Canyon. The museum is located on the corner of North Navajo Drive and Lake Powell Boulevard in Page. While you gather information about local activities in the area, you can learn about Major Powell and his explorations of the Colorado River or view pottery, baskets and articrafts from ancient and modern day Indian cultures. Videos are available for review on a number of subjects from Page's beginning with the Glen Canyon Dam construction to the national parks surrounding Page and Lake Powell.