John Wesley Powell: The West of the Imagination



By: Nathan Chandler

4 Min Quiz

Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Obsessed with adventure and the outdoors, John Wesley Powell decided to explore the lands of the American West. In doing so, he opened a new nation's eyes to its riches. How much do you know about Powell, the bearded nature seeker?

John Wesley Powell is best known for what achievement?

Powell was a hardcore soldier and explorer who mapped many areas of the American Southwest. His journeys were often incredibly dangerous.


Powell did NOT explore which river?

The Columbia River is in the Northwest. Powell's most famous expeditions followed the Green and Colorado rivers.


What was Powell's nickname?

Powell was a consummate adventurer, and he didn't need a fancy nickname. Everyone just called him "Wes."


Powell was probably one of the first white men ever to travel the Colorado River through which area?

Powell and his small band of men were likely the first whites ever to travel through the Grand Canyon using the Colorado River for transportation. They witnessed amazing sights.


As a young man, Powell was taken with exploration. Which areas did he first explore?

He grew up in Ohio and spent much of his young life exploring the areas around the Mississippi River. He even rowed the river all the way from Minnesota to the river's end in Louisiana. He was just 22 years old.


What level of education did Powell have?

He loved to learn. He spent years in college studying various subjects but he was in love with the natural sciences.


Why did Powell abruptly take up military science during his college years?

In 1860, the American Civil War was imminent. Powell knew that military science would be an invaluable skill during the conflict.


Powell was in college in Illinois as the Civil War erupted. With which side did he pledge his loyalty?

He was firmly anti-slavery and very much in favor of the Union. He served with the Illinois Volunteers.


What injury did Powell suffer during the Civil War?

He was struck by a bullet at the Battle of Shiloh and lost an arm. That he was hurt so badly yet lived such an adventurous life is a testament to his resolve.


In spite of severe pain from his war wounds, Powell decided to lead an expedition through the Grand Canyon. What year did he and his band of men depart?

Shortly after the Civil War, Powell and his men departed for the Colorado River...and the Grand Canyon. They were in for an ordeal.


The Grand Canyon was vast and perilous. How many men did Powell take on his 1869 expedition?

Powell took just nine men with him for the treacherous journey. They carried provisions for 10 months worth of traveling.


What were Powell's feelings towards Native Americans?

Many white men of the 19th century hated or feared Indians. Powell, on the other hand, had great respect for their intelligence and wisdom.


Powell was a seasoned soldier. What sort of weapons did he personally take on his expeditions?

Powell wasn't frightened of Indians. He didn't even bother to pack a weapon for the purpose of protection, relying instead on his wits for survival. His men, however, had a large stockpile of guns and ammo.


During the 1869 Grand Canyon expedition, how long did it take for one of the men to give up on the adventure?

One man, Frank Goodman, decided that after a month of hard traveling, he was through. He quit and headed for home. Other men abandoned the team even before the boats entered the Grand Canyon.


The men traveled 900 miles down the Colorado River through the canyon. How long did the trip take?

It took the men three grueling months to make the journey with their four boats. They nearly ran out of food. And the river tried to kill them over and over again.


The turbulent rapids of the Colorado River were extremely hazardous. How did Powell approach this threat?

Powell was exceedingly cautious regarding rapids. If they looked too dangerous, the men would attempt to portage around them.


Just before the end of the expedition, three of Powell's men disappeared. What happened to them?

No one knows exactly what happened to the men. Given the circumstances, it's likely they were killed by Paiute Indians.


The three men who died had just abandoned the expedition. Why did they leave Powell's team?

The three men were exhausted by the river's relentlessness. They opted to take their chances by climbing up out of the canyon. They didn't last long before the Indians killed them.


The three men gave up near the end of the expedition. How long was it before Powell and the remaining men emerged from the canyon?

The expedition made it through the canyon just two days later. If the three men had stuck around just a bit longer they probably would have survived.


A Mormon man named Jacob Hamblin played an important role in the expedition. What did he do?

Hamblin was a vital asset to the crew. He knew all of the local Indians and he spoke with them to help ensure the safe passage of Powell's men...most of them, anyway.


The Paiute Indians became friendly with Powell. They called him Kapurats, which means what?

For obvious reasons, they called him Kapurats, which means "One Arm Off." Powell apparently decided to make friends with the Indians instead of seeking revenge for the deaths of his men.


After exploring much of the Southwest, what did Powell propose that the U.S. do with the land?

Powell foresaw the arid Southwest as a challenge to agriculture. Instead, he suggested that ranchers raise (a few) livestock on the open range.


Powell was a detail-oriented scientist.

He made a fair effort to document all of his findings from expeditions but ultimately he skimped on rigorous science. He was, however, very good at leading other people to do great scientific work.


After the expedition through the Grand Canyon, what was one of Powell's deepest regrets?

Awestruck by his surroundings, he wished that he'd had a photographer. On a later expedition, he made sure to take along a photographer to record the area and its beauty.


After the expedition, how did Powell view the West?

He saw the West as a place with much potential for humanity, but that required a logical approach for settlement, instead of greed-driven insanity.


During the expedition, the men took enough rations for 10 months. How long did they really think the trip would take?

The Colorado River featured so many twists and dangers that they really didn't know how long the journey might take. They packed their gear and hoped for the best.


Powell packed numerous barometers but didn't manage to record any altitudes for the areas they passed. Why?

All of the barometers were packed onto one boat. It turned out to be the only boat they lost in one violent stretch of rapids.


Powell knew that people would be heading west to settle the land he explored. How did he propose that the government establish boundaries?

He rightly guessed that water would be the most critical aspect of the settlement of these areas. He proposed that watersheds help guide a sensible (slow) settlement plan.


Thanks to his adventures (and a bit of clever marketing), Powell made good money lecturing about his expedition.

He headed up major battles against economic forces that wanted to pillage the West, but he didn't get rich doing it. He died nearly destitute.


How did the grizzled war veteran finally die?

After surviving a war and numerous dangerous expeditions, Powell's health failed. A cerebral hemorrhage killed him at the age of 68.


Explore More Quizzes

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!