John Wesley Powell

His Life and Legacy

“John Wesley Powell: explorer, writer, geologist, anthropologist, land planner, bureaucrat. Which one do we focus on?” This is the question author James M. Aton poses at the beginning of his biography of Powell, though he soon decides that it is impossible to ignore any facet of Powell’s life. Powell was a polymath, one whose “divergent interests resemble one of those braided streambeds in his beloved canyon country, branching out in many directions, but ultimately beginning and ending in the same stream."

Aton beautifully tells the multidimensional stories of Powell’s childhood, his military and teaching careers, his famous and exciting explorations of the Colorado River, and the battles he waged from his influential positions within the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology and the United States Geological Survey. This new edition of John Wesley Powell: His Life and Legacy, first printed as an issue of the Boise State University Western Writers Series, includes the original biography, but also features Aton’s new interpretations of Powell’s writings on exploration, land-planning, anthropology, and irrigation, and incorporates the author’s distinguished faculty lecture on Powell and cash-register dams in the Colorado River Basin.

James M. Aton is a professor of English at Southern Utah University. He is author of The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green and River Flowing from the Sunrise: An Environmental History of the Lower San Juan

Table of Contents:
Table of Contents:


1. Biography

2. Interpreting Powell’s Writings on Exploration, Land Planning, and Anthropology

3. Interpretations of Powell on Irrigation—Through Time

4. Conclusion


Selected Bibliography

Praise and Reviews:

"Offers the student of history and of the American West much to mull and think over. The perfect item to slip into one's duffel bag or backpack and read while traveling and contemplating the beauty of the West."—Utah Historical Quarterly

"Aton puts forth an interesting take....provides rich context about the national mood and political climate of the times. This book is an enjoyable biography about a remarkable man, and also offers a still-relevant view on many current Western issues."—Denver Westerners Roundup