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Lost in the Grand Canyon: Connolly Writes His Story of the Fearful Disaster

Connolly Writes His Story Of The Fearful Disaster
The Chicago Tribune
Saturday, July 3, 1869


Reported Loss of the Powell Exploring Expedition Confirmed
Twenty-one Men Engulfed in a Moment.
Arrival of the Only Survivor at Springfield
His Statement of the Manner of the Accident

Special Despatch to the Chicago Tribune.
Springfield, July 2

The fate of the Powell expedition has caused a feeling of intense anxiety among his friends and the public generally, and is now determined but the report, as brought by the only survivor of the ill-fated party, and I send you the story as told to me today by him, which settles the fate of Major Powell and party:

The survivor's name is John A. Risdon, and was a member of the Powell expedition. Joined Major Powell's party on the 10th day of July, 1865, at La Salle. His duties were to assist as chain man, and whatever he could do to be made useful. He has been with the party every day since it left Illinois, and, of course, is well acquainted with all who composed it.

On the 7th or 8th day of May, the party reached the Colorado River at a point called Williamsburg, a small Indian settlement. At that time the party consisted of Major Powell, William C. Durley, Charles Durley, Andrew Knoxon, T.W. Smith, William S. Dolton, Charles Sherman, Wm. Scott, Perry Duncan, John Jones, Frederick Buckingham, David Sellers, Edward Spencer, Wm. Murray, Isaac Thomas, Thomas Heughs, a half-breed named Chick-a-wa-nee, the guide, and two men who lived at Fairberry, Ill., who acted as runners, and whose names he could not remember. There were also two teamsters named Fred Myers and Thomas Welch. The party remained at Williamsburg seven or eight days, the Major sending out the scouting and parties of observation during the time.

On the 16th or 18th of May the camp was broken up, and the whole party moved down the river for the purpose of exploring two tributaries of the Colorado named Big Black and the Deleban. At a point 150 yards above Big Black the party embarked on board of a large bark canoe, called a yawl by the Indians (the boats the Major had having been left behind), with the exception of Mr. Risdon, who was directed by Major Powell to go below the Colorado Rapids, which had a fall of about 160 feet between the mouth of the Big Black and Deleban, a distance of a mile and a quarter, and to see if the party could go up the Deleban, and then to return and await the return of the party from its exploration of the mouth of the Big Black. Mr. Risdon and four or five others of the party tried to persuade the Major from crossing at that point, as they considered by observations made a day or two before that attempt would be very dangerous. But Major Powell said laughingly in reply, " We have crossed worse rapids than these, boys. You must be getting cowardly. If seven or eight men cannot paddle us across there, we will have to go under," When they left the shore, there were twenty-five men in the boat, with surveying instruments, and all of the Major's notebooks, etc. They pushed out into the river with three hearty cheers, using seven paddles, the Major standing in the stern steering. Risdon stood on the shore waving his hat, and said: "You must be back in time for dinner, for I will have a good lunch for you when you return," They cried back in reply: "Good-bye Jack; you will never see us again." A moment afterwards, Risdon saw the boat commence whirling around and like a living thing dive into the depths of the river with its living freight, Major Powell standing at his post, and was the last man Risdon saw of this noble and ill-fated expedition, and Risdon was left alone, the only survivor of the party. His feelings can be better imagined than described. In his own language, "For two hours I lay on the bank of the river crying like a baby." He then went up and down the river for half a mile or more to see if he could find any remains of the party, but could not do so. He then went down the river for about three of four miles, and, while sitting on the river bank resting himself, he saw a carpet-bag floating down the stream, about four rods from him. He had no other way to reach it but to swim, which he did, and brought it to the shore. It proved to be Major Powell's, and contained memorandum and sketch books. Risdon continued four days searching for the remains of the lost party without finding anything but the carpet-bag, and, then gathering up all the effects of the party left behind, and taking the two teams and wagons, started for the border of civilization, and after eight days of travel he reached Le Roy, a small military post and settlement of Red River, about the 1st of June. In reaching this place Risdon was obliged to ford different rivers and streams twenty times, and several times came near losing one of the teams. At Le Roy Risdon reported to Colonel Smith, commanding the post, and turned over to him all the property he had brought through. Colonel Smith received him kindly, and did all in his power to make him comfortable after his long, lonesome trip, and at the end of three days, gave Risdon transportation to St. Louis, where he arrived about three days ago, and is now in this city on his way to LaSalle, his home. All of Major Powell's baggage, together with the carpet-bag found by Risdon, were sent to Mrs. Powell by express, yesterday, from St. Louis.

I have written this sketch hastily, as it fell from the lips of Mr. Risdon, who has the appearance of an honest, reliable man, and well posted in the doings of the expedition; and by his words and by the tangible proofs he brings with him, the fate of Major Powell's expedition is left without a doubt, and another name is added to the long roll of martyrs to science. Mr. Risdon served under Major Powell in Company B, First Illinois Artillery, for three years, during the last war.

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