Q: Let's go back to the beginning, to his childhood on the frontier.
What kind of education could a kid get on a frontier and how did growing up on
the frontier shape his development.
DW: Well, frontier for John Wesley Powell meant an area that had already seen
the first wave of pioneers. So, you have to realize he's not coming into a raw
primitive world. There are schools being organized in Illinois and Wisconsin,
there were public schools being organized. The problem wasn't getting a grade
school education in those schools. The part of the problem was getting a high
school education. There were relatively few in the early 1850s, when he was of
high school age. And, even more seriously, the problem for him was his family
needed income and his father was a minister but owned a farm and essentially
put John Wesley Powell to work farming. So, how do you go to school and farm
at the same time? He finally just had to make a decision to leave the farm and
to go get his own high school education. He had to walk 30 some miles to the
nearest high school, find a way to support himself by chopping wood and putting
himself through school and that was what a high school education cost him.
Q: Earlier than that, he started a self-education in natural history. Tell
me about that.
DW: He started a self-education through the influence of a man by the name of
George Crookum. This was in southern Ohio, when he was still a small child --
6, 7, 8 years old. Crookum was a real enthusiast for the outdoors collecting
things - rocks and coal samples and skins of animals and Indian artifacts and
Wes Powell-- they called him Wes in those days--was excited, as all kids are, I
think. But, to see an adult who took this seriously, really made an impression
on him and had started him on a long life time enthusiasm for artifacts, for
the natural history of North America, for Indians materials. All of that had
to come through self-education, there were no science teachers available in any
of the communities he lived in.