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| Donald Worster on: The First Expedition
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Donald Worster on: The First Expedition
Donald Worster Q: How did he manage to put that first trip together, he didn't get much out of the government.

DW: He got food rations basically. He was able to draw his food rations and that was something. When you had to pay eight times Illinois prices in Wyoming for food, that was a huge help to him. He raised money from institutions in the State of Illinois, several colleges and universities, science academies, natural history societies. He put some of his own money into this enterprise. I don't know how much, but he did take out of his own pocket some of this money. So, he was cobbling this together from a whole series of funds. The Smithsonian would give him a little bit of equipment, scientific equipment he didn't have to buy-- things like that. And, the men who went along, essentially went along for no pay. I mean they were resentful later, but they were essentially out on their own with no pay. So, that was cheap.

Q: What would motivate Powell to undertake this dangerous venture?

DW: Glory, as much as anything. He wanted to make a name for himself. He admired all these great explorers. He was coming a little late into the exploring, the West game, but there was this last blank spot on the map. So it was, for him, glory to stay in the footsteps, in the shoes of Lewis and Clark and Fremont and all the others. He was a scientist, he was passionately interested in exploring the natural history of the continent, and the geology of this country had not been systematically explored. So, the sorts of things that were driving any scientist of his era or today were driving him.

Q: What about those guys, those unpaid, why would they do it?

DW: Well, they had different motives. One of them is his brother and I think he was just out for brotherly support. Several of the people on that first expedition were people he picked up around Denver and in the middle part of Colorado who had been hunters, trappers, traders of various sorts. I mean, they were jacks of all trades. They went along partly because they thought maybe there might be some gold prospecting, they could do some hunting, they could pick up some animal hides and furs and sell them. But, I suppose they also had a sense of adventure. This was going to be new country for them. And, they thought they would be out for ten months and that there would be plenty of time along the way to poke into all those canyons. And, one of the stories that went around and around was that this country must be full of gold. I mean, every other part of the West had been full of gold. The Sierra Nevada's, Montana, the Pike's Peak area, the Rocky Mountains behind Denver, all those areas produce valuable minerals and precious ores. Surely, this whole Colorado river basin must be full of mineral wealth. So, these guys went along hoping they were going to strike it rich.

Q: So, they go off thinking they're going to be out there for ten months. That doesn't last very long, does it? How did the reality begin to catch up to them, on the river?

DW: Well, it began to catch up with them when they lost one of the boats very early on, in what is now Dinosaur National Monument. One of the boats capsized, was destroyed, and lost all the food supplies aboard. I mean, that immediately concentrated their minds that they didn't have enough to make the trip as long as they were going to make it. It takes them well into early August before they begin to sense that they're running out of food. They still got a long way to go, it's getting very dangerous, they don't know whether they can make it. By the first week in August, their situation has become pretty desperate.

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