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| Donald Worster on: Powells Success
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Donald Worster on: Powells Success
Donald Worster Q: So, Powell's successful, he's off the river. What does this do for his stature back East, when he goes back there?

DW: It makes him into a national hero, over night. I mean, the newspapers in New York, Chicago carried the story--had been carrying the story about the expedition-- the first man to conquer the Colorado River. He goes back to a claim, he becomes a sought after public lecturer, he speaks in a number of American, Eastern American cities on his explorations. He shows lantern slides, he's in demand but it also enhances his reputation with Congress, so that in the future, they're much more generous about funding his explorations. And, eventually, he becomes the head of one of the government's four major surveys, of the American West. The Powell survey is in charge of exploring the entire Colorado River area, the plateau around the Colorado River, and mapping it. So, he is now a bonafide national scientist, that leads him into government work and for the rest of his life, he is probably the most important figure, in Washington, in terms of federal support for science. Without the Colorado River and this 1869 Expedition, it's unlikely any of that would have happened the way it did. I mean, he rode his boots, but he also rode his legend into national status.

Q: His success, the fact that he was a hero meant that it had a powerful effect on people, on the American public. Why was it so important to people, what he had done?

DW: Well, it did fill in this big blank spot on the map and Americans were impatient to know all that they owned. They were in love with the American West, with the romance of the place, with his grand landscape and all the potential wealth it held-- stories of the American Indians, the natural wonders of the place. After the Civil War, the country was passionately interested in this western landscape, as part of America's promise, America's greatness and we'd been through a divisive civil war. And here was this great American west out there that they hoped to bring us together. Powell became identified as one of the key figures in unlocking that magnificent landscape.

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