Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Lost in the Grand Canyon Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
John Wesley Powell: A Chronology

1834 John Wesley Powell is born on March 24 in Mount Morris, New York, the second son of Joseph and Mary Powell.
1838 The family moves from New York to Southern Ohio in the late spring.
1846 Joseph moves his family to Walworth County, Wisconsin.
1851 Joseph sells his Wisconsin land and buys property in Illinois.
1852 John gets a teaching job at a school in Jefferson County.
1855 Makes his first of many exploring and collecting trips, crossing Illinois to the Mississippi. He meets his 18-year-old cousin Emma Dean.
1857 Attends Oberlin, a socially liberal institution, well-known for its stance against slavery. He studies Greek, Latin and Botany.
1861 The Confederacy fires on Fort Sumter on April 12.

Enlists to fight in the Civil War on May 8.

On June 13, promoted to second lieutenant to fill vacancy caused by the resignation of the company commander.

In November, asks General Grant to give him a leave of absence to marry his first cousin Emma Dean at her family home in Detroit. She returns with him to the war.
1862 Shortly after 4pm on April 6, during the Battle of Shiloh, John Wesley Powell raises his right arm to signal fire. A minie-ball strikes him in the wrist.

Doctors decide to amputate Powell's arm. He determines to remain in active service if his wife could accompany him wherever he goes.

Leaves front lines at the end of August on a six-month recruiting mission.

Homestead Act passed, giving settlers the right to claim free land.
1863 April 16 - July 4: Takes part in the Battle of Vicksburg. He calls the siege "the forty hardest days of my life."

Takes two months leave from the army during July and August to have a second operation in Detroit on his arm. While convalescing in Detroit he is notified of his promotion to the rank of major in the seventeenth Army Corps.
1864 Confederate troops capture brother Walter in Atlanta on July 22. He escapes from a Confederate prison hospital, but is recaptured. He struggles to recover mentally and physically, but remains disturbed by his war experiences for the rest of his life.
1865 January 4: Decides that due to his disability he should resign from the army. He submits a letter requesting discharge.

February 28: Submits a declaration of "total and permanent disability" with the pension agency in Detroit.

John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln on April 14.

May 1: Travels to Chicago to greet Lincoln's funeral train.

Accepts a job at Illinois Wesleyan University as a Professor of Geology.
1867 March 26: Named curator of the Illinois Natural History Society at a salary of $1,500 a year.

Sets off on his first scientific expedition to Colorado on June 1. His wife Emma is one of the party of 12. On this trip she becomes the first woman to climb Pike's Peak.
1868 June: Sets off on his second expedition with a party of 23 that includes his wife Emma and brother Walter.
1869 May - August: Leads his first expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Has become a national hero. He goes on the lecture circuit, visiting Denver, Chicago and New York.
1870 Publishes his first account of his Colorado River expedition in "New Tracks in North America."
1871 Gives the Bagley Boat Yard in Chicago an order for three boats of an improved design.

Sets off on a second expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers on May 22. This time his brother-in-law is second-in-command. He also brings along photographer E. O. Beaman.

On July 7, while picking up supplies at an Indian Reservation, Powell discovers his wife Emma is ill. He leaves immediately to see her.

He returns to camp on July 26.

Powell's only child, Mary Dean Powell is born in Salt Lake City on September 8.
1872 Resigns from his teaching position and moves to Washington D.C.
1878 Writes a report to the Secretary of the Interior on the arid region of the U.S. and suggests a new plan for settling Western territories.
1879 Helps set up the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1991, it completes its project of providing 54,000 topographic maps of the U.S.

Smithsonian Institution sets up the Bureau of Ethnology, which he directs for 23 years.
1881 Becomes the director of the U.S. Geological Survey.
1888 Powell is one of 33 men to found the National Geographic Society.

Senator William Stewart of Nevada pushes a resolution through Senate authorizing Powell to do a survey of potential dam sites in the West.
1891 Following attacks on Powell from Senator William Stewart, Congress slashes Powell's budget and eliminates his irrigation survey.
1894 On May 4, writes a letter of resignation as Director of the Geological Survey to the President of the U.S. He then withdraws from public life.
1902 With his wife and daughter at his side, John Wesley Powell dies at his home in Maine on September 3. He is 68 years old.

Web Credits | THE FILM & MORE | SPECIAL FEATURE | TIMELINE | MAPS | PEOPLE & EVENTS | TEACHER'S GUIDE