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Lost in the Grand Canyon | Article

Other Explorers

George Young Bradley (1836-1885)
In 1869, after two tedious years in the army, George Young Bradley declared that he would "gladly explore the river Styx" if only it would get him out of the military. As it turns out, it took an at-times "hellish" journey down the Colorado to do just that. Very little is known about Bradley's childhood and youth. There isn't even a record of his precise birth date. But records do indicate that he was from Newbury, Massachusetts, the son of English immigrants. Documents also show that the boatman and adventure-seeker first enlisted in the Army in 1862 to fight in the Civil War. It was a disappointing venture, however. Within weeks of signing up, Bradley was wounded in the thigh at Fredericksburg. He spent the rest of the war a reservist. Bradley's return to civilian life was apparently equally unexciting. He tried to get work as a druggist, and when that didn't work out, he re-enlisted, this time requesting frontier duty.

Major John Wesley Powell met Bradley while the Massachusetts man was serving with the Thirty-Sixth Infantry in Wyoming. For nearly a year the company had been guarding the route of the Overland Stage Company and protecting Union Pacific engineering teams, who were constructing the railroad through western Wyoming. "Chasing Indians" as Bradley put it, wasn't quite what he'd envisioned when he signed up. Powell ran into Bradley at Fort Bridger, a military outpost on the Green River, during the fall of 1868, while the Major was making preparations for his first river descent of the Grand Canyon. Powell was so impressed with Bradley that he wrote a letter to President Grant requesting the sergeant be released from the army to become a chief boatman on his river trip. Bradley got his discharge on May 14, 1869, and just a week later he set off with Powell's ten-man team on the greatest adventure of his life.

Bradley quickly became one of the most important members of Powell's team, frequently accompanying the Major on his survey excursions. On one occasion Bradley even saved the Major's life. The two men were climbing a canyon wall when, as Bradley describes it in his diary, "Major, having but one arm couldn't get up so I took off my drawers and they made an excellent substitute for rope and with that assistance he got up safe." In fact, much detail of that first expedition down the Colorado River, comes not from the Major himself, but from the saturnine Bradley. A moody man and a loner, Bradley's secretly-kept diary is the most compelling and detailed record of the trip. In the early days he was awed by the country they were passing through. "It is the grandest scenery I have found in the mountains" he would write. "I am delighted with it. I went out to see the country this morning and found it grand beyond conception." Later he recorded the hardships. "I feel more unwell tonight than I have felt on the trip. I have been wet so much lately that I am ripe for any disease and our scanty food has reduced me to poor condition."

For the most part uncomplaining, tough and loyal, Bradley did reveal that Powell was at times so focused on his scientific work that he lacked consideration for his men. In early August, after more than two months on the river, the team's food supply had grown very short. Powell halted the expedition to collect data. Bradley recorded the crew's anxiety. "Doomed to be here another day," he wrote, "perhaps more than that for Major has been taking observations ever since we came here and seems no nearer done now than when he began...he should not ask us to wait and he must go on soon or the consequences will be different from what he anticipates."

When the ragged, exhausted team finally emerged from the Grand Canyon almost a month later, the taciturn Bradley's delight was tempered by the knowledge that three of the crew members weren't with them. Alarmed by some fierce rapids they couldn't portage around, they had elected just two days before to leave the river trip. "All we regret now," he wrote, "is that the three boys who took to the mountains are not here to share our joy and triumph."

After the expedition, Bradley took a stagecoach to California. He ultimately settled near San Diego, where he set up a fruit-growing ranch. In 1885, in extremely poor health, the Massachusetts man returned home, dying just a few weeks after arriving at his sister's house. He was buried in the Bradley family plot in the Bridge Street Cemetery in West Newbury Massachusetts. Although, Bradley worked for Powell only once, the Major always held him in high esteem. "He was scrupulously careful," Powell would write, "and a little mishap worked him into a passion; when labor was needed he had a ready hand, and in danger, rapid judgment and unerring skill. A great difficulty or peril changed the petulant spirit into a brave and generous soul."

Oramel G. Howland (1833- 1869), Seneca B. Howland (1843 - 1869) and William Dunn (? - 1869)
On September 7th, 1869 the operator at a small settlement in Utah received an alarming telegram: "[Major John Wesley] Powell's three men killed by three She-bits.... Indian[s] report that they were found in an exhausted state, fed by the She-bits, and put on the trail leading to Washington after which they saw a squaw gathering seed and shot her. Whereupon the She-bits [also known as Shivwits] followed up and killed all three." The men the message referred to were three of the ten-man team who had set out in May on Powell's first expedition down the Colorado River. Two of them, Oramel and Seneca Howland, were brothers. The other, William Dunn, is a shadowy figure about whom very little is known. Powell had last seen the men on August 28th, just two days before his expedition come to an end. Faced with extremely treacherous rapids, the men had decide to leave Powell's expedition and try their luck reaching human habitation by land.  

Powell received the news of their deaths a week after the telegram was sent; he found it extremely hard to believe. The Shivwits were a peaceable people, and his men wouldn't have killed anyone, except possibly in self-defense. "They were honorable men and gentlemen," the Major told the press. "I have no hesitation in pronouncing this part of the story as a libel." 

Powell first met the Howland brothers and Dunn in Denver in the summer of 1868. They were among a small group of mountain men Powell recruited to join his expedition on its scientific exploration of Colorado. Oramel, the older of the two Howlands, had arrived in Denver in 1860. He was an educated and literate man. At one time or another he had been a printer for the "Rocky Mountain News," the vice-president of the Denver Typographical Union Local No. 49, and a business agent for a Methodist Episcopal magazine. Much less is known about his younger brother Seneca, other than that he had traveled West at Oramel's urgings in 1868 and that he had served in the Union Army during the Civil War before being wounded at the battle of Gettysburg.

O. G. Howland, in particular, was a very good addition to Powell's team. He was interested in science, he wrote well and, as Powell would later point out, he was of a "faithful, genial nature." So when Powell began making preparations to explore Grand Canyon by river, the first time anyone had attempted to do this, he hired Howland, making it his task to map the river and take notes. Dunn and Seneca Howland were also invited to join the team.

As it turns out, the older Howland made one unfortunate mistake that caused the crew much hardship. This error came just two weeks into the trip. A little after noon on June 7, 1869, Powell pulled his boat ashore and indicated that the other vessels do likewise. O. G. Howland either didn't see the signal or didn't start for land soon enough. Either way his boat went over the rapids, threw out all three men and was dashed to pieces on the rocks. The team lost one-third of its provisions, half of its mess-kit and three barometers. That night, George Bradley, another crew member, wrote in his diary, "It is a serious loss to us and we are rather low spirrited [sic]." By the end of the trip, the loss had the men on starvation rations. Later on in the trip, Howland lost some of the maps and notes he had been compiling. Those losses were part of the reason the trip produced very little in the way of scientific data.

Some have speculated these mishaps may have weighed heavily on O. G. Howland, helping to contribute to his decision to leave the river expedition when he did. But it's more likely that after three exhausting months on the river, living off extremely meager supplies, the Howland brothers and Dunn had simply reached the end of their endurance. When they arrived, on August 27, at what seemed to be impassable rapids, O.G. Howland took Powell aside and tried to persuade him that it would be madness to continue on the river. Powell tried to convince Howland otherwise. The following morning the two groups separated. The Howland brothers and Dunn began climbed out of the canyon, and Powell's remaining men set out to battle the formidable rapids. It was an amicable if sad parting. "They left us with good feelings," Bradley wrote, "though we deeply regret their loss for they are fine fellows as I ever had the good fortune to meet." Ironically, the worst of the expedition was over. Two days later Powell and his remaining men floated out into the mouth of the Virgin River. Hoping to hear that the Howland brothers and Dunn had reached safety, Powell headed to a nearby settlement. But it wasn't until he visited Indian tribes the following year that he confirmed the story of the men's deaths.  

Powell returned to the West in 1870 because he knew the paltry scientific data produced on his first Colorado River trip had made the expedition of little practical value. He needed to run the river again to survey it properly. Success, he believed, lay in locating points along the way where his team could resupply, and also in establishing friendly relations with the Indians. During his travels that fall he met with the Shivwits, hoping to find out the truth behind the rumors that their warriors had murdered his men. According to Powell's Mormon interpreter, the Indians admitted killing the three explorers, but explained how they had made such a tragic error. They said they had wrongly believed the Howland brothers and Dunn were prospectors who had molested and killed a Shivwit squaw.  

Instead of demanding retribution for the deaths of his men, which would have been usual in those days, Powell accepted the Native Americans' story and smoked a pipe with them. The following year, with an appropriation from Congress, Powell set out on his second expedition down the Colorado River. In recent years historians have began to question whether the Shivwits were in fact responsible for the deaths of Powell's men. They say there's some evidence to suggest that Mormons killed the adventurers thinking that they were in fact Federal spies. Some scholars point out that the Indians' own admission that they committed the murders was relayed to Powell through a Mormon interpreter, who possibly altered the story. The truth of the matter will probably never be known. With time the memory of the three men who gave their lives for his expedition faded, though the Major made sure that in one way they would be immortalized. When he named topographical features of the lands under his investigation, he gave buttes in the Grand Canyon the names Howland and Dunn.

John (Jack) K. Hillers (1843 - 1925)
In May of 1871, a chance encounter in Salt Lake City between a scientific explorer and a recently-discharged U.S. Army sergeant proved to be fateful. From it would emerge a unique 30-year comradeship and one of the greatest photographic careers of the late 19th century. The explorer, Major John Wesley Powell, was in need of a boatman for his upcoming expedition through the Grand Canyon. The sergeant, John K. Hillers, was in need of a job. The two agreed on terms almost immediately. It was on this trip that the blue-eyed, sandy-haired, 28-year-old, army veteran learned to take photographs. At the end of his remarkable career, he would leave perhaps the most striking visual 19th century record of the West.

The journey Hillers was about to embark on was Powell's second excursion down the Colorado River. The Major's goal was to make up for the scientific inadequacies of the first. To do that he had spent months scouting locations where the expedition could retrieve fresh supplies; he had endeavored to establish good relationships with the Native peoples and he went to efforts to ensure the expedition would be well documented. To that end he hired a photographer named E. O. Beaman. The trip would inaugurate what became known as the fourth of the "Great Surveys." Each of these at times competing projects came under the direction of a different man. Together, between the years of 1867-1878, they were responsible for mapping large areas of the American West.

Hillers was hired to "pull an oar," as another crew member remembered it. But he rapidly became intrigued with Beaman's work. Those were the days before it was possible to make photographic enlargements from negatives. A large photograph could only be produced by a large camera. Additionally, the wet-plate process of taking and developing photographs was unwieldy -- Beaman brought some 1,000 pounds of equipment on the trip, so he was more than happy to let Hillers help carry some of it.

In January of 1872, Powell fired Beaman after the two men had a disagreement. He replaced Beaman with a young assistant photographer from Salt Lake City named James Fennemore. One of Powell's biographers claims Fennemore's most important contribution to the "expedition was his patient instruction of Jack Hillers." Hillers effectively became Fennemore's assistant, at times taking photographs himself. After six months on the trip, Fennemore became too sick to continue. Powell put Hillers in charge of the photographic outfit, and from that point onwards, the young army veteran became the Powell Survey photographer. The professional and personal relationship between the two men would only grow stronger. When the scientific explorer died 30 years later, Hillers would be an honorary pall bearer at the funeral.

In the fall of 1872, under instruction from Powell, Hillers turned his lens from landscapes to people. His first series of images were of the Kaibab Paiutes, who were among the last Native Americans to come into sustained contact with white settlers. Hillers' photographs, though posed, do provide an important record of a way of life that was on the verge of disappearing. In the late 19th century, Indian peoples frequently called photographers "Shadow Catcher." But the Kaibab Paiutes called Hillers "Myself in the Water." It's clear how the naming came about: Just as they saw their images reflected back at them from lake or river water, so the Paiutes' could see themselves reflected in Hillers' photographs.

Following some serious confrontations between whites and Indians in Nevada in 1873, the Bureau of Indian Affairs hired Powell to investigate. His job consisted principally of persuading Indians to settle on reservations, but his interest in ethnography prevailed and he spent much of his time collecting myths, tales and artifacts and compiling vocabularies. He also brought Hillers along to take photographs. Unlike the images Hillers had created the previous year, which were ethnographic documents, Hillers was persuaded to produce pictures that could be sold as stereographs. Some of them were intended to be slightly titillating, depicting women with bare breasts. Others presented distorted versions of reality -- his subjects wearing fake headdresses, for example.

Hillers continued throughout the 1870s to work with Powell. And by the end of the decade he was supervising the photography laboratories for both the Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ethnology. He was also in charge of taking portrait photographs of Indian leaders when they visited Washington, D.C. Over the years he would take hundreds of these pictures. While Powell and Hillers insisted the photographs were of "biographic and historic interest," the attitudes of others at the Bureau of Indian affairs were very different. One Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote, "A Yakima Indian has just reported to this Office, dressed in barbaric splendor.... I think you may be glad to photograph him."

Hillers took his last two photography field trips in the early 1890s. One was to the Yosemite Valley and Kings River regions of California. The other was to the Southeast. By 1893, suffering from severe back pain after more than 20 years of strenuous field work, Hillers confined his photographic activities to the Survey laboratory where he continued to be on the payroll until 1919. When he died six years later, he left behind a remarkable body of work. 

Since Hillers had spent his entire professional career working for the government, his images have probably been more widely seen than those of any other 19th century photographer. They have been used in scores of government publications and as illustrations in hundreds of magazines and journals. During his lifetime, they were shown at several international expositions, including ones in Chicago, Paris and Madrid, and they have been included in dozens of museum exhibits. But beyond simply providing his own and future generations with a compelling visual record of the West, Southwest and Southeast, Hillers' "sense of composition and balance" and his wonderful use of light and shadow would, as his biographer points out, help transform American photography from form of record-keeping into an art form.

Thomas Moran (1837 - 1926)
Towards the end of his life, the painter Thomas Moran wrote: "It has often occurred to me as a curious and anomalous fact, that American artists are prone to seek the subjects for their art in foreign lands, to the almost entire exclusion of their own.... That there is a nationalism in art needs no proof. It is bred from a knowledge of and sympathy with [one's own] surroundings and no foreigner can imbue himself with a spirit of a country not his own. Therefore he should paint his own land...." As a young man, Moran did just what he admonished other artists for doing: he went to Europe to study painting and find inspiration. But at the end of his prolific career he was more closely associated with the landscapes of the American West than almost any other painter.

Moran first achieved national recognition for the work he created while accompanying a geological and geographic survey headed by Ferdinand V. Hayden. In the late 19th century, the U.S. government made the surveying of Western territory an integral part of its domestic policy. Washington wanted to investigate the West with a view to promoting settlement and commerce and exploiting natural resources. From 1867-1879, the Federal government supported four Great Surveys, each extremely ambitious in scope; each expected to provide a comprehensive written report, accompanied by visual materials. Hayden's own instructions from the Secretary of the Interior were "to secure as full materials as possible for the illustration of your final report, such as sketches, photographs, etc."

Hayden hired Moran in 1871, during the fifth year of his survey, to help provide the visual documentation Congress required. When Moran joined the team it was on its way to Yellowstone. The work the artist created on the trip would ultimately help transform the region from a hellish place into one of awesome beauty in the public's imagination. Additionally, as a "Harper's Weekly" article from the time indicated, his initial sketches almost certainly played a role in convincing Congress that the region should be turned into a National Park. "A Bill of importance has passed the House of Representatives," stated the March 1872 story, "and [it] will undoubtedly become a law.... Those who had been so fortunate as to see the original sketches by the artists who accompanied Dr. Hayden know how very beautiful as well as interesting the phenomena of the region are." Shortly after Yellowstone was named the first National Park of the United States, Moran's huge seven-by-twelve foot painting "The Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone" was unveiled. Congress paid $10,000 for the oil in 1872 and hung it in the Capitol. This rich and powerful painting catapulted Moran to national prominence.  

Two years later, Congress paid $10,000 for another Moran painting and hung it opposite the first. This equally massive work titled "The Chasm of the Colorado" was the result of a trip Moran took with another of the Great Surveys. This one was led by former U.S. Army Major and college professor, John Wesley Powell. Moran joined the expedition in the summer of 1873, traveling first with Powell from Salt Lake City to an area that is now known as Zion National Park. A month later he caught his first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, a view that made a great impression on him. "The whole gorge for miles lay beneath us and it was by far the most awfully grand and impressive scene that I have ever yet seen," he wrote to his wife. "A suppressed sort of roar comes up constantly from the chasm but with that exception everything impresses you with an awful stillness."  

"The Chasm of the Colorado" was just one of many artistic works that Moran produced as a result of his travels with Powell. He made more than two dozen wood engravings to accompany a three-part adventure article Powell wrote for the magazine "Scribner's Monthly." More than thirty pieces of Moran's artwork also illustrated Powell's 1875 cumulative expedition report. Just as Moran's work had increased the popularity of Yellowstone, so it gradually promoted a nationwide interest in the Grand Canyon. For Moran, the mighty Canyon was until the end of his life a great source of inspiration. Thirty years after first catching a glimpse of it, he would write, "Of all places on earth the great canyon of Arizona is the most inspiring in its pictorial possibilities." The artist would return to the region almost every year for the last 25 years of his life and produced hundreds of different representations of its landscapes.

Moran completed the last of his three great oil paintings, "Mountain of the Holy Cross" in 1875. By choosing to accompany Powell in the summer of 1873, Moran missed out on being one of the men on Hayden's team to first "discover" the Peak in the summer of 1873. Moran visited the mountain the following summer. Hidden deep in the Colorado Rockies, it was extremely difficult to reach, which in part explains why Moran made very few sketches of the area. He also discovered that there was only one good vantage point from which to view the snow-engorged, cross-like crevasse at the mountain's peak. The resulting oil painting of the massive peak was displayed the year after its completion at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The suffering it conveyed inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write a poem mourning the loss of his wife titled "A Cross of Snow." It reads in part:

There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the
changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day
she died.

By the end of his long life, Moran had produced more than 1,500 oil paintings, 800 watercolors and scores of other drawings and prints. Although he did paint subjects in Europe and Mexico, most of his work depicts scenes of the American West. It was through this art that Moran played a significant role in helping the Government promote and exploit the West. Even more than that, Moran succeeded, in the words of one of his biographers, in influencing "an entire generation's understanding of its country" and in "making the West an indelible part of the American consciousness."

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