Buy One, Get One 50% Off Our Monthly Picks!
Shop Now
Pub. Date:
Island Press
Pub. Date:
Island Press
Seeing Things Whole: The Essential John Wesley Powell / Edition 1

Seeing Things Whole: The Essential John Wesley Powell / Edition 1

by John Wesley Powell, William deBuys John Wesley Powell


Current price is , Original price is $58.0. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.


John Wesley Powell was an American original. He was the last of the nation's great continental explorers and the first of a new breed of public servant: part scientist, part social reformer, part institution builder. His work and life reveal an enduringly valuable way of thinking about land, water, and society as parts of an interconnected whole; he was America's first great bioregional thinker.

Seeing Things Whole presents John Wesley Powell in the full diversity of his achievements and interests, bringing together in a single volume writings ranging from his gripping account of exploring the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon to his views on the evolution of civilization, along with the seminal writings in which he sets forth his ideas on western settlement and the allocation and management of western resources.

The centerpiece of Seeing Things Whole is a series of selections from the famous 1878 Report on the Lands of the Arid Region and related magazine articles in which Powell further develops the themes of the report. In those, he recommends organizing the Arid Lands into watershed commonwealths governed by resident citizens whose interlocking interests create the checks and balances essential to wise stewardship of the land. This was the central focus of John Wesley Powell's bioregional vision, and it remains a model for governance that many westerners see as a viable solution to the resource management conflicts that continue to bedevil the region.

Throughout the collection, award-winning writer and historian William deBuys brilliantly sets the historical context for Powell's work. Section introductions and extensive descriptive notes take the reader through the evolution of John Wesley Powell's interests and ideas from his role as an officer in the Civil War through his critique of Social Darwinism and landmark categorization of Indian languages, to the climatic yet ultimately futile battles he fought to win adoption of his land-use proposals.

Seeing Things Whole presents the essence of the extraordinary legacy that John Wesley Powell has left to the American people, and to people everywhere who strive to reconcile the demands of society with the imperatives of the land.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781559638739
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 01/01/2004
Series: Pioneers of Conservation
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 402
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

William deBuys is a historian, conservationist, and writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His books include Enchantment and Exploitation (University of New Mexico Press, 1989), River of Traps (University of New Mexico Press, 1996), and Salt Dreams (University of New Mexico Press, 1999).

John Wesley Powell (1834 – 1902) was a US soldier, geologist, explorer of the American West, and director of major scientific and cultural institutions. He is famous for the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers that included the first known passage through the Grand Canyon.

Read an Excerpt

Seeing Things Whole

The Essential John Wesley Powell

By William deBuys


Copyright © 2001 William deBuys
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-324-9



The Party Has Reached This Point in Safety

Camp at the Mouth of Niutah, June 29, 1869.

Dr. Edwards:

My Dear Sir: The party has reached this point in safety, having run four canyons, of about twenty-five miles in length each, the walls of which were from 2,000 to 2,800 feet hight [sic]. We found falls and dangerous rapids, when we were compelled to make portages of rations, etc., and let the boats down with lines. We wrecked one of our boats and lost about one-third of our supplies and part of the instruments.

The instruments were duplicated, but the loss of rations will compel us to shorten the time for the work. You will perceive an account of our trip more in detail in the Chicago Tribune, as I shall send some letters to it for publication. In the wreck I lost my papers, and have to use plant dryers for my letter paper. I have not made a large general collection, but have some fine fossils, a grand geological section, and a good map.

Shall walk to the Niutah Indian Agency, about twenty-five or thirty miles from camp, where I shall mail this letter, and hope to get letters and some news.

Powell dispatched this letter from the Uinta Indian Agency to Dr. Richard Edwards, president of the Normal University at Bloomington, Illinois. The New York Times reprinted it on July 23, 1869.

The boats seem to be a success; although filled with water by the waves many times, they never sink. The light cabins attached to the end act well as buoys. The wreck was due to misunderstanding the signal, the Captain of the boat keeping it too far out in the river, and so was not able to land above the falls, but was drifted over.

We shall rest here for eight or ten days, make repairs and dry our rations, which have been wet so many times that they are almost in a spoiling condition, in fact, we have lost nearly half by now by one mishap and another. I have personally enjoyed myself much, the scenery being wild and grand beyond description. All in good health, all in good spirits, and all in high hopes of success. I shall hasten to the Grand and Green, as I am very anxious to make observations on the 7th of August of the eclipse. With earnest wishes for your continued success and prosperity at Normal, I am with great respect yours, cordially,

[Signed] J. W. Powell



The Wreck of the No-Name

Colorado River Exploring Expedition, Echo Park, Mouth of Bear River, June 18, 1869.

On the 8th our boats entered the Canon of Lodore—a name suggested by one of the men, and it has been adopted. We soon came to rapids, over which the boats had to be taken with lines. We had a succession of these until noon. I must explain the plan of running these places. The light boat, "Emma Dean," with two good oarsmen and myself explore them, then with a flag I signal the boats to advance, and guide them by signals around dangerous rocks. When we come to rapids filled with boulders, I sometimes find it necessary to walk along the shore for examination. If 'tis thought possible to run, the light boat proceeds. If not, the others are flagged to come on to the head of the dangerous place, and we let down with lines, or make a portage.

As indicated in the previous letter to Edwards, Powell gave a fuller account of the expedition's experiences in letters he sent to the Chicago Tribune. This one, published in the Tribune of August 20, 1869 (and reprinted in the Utah Historical Quarterly, v. 15, 1947), describes the wreck of the No-Name, which occurred on June 8 according to most reconstructions of the trip. Powell's published accounts give the date as June 9, but from the mouth of Lodore to the layover at the Yampa, his dates are consistently 1 day behind those of other journal keepers of the expedition. See Cooley, The Great Unknown, 124.

At the foot of one of these runs, early in the afternoon, I found a place where it would be necessary to make a portage, and, signalling the boats to come down, I walked along the bank to examine the ground for the portage, and left one of the men of my boat to signal the others to land at the right point. I soon saw one of the boats land all right, and felt no more care about them. But five minutes after I heard a shout, and looking around, saw one of the boats coming over the falls. Capt. Howland, of the "No Name," had not seen the signal in time, and the swift current had carried him to the brink. I saw that his going over was inevitable, and turned to save the third boat. In two minutes more I saw that [boat] turn the point and head to shore, and so I went after the boat going over the falls. The first fall was not great, only two or three feet, and we had often run such, but below it continued to tumble down 20 or 30 feet more, in a channel filled with dangerous rocks that broke the waves into whirlpools and beat them into foam. I turned just to see the boat strike a rock and throw the men and cargo out. Still they clung to her sides and clambered in again and saved part of the oars, but she was full of water, and they could not manage her. Still down the river they went, two or three hundred yards to another rocky rapid just as bad, and the boat struck again amidships, and was dashed to pieces. The men were thrown into the river and carried beyond my sight. Very soon I turned the point, and could see a man's head above the waters seemingly washed about by a whirlpool below a rock. This was Frank Goodman clinging to the rock, with a grip on which life depended. As I came opposite I saw Howland trying to go to his aid from the island. He finally got near enough to Frank to reach him by the end of a pole, and letting go of the rock, he grasped it, and was pulled out. Seneca Howland, the captain's brother, was washed farther down the island on to some rocks, and managed to get on shore in safety, excepting some bad bruises. This seemed a long time, but 'twas quickly done. And now the three men were on the island with a dangerous river on each side, and falls below. The "Emma Dean" was soon got down, and Sumner, one of the men of my boat, started with it for the island. Right skillfully he played his oars, and a few strokes set him at the proper point, and back he brought his cargo of men. We were as glad to shake hands with them as if they had been on a voyage 'round the world and wrecked on a distant coast.

Down the river half a mile we found that the after-cabin of the boat, with part of the bottom ragged and splintered, had floated against a rock, and stranded. There were valuable articles in the cabin, but on examination we concluded that life should not be risked to save them. Of course, the cargo of rations, instruments and clothing was gone. So we went up to the boats and made a camp for the night. No sleep would come to me in those dark hours before the day. Rations, instruments, etc., had been divided among the boats for safety, and we started with duplicates of everything that was a necessity to success; but in the distribution there was one exception, and the barometers were all lost. There was a possibility that the barometers were in the cabin lodged against a rock on the island—that was the cabin in which they had been kept. But then how to get to it? And the river was rising—would it be there tomorrow? Could I go out to Salt Lake and get barometers from New York? Well, I thought of many plans before morning, and determined to get them from the island, if they were there.

After breakfast, the men started to make the portage, and I walked down to look at the wreck. There it was still on the island, only carried fifty or sixty feet farther on. A closer examination of the ground showed me it could easily be reached.

That afternoon Sumner and Hall volunteered to take the little boat and go out to the wreck. They started, reached it and out came the barometers. Then the boys set up a shout; I joined them, pleased that they too should be so glad to save the instruments. When the boat landed on our side, I found that the only things saved from the wreck were the three barometers, the package of thermometers and a two gallon keg of whisky. This was what the men were shouting about. They had taken it on board unknown to me, and I am glad they did, for they think it does them good—as they are drenched every day by the melted snow that runs down this river from the summit of the Rocky Mountains and that is a positive good itself.

Three or four days were spent in making this portage, nearly a mile long, and getting down the rapids that followed in quick succession. On the night of the 12th, we camped in a beautiful grove of box elders on the left bank, and here we remained two days to dry our rations, which were in a spoiling condition. A rest, too, was needed.

I must not forget to mention that we found the wreck of a boat near our own, that had been carried above high-water mark, and with it the lid of a bake-oven, an old tin plate and other things, showing that some one else had been wrecked there and camped in the canon after the disaster. This, I think, confirms the story of an attempt to run the canon, some years ago, that has been mentioned before.

On the 14th Howland and I climbed the walls of the canon, on the west side, to an altitude of two thousand feet. On looking over to the west we saw a park five or six miles wide and twenty-five or thirty long. The cliff formed a wall between the canon and the park, for it was eight hundred feet down the west side to the valley. A creek came winding down the park twelve hundred feet above the river and cutting the wall by a canon; it at last plunged a thousand feet by a broken cascade into the river below. The day after, while we made another portage, a peak on the east side was climbed by two of the men and found to be twenty-seven hundred feet high. On each side of the river, at this point, a vast amphitheatre has been cut out, with deep, dark alcoves and massive buttresses, and in these alcoves grow beautiful mosses and ferns.

While the men were letting the boats down the rapids, the "Maid of the Canon" got her bow out into the current too far and tore away from them, and the second boat was gone. So it seemed; but she stopped a couple of miles below in an eddy, and we followed close after. She was caught—dam—aged slightly by a thump or two on the rocks.

Another day was spent on the waves, among the rocks, and we came down to Alcove Creek, and made an early halt for the night. With Howland, I went to explore the stream, a little mountain brook, coming down from the heights into an alcove filled with luxuriant vegetation.

The camp was made by a group of cedars on one side and a mass of dead willows on the other.

While I was away, a whirlwind came and scattered the fire among the dead willows and cedar spray, and soon there was a conflagration. The men rushed for the boats, leaving all behind that they could not carry at first. Even then, they got their clothes burned and hair singed, and Bradley got his ears scorched.

The cook filled his arms with the mess kit, and jumping on to the boat, stumbled and threw it overboard, and his load was lost. Our plates are gone, our spoons are gone, our knives and forks are gone; "Water ketch 'em," "H-e-a-p ketch'em" There are yet some tin cups, basins and camp kettles, and we do just as well as ever.

When on the boats the men had to cut loose, or the overhanging willows would have set the fleet on fire, and loose on the stream they had to go down, for they were just at the head of rapids that carried them nearly a mile where I found them. This morning we came down to this point. This had been a chapter of disasters and toils, but the Canon of Lodore was not devoid of scenic interest. 'Twas grand beyond the power of pen to tell. Its waters poured unceasingly from the hour we entered it until we landed here. No quiet in all that time; but its walls and cliffs, its peaks and crags, its amphitheaters and alcoves told a story that I hear yet, and shall hear, and shall hear, of beauty and grandeur.

Sunday, June 20, 1869.

At the point where the Bear, or with greater correctness the Yampa River enters the Green, the river runs along a rock about 700 feet high and a mile long, then turns sharply around to the right and runs back parallel to its former course for another mile, with the opposite sides of this long narrow rock for its bank. On the east side of the river, opposite the rock and below the Yampa, is a little park just large enough for a farm.

The river has worn out hollow domes in this sandstone rock, and standing opposite, your words are repeated with a strange clearness but softened, mellow tone. Conversation in a loud key is transformed into magical music. You can hardly believe that 'tis the echo of your own voice. In some places two or three echoes come back, in others the echoes themselves are repeated, passing forth and back across the river, for there is another rock making the eastern wall of the little park. To hear these echoes well, you must shout. Some thought they could count 10 or 12 echoes. To me they seemed to rapidly vanish in multiplicity, auditory perspective, or perauditory, like the telegraph poles on an outstretched prairie. I observed this same phenomenon once before among the cliffs near Long's Peak, and was delighted to meet with it again.

J.W. Powell



Through the Grand Canyon from the Little Colorado to the Virgin River

We join Powell and his beleaguered party in 1869 at the confluence of the Little Colorado River and the main stem of the big Colorado. The expedition has survived Marble Canyon, which Powell so named because of its immense, red-stained limestone walls. The expedition is about to enter yet another, even deeper canyon, which Powell also named. He called it Grand.

August 13. We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, chafe each other as they are tossed by the fretful river. They ride high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we could desire. We have but a month's rations remaining. The flour has been resifted through the mosquito-net sieve; the spoiled bacon has been dried and the worst of it boiled; the few pounds of dried apples have been spread in the sun and reshrunken to their normal bulk. The sugar has all melted and gone on its way down the river. But we have a large sack of coffee. The lightening of the boats has this advantage: they will ride the waves better and we shall have but little to carry when we make a portage.

We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs that rise to the world above; the waves are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands or lost among the boulders.

We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly.

With some eagerness and some anxiety and some misgiving we enter the canyon below and are carried along by the swift water through walls which rise from its very edge. They have the same structure that we noticed yesterday—tiers of irregular shelves below, and, above these, steep slopes to the foot of marble cliffs. We run six miles in a little more than half an hour and emerge into a more open portion of the canyon, where high hills and ledges of rock intervene between the river and the distant walls. Just at the head of this open place the river runs across a dike; that is, a fissure in the rocks, open to depths below, was filled with eruptive matter, and this on cooling was harder than the rocks through which the crevice was made, and when these were washed away the harder volcanic matter remained as a wall, and the river has cut a gateway through it several hundred feet high and as many wide. As it crosses the wall, there is a fall below and a bad rapid, filled with boulders of trap; so we stop to make a portage. Then on we go, gliding by hills and ledges, with distant walls in view; sweeping past sharp angles of rock; stopping at a few points to examine rapids, which we find can be run, until we have made another five miles, when we land for dinner.

Then we let down with lines over a long rapid and start again. Once more the walls close in, and we find ourselves in a narrow gorge, the water again filling the channel and being very swift. With great care and constant watchfulness we proceed, making about four miles this afternoon, and camp in a cave.

August 14. At daybreak we walk down the bank of the river, on a little sandy beach, to take a view of a new feature in the canyon. Heretofore hard rocks have given us bad river; soft rocks, smooth water; and a series of rocks harder than any we have experienced sets in. The river enters the gneiss! We can see but a little way into the granite gorge, but it looks threatening.

After breakfast we enter on the waves. At the very introduction it inspires awe. The canyon is narrower than we have ever before seen it; the water is swifter; there are but few broken rocks in the channel; but the walls are set, on either side, with pinnacles and crags; and sharp, angular buttresses, bristling with wind- and wave-polished spires, extend far out into the river.


Excerpted from Seeing Things Whole by William deBuys. Copyright © 2001 William deBuys. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Other titles from William deBuys,
Title Page,
Copyright Page,
INTRODUCTION - Seeing Things Whole,
PART I - Down the Colorado: Letters from the Wilderness Post,
SELECTION 1 - The Party Has Reached This Point in Safety,
SELECTION 2 - The Wreck of the No-Name,
PART II - Voyage into the Great Unknown,
SELECTION 3 - Through the Grand Canyon from the Little Colorado to the Virgin River,
PART III - Among the Natives of the Colorado Plateau,
SELECTION 4 - Camped with the Shivwits and the Fate of the Separated Three,
SELECTION 5 - The Ancient Province of Tusayan,
PART IV - Report on the Lands of the Arid Region,
SELECTION 6 - Preface and Table of Contents,
SELECTION 7 - Physical Characteristics of the Arid Region,
SELECTION 8 - The Land System Needed for the Arid Region,
PART V - The Nation's Expert,
SELECTION 9 - Trees on Arid Lands,
SELECTION 10 - The Lesson of Conemaugh,
SELECTION 11 - Address to the Montana Constitutional Convention,
PART VI - Advice for the Century,
SELECTION 12 - The Irrigable Lands of the Arid Region,
SELECTION 13 - The Non-Irrigable Lands of the Arid Region,
SELECTION 14 - Institutions for the Arid Lands,
PART VII - A Philosopher for Humankind,
SELECTION 15 - From Barbarism to Civilization,
SELECTION 16 - Competition as a Factor in Human Evolution,

Customer Reviews