AT NOON on May 24, 1869, the population of Green River gathered on the bank, and an hour later they watched the four boats of the Powell Expedition spin out into the current1 — the Emma Dean, the Maid of the Canyon, the Kitty Clyde’s Sister, and the No-Name, all but the pilot boat heavy and low in the water with their loads. The men jumped to oars and sweeps, the Major swung his hat from the Emma Dean. In two or three minutes the current carried them left, then right, and one after another they disappeared around the bend. The crowd stood around a little, squinted at the rising river, passed predictions, and dispersed.
That was the last anybody heard of Major Powell and his nine men for thirty-seven days, until June 30. On that day the Corinne Reporter, mouthpiece for the sinful railroad camp at the north end of Great Salt Lake, reported that all of the party except the gun-smith had drowned in the terrible rapids of the Green.
Newspaper intelligence along the line of the Union Pacific was, in spite of the telegraph, closely related to rumor. Those expecting word of Powell’s party waited uncertainly, unwilling to believe. Then on July 2 and 3 the Omaha Republican ran a lengthy but confused story of the disaster which it had got from a trapper named Riley, who said he had met Jack Sumner in Fort Bridger and from him, the only survivor, obtained the facts. Riley said that Sumner, detailed to a job on shore, had watched helplessly as all the laden boats plunged one after another over a twelve-foot fall in the first canyon south of Brown’s Hole and were swept to destruction in the raging rapids below. There were those who wagged their heads and believed, remembering Jim Beckwourth, that loud and lying mountaineer, and his terrible “suck,” 2 which was fabled to swallow any boat that entered it.
By July 4 the story had moved eastward. Chicago papers reported the arrival in Springfield of John A. Risdon, the only survivor of the Powell Expedition, and gained from him a circumstantial account of the disaster, the names of all the victims, and the story of Risdon’s difficult struggle to make his way out to civilization 3 The next day the Detroit Post published a letter from Emma Powell denouncing Risdon as an impostor. No such man had ever been with her husband’s party, and moreover she had received letters from her husband dated May 22, though Risdon said the wreck had taken place on May 8.
So here, hard on the heels of Sam Adams, came another impostor quite as cavalier with the truth and a good deal more ghoulish. His purpose was apparently no more than to get a free ride east, using his sad story for a passenger ticket. Like other liars, he may even have got to believing his own story as he repeated and embellished it, for he carried it brazenly back to Springfield and told it to Governor Palmer of Illinois, and he footnoted it with great particularity. For the adorning of his tale he invented a whole geography of rivers and canyons and army posts, all from the land of fable, and he put it over on Governor Palmer so thoroughly that the Governor publicly called him an “honest, plain, candid man,” who told his story straightforwardly and seemed reliable. (In the same way Governor Low of California had borne testimony for Adams, and Brigham Young had given to Walter Murray Gibson a piece of paper that Gibson parlayed into a barbaric crown in the Sandwich Islands.)
A character out of fiction, an incontrovertible Duke of Bilge-water or poor lost Dauphin, Risdon wept as he carried his story eastward along the Union Pacific, and in general made such an unregenerate and conscienceless show of his lie that Byers in the Rocky Mountain News, summarizing the extent of Risdon’s wickedness, first clamored for him to be hung and then came around to treating him almost with admiration for his illustration of man’s capacity to “lie without object or provocation.”
Risdon had a talent. From a few garbled rumors he had made a coherent fiction, invented a geography, created various people named Andrew Knoxson, T. W. Smith, William S. Dolton, Charles Sherman, and so on, plus a half-breed guide called Chic-a-wa-nee. The only name he got right was that of Durley, of the 1868 group, but he didn’t know Durley’s first name and so he doubled it, transforming the original Lyle into brothers named William and Charles. He took this motley crew of twenty-five, with teamsters and wagons, to a “small Indian settlement” on the Colorado called Wil liamsburg. There he kept them for seven or eight days making observations before he started them down the river to explore two tributaries known as the Big Black and the Deleban.
There is a certain advantage to living before maps have petrified geography. Risdon could give himself plenty of elbow room. He brought the Big Black and the Deleban into the Colorado within a mile and a quarter of each other, and in that distance gave the Colorado a drop of 160 feet. Powell, said Risdon, ordered him ashore to explore a way of getting up the Deleban, while the remaining twenty-five men packed themselves aboard a bark canoe, called a “yawl” by the Indians, and laughingly pushed off to paddle across the roaring Colorado. They had with them all the surveying instruments and all the Major’s papers and notebooks. The Major stood in the stem steering, while seven paddlers dug water. Risdon shouted to them to be sure and come back in time for dinner, and they shouted back, “Goodbye, Jack, you will never see us again!” A moment later a whirlpool seized the yawl, spun it around, and swallowed it. The last man the astonished Risdon saw was Powell, still standing erect and brave at his post in the stern.
Risdon cried like a baby. Later he went up and down the river (why up not even the sardonic Byers could figure out) looking for bodies or remains. All he found was a carpetbag containing Powell’s papers and records. After four days’ searching Risdon gave up, took the two teams and what remained of the party’s supplies, and drove off through the timber toward civilization. About June 1 he reached Leroy, a small military post deep in that Gilpin-Adams-Risdon land on a stream called the Red River. Here he reported to Colonel Smith, commanding, and was assisted to St. Louis. All of Major Powell’s baggage, including the carpetbag, he said he had sent to Mrs. Powell.
In the long run, perhaps Powell should have been grateful to Risdon. His report of disaster could have been believed only by those who knew nothing about the country, the expedition, or its members, and the flurry of indignation when Risdon was exposed most certainly titillated interest in what was actually happening as the explorers went deeper into the canyons. For a brief while Risdon’s yarn may have brought anxiety to Powell’s wife and others, not because they ever credited its truth but because it named an eventuality that was perfectly possible. Knowing nothing except that Risdon lied, Emma had to wait, and the public had to wait, until some more authentic report should come out.
The next word, though more authentic than Risdon’s tale, was not reassuring. On July 15 the Cheyenne Argus reported the experiences of Colonel Jackson, chief of a silver prospecting company, in the upper canyons of the Green. Jackson had headed down river by land six days before Powell’s group. He reported that he had gone 160 miles, and had found the river passage utterly impracticable. Deep in the canyons, forty miles below where the Powell party was supposed to have been lost, Jackson’s men were overtaken by the shattered remnants of a boat expedition which had started three weeks after Powell, determined to prove that if Powell could run the river they could. The leader of that reckless excursion, Frederick Hook, was now buried among the boulders in Red Canyon.4 Returning together toward Green River, the Hook-Jackson parties had seen no trace of Powell or his men — not a footprint on the beach, not a dead campfire, not a rag in a rapid. The canyons had swallowed the ten of them; Jackson felt that they could not be alive.
But two days later the Rocky Mountain News was able to run two letters from its old employee Oramel Howland. One was dated from the mouth of the Yampa on June 19, the other from the mouth of the Uinta (modern Ouray, Utah, in the Uinta Ute Reservation) on June 30. And the same wilderness mail that brought Howland’s letters out from the Uinta Ute Agency brought a letter from Andy Hall to his brother and letters from Major Powell himself to the Chicago Tribune, dated from Flaming Gorge, Brown’s Hole, and the mouth of the Yampa.5 The party had come down the Green for 160 miles, survived all the canyons that Jackson had called impassable, and run clean through the Uintas into the broad Wonsits or Uinta Valley of Utah. It was camped, when the last letters were written, less than two miles upriver from the mouth of the White, which it had visited the winter before. It was, in fact, temporarily in safe and known country. How it had got that far was news the papers would copy.
Luckily for the Powell Expedition’s unpractised boatmen, the Green for sixty miles south of Green River is a relatively mild stream, flowing through broken badlands. Though there are low bluffs, there are no real canyons, and though the current is insistent and swift, there is nothing that can be called a rapid. In those sixty miles they had a chance to discover how their boats handled. Hall and Hawkins, heavily laden, found that when they wanted to land they had better start making preparations at least two hundred yards above the proposed landing place. They complained to Powell that their Maid of the Canyon was nine inches closer to the bottom of the river than the others, and got a redistribution of the load. They learned too what every man who has ever handled a boat on Green or Colorado or San Juan learns: how trivial a mistake can lead to trouble. The rivers are not “treacherous.” They are only forever dangerous. One who has not tried it finds it hard to believe the instant and terrible force that such a current exerts on a broadside boat out of control on a sandbar or rock. On the San Juan it is possible in places to sit on the bottom, close to shore where the current is not nearly so strong as in the main channel, and with the hands grasping the ankles be sledded along the bottom at a coasting clip. On any of the rivers a spilled boatman, an upset boat, is swept off downstream as if by an avalanche. Powell’s men, running aground, breaking an oar, spinning in eddies, learned respect for the river before it got dangerous. They took three days running down to the mouth of Henry’s Fork, at the foot of the Uintas, where they had cached barometers and rations earlier in the spring on their way out from White River. The cache was untouched; they raised it and camped the third night in sight of the flaring red gateway they named Flaming Gorge, where for the first time the river broke directly into the barrier range.
Because they were an exploring party and not merely a group of thrill-hunters, they did not plunge directly in. For three days they sat outside the gate, mending barometers, measuring the height of the cliffs (1200 feet), climbing the walls to look around. The peaks of the Wasatch notched the west, the barren Wyoming plateau northward swelled up toward South Pass and the snowy Wind River Mountains. Below their lookout rim was the valley of Henry’s Fork, old trapper country, and the lodge of Jim Baker, a squawman who had established a ranch against the mountain. And they could see the gorge of the Green with the river at its bottom splitting the red cliffs.
For a while the river flirts with the great mountain table rising east and west across its course. It cuts in through Flaming Gorge, emerges into a little park where today there are three or four remote ranches, and then wheels left into the mountain. But it does not cut through. The red walls turn it in a half circle, forcing it through a complete U out into the valley again, barely a half mile from where it entered. Powell named this stretch Horseshoe Canyon. In the part of it now called Hideout Canyon there is a foot-bridge across the Green to accommodate pack trains and deer hunters and sheep bands headed for the back country. This canyon gave the expedition its first real thrill- a curving rapid where the water plunged down among rocks. They ran it, at first scared and then exhilarated.
The walls widened out to make another little valley, pinched in to make another canyon. The river was broad and quiet here, and kingfishers playing along a tributary stream gave valley and canyon and stream a name. Just beyond their May 30 camp came a great domed point eroded into thousands of holes where swallows nested. They called it Beehive Point and followed the river around it, changing course from south to east as the river, having cut in close to the heart of the range, turned and ran along it lengthwise.
By now the walls were close to a half mile high, stepping backward in terraces, clean cliff and wooded slope and clean cliff again, to remote rims. Red Canyon they called it; it is one of the spectacular chasms of the Green. Today a tourist can look down into it from several spots on the rim, notably from Green Lake. But the tourist from that height sees only a thread of river, green in low water, reddish in high. He will not see the rapids that for the first time gave Powell and his men a touch of danger and exhausting work, and he will not hear what is perhaps the most nerve-wearing accompaniment of any voyage in these canyons: the incessant, thundering, express-engine roar of the water. In many parts of the canyons it never ceases, day or night. It speeds the heartbeat and deafens the ears and shakes the ground underfoot. It comes from every side, echoed and multiplied by the walls. A man’s voice is lost, shouting in it.
The expedition would have plenty of experience with that roar of rapids. What they had of it here was a mere preliminary, for this was still a small river, unaugmented by the large tributaries. The rapids in Red Canyon, though bad enough to force them to line their boats down several times, were not such rapids as they would meet later, and there were stretches of wonderfully fast exciting water. Powell records that they made in one hour, including stops, twelve miles. Some of the men guessed that at times they were doing a mile a minute.
Except in very bad places, the men all preferred running to the laborious technique of lining that Powell devised. He was exas peratingly cautious.6 Going ahead in the Emma Dean, he scouted every stretch where the growing roar announced bad water, and as they went along he improvised methods of getting around the danger spots. The lining system that he used at what they named Ashley Falls was typical. Each boat was unloaded completely, and a line attached to bow and stern. The bow line was taken below the fall and secured. Then the boat was let down over the fall by five or six men straining back on the stern line. When they could no longer hold against the rush of water, they let go, the boat leaped the fall, and the rest of the crew snubbed it in below. Then they all got together and lugged the tons of supplies around the rapid and across the rocks. Bradley, whose journal is the only complete diary of the expedition besides Jack Sumner‘s, was undoubtedly speaking for all of them when he groused that they didn’t run enough.
They had thought they were the first into these red rock gorges, but at Ashley Falls, as they would do several times, they crossed the path of history. They were portaging around the foot of the cliff when they came upon an inscription put there by a distinguished predecessor. The bullboat party of General Ashley, forty-four years before, had painted on the rock the words “Ashley, 1825.” Powell did not know who Ashley was, for Ashley’s narrative was not printed until 1918. He thought the inscription was made by a prospector whose story he had heard from the mountain man Jim Baker, and he misread the date as 1855.7
He was not yet opening new country, but he was collecting data as he went, climbing the cliffs at every opportunity to measure altitudes and take geological sections, and most of all to fill his eye with the view and let the sweep of the Uintas take their place in the map that was forming in his mind. Climbing out to the rim from Red Canyon he looked down the narrowing wedge of forested mountain between the Uinta crest and the gorge of the river, and came close to history again. On the same piney uplands beyond the rims of Red Canyon, Henry Adams would be camping in a little more than a year, formulating in campfire discussions with Arnold Hague and S. F. Emmons8 some of the ideas that would mold a fascinating and cryptic career, and measuring his education against a primeval wilderness. And from the cliffs above Brown’s Hole, where Powell climbed two days later, he could look eastward up the valley of the Vermillion through which Frémont had found his way to the parks of Colorado in 1844.
Ashley, Frémont, the Manly party of Forty-niners,9 Henry Adams, Clarence King and his helpers Hague and Emmons, Powell himself — a curiously diverse history would casually brush that little-known range. From the mountain man’s uncomplicated and ferocious dynamism to Adams’ dynamo and second law of thermodynamics, ideas significant for the continent’s knowledge and use of itself passed here. Not too many miles away one of the most incredible and successful hoaxes in our history, the great diamond swindle, would be staged in a little gulch on the south slope of the range. The mentality that permitted public credence of the words of Gilpin and Sam Adams would permit “investments” in these Uinta diamonds to the tune of $10,000,000 and personally cost a San Francisco banker, William Ralston, $660,000, and ultimately his life. The salted mine would be exposed by Clarence King, friend of Adams and Powell’s later collaborator; the spot would retain its name Diamond Gulch as a reminder of how far the will to believe can go, even in the face of probability, in the land of Gilpin.10
Powell was not thinking of history as he camped in Brown’s Hole, resting after the canyons, restoring the ears of his party with silence and birdsong, measuring the country he could reach or see. Some history had not happened yet, and some of it he did not know. He might glance up the Vermillion where Frémont had gone, but he glanced more frequently at the frowning gateway where the river, after miles of running down the east-west axis of the Uintas, turned south again and cut straight in. For him this was the real beginning. Up to here he had been anticipated by trappers and prospectors. Brown’s Hole itself was a vast cattle ranch, there were cabins and herds, and the place had been known years back by trappers on the Seedskeedee. But from here on was something else. Two thousand feet above the Hole, hanging his feet over the cliff, Powell sat and wrote a letter, dated June 7, 1869, which he would send out to the Chicago Tribune if and when he had the chance.
While I write [he concluded], I am sitting on the same rock where I sat last spring, with Mrs. Powell, looking down into this canon. When I came down at noon, the sun shone in splendor on its vermilion walls shaded into green and gray when the rocks are lichened over. The river fills the channel from wall to wall. The canon opened like a beautiful portal to a region of glory. Now, as I write, the sun is going down, and the shadows are settling in the canon. The vermilion gleams and the rosy hues, the green and gray tints, are changing to sombre brown above, and black shadows below. Now ‘tis a black portal to a region of gloom.
And that is the gateway through which we enter [on] our voyage of exploration tomorrow - and what shall we find? 11
He dramatized himself somewhat, this one-armed major, and he had perhaps been reading eloquent and rhetorical travelers of the school of Mungo Park. Circumstances would conspire to assist in the dramatization. Though he would not know it for months, the rumor of his death and the death of his whole party but one would shortly go out from the mountains, and the place of his reported death, before John Risdon began tampering with geography, was this same canyon beneath his feet.
The rapids Powell saw from the walls had not looked too bad, but they turned out to be sharp, fierce pitches in the riverbed, filled with boulders fallen from the cliffs. Powell went ahead, waving the boats ashore at every bad spot, reconnoitering on foot. Until noon they had short stretches of navigable water broken by rapids so furious that Andy Hall, remembering some schoolboy lesson, was led to exclaim, “Oh how the waters come down at Lodore!” They named it the Canyon of Lodore, to Sumner’s disgust. Sumner’s reason for carping, confided a little later to his journal, is not only a sharp reminder of the difference between leader and men, but has a quaintly modern sound: “The idea of diving into musty trash to find names for new discoveries on a new continent is un-American, to say the least.” 12
Just at noon on June 7 Powell’s boat pulled ashore at the head of a bad place, and signaled the freight boats to land. Powell went along shore to scout a practicable portage. Over his shoulder he saw one of the boats pulling in, but when he looked again he saw the No-Name, with the two Howlands and Frank Goodman struggling at oars and sweep. Either they had not seen the signal, or had not started digging for shore in time. O. G. Howland later said 13 he could have made shore if he had not been half full of water from running the rapids above. But now the experience Hawkins and Hall had had in easy water the first day was repeated without the laughs.
Powell saw the boat hang for a breath at the head of the rapid and then sweep into it. He leaped onto a rock to signal frantically at the last boat, and after a long minute saw it pulling heavily toward shore well above the tongue. The moment he saw that one safe, he ran after the No-Name.
It had shot the first fall, only a few feet high, and was rearing down a steep rapid. He saw it strike a boulder and heave up like a bucking horse. All three men were thrown out, but when the boat jammed briefly against the rocks they managed to grab the gunwale, and as she slipped off and started down again Powell watched the dripping boatmen frantically haul themselves in. The boat was full of water; though her watertight compartments kept her afloat, she was unmanageable in the fierce current. She wallowed down through the rapid, pounded into the tail waves and on two hundred yards to a second rapid as wild as the first. There she struck solidly, broadside, and broke completely in two. For a moment the tiny dark heads of the swimming men were visible in the foam, and then the water swept them out of sight.
Powell ran, bursting his lungs, with the other men behind him. Around the bend he came in sight of a swimmer being washed and pounded on a rock to which he clung for his life. O. G. Howland, recognizable by his draggled beard, had made a stony island in mid-rapid and was scrambling out to stretch a pole to the man on the rock, who turned out to be Goodman. Goodman let go the rock, seized the pole, and was hauled out. Further down the island Seneca Howland was dragging himself to the safety of the boulders.
They were safe for the time, but marooned in the middle of a bad rapid. Now the lightness and maneuverability of the Emma Dean proved out. The others lined her down to the foot of the first rapid, and Sumner, a brave man and by now a good boatman, was shoved off from there. Angling across the tail waves that swept almost to the tongue of the second rapid, he made the tip of the island. Then the four men pulled the boat upriver as high as they could go. Standing in water to his shoulders, one held it there while the others climbed in. Then a straining push, a scramble, the men in the stem hauling the pusher aboard, Sumner pulling furiously on the oars, and they made it in to where those on shore could reach them. There was a good deal of handshaking and thumping on the back — as much rejoicing, Powell wrote, “as if they had been on a voyage around the world and wrecked on a distant coast.”14
The rapid was not Jim Beckwourth’s suck, nor Risdon’s whirlpool, but it was a reasonable facsimile. What made the wreck difficult to bear was that one whole boatload of rations, all the extra clothing of the No-Name’s crew, and a good many instruments, were lost. What made it worse was that by an error all the barometers had been packed in that boat instead of being distributed as they should have been. What made it worst, perhaps, from the leader’s point of view, was that the wreck need not have happened at all. A split-second error, a failure to bail fast enough or keep the eyes open, a momentary sluggishness in responding to signals, and they were in trouble.15
The loss of clothes was not serious; they needed little except the shirts and drawers they were wearing, and the other men still had spares to lend. But the loss of rations would make them move faster than Powell had planned, and the loss of all the barometers would seriously reduce the scientific usefulness of the expedition. Both the map that Howland was making as they went, and the prediction of where they were on the river’s downward grade to tidewater, depended on those tubes of mercury. Powell lay awake that night, half inclined to try making his way out to Salt Lake to order new barometers from the east. But in the morning they saw that the wreck of the No-Name had washed fifty yards farther downstream. Her stem half had lodged where it might possibly be reached, and there was a chance that something remained in its compartment. Sumner and Hall volunteered to reach her, and did so. From their rummaging in the smashed after cabin they rose up to wave their arms and yell something across the roar of water, and in a few minutes they came back in triumph. No clothes and no rations were among their prizes, but they had found the whole package of barometers, unhurt, as well as a package of thermometers, plus what had inspired their cheers: a keg of whiskey smuggled aboard at Green River without Powell’s knowledge. Powell’s Report calls it a three-gallon keg; Sumner’s journal says it was a ten. Perhaps there was some wishful thinking in both accounts Howland’s letter to the Rocky Mountain News modestly refers to it only as a “blue keg.” He had reason to be modest. It was his whiskey.
Intent upon the success of the expedition, and perhaps (though neither he nor any other diarist ever suggests it) wondering if Howland’s error of the day before might have been caused by that same keg, Powell might have risked the entire trip by throwing the keg back in the river. But the men were fagged, three of them had had a good scare and a good ducking and bruising, all of them had lost clothes, guns, outfit, and Howland had lost all his notes made up to that point. They were in need of a little morale building. Powell good-naturedly admitted that the river was cold, and accepted the keg as medicine.
Presumably it served its medicinal function. They were days getting past this portage, nearly a mile long, and letting the boats down successive rapids. At the bottom they lay over two more days to dry their spoiling rations, which had now become a worry. The wreck had sobered their exuberance, which in the fast water above had left them feeling, as Sumner said, “like sparking a black-eyed girl — just dangerous enough to be exciting.” Now they encountered evidence of another wreck before their own — a broken boat, the lid of a bake oven, an old tin plate. Powell thought this might be Ashley’s boat. Nobody has ever determined whose in fact it was. But it helped emphasize the prudence that Powell had emphasized from the beginning. It did not take sucks or Niagaras to wreck a boat or drown a man.
Lodore was not a succession of rapids such as they had passed before, but as Bradley wrote in his journal, one continuous rapid. The shores were cluttered boulders, without level ground on which to camp. Bitching like a good army man, Bradley remarked on June 11 that the Major had as usual chosen the worst campsite available. “If I had a dog,” Bradley said, “that would lie where my bed is made tonight I would kill him and burn his collar and swear I never owned him.” That same day, to give him better cause to grouse, he fell on the portage and cut his eye badly, so that thereafter, down the canyon where the river “roars and foams like a wild beast,” he went sullenly with a notable black eye. Bedraggled, soaked, muddy, their shirttails dragging and their drawers clinging to their goosepimpled legs, they were all in Bradley’s mood.
There are characteristic discomforts on a river voyage. Not the least is the incessant wetting and the sharp alternation of heat and cold. On a bright day a boatman swiftly sunburns the backs of his hands, the insteps of his feet if they are bare, every unexpected spot exposed by long sitting in one position. In the shade, in soaked clothes, the wind is often icy. And worse than either sun or wind is the irritation of sitting long hours on a hard wet board in sopping pants or drawers. The water is full of silt and sand, and so, consequently, are the clothes one wears. After a few hours there grows a sensation as if one has been gently coasting his seat back and forth across fine sandpaper. After a few more hours a boatman likes to stand whenever the river will let him.
Their clothes, even in the valises and carpetbags stowed under the cabin decks, were soaked. Their flour was wet and souring, their bacon gritty with silt, their coffee damp, their beans sprouting. Their muscles were sore and their bodies bruised and their tempers tried. When they took a rest on June 13 the saturnine Bradley commented that it was the first Sunday they had paid any attention to and he was inclined to believe that nobody but himself even knew it was the Sabbath. As they spread the spoiling rations out to dry on the rocks he prophesied dourly that they would soon be sorry they had taken no better care of them. “If we succeed,” he said, “it will be dumb luck, not good judgment that will do it.”
Thus the enlisted man about his commander, ad infinitum.
Lodore continued to rub its lessons in. They had barely started
from their enforced rest camp on June 15 before the Maid of the Canyon, allowed to swing a little too far out into the current in the tongue of a rapid, smoked her line through the palms of the men holding her and broke clean away down the rapid and out of sight. Their spirits went down with her, for with only two boats they would be badly overloaded and underrationed. But they chased along shore, hoping against probability, and found her rotating with dignity in an eddy, unharmed except for a bruise or two.16
Still that was not enough. Accidents it seemed must happen by threes. A day after the breaking loose of the Maid, Powell climbed with Howland up the cliff above camp, which was pitched in willows and cedars on a bar. A few minutes later he looked down on pandemonium. With characteristic carelessness Hawkins had built his cooking fire too close to the dead willows. A whirlwind swept upriver, tore across the bar, and scattered burning sticks in every direction. Willow and cedar smoldered and burst into flame which in the stiff wind grew almost instantly into a conflagration. Trapped on the bar, the men had no escape except the river as the wind swooped tongues of flame across the camp. They jumped for the boats. Hawkins grabbed what he could carry of the mess kit, and ran with his arms full of kettles and bake ovens, but at the bank he stubbed his toe, and without a pause or a cry dove head first into the Green. He came up strangling and cussing, and without the mess kit.
By that time the whole point was ablaze. Their hair and beards were singed and the boats in danger. There was nothing to do but cut loose. From up on the cliff Powell watched the boats full of smoking, slapping men pour down the river and through a stiff rapid for almost a mile before they got under control and made shore. Their knives, forks, spoons, tin plates, and some of their kettles remained behind them in Lodore, along with the cryptic wreckage they themselves had found, to be a warning to careless travelers.
As if the lessons were now finished, the river relented, and on the morning of June 18 they floated down into a cliff-walled park where the Yampa flowed smoothly in, carrying more water at this stage than the Green. In a grassy, sunny bottom “the size of a good farm” they camped and rested and sent their voices against the cliffs that sent them back in diminishing echoes, six or eight echoes, or echoes of echoes. Behind them, as Powell now wrote in a fourth letter to the Chicago Tribune,17 lay “a chapter of disasters and toils,” but Lodore was “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....” With an ear cocked for the public sound of his voice, he could still sound perilously like Mungo Park.
In this Echo Park at the mouth of the Yampa Howland too wrote up their adventures, and Sumner, Powell, and Bradley brought their journals up to date, Bradley so secretly that nobody on the expedition, then or later, suspected he was keeping one. A moody man, he holed up alone away from the others and talked to his thoughts. Walter Powell, just as moody, rang his fine bass voice off the cliffs in song, especially in renderings of “Old Shady.” He sang that song so much they called him Old Shady himself. The hunters, for whose skill Bradley had the most acid contempt, made no inroads on the game supply, but Bradley got personally irritated by fish that kept breaking his hooks, rigged up a quadruple-strength line, and brought in a ten-pounder. This was their first experience with the “Colorado River salmon,” a sluggish and overgrown variety of minnow that often reaches four feet in length and thirty to forty pounds in weight. Jack Sumner remarked when they cooked Bradley’s catch that it tasted like a paper of pins cooked in lard oil.
They had a pleasant camp, a good rest, a sense of having come to a place they knew, for they had camped on the Yampa many times, and crossed its canyon farther up. A comfortable sense of having passed perils with only moderate bad luck shows through the letters and journals they wrote here. Their morale was high. In his letter to the News Howland, the best reporter of the lot, put it for all of them:
Our trip thus far has been pretty severe: still very exciting. When we have to run rapids, nothing is more exhilarating ... and as a breaker dashes over us as we shoot out from one side or the other, after having run the fall, one feels like hurrahing. It must be something like the excitement of battle at the point of victory.... A calm, smooth stream, running only at the rate of five or six miles per hour, is a horror we all detest now.... As soon as the surface of the river looks smooth all is listlessness or grumbling at the sluggish current, unless some unlucky goose comes within range of our rifles. But just let white foam show itself ahead and everything is as jolly and full of life as an Irish “wake.” ...18
They were all feeling good as they camped in Echo Park and established altitude and latitude and longitude for the junction of the rivers - all but Bradley, the loner, and Goodman, the outsider whom nobody knew well and nobody much liked. Since his near-drowning, he had been looking thoughtful.
For a good many days it seemed that their prediction of better water ahead, and their belief that Lodore was as bad as anything they would hit on the river, were sound. Below Echo Park they portaged a couple of stiff little rapids, but in the main the river ran very swiftly and without serious obstacles - the kind of running they all most appreciated. Where a creek came in clear and cold, they had their first mess of trout. The hunters were given a chance to get up on the rims, and “wonderful to relate,” as Bradley said, Hawkins shot a buck. It was the only fresh meat they had had, except for geese and ducks and fish, since Hawkins had trailed a band of mountain sheep on the second day out and thrown a lamb down the cliff. Bradley found ripe currants growing, and picked a gallon in the mountain pocket they named Island Park. Through the longitudinally cut spur that Powell christened Craggy Canyon 19 they boomed along well-fed and sassy, making, by their measurement, thirty miles in a day.
On the morning of June 26, slightly more than a month after their embarkation, they bounced down a lively little riffle toward a hollow-worn cliff of smooth salmon-colored sandstone, pulled stoutly to avoid being carried under the cliff, and rounded a bend to the right to see wide open sky, a quiet river fringed with cottonwoods meandering south and west through a great valley.
This again was known country, the Wonsits or Uinta Valley, the widest break in the series of canyons on all the Colorado. They had camped in it the winter before; Berthoud’s wagon track crossed its center at the mouth of the Uinta River; Father Escalante, though apparently Powell did not know it, had forded the Green near the upper end of the valley and gone westward toward Utah Valley on his attempted passage from Taos to California in 1776. Manly had left the river here in 1849. Along its banks, as they rowed down the quiet, dirty stream, they saw evidence of many Indian camps.
Quiet water had its drawbacks. If they wanted to make time, they had to row. Even so, they dragged their log for sixty-three miles down the Green’s meanders on June 27, fought mosquitoes all night, and in the morning made the mouth of the Uinta, the site of the present town of Ouray, Utah, less than two miles above the mouth of the White where they had camped the winter before.20 The Third California Veteran Infantry had sunk a ferry barge in the Green here, in anticipation of its use on the stage road, and they probed for it halfheartedly, but they were not interested enough really to hunt. Other things were on their minds. This was the only opportunity along the whole course of the river for communication. From here letters could go out, and at the Uinta Agency, thirty miles up this creek, there might be mail waiting.
Powell sent his brother and Andy Hall on foot to the agency for mail, setting out after them two days later with Goodman and Hawkins. The ones left behind rather mournfully celebrated the Fourth by chasing ducks on the Uinta. When the Major, Hawkins, Hall, Walter and two Indian packers returned, Frank Goodman was not with them. His appetite for border experiences had been satisfied. Bradley and Howland, in their accounts, charitably grant him his reason that he had lost his whole outfit in the wreck of the No-Name. Sumner half contemptuously remarks that Goodman seemed fonder of bullwhacking than of rowing. Powell gives him credit for being a “faithful man,” but he was not sorry to see him go, for with one boat wrecked he could do with a smaller party.
By the Ute packers who had carried 300 pounds of flour out from Uinta Agency, Powell sent back the small collection of fossils he had made coming downriver. Sumner, impatient to “cut loose from the last sign of civilization for many hundred miles”21 let himself be sharply critical of the pitiful little dab of provisions that the Major had brought. The fact was that Powell had very little money, and even if he had had the price, the agent’s stores were so low that he could have given Powell little.22 The boats, moreover, now carried three men each, besides the supplies, and the Major obviously did not share the sanguine belief of his men that they had run through the worst of the river.
Bradley, though not as vehement as Sumner about the “weary, useless waiting” 23 while Powell fooled around at the agency, was quite as eager to be off. They were all impatient. Nevertheless, for a mixed group, they had so far managed to remain remarkably narmonious. The river equivalent of cabin fever, which comes on fast and in virulent forms, had hardly touched them. Goodman, the near-pariah, was gone. Bradley, the loner, might herd by himself but he was a good boatman and a cool head - “tough as a badger,” Powell said — and he had their respect. Walter Powell, though moody and increasingly disliked, was insulated by his relationship to the leader, and accepted for the quality of his singing and his great physical strength.24 As for the Major himself, in spite of his science they had to admire him. One-armed, he was as agile on the cliffs as any of them. He had nerve, and he had a variety of interests that excited him, and he participated fully in camp life. Actually he was a commander more likely than most to hold so centrifugal a crew in hand. All they really objected to in him was his caution and his “waiting around.” Andy Hall, as wild as any of the party, wrote to his brother from the Uinta Agency that the Major was “a bully fellow you bett.” 25
Still, they grumbled at delay, and at caution, and at the demands of science. Quiet water and known valleys did not interest them, and there were no gravel bars to occupy their spare time here. Southward they saw the unknown country rising in buttes and mesas. The river went past them smooth and taffy-colored, spinning in quiet whirlpools, sucking at its mud banks. They had not come to sit by the side of so uninteresting a stream so long.
On July 6, to their universal relief, they pushed off on the second leg of the journey, this time into the incontrovertible Unknown. As if to document their wanderlust and their unfitness for civilization, a squatter’s garden encountered at the mouth of the White poisoned them all so thoroughly that they floated through the lower end of Uinta Valley vomiting over the side and cursing Andy Hall, who had suggested that potato tops made good greens. By evening, almost imperceptibly, the valley closed in, the walls began to rise, the barren rock poked through, and they were in another canyon.