How One IWU, ISU Professor Aided In U.S. Western Expansion | WGLT

How One IWU, ISU Professor Aided In U.S. Western Expansion

Nov 8, 2019

If it weren’t for the curious mind and adventurous nature of a former professor from Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State universities, the United States may not have expanded West when it did.

John Wesley Powell was the first white American to systematically go down the Colorado River. That’s according to Marcia Thomas, a former librarian at IWU. Thomas is one of three speakers presenting on Powell’s legacy Friday, Nov. 15, at an event hosted by ISU’s Horticulture Center.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Powell’s famous expedition. In 1869 Powell organized an expedition from Green River, Wyoming, down the Colorado River, and through the Grand Canyon.

Thomas explained Powell and his group of 10 men “got in four boats and started off into what was called the Great Unknown."

“The whole Northern Arizona area where the Grand Canyon is was a blank spot on the map,” she said. “So he essentially filled that in.”

Not only did Powell expand the U.S. knowledge of its lands, but he also was a pioneer in education.

“He was, if not the first, certainly among the first professors to involve students in his exploration,” Thomas said. “... Powell led the way in how you involve students in science.”

During the summers of 1867 and 1868 Powell took students with him to the Colorado Rockies for field collecting. Also in that group was his wife, Emma Dean. Dean was later recognized as the second woman to climb Pikes Peak in Colorado.

Before Powell’s historic expeditions, he was a Civil War union soldier and lost part of his arm at the Battle of Shiloh.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.