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First Through Grand Canyon: The Secret Journals & Letters of the 1869 Crew Who Explored the Green & Colorado Rivers, revised edition Paperback – April 7, 2010

3.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Michael Ghiglieri has painstakingly gone through all the documents produced by the individuals who were part of Powell's famed 1869 expedition, as well as other primary and secondary sources, to give us the fullest picture yet of what actually happened in First through Grand Canyon: The Secret Journals and Letters of the 1869 Crew Who Explored the Green and Colorado Rivers. Ten expedition members began at Green River in current-day Wyoming on an odyssey lasting over three months...After lengthy introductions Ghiglieri presents the chronology of the trip with each participant's material given in order of the events recorded. He then tells what later happened to each of the nine. Ghiglieri's meticulous research hardly portrays Powell as the heroic leader many consider him. Lewis OR Clark, he wasn't: brave (he had but one arm), but often inept, sleazy, and a poor leader of men. And lucky to live when hierarchal loyalty counted for more than today. Those who actually carried the expedition (Bradley, Sumner and Hawkins) missed the age of the whistle blower. While most expedition members were experienced mountaineers, few knew much about riverboats....Bradley's clandestine journal is the most fun. Day 19, June 11, 69...The Major as usual has chosen the worst camping-ground possible,is typical of the private irreverence shown his boss, Hawkins, who outlived them all, said even more. Readjusting Powell isn't Ghiglieri's only piece of revisionism. On day 97, Aug. 28, three members---O.G. and Seneca Howland and William Dunn---decided they'd had enough and broke off from the main party to hike out. The memorial near the spot says: kled by the Indians,the accpted villians for over a century. Ghiglieri doesn't think so. He nominates the Mormon outpost he believes they came upon and gives some interesting reasons. He presents; you decide. The most tragic part of that decision to separate was two days later---the others were through the Canyon and ran into three locals fishing. Powell and his brother peeled off to head for civilization. The remaining four kept going---Hawkins and Hall all the way to the Sea of Cortez! First through Grand Canyon is a great read and a fine addition to Arizona History. --Tucson Weekly, July 24-July 30, 2003, page 21

If you live in the Southwest, you may think you know all about Maj. John Wesley Powell's historic voyage that began 134 years ago this Saturday down the Green and Colorado rivers into unexplored Grand Canyon. Myths abound about the one-armed Civil War veteran's courage and grit as he led the first expedition into the terra incognita of the canyons and wildlands of the West. But Flagstaff author, veteran river-runner and ecologist Michael P. Ghiglieri has sifted through the tedious and frequently innacurate historic record, much based on Powell's sometimes exaggerated accounts, and breathed new life into this western odyssey. Ghiglieri spent two years researching and writing First through Grand Canyon: The Secret Journals & Letters of the 1869 Crew Who Explored the Green and Colorado Rivers. The result is an armchair time trip into 19th century adventure, most of it told in the own words of Powell; his brother, Walter Henry Powell; George Young Bradley; Andrew Hall; Oramel G. Howland; and John Colton Sumner. Ghiglieri's goal was to provide a vicarious account of the expedition devoid of the scholarly white-wash, dillution and distortion. My idea was to put you there in the minds of the men who are struggling along, sharing their disappointments or agony, their rotting boots. But also sharing their optimism about getting through. You know, that fire in people that burns and pushes them through something that looks impossible, he said. Ghiglieri did some prodigious digging to find the private journals, letters and published accounts of the expeditionaries, whose accounts were forgotten or ignored by historians who considered Powell's record of the thousand-mile journey as the most reliable. First through Grand Canyon is the first book on the expedition to rely on multiple eye-witness accounts to log each day of the trip, from May 24 to Sept. 10, 1869, beginning on the banks of the Green Ruver in Wyoming and ending near Yuma on the Colorado. The result is an armchair trip into the 19th century as each day of the 110-day mission of exploration is recounted by those who starved, sweated, risked death, and worked for Powell like galley-slaves all day. Forget all the hype about roaring rapids, towering canyon walls and death-defying exploits that have dominated Powell's official report of the expedition. The story told in the words of the crew goes deeper and reveals much about the men and their daily fight for survival. Ghiglieri puts flesh and blood into the story by extensive profiles of the 11 crew members. They were so self-reliant. And along with that independence and self-reliance, they could sort of justify doing things any way they wanted because they were responsible for their own consequences. They were very can-do, very will-do. It didn't matter how bad it got, they would joke about it later, Ghiglieri said. The book contains new information, a brutally honest portrait of Powell and pulls a few historical prizes out of its bag of research that will likely spark some controversy among Colorado Plateau historians. --Arizona Daily Sun, May 22, 2003, pages C1-C2.

About the Author

Michael P. Ghiglieri earned a PhD in Ecology from U.C. Davis for his research on wild chimps. He has worked as an international wilderness river guide since 1974 and has rowed Grand Canyon over 100 times. His previous books Canyon and Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon (co-authored with Tom Myers) have earned him a deserved reputation as an interpreter of wilderness adventure, exploration and values.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Puma Press; revised edition edition (April 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970097328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970097323
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,246,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Schauer on November 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
I wanted to read more about Powell's trip after visiting the Grand Canyon and agree the author has done a good job of assembling the diaries and giving a commentary.

However, the overwhelming tone of the book is colored by the author's vendetta against Powell. Every action is interpreted in favor of the "noble boatmen" (like the author). There is much too much jumping to conclusions, for which he criticizes other authors. It became tiresome to read how Powell should have done this, that, or the other. Admittedly, the man had his faults, but the leader will always get the praise or blame. A more measured analysis would have been better.
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Ghiglieri fails at the objective job of an historian. I wish he had laid out the river journals and related writings about the first Powell expedition without injecting such an extraordinary stream of personal invective. Ghiglieri doesn't trust the reader to draw his own conclusions about Powell's character. The author instead serves up an annoying personal crusade against Powell -- and against every prominent historical writer on the topic. I nearly abandoned the book while wading through the introductory tirade, but I was glad I stuck it out. Ghiglieri deserves credit for his work to research and compile the story of the first Powell expedition from the participants' river journals. Reading the expedition members' accounts grouped into daily entries provides an intimate experience of the epic trip as it unfolded.
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Format: Paperback
Introduction

While visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim in August of 2015, I noticed Michael Ghiglieri’s book First Through Grand Canyon. As I had enjoyed his prior book Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, and being a fan of early Colorado River exploration, I read the book. It has a noble goal―to let Major John Wesley’s Powell’s pioneering first trip (1869) down the Colorado be told through accounts written by that trip’s participants as the trip unfolded. Unfortunately, Ghiglieri surrounds this “live” history with his own speculation about the expedition, which comes across with a distinct anti-Powell bias and mars the whole effort.

I am not a professional river runner, as is Ghiglieri, but simply a fan of the Canyon. I have no axe to grind in the historical drama of Powell’s expedition. I fear that is not the case with the author, whose sympathies for his professional river runner colleagues seeps into his analysis of Powell’s crew and his alleged mistreatment of them. No doubt both Powell’s crew and Powell were not perfect, and had many hard edges, but Ghiglieri’s approach, where the crew walk on water and Powell is the devil, is not only overly simplistic, it is not supported by the record. So that this is not perceived simply as one reader’s opinion, I have taken some effort in this review to lay out the evidence on which my opinion rests. It remains for the reader to reach his or her own conclusions.

Hubris

Ghiglieri’s self-praise of his book is off-putting. He would have been well advised to adopt some of that “…charming modesty rarely displayed today...” that he so admires in John Colton Sumner (p. 3).
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first thru the grand canyon is a truely outstanding book..having been to the 'canyon' many times and living in Az most of my life i was most interested in the history of the 'canyon'..this book is a 'must-read'...gdm
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First Through Grand Canyon: The Secret Journals & Letters of the 1869 Crew Who Explored the Green & Colorado Rivers, revised edition
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