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.