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Powell, John Wesley (1834–1902)

  • By: Bryon D. Middlekauff
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

John Wesley Powell, an American explorer, scientific frontiersman, teacher, military leader, geologist, naturalist, government administrator, ethnographer, and geographer, is best known for having been the first to explore the length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. According to William Morris Davis, Powell laid the foundation for American geomorphology and profoundly influenced those who came after him.

Born in Mount Morris, New York, Powell spent many of his early years in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois. His father, a dedicated Methodist abolitionist preacher and farmer, moved the family frequently to serve various congregations. John had obligations on the farm owing to his father's frequent absences. Irregularly educated, he received considerable natural history training from a neighbor, who provided a classroom, a small library, a laboratory, and ...

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