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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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John Wesley Powell

POWELL, John Wesley, geologist, born in Mount Morris, New York. 24 March, 1834. He is the son of a Methodist clergyman, and passed his early life in various places in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois. For a time he studied in Illinois college, and he subsequently entered Wheaton college, but in 1854 he followed a special course at Oberlin, also teaching at intervals in public schools. His first inclinations were toward the natural sciences, particularly natural history and geology, and he spent much of his time in making collections, which he placed in various institutions of learning in Illinois. The Illinois state natural history society elected him its secretary and extended to him facilities for prosecuting his researches. At the beginning of the civil war he enlisted as a private in the 20th Illinois volunteers, and he rose to be lieutenant-colonel of the 2d Illinois artillery. He lost his right arm at the battle of Shiloh, but soon afterward he returned to his regiment and continued in active service until the close of the war. In 1865 he became professor of geology and curator of the museum in Illinois Wesleyan university, Bloomington, but he resigned to accept a similar post in Illinois normal university. During the summer of 1867 he visited the mountains of Colorado with his class for the purpose of studying geology, and so began a practice that has been continued by eminent teachers elsewhere. On this expedition he formed the idea of exploring the canyon of the Colorado, and a year later he organized a party for that purpose. The journey lasted more than three months and they passed through numerous perilous experiences, living for part of the time on half rations. Major Powell's success in this undertaking resulted in the establishment by congress in 1870 of a topographical and geological survey of the Colorado river of the West and its tributaries, which was placed under his direction. During the following years a systematic survey was conducted, until the physical features of the Colorado valley, embracing an area of nearly 100,000 square miles, had been thoroughly explored. This expedition, at first conducted under the auspices of the Smithsonian institution, was transferred to the department of the interior, trod given the title of the Geographical and geological survey of the Rocky mountain region. In 1874 four separate surveys were in the field, and in 1879, after much agitation, the National academy of sciences recommended the establishment under the department of the interior of an independent organization to be known as the United States geological survey. Action to this effect was at once taken by congress, and Clarence King (q. v.) was appointed director. From the beginning of the controversy Major Powell was the leading advocate of consolidation. Meanwhile he had devoted more attention to American ethnology in the prosecution of his work than the other surveys had done. He had collected material on this subject which he had deposited with the Smithsonian institution, and had already issued three volumes as "Contributions to North American Ethnology." In order to prevent the discontinuance of this work, bureau of ethnology, which has become the recognized centre of ethnographic operations in the United States, was established under the direction of the Smithsonian institution. Major Powell was given charge of the work, and has since continued at its head, issuing annual reports and bulletins. In 1881 Mr. King resigned the office of director of the United States geological survey, and Major Powell was appointed his successor. Since that time he has ably administered the work of this great enterprise, which includes, besides special investigations in geology, the general study of economic geology, paleontology, and geography. In connection with the survey there is also a chemical division, where the necessary analytical work is conducted. Major Powell received the degree of Ph. D. from the University of Heidelberg in 1886, and also during the same year that of Lb. D. from Harvard, "rod he is a member of many scientific societies. In 1880 he was elected to the National academy of sciences, and he was president of the Anthropological society of Washington from its organization in 1879 till 1888. He became a fellow of the American association for the advancement of science in 1875, vice-president in 1879, when he delivered his retiring address on " Mythologic Philosophy," and in 1887 was elected to the presidency. His publications include many scientific papers and addresses, and numerous government volumes that bear his name, including the reports of the various surveys, the bureau of ethnology, and the United States geological survey. The special volumes that bear his own name are "Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and its Tributaries explored in 1869-'72 " (Washington, 1875)" " Report on the Geology of the Eastern Portion of the Uinta Mountains and a Region of Country Adjacent Thereto" (1876)" "Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States" (1879); and "Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages, with Words, Phrases, and Sentences to be collected" (1880).

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