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Montana Historical Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Montana: The Magazine of
Western History.
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Major Powell & Thomas Moran in Canyon Country
Author(s): Thurman Wilkins
Source: Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Autumn, 1969), pp. 16-31
Published by: Montana Historical Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4517402
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* Ar
by THURMAN WILKINS
On the sweltering evening of July 9, 1873, in Salt Lake City, the
landscape painter, Thomas Moran, wrote to his wife in Newark: “In the
afternoon Powell and I went to Brigham Young’s house and I was introduced
to all the leading Mormons.” Later he was to inform his wife,
Mollie, or Mary Nimmo Moran, of his view that Mormonism (by which
he meant chiefly polygamy) was “a beastly institution,” but now he
granted the leaders a certain grudging respect. He summed his impression
up in a single sentence: “They are very much like the rest of mankind
and all smart fellows.”
Thomas Moran’s letter was interrupted, however, by the wish of
his host, John Wesley Powell, to introduce him to other people in the
Mormon capital, including leading gentiles. Afterwards Moran resumed
in a chatty manner: “Have just returned from visiting Judge -McKean
and some other judges whose names I forget. Also Dr. Taggart and
Count Sporlinski whose daughter the Princess of Warsaw played.the piato
for us.”1
Such socializing with a purpose was characteristic of John Wesley
Powell wherever he went. It was evident that his cordial relations with
Mormon leaders had helped immeasurably to smooth the way for his
survey corps in Utah.
I Thomas Moran, Home-thoughts from Afar: Letters of Thomas Moran to Mary Nimmo Moran, ed.
Amy D. Bassford and Fritiof Fryxell (East Hampton, N.Y., 1967), pp. 2940, 88.
16 MONTANA THE MAGAZINE OF WESTERN HISTORY
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To the various Shoshonean tribes of the Far West, John Wesley
Powell was known as “Ka-pu-rats”.-that is, “Arm Off.” He had lost
his right hand and wrist at the battle of Shiloh eleven years before. To
his corps – the men of the U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of
the Rocky Mountain Region-he was known as “the Major,” or simply
“Major,” as though his military title had supplanted his given names.
Powell had been christened John Wesley by his father, an English
Wesleyan minister who, on coming to America, had settled his family at
Mount Morris, N.Y., in the valley of the Genessee. There John Wesley
Powell was born in 1834, making him three years older than the latest
guest of his corps, the slender, wiry landscape painter with the full blond
beard.
Thomas Moran, a naturalized American of English and Irish stock,
was born in Bolton, England, and had come to America when he was
seven. By 1873, he had already made two successful jaunts to the Far
West in search of the wildest kind of picturesque beauty.
Both Moran and his host were riding the crest of a vast wave of
popular curiosity about the American West. Many still referred to large
parts of it as terra incognita, others as “the Great American Desert,”
a slippery designation that tended to slide into every blank space left on
the Western map. About such places the public had an immense yearning
for knowledge: it wanted to know about the mineral resources to be
found there, it wanted to know about the land, the flora and fauna, and
of course the wild Indians that roamed there.
AU}TUMN 1969 -17
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SUCH A DEMAND STIMULATED SCIENTIFIC exploration.
Two years after the Civil War had ended,
the period of “the great Western Surveys” began-a
dozen crowded years between 1867 and
1879. It was during the latter year that four important
explorations supported by the Federal
Government (the so-called King, Hayden, Powell
and Wheeler Surveys) were welded into a
single permanent U.S. Geological Survey, under
the directorship of Clarence King.
Young King, whom Henry Adams considered
“the most remarkable man of [the] time,”2
had come to Washington in January, 1867. He
had not only sold the idea of a geological exploration
over a swathe of country a hundred
miles broad from the east face of the Sierras
to the east face of the Rockies-across Nevada,
Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado-but
was also able to write his own ticket, spell out
his own plans. When Congress passed the bill
which authorized his exploration inter alia,
Henry Adams could in retrospect felicitate that
body on “almost its first modern act of legislation.”3
Of the four Great Surveys of the West, King’s
had the most auspicious beginning. Still, the
year 1867 saw two others make humble starts
that would in each case evolve into spectacular
success. Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, having
engaged in several exploring adventures
before the Civil War, and in another reconnaissance
after the fighting was over, now undertook,
under the aegis of the General Land Office,
a survey of the new state of Nebraska. He
also managed to make a side trip to North
Park in Colorado and then swing in a westerly
direction and follow the route of the Union Pacific
Railroad, then a-building, almost as far
as the Great Salt Lake.
Thus began the U.S. Geological Survey of the
Territories under the sponsorship of the Interior
Department-an exploration that Hayden’s assiduous
and skillful advertising was soon to
make famous.
The next survey, and indeed the last to take
the field in 1867 (inasmuch as the reconnaissance
work of Lt. George M. Wheeler did not
get underway until 1868 and did not gain any
2 Henry Adams to S. F. Emmons, March 17, 1902, Emmons Papers
(Library of Congress), Box 30.
: The Education of Henry Adams (N.Y.. The Modern Library,
1931), P. 312.
real momentum for still another year) was the
meager expedition that Major Powell put on
the road.
UNLIKE KING AND HAYDEN, Powell began with
only local backing in Illinois and with no Federal
support, except for “the promise of some
wagons, livestock, camp equipment, and surveying
gadgets from the War Department and
the Smithsonian Institution.”4
But whatever his lack in backing, Powell and
his small company compensated for it by zest
and enthusiasm. By the middle of July they
were climbing in the Colorado Rockies. In the
long run, as it happened, the summer experiences
were of less importance than the first
feeble contacts Powell had established with
the staff of the Smithsonian Institution contacts
that eventually led that scientific bureau
to become his Federal sponsor.
In 1868, Powell’s major achievement was
scaling Long’s Peak in the Colorado Rockies.
and the next season, again with scarcely more
than local support, but with the cordial best
wishes of the Smithsonian staff, he was ready
for the most spectacular feat of his career —
his daring descent of the Green and Colorado
through mysterious canyons of the Rockies and
the great plateaus of the Southwest.
The voyage began where the Union Pacific
crossed the Green and ended sorme 1,500 rivermiles
below, to enter the annals of American
exploration as perhaps the climactic achievement
of the century. On returning to civilization,
the Major found himself something of a
hero, with newspapers running dramatic notices
of his feat.
Late in the summer of 1870, he was back in
the West to prepare for a second descent of the
Green and Colorado, to amplify the scientific
results of his initial conquest of the river. The
boats shoved off on May 22, 1871, to follow a
much more complicated itinerary, with extensive
exploration of side canyons, yet in a dramatic
sense to achieve something of an anticlimax
in comparison with the first adventure.
Powell spent much of his time away from
the crews, making a rapid reconnaissance of
the plateaus above. He also established a base
Richard A. Bartlett, Great Surveys of the American West
(Norman, 1962), p. 226.
18
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camp at Kanab, in southern Utah Territory,
where in December his boat-men joined him,
after having left the river at the mouth of the
Dirty Devil. At Kanab, topography became the
most important concern, until the men could
return to the river in the summer of 1872.
IT WAS DURING THIS PERIOD THAT Thomas Moran’s
landscape art had come to the Major’s attention.
The painter had accompanied Dr. Hayden
to the Yellowstone region during the summer of
1871 and had brought back a full portfolio
of drawings and water-color sketches. His
sketches, gems of color, along with corresponding
photographs by William Henry Jackson,
were used by Hayden and other promoters of
the National Park idea with such effective success
in Congress that both the painter and the
photographer would in subsequent years be
hailed as fathers of Yellowstone Park.
Major Powell was not slow to see the publicity
value of such drawings and other works
of art as Moran had made-the seven-by-twelvefoot
canvas, for instance, that Moran had painted
in 1872 of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,
and that Congress had purchased for
$10,000 (far from a small sum in those days)
to hang in the Capitol building in Washington.
Besides, it was no innovation for exploring parties
to include artists on their expeditions. Sanford
R. Gifford had gone with Hayden in 1870,
Gilbert Munger had been with King in the first
years of the exuloration along the 40th parallel.
It was reported, moreover, that Albert Bierstadt
was to accompany King in the summer
of 1872.
Major Powell was so enthusiastic to have
Moran aboard when his crew ran the last laps
of the second river expedition in the summer
months of 1872 that he offered “great inducements,”
according to the artist’s report to Hayden.5
What the inducements were Moran neglected
to mention. The invitation flattered him,
however, and he keenly regretted that he could
not accept. “I feel that I miss a glorious opportunity,”
he answered, “but my contracts for
work must take precedence [over] my desire to
accompany you.”6
5 Moran to F. V. Hayden, Nov. 24, 1872, in National Archives
Record Group 57, Hayden Survey Letters Received.
; To Maioi Poxxell, June 24, 1872, in National Archives R. G.
.57, Pow,ell Sur vey Letters Received 18712 (National Archives
microcopy M-156, roll 1, frame 98).
Indeed Moran found it necessary to forego
not only Major Powell’s invitation, but one
from Dr. Hayden to visit the Grand Tetons. Instead,
he and his wife crossed the continent by
railroad and paid Yosemite a visit, to gather
materials to illustrate an article entitled “The
Plains and the Sierra” for Picturesque America,
probably the most sumptuous gift book of the
day. After that trip Moran’s commitments as
an illustrator kept him too busy to paint much
of anything in oils since doing his large Yellowstone
canvas.
“I shall be hard pressed,” he notified Hayden
in January, 1873, “to get through with my
work by the time of departure next summer.”‘
He resolved to see, after all, something of what
he had missed in not accepting Major Powell’s
invitation the summer before, for Hayden now
planned to have his photographer, Jackson,
make pictures of the Colorado down as far as
the Grand Canyon. As a result of this plan,
Moran made commitments to supply various
editors with a large assortment of drawings of
the canyon. Moreover, he had begun to contemplate
a companion piece for his large painting
of Yellowstone Canyon in the Capitol. What
would be a more appropriate subject than the
Grand Canyon of the Colorado? Circumstances,
however, forced Hayden to change his plans
and to assign Jackson to a campaign among
the high summits of the Colorado Rockies. This
new arrangement would have left Moran hugely
embarrassed, had not Major Powell’s invitation
held for the season of 1873 as well. At almost
the last moment, Thomas Moran changed
his own plans and took measures to meet Powell
in Salt Lake City.
J. E. COLBURN, A CORRESPONDENT for the New
York Times, accompanied Moran west, and
they met Major Powell as scheduled. On July
10, 1873, the travelers – four in all, counting
James C. Pilling, Powell’s chief clerk — boarded
cars at the Utah Southern Railroad Depot,
and were off for Lehi, then at the end of the
line.
A stagecoach carried them on to Springville,
some twenty miles further, where the Major,
in his capacity as a special commissioner for
, Moran to Hay(len, Jan. 29, 1973, in National Archives R. C.
5-7, Haydlen Survey Letter s Received.
19
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Smiihsonian Institution, B.A.E.
John K. Hillers, photographer “,
with Powell’s 1873 explorations,
took this picture of the bearded,
one-armed Major Powell with _
Tau-Gu, the Paiute chief who guided _
the party through the awesome Ig.
cliffs of Utah’s Virgin River
canyon. This picture was taken
near Cedar City in August, 1873.
the Indian Bureau, took up some business with
a party of Utes. Powell was further detained
the next day by another band of Utes under a
sub-chief named Wanero, who, it developed,
was mainly interested in obtaining some flour
and tobacco. The Major demonstrated his skill
in handling Indians, and the Utes rode away
content with their treatment, after he had
gained what data he needed for his purposes.
The party now moved up Spanish Fork Canyon
for a two-night stay. The spectacular landscape
there so impressed Moran that he
sketched while Powell pondered the geology of
the area. “The Wasatch hills to the east of Salt
Lake Valley,” Moran later maintained, “are
among the grandest specimens of Nature’s architecture.”8
The next lap of the journey, which the party
made in a Mormon farm-wagon behind two
8 Scrapbook, p. 46 (clipping dated June 9, 1900), Moran Collection,
East Hampton Free Library.
mules, brought them to the foot of Mt. Nebo,
which they, like everyone else at the time, considered
the highest point in Utah. Hayden had
not yet fixed that honor on King’s Peak in the
Uinta Range.
In his next letter home, Moran described
their climb of the mountain, a rather grueling
task: “Before sundown we ascended about 2000
feet and made our camp for the night, cooked
supper, played a game of Euchre, wrapped our
blanket round us and went to sleep. We were
up and off again by 6 o’clock. It was an awful
climb but we made the top by 121/2 o’clock,
having mounted 6500 feet. We made our coffee
from the snow and remained up about two
hours.”9
They could see the summits of the Colorado
Rockies to the east, the White Mountains of
Nevada to the west, and the Great Salt Lake to
9 Home-thoughts, from Afar, p. 31.
20
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Smithsonian Institution, B.A.E.
“R ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ‘~ j A small Paiute Indian boy joined
W Artist Thomas Moran (center) and
New York Times Correspondent
J. E. Colburn (right) for this
Hillers picture, taken near Kanab,
Utah, in the Summer of 1873.
Colburn sent descriptions to his
~~ ~ paper of this memorable trip,
immortalized in the art of
Thomas Moran.
5w ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~4
4 ,
the north. And far to the south they could almost
see the rim of the Grand Canyon.10
“It was the most magnificent sight of my
life,” Moran continued, “and no person who
has not ascended to such an elevation can have
the faintest conception of the glorious sight. It
seems as if the whole world was laid out before
you; and although I do not think I would
undergo the labor of another ascent, I would
not have missed this for ten times the fatigue.
I stood it first rate but Powell, Colburi and
Pilling were sick and vomited when we got
down.”‘”
Two days later the party reached Fillmore
City, a settlement that Moran described as once
“the capital of Utah and . . . quite a large village
with some brick houses and a mill or two,
with a good many Indians and Mexicans laying
around loose.””2
I 0 New York Times, Aug. 7, 1873, p. 2, col. 4.
11 Home-thoughts, from Afar, loc. cit.
There Moran and Colburn parted with Major
Powell, who must wait for a conference with
Kanosh, an old but able chief, who had been
one of the real Indians at that infamous outrage,
the Mountain Meadows massacre, and
who now “wanted his people to live like white
men by cultivating the soil.”’13
Powell’s Indian business, soon to result in
the important report he and George W. Ingalls,
agent to some of the Southern Paiutes, would
render the Commissioner of Indian Affairs,
would now separate the Major and his guests
for more than three weeks. But before they
parted, the Major entrusted Colburn and Moran
to the guidance of a teamster, who was now
all ready to haul supplies to the corps at Kanab.
When Powell next saw his friends, on August
12th, at the camp at Kanab, they were more
than ever browned and blistered by the sun;
12 Thid, p. 33.
13 Colburn, New York Times, Aug. 7, 1873, p. 2, col. 3.
21
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Moran had a long tear in one of his trouser
legs, but he was quietly ebullient over the scenic
wonders they had met in the three excursions
arranged for them at Powell’s telegraphed request.
PROVIDED HORSES AT FILLMORE CITY, Moran and
the journalist had accompanied the freight wagon
most of the way to their destination. It was
a five-day journey through that part of Mormon
country the Saints called Dixie, the road leading
through Beaver and Cedar City, and later
into Kanarra Canyon, the entrance to a narrow
pass in the mountains. There in a wide side
canyon, they saw an impressive red tower,
2,000 feet high, which they named Colburn’s
Butte.
Moran later pictured it in a woodblock drawing
for the Aldine, one of the best illustrated
journals of the day, and later still Major Powell
described it to the popular journalist, William
H. Rideing, who had accompanied both
Hayden and Wheeler in the field.
“Colburn’s Butte,” the Major wrote, “is on
the western flank of Mur-ka-gant Plateau in
Southern Utah and is a standing rock of titanic
size . . . in the middle of a rather broad canyon.
Its wonderful form is quite equalled by
its beauty of color, it being composed of sandstones
of bright orange, vermilion and chocolate
hues. It was named for Mr. Colburn of the N.Y.
Times who was traveling with one of my parties
when it was discovered.”’14
14 P’)well to Rideing, Feb. 9. 1877. in National Archives R.G.
57, Powell Survey Letter Press Book No. I (1876-77), p. 209.
On July 23 the travelers reached the Mormon
outpost of Toquerville, a fifty-family village,
where they rested two days. During that
time Colburn wrote a letter to the New York
Times, outlining the highlights of their journey,
while Moran made sketches of the Virgin Valley.
On resuming the journey, they made for
Sheep Troughs, eight miles further down the
road. There they met Major Powell’s aloof and
reticent topographical aide, Professor A. H.
Thompson. Having received the Major’s telegrams,
the Professor had arranged a first side
trip to a valley that would exceed their expectations
and prove to be the most intriguing and
beautiful place they had yet seen.
Thompson asked one of his men to guide
them to the hamlet of Grafton, and there looming
before them was the great West Temple of
the Virgin, a mountain of bare rock, sculptured
by the elements, awesome in its impact. It
seemed to shine with iridescence under the torrid
sun. The travelers skirted its immense base
and rode up the Virgin River to a fork. There
they took the left or main prong, which flowed
from the north, and entered a canyon called by
the Indians Mu-koon-tu-weap, or Straight Canyon,
and by the Mormons Little Zion Valley.
As the little party proceeded, their experience
must have been similar to the Major’s
two years before. Water sometimes filled the
canyon bottom from wall to wall.
“We have to wade upstream,” Powell wrote
of his own reconnaissance there. “Often water
fills the entire channel, and, although we travel
for many miles, we find no flood plain, talus,
or broken piles of rock at the foot of the cliff.
The walls have smooth faces, and are everywhere
very vertical for a thousand feet or
more, where they seem to break in shelving
slopes to higher altitudes; and everywhere, as
we go along, we find springs bursting out of
the rock of the walls, and, passing these, the
-A
4~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~1
J 4
Professor A. H. Thompson, Major Powell’s
topographical aide, photographed on his horse,
“Old Ute,” by John K. Hillers as Thompson
guided the party on a special side trip through the
spectacular scenery of Virgin River in
the Summer of 1873.
National Archives photo.
22
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j~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a.. ‘ r_COLBURN’S ; BUTTE, named for
the journalist in the 1873 party, is
an imposing 2,000-foot red tower
found in a side canyon near
Cedar City, Utah. Subject for a
woodblock drawing done for
the magazine, “Aldine,” the
_, s original is now in the Gilcrease
I I_E0ffieX Institute, Tulsa, Okla.
4j~I _
IIP~~ 4-
-4,’
‘,.-1
‘*~ I|
river above becomes steadily smaller; the
great body of water, which runs below, bursts
out from beneath this great bed of red sandstone;
as we go up the canyon, it comes to be
but a creek, and then a brook.”15
Moran decided that the place could scarcely
be surpassed “for glory of scenery and stupendous
scenic effects.””6 And when he came to
picture Mu-koon-tu-weap for the Aldine, under
the caption “Valley of Babbling Waters,” his
drawing on wood was doubtless the first pictorial
record to reach the public of that wonderland
which nearly half a century later became
the core of Zion National Park.
After spending two absorbing days in Little
Zion, Moran and his companions proceeded to
5 The Explo-ation of the Colorado River, el. Wallace Stegner
(Chicago, 1957), p. 116. In this report Powell deliberately
pre(lates his exploration of the forks of the Virgin. In
reality the (late was 1872. Cf. Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth
Meridian (Boston and New York, 1954), pp. 148-149.
n Scrapbook, p. 46 (“Thomas Moran on Utah Scenery”), Moi’an
Collection, East Hampton Free Library.
Kanab, a Mormon settlement only three years
old, a place of log and adobe houses, with
streets edged with rushing streams of water
brought down from the mountains in ditches.
Here at Powell’s base camp, a collection of
tents with floors well insulated against the
dampness, Colburn and Moran rested for a
couple of days before they were ready for further
adventure.
POWELL HAD WIRED THOMPSON to keep them busy
while he was away, and so on August 1, the
Professor and John K. Hillers, the corps photographer,
with the local Paiute chief as guide,
took them on a second trip, over the Rockville
Trail and back in the general direction from
whence they had come, to study the cliffs of
Virgin River.
They were forced to make a dry camp that
evening, with the cliffs in sight. The following
23
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Smithsonian Institution photo
;~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ … . .
..
SIt
MIST IN KANAB COUNTY, UTAH
.
was painted from a woodblock
Moran designed from a Hillers .
photograph. The painting itself
was completed in 1891, during a
period when Moran was, in effect,
reliving his exploratory trips
into the canyon country of the West.
Ai.’
E __~~~~~– _
morning they rode to the brink of Pa-ru-nuweap,
or Roaring Water Canyon, the east fork
of the Virgin. They made no attempt to descend
the “difficult trail” which Powell had followed
the year before for the wet and weary
ordeal of exploring the course of the Roaring
Water.
Instead, they climbed higher on the cliffs
“to a point,” Moran wrote, “about 2000 feet
above where we left the horses to get the view”
– which, he added, “was very fine and I made
one sketch.”‘7
It was the same view that Powell had recorded
the year before, as he and his men prepared
to descend into the depths of Pa-ru-nuweap:
“Behind us are cool springs, green meadows,
and forest-clad slopes; below us, stretching
to the south, until the world is lost in blue haze,
is a painted desert; not a desert plain, but a
desert of rocks, cut by deep gorges, and re’7
Home-Thoughts, from Afar, p. 35.
lieved by towering cliffs and pinnacled rocks
– naked rocks, brilliant in the sunlight.””8
On returning to their base camp on August
3, the party found the Paiute band that waited
near Kanab for the Major’s arrival was in a
tense state of excitement. A rattlesnake had
bitten a Paiute boy. “He was laid on some willow
twigs,” Moran noted, “and surrounded by
all the women of the tribe while 3 men were
. . . trying to prevent circulation by holding on
to the wounded leg which was badly swelled.
The boy was in great pain.”19
Thompson sent to a ranch twelve miles away
for some whiskey, the only antivenom anyone
could think of. Although he felt uneasy about
trying to help the boy, lest the patient die and
the savages attribute his death to the white
man’s ministrations, he gave the child a half
a pint of the whiskey, enough to put him t6-
18 Exploration of the Colorado River, p. 114.
19 Home-thoughts, from Afar, pp. 35-36.
24
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sleep but not enough to overcome the ultimate
effects of the venom. Fortunately, this fatality
failed to antagonize the Indians or to turn them
against Thompson or any one else in Powell’s
corps.
Having the Paiutes all together, in fact, presented
Hillers with an excellent opportunity to
entertain them by taking their pictures, which
he proceeded to do the following day. Moran
helped to pose the subjects in effective attitudes,
with the result that Hillers secured a
superb series of portraits. The plate which the
photographer called The Empty Cradle, whose
theme Moran would later use for an etching
with the same caption, revealed a bereaved
mother sitting and staring abjectly, with the
cradle of her dead one lying empty at her feet.
As subjects for at least two other plates, Moran
and Colburn posed with a boy dressed in deerskin,
who wore a feathered head band and held
a small bow and arrow.
ON AUGUST 5, HILLERS WAS READY to take Moran
and Colburn to the rim of the Grand Canyon,
the third excursion Major Powell had called
for. Two mules were packed with Hiller’s photographic
equipment and rations for a ten-day
outing. The southwesterly itinerary took the
party through Pipe Spring, Wild Band Water
Pocket, and the Witches’ Water Pocket near
the base of Mt. Trumball.
Here their Indian guide, whom they called
Jim, seemed distressed and suggested that they
move elsewhere to camp. He declared that the
witches or u-nu-pits might harm the horses as
well as themselves. Moran’s contention that the
u-nu-pits were all dead and could no longer endanger
anyone failed to console the anxious
Paiute. When wolves awoke them in the middle
of the night, he repeated his dread of the place.
“Indian Jim said that he had a bad dream,”
Moran wrote, “that an Indian shot him and he
wanted to clear out very early.”20 And early
it was when the party broke camp, to achieve
their destination at the foot of To-ro-weap some
time in the afternoon.
2 0 Ibid., p. 39.
“On reaching the brink,” Moran wrote, “the
whole gorge for miles lay beneath us and it
was by far the most awfully grand and impressive
scene that I have ever yet seen. We
had reached the Canon on the second level or
edge of the great gulf. Above and around us
rose a wall of 2000 feet and below us a vast
chasm 2500 feet in perpendicular depth and a
/2 a mile wide.”
From this great height the river at the bottom
of the gorge looked as if it were only a
hundred feet wide and as if it were barely
crawling along, while in reality it was a rushing
torrent abounding in rapids.
“A suppressed sort of roar comes up constantly
from the chasm but with that exception
every thing impresses you with an awful
stillness,” Moran wrote. “The color of the
Great Canyon itself is red, a light Indian Red,
and the material sandstone and red marble and
is in terraces all the way down. All above the
canon is variously colored sandstone mainly a
light flesh or cream color and worn into very
fine forms. I made an outline and did a little
color work but had not time . . . to make a detailed
study in color.”’21
2 1 Ibid., pp. 39-40.
THE EMPTY CRADLE, a Moran etching now
in the Gilcrease Institute collection in Tulsa.
was the result of one of a series of Paiute Indian
pictures taken by John K. Hillers in 1873.
Asi
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The party spent the next day near the brink.
Hillers made several photographs, which, Moran
confessed, would give him all the details
necessary, should he decide to paint the Grand
Canyon from that perspective.22
They then retraced their route to the base
at Kanab, to find that Major Powell had arrived
in their absence, with Pilling and a doctor from
the Uinta Indian Agency, “and had all the Indians
in camp,” Moran wrote, “making Indian
toggery for him.” And then Moran added that
the Major was going to have “an Indian suit”
made for him as well.23
THE NEXT DAY POWELL TOOK MORAN to Three
Lakes Canyon, eight miles north of Kanab. The
main interest of the canyon turned out to be
its cave lakes – lakes on which the sun never
shed its light. And then the next day, August
14, began the most important excursion of all
– a trip to the spot which, in Powell’s opinion.
afforded “the greatest point of view in the
Grand Canyon.”24
With mules packed -with provisions, the party
started late in the afternoon to escape the heat
of Kanab Desert. They rode in a southeasterly
direction until midnight over a trail too faint
to follow easily in the darkness, then made a
cold camp. They resumed their way at dawn
and sometime that morning reached their first
water at Big Spring in Stewart Canyon, forty
miles from headquarters.
They arrived at the Kaibab Plateau, whose
Indian name signified “mountain-lying-down,”
by following, in all probability, an obscure Indian
trail through forests of spruce and pine,
intermingled with aspen, to a small spring
which the Indians called Parissa Wampitts.
* IIl)i(d.. p. 40.
2 :’ Ibi d.. p. 41.
” 4 Newark Daily Advertiser, March 28, 18r4.
That pleasant watering spot was only a few
miles from their destination, a small plateau
to which the Major had given his own name.
It was separated from the main mass of the
Kaibab by an intervening saddle, which dipped
over a thousand feet. Across this the party had
to pick their way. But the view, when they
reached their goal, convinced Moran that he
found the scene he wished to paint. Powell
Plateau was a kind of butte around whose base
the river looped, so that at its southern brink
one could look, not merely across the canyon,
but up and down it for a combined distance of
sixty miles.
This charcoal on canvas, measuring 84 by 144
inches, is the basic design for Thomas Moran’s
awesome CHASM OF THE COLORADO, done
as a companion oil to his GRAND CANYON OF THE
YELLOWSTONE. These gigantic canvases,
seen for many years in the U.S. Capitol building,
are now in the Interior Department museum.
The charcoal-on-canvas seen here is in
the Gilcrease Institute, Tulsa, Okla.

.- . ….
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“You look,” the Major wrote of the view
from the exact vantage point that Moran had
selected, the highest ledge of the Powell Plateau,
“and see in the distance, about a dozen
miles away, the Colorado itself. Beyond the
Colorado you see the crags and peaks and
angles formed by the side canyons on the edge
of the great escarpment or plateau, and looking
beyond in the dim distance, you see faintly
outlined a group of volcanic mountains, of
which San Francisco Mountain is the culminating
peak.
“In the immediate foreground you look down
into a vast amphitheatre, dark and gloomy in
the depths below, like an opening into a nadir
hell. A little stream heading in this amphitheatre
runs through a deep, narrow gorge until it
is lost behind castellated buttes, and its junction
with the Colorado can not be seen. On the
left there is a cliff [and] towering crags and
pinnacles, buttressed below and resting on a
huge mass of horizontal stratified formations,
presenting a grand facade of storm-carved
rocks. The Colorado itself, seen in the distance,
though a great river, appears but a creek.”25
While Moran and his companions considered
‘ Scrapbook, 49 (unidentified clipping), Mor;an Collection, East
Hampton Free Library.
S~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~S
*
………
a
.
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the awesome prospect, a thunderhead began
to seethe from the chasm, where the air lay hot
from the sunshine beating down on the naked
rock. Pale violet lightning slashed from pinnacle
to pinnacle and crackled in sheets along
the walls. Thunder crashed, and dark draperies
of rain closed across the abyss.
“A thousand streams gathered on the surrounding
plains,” Colburn noted, “and dashed
down into the depths of the canyon in waterfalls
many times the height of Niagara.”26
Thomas Moran fixed the storm effects in
memory, for they must appear in his painting,
wild and savage effects to re-inforce the overawing
sublimity of the Canyon.
NEITHER MORAN NOR COLBURN had time for the
next adventure the Major had planned for them,
a hard climb down to the river itself through
Kanab Canyon, which for many a mile ran
parallel to the western wall of the Kaibab.
Almost immediately after returning to the
base at Kanab, they started for home. But if
the lack of time had robbed Moran of the opportunity
to descend into the depths of the gorge
and see at first hand many of the scenes he
would have to draw, he was not denied a precious
freight of photographs that would give
him all the topographical details he needed to
fulfill his commitments. For color he would
have to depend on what color sketches he had
managed to make, and what color notes he had
found time to jot in his notebooks, but above all
on the myriad color impressions that filled his
retentive memory. Several months later he informed
Major Powell: “I am awfully pressed
with drawing on wood, and have to work every
night until one or two o’clock.”27
The woodblock drawings included several for
the Aldine, which, in publishing them, lived up
to its reputation for the superiority of its wood
engravings. Moran was satisfied that the journal’s
execution of his Utah scenes constituted
“the best pieces of engraving”28 that had ever
been done from his designs; an opinion which
the editor, his friend Richard Henry Stoddard,
26 “The Canyons of the Colorado,” in William Cullen Bryant
(ed.), Picturesque America, II (New York, 1874), 509.
2 7 Letter dated Dec. 16, 1873, in National Archives R.G. 57,
Powell Survey Letters Received (microcopy M-156, roll 2,
frame 38).
2 8 Ibid.
seemed to share, calling the engraving of A
Storm in Utah “the equal of a steel plate,” and
concluding that “nothing [had] ever been seen
in the Aldine to surpass this.”29
From the photographs Powell had furnished
him, Moran also illustrated the short sketch
that Colburn wrote on the Grand Canyon for
Picturesque America. The Appleton Company
was determined to make that publication the
most significant book of landscape to have appeared
in America.
Moran worked hard on the assignment. Illustrations
included scenes of Glen and Marble
canyons, along with a Doresque impression of
the walls of Grand Canyon, and a view of a
picturesque red limestone tower in Kanab Canyon.
All this was merely a beginning, however,
of Moran’s resort to the canyon country as a
source for his drawings on wood. Before leaving
Kanab he had agreed to eventually do some
seventy illustrations for Powell’s projected publications
and those of his corps.30
When the Major sold to Scribner’s Monthly
the narrative of his conquest of the river, the
agreement was modified somewhat. Moran
would deliver only a part of the illustrations to
Powell personally, the rest to the magazine, on
the understanding that the Major had the right
to subsequent use of the blocks. Thus, when
Powell’s official report appeared, as a Congressional
serial in 1875, most of its twenty-nine engravings
bore Moran’s devise.
MORAN FOUND THE MAGAZINE VERSION of Powell’s
work a pleasure to read. The romantic style,
with its vigorous descriptions, appealed to him.
Yet he felt one serious flaw in the book, and
he apprised the Major of his reservation:
“You do not once (if I remember right) give
your sensations even in the most dangerous
passages, nor even hint at the terrible and
sublime feelings that are stirred within one, as
he feels himself in the jaws of the monstrous
chasm. It seems to me that the expression of
these impressions and thoughts tend to realize
the descriptions to the reader & are almost as
29 “A Storm in Utah,” Aldine, VII (Sept., 1874), 175.
I 0 Home-thoughts, p. 41.
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necessary as the descriptions themselves.”3’
Although overdoing the objection – for Powell’s
emotions did emerge here and there–
Moran nevertheless gave Powell some perceptive
criticism, criticism that was pertinent to
at least the magazine publication of the account.
But the narrative was written to serve a
more important purpose than its popular publication,
and as a scientific report, Powell
judged with some propriety that even the more
dramatic episodes had no place for his personal
reactions.
1V[ORAN BEGAN WORK ON THE LARGE PICTURE of the
Grand Canyon or, Chasm of the Cotorado, as
he called it – some time in October. Since he
regarded it as a companion piece to the large
picture of Yellowstone, he chose the same size
of canvas, seven by twelve feet.
He worked slowly at first, with pauses to let
the work ripen in his imagination, so that when
Major Powell arrived for a Thanksgiving Day
visit, he had only the charcoal underlay to
show the explorer. The Major could perceive in
his mind’s eye, however, something of Moran’s
intention for the finished work and he was lavish
in his praise.
In December Moran returned in determined
earnest to the canvas, and by the 16th of that
month he could report to Powell: “I have been
pretty constantly at work on the Big Picture
for the last two weeks & it has progressed wonderfully
for the time & promises all that I could
desire of it. I have got our storm in good.”82
The sweep of the picture was nothing less
than Brobdignagian – a representation more of
the whole country through which the Grand
Canyon had cut than of the chasm itself – so
that Moran was obliged to mercilessly eliminate
details. The rim of Powell Plateau, rugged
and rocky, filled the foreground of the painting.
Beyond the rim the gulf produced by Muav side
canyon, across which the party had been forced
to climb to reach their eyrie on the plateau,
was shown opening into the Grand Canyon,
which wound tortuously through the middle
3 Letter to Powell, Dec. 19, 1874, National Archives R.G. 57,
Powell Survey Letters Received (microcopy M-156, roll 2,
frame 174).
3 Letter dated Dec. 16, 1873.
distance, with here and there a link of river
gleaming like silver.
A high red cliff dominated the left foreground,
and to the right was a huge amphitheatre.
Beyond the opposite edge of the chasm
one’s eyes could sweep across the vast plain
from which the canyon had been scoured until
they rested on diminutive mountain peaks shining
through the distance.
Over all hung the atmosphere of storm, for
Moran secured in paint the storm effects he had
watched and memorized from his perch on
Powell Plateau the summer before. A huge
nimbus cloud dropped streamers of rain and
hail through the left middle distance, while
high on the right shone azure sky with faint,
white streaks of cirrus clouds.
The painting was received with respect by
the critics, who at the same time often held
reservations. One critical dictim summed up a
number of their objections: “There is no use
trying to paint all out-of-doors.”33
Yet others appreciated with critical huzzahs
Moran’s attempt to do exactly that. One senses
that Moran highly esteemed what Powell had
to say, for he retained a clipping, of it for the
rest of his life.
“It required a bold hand to wield the brush
for such a subject,” the Major wrote. “Mr.
Moran has represented the depths and magnitudes
and distances and forms and color and
clouds with the greatest fidelity. But this picture
not only tells the truth . . . it displays the
beauty of truth. The somber shadow in the foreground,
the light in the distance, the great
clouds that roll in the gulches, the cloudlets
that hide in the chasms and creep along the
face of the cliffs – all of these features, and
many others, are so arranged as to give a most
vivid and grand picture.”34
After hanging in galleries in Newark, New
York and Washington, the painting was purchased
by Congress, also for $10,000, and took
its place beside the Yellowstone panorama on
a wall of the Capitol building. The two paintings
hung there for some seven decades, but
one sees them today in the museum of the Interior
Department.
: Atlantic Monthly, XXXIV (Sept., 1874), 376.
34 Scrapbook, p. 50 (unidentified clipping), Moran Collection,
East Hampton Free Library.
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GLORY OF THE CANYON, also
called “Rock Towers of the
Colorado,” remained in the studio
collection of Artist Moran until
his death in 1926. Along with
the remainder of this great
aggregation of Moran art, the
original is now in the Gilcrease
Institute, Tulsa, Okla.
C4
SIDE CANYON OF THE GRAND
CANYON, the painting which a
grateful Thomas Moran sent to e
Major Powell, shows the tiny
figures of Powell and his men
climbing through the shadow at the
left. This painting, now in the
Gilcrease Itnstitute, Tulsa, Okla.,
uas actually made from a wood
engoraving of Gypsum Canyon,
encountered before the
Grand Ca.nyon was reached.
30 w,
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MAJOR POWELL AND THOMAS MORAN remained
warm friends, the painter occasionally called
upon to do more work for Powell’s corps. He
helped to illustrate Captain Dutton’s Tertiary
History of the Grand Canyon District, and the
nine woodblocks engraved from drawings of his
helped to make it, in the opinion of Wallace
Stegner, the “most beautiful book produced by
any of the surveys.”35
Moran’s work for Dutton climaxed in The
Transept published in the Atlas to the Tertiary
History, and though it was based on someone
else’s sketch, it remains one of the finest pictures
Moran ever made of the Grand Canyon,
and he painted many. The subject that Major
Powell had opened to him remained a teeming
source of inspiration through the rest of his
long life.
It is possible, too, that the Major later introduced
him to the pueblos of the Southwest,36 a
subject to which he would return many times
during his later career.
Moran always considered himself in debt to
Powell. “I have just finished a large canyon
picture,” he wrote to the Major in September,
1878. “I wish to present [it] to you in acknowledgment
of the innumerable courtesies & favors
you have done me in years past.”37 The
picture was called A Side Gulch of the Grand
Canon, which was not precisely accurate, since
it was based on a wood-engraving in the Major’s
official report, the one facing page 64,
labeled Gypsum Canyon – a canyon that joined
the Colorado before the river reached the
Grand Canyon. The painting showed the diminutive
figures of the Major and his men toiling
up through shadow to the left, in illustration of
the initial phase of the arduous experience they
had encountered in Gypsum Canyon, as recounted
in the official report.
The painting was thus intended as a kind of
memorial of Powell’s conquest of the Colorado.
However, it failed to please the Major nearly
as much as another canvas, The Valley of the
5 Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, p. 189.
:”‘ Powell to Moran, April 25, 1877, in National Archives R.G.
57, Powell Survey Letter Press Book No. I (1876-77), p. 397;
Scrapbook, p. 40 (undated clipping), Moran Collection, East
Hampton Free Libr ary.
, T To Powell, September 19, 1878, in National Archives R.G. 57,
Powvell Survey Letters Receive(l (microcopy M-156, roll 8,
frame 54).
Rio Virgin, which revealed a band of Southern
Paiutes riding for a talk with Ka-pu-rats at
Kanab. Powell so clearly valued the latter picture
more than A Side Gulch that Moran retrieved
it from a patron and shipped it down to
the Major’s Washington headquarters. Like another
painting based on an illustration in Powell’s
report, Rock Towers of the Colorado (or
The Glory of the Canon, as it was also called),
A Side Gulch remained a cherished part of the
painter’s studio collection.
When he died in 1926, having outlived his
friend and benefactor for twenty-four years,
Thomas Moran was called “the dean of American
painters.” His chief claim to remembrance,
though he had many others, was that he had
taught Americans in the East to really “see”
the landscape of the West. Thus his claim to
our attention bears some comparison with that
of John Wesley Powell, who more than any
other scientist-explorer of the 19th century,
taught his fellow Americans to “understand”
the West, and all the peculiar conditions that
prevailed there. Moreover, at the apogee of his
career, Major Powell was the towering leader
of all scientific endeavor sponsored by the Federal
Government. Americans today are in debt
to his perceptive foresight, more than most of
them know.
ABOUT THURMAN WILKINS
Now Associate Professor of English at Queens College of
the City University of New York, Thurman Wilkins has
strong personal and professional ties with the Western
United States. Born in Maiden, Mo., on June 29, 1915, he
grew up in Southern California where “as a youth I did
much hiking in the mountains-especially in the San Gabriel
and San Bernardino ranges.” After receiving his B.A. from
U.C.L.A., he went to Berkeley for his M.A. and to Columbia
for the Ph.D. At Columbia he taught as a lecturer
and Assistant Professor of English for thirteen years. He
has been at Queens College the past five years and makes
his home in New York City, where his wife, Sophia, is an
editor for Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., publishers. During World
War II, Dr. Wilkins served in the Adjutant General’s office,
as executive officer of the War Department Records
Branch and as chief of the Historical Records Section in
charge of assembling and putting in usable order the records
and documentation for the official history of the Army in
the war. His first book was Clarence King: A Biography,
published by Macmillan in 1958. His fine study, Thomas
Moran: Artist of the Mountains, was published by the
University of Oklahoma Press in 1966. His third book,
a biography of Major Ridge aand John Ridge, Cherokee
chiefs who sponsored the treaty of New Echota in 1835,
the treaty which sent the Cherokees over the “Trail of
Tears” to Oklahoma, will be published next year by Macmillan.
31
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