A RIVER RUNNING WEST
The Life of John Wesley Powell
By Donald Worster
Oxford University Press: 720 pp., $35
By Patricia Limerick
Powell served as second director of the US Geological Survey (1881–1894) and proposed policies for development of the arid West which were prescient for his accurate evaluation of conditions. He was director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, where he supported linguistic and sociological research and publications.
Beliefs and Ideas
As an ethnologist and early anthropologist, Powell was a student of the pioneering anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan. Powell divided human societies into "savagery," "barbarism" and "civilization" based on levels of technology, family and social organization, property relations, and intellectual development. In his view, all societies progressed toward civilization. He was a champion of preservation and conservation. It was his conviction that part of the natural progression of society included a combination of efforts to maximize and make the best use of resources.
It took almost another century for activists to push through a radical alternative: "Leave us alone. Stop trying to change us. We'll decide what's best for us, thank you very much."
For more on the subject, see Manifest Destiny = Pathology and The Myth of Western Superiority.
Below: "Powell with Tau-gu, a Paiute, 1871-1872."
What Powell really thought of Indians: