Note To Dkos Readers: If you are just joining me for this series of diaries on, please read the introduction in the first diary and I recommend reading the previous diaries, as well. It will help explain the essence of both the adventure and the social politics behind same. (http://www.dailykos.com/... and
The Craft. . .Heavy Like Bantam Barges: The first real snag of the first expedition were the boats the railroad had toted from Chicago to the point of embarkation. They were simply the wrong boats for the mission. The reputation of each river, especially the Colorado, was foretelling. The major, along with his brother and Emma, had already scouted some of the rapids the year before, there on the Green. By sight and sound he knew how forceful the whitewater was. However, his experience running it was nil. He came up with his design based on what his senses told him, albeit the most important aspect, the actual experience of running the rapids, was not his to claim or know.
Nevertheless, he had to guess and gauge the best design he could to handle the rigors of such roiled water. With respect to the elevation drop of both rivers, he and the others really weren’t sure where the falls would arise, nor how tightly grouped together they might be. Neither could they be sure the elevation drop would be gradual, or in places, be extreme. To run either river therefore posed a certain risk. Some of the rapids, or what was commonly referred to at that time as falls or cataracts, might even turn out to be what boatmen today would deem unrunnable. Moreover, there was unconfirmed hearsay about one particular stretch of water that was the mother of all rapids. Major Powell had once listened to an Indian who told him how dangerous the water was and should not be attempted. The major thought the old Indian was prone to exaggeration. Powell also read an earlier report of a man who claimed to have gone through the Grand Canyon on a log (i.e., the miner, James White, in September of 1887). But the major, like so many others of his era, seriously doubted the claim.
On the other hand, what if there was something on the order of a Niagara Falls in one of the canyons? What if the Indian didn’t exaggerate? Could the major, from his scout boat, even see the danger in time, then quickly pull off the river and warn the others in his small fleet? The problem was, the boat design the major came up with did not allow for quick maneuvers for any margin of safety. This fact bears mentioning in detail.
The sturdy craft Major Powell relied on to accomplish the success of this bold mission were called Whitehalls haulers. In the kind of water the Whitehalls were designed to handle, they performed well, in that they were fast, they performed smoothly, and they could track well in choppy water. For steering, the square-sterned Whitehalls were made of oak, with wineglass transoms in order to help reduce drag. Mainly, these boats were preferred as ferry tenders. They were also what you might call pretty boats, albeit quite out of place for the pretty canyon scenery they were headed into.
The Whitehall freight boats, especially, took to the fast-moving current and rapids like maladroit elephants. Indeed, rowing these boats might have seemed as if the men had elephants on their backs! Unloaded, the freight boats were around two tons, due to the major having the boat builder, Thomas Bagley of Chicago, remedied the usual Whitehall design. He ordered them with double ribbing and oak planking for added strength. Only his boat, the Emma Dean, was lighter, so that it could be more easily maneuvered in or near whitewater. As an added precaution, Powell had Bagley build all four boats with double stern and stem posts. This modification would still retain the wineglass transom design but also eliminate the use of the rudders. His innovative idea was, perhaps, the best he came up with in addition to strengthening the boats wherever he could. Otherwise, the Whitehalls were difficult to row and handle in any kind of water. About the only advantage his crew had was the fact they were at least going with the current, instead of against it.
The three heavier boats laden with supplies rode woefully low in the water. It must have surprised and alarmed the crews to discover just how far down the boats sank into the water, as well as how difficult it was for them to keep their wooden steeds tracking where the crews needed to go. With an additional ton and half (or more) of supplies on each of the freight boats there was no other choice, except to try to keep from shipping (i.e., taking on) water, and worse yet, from swamping (i.e., capsizing), or else sinking below the water line, when the waves rose higher than the keels. In short, these former water taxies that were so ubiquitous on bays and lakes were never designed for whitewater. They were like a smaller version of a Conestoga wagon, only without wheels and loaded with food provisions, personal and camping gear; plus, an important assortment of scientific instruments. To top it off, the Whitehalls were round-bottomed. Thus they lacked the all-important lateral stability to safely navigate cascading water that rushed through chutes that poured into typical debris of any rapids, including all the factors that turn smooth water into whitewater.
The upshot of the major’s modification ideas only made them stronger, more durable. However, the boats really were difficult to steer and very easy to flip. Modern day dories, however, are rocker-floored and handle much easier than the Whitehalls ever could in such water and conditions. Even an ordinary flat-bottomed boat without the transom design might have done better. But this kind of information and experience was not in Major Powell’s experiential arsenal. He, like Bradley, had plenty of experience rowing boats, but not in whitewater. It really was all a matter of learn as you go, the proverbial on-the-job training concept. Still, he had faith his men would learn how to master the craft in a timely fashion. With respect to what they were headed for, they had to learn this new trade as quickly as humanly possible.
There was still one more problem of Major Powell’s best guess boat design he came up with. In fact, it was a monumental problem as it turned out. He had the boat builder add bulkheads and decking over the bows and sterns. These he intended for sealable five-foot-long watertight (hopefully) compartments to help the boats from sinking. Major Powell’s idea might have worked for calm water but he also ran into an obvious snag of physics. Namely, the center of mass was jeopardized due to end loading (i.e., where the cargo was stored at either end of the boats). End-loading meant the oarsmen were forced into a contest with maximum load leverage whenever each rower tried to pivot or steer the boat through the gauntlet of rapids—the usual hazards of whitewater. Had the major designed the craft for center-loading instead, it would have made handling the ‘Conestoga elephants’ easier in the frequent tumultuous stretches.
Compounding this particular problem was the disadvantage of filling the eleven-foot-long open bilge of each freight boat with tons of water. The same thing happened to the smaller Emma Dean. Every time the boats encountered whitewater, even modest-sized rapids, they would quickly fill up with water that simply could not be kept from pouring in. The added weight meant changing directions once inside the rapid was even more difficult to accomplish. At times, the boats swamped and were nearly sunk.
What was right about the boats Major Powell gambled on with his and the lives of his men to see all of them through their ordeal? About the only advantage these cumbersome and overloaded freight boats (up to 4,000 pounds per boat) had going for them was how well they could track on a straight line through big waves. But bring on the bad news quickly, because there were something on the order of one hundred roaring rapids that didn’t show up with a simple (meaning, straight) wave train. Instead, these more menacing stretches on the two rivers were as complicated as any rapid could be, including posing interesting (i.e., intimidating, nearly impossible to run) problems the men had to try to sort out, then determine if the rapid could be run, lined, or portaged.
All of this water science and craft design is mentioned from the outset to give the reader a better insight into just how difficult this odyssey would turn out to be for the expeditioners, including part of the reason the crew had so much trouble with their boats. Major Powell cannot be faulted for the design he came up with, because who at that time really knew anything about running whitewater, much less the right kind of boat design to give the rower an advantage? (Keep in mind he would learn something consequential from this first run down the two rivers, then make novel and necessary design improvements for the next expedition that would at least make the boats easier to handle.)
Fluid Fun Or A Peril Called "Rapids": Let’s consider the next quandary in this tricky equation having to do with the Whitehall design: the whitewater itself. The difficulty of going down a fast-moving river is one thing, including maneuvering out of danger whenever necessary. Throw in rapids and the elephant might as well be a novice skate boarder on a slight incline. Think about what the men must have thought when they encountered the first batch of many rapids. Think of any rapid, major or minor, as a literal minefield to get through. Most are strewn with rock debris that enters the channel and turns an ordinary passage into an obstacle course. Rapids demand paying close attention to everything the testy whitewater has in store for those who attempt transit through its snare. Some rapids are unmitigated hell-raisers; others are a hoot. Boulders, sometime the size of cabins, holes, lateral and tall-standing waves, reversals, pourovers, and a maze of currents flowing in every direction. This is what makes water turn white, even brown, muddy water. The waves don’t even move, as waves do along the ocean or bays. Waves in rapids stand still and the water moves through them, including the debris or craft that attempts passage through the maze. The strength of the rapid depends on its noise and holy terror that must be faced if you plan to take the rapid on. That’s also why some rapids really do bellow like lions, including baring their fangs, as rocks and other debris, once the smooth tongue at the top flicks the boat into the calamity below.
How Do Rapids Form? Wherever rapids show up, the bed of the river is affected by the gradient, constriction, (bed) topography, and the volume of the river flow (or c.f.s. as measured in cubic feet per second). The increase of the gradient means the water will flow more rapidly. The same thing happens wherever both sides of the river narrows and the c.f.s. increases, as do the decibels of the river’s song, or if you prefer, the roaring lion effect. However, the bed topography is the most complicated of this four-part equation. Curves in the water’s line, boulders and other alluvial debris strewed across the river’s course, and bedrock ledges conspire to create a hellish passageway through the whitewater. The obvious consequence of running rapids entails split-second decisions and maneuverability on the part of any boatman. While Major Powell’s men commonly faced such challenges, they had to perform the task with what they had to work with — the Whitehalls. At best, they might try and punch through the rapid using one favored rowing technique or the other, or else they were forced to face the rigors of having to off-load the supplies (portage) and walk along the river, then return for the boats and carry them on their shoulders and backs and hope they didn’t trip over the rocks or fall into deep water and be swept away like so much debris. Even to line the boats was difficult work, although it saved the men from having to off-load the cargo, then stow it aboard again once the boats were safely lined through the rapid.
The upshot of running rapids with the Whitewalls came down to this sobering fact of life: they were not built for zigging or zagging through whitewater. Hence, the boatmen could not power their craft laterally in the flow of water from one side of the river to the other. Often, better trained boatmen of today must accomplish this feat in mere seconds, simply to avoid facing an imminent disaster of the above-mentioned boat-crunching hazards. Without the safety and advantage of such ferry angles across the hazards of the rapids the men pretty much were, as one of the oarsmen wrote in his diary, a lucky set, where their luck of running the rapids usually held.
As mentioned above, Major Powell would later modify the new boats for the second expedition. And this time he would have resourceful experience to tell the men how best to go about their work. The design he came up with that could have helped the oarsmen of the first expedition was a stern-mounted steering oar.
A photo of Powell's boat with chair mounted (which was used only on the second expedition):
Unfortunately, the Whitewalls he had designed for the 1869 did not have either the stern (tiller) oar or the luxury of his chair lashed on the deck of the scout boat. Nor did the major think to add such a device to the boat design of the first expedition. Instead, the two oarsmen in each boat during the first expedition set up for the rapid as best they could, then hoped like mad they would end up shooting out the other hand of the rapid in an upright attitude. Whenever they did run such whitewater, they would use the tactic of rowing back water, by using an upstream ferry angle, or else were forced to run the rapids stern-first.
Regardless of what method Major Powell’s men tried, power rowing through the rapids (i.e., rowing faster than the water flowed) still meant they had no margin of safety without the presence of a stern-mounted steering oar on their craft, simply because the keeled hull design did not allow for quick changes of ferry angles in the more technical and challenging whitewater stretches. All modern day boatmen with sound experience are keen to point this fact out. One has to wonder if any of Major Powell’s men thought about these inherent flaw designs in the boats they rowed, or even tried to fashion such devices, like the stern-mounted steering oar. Perhaps there were places where one of the men used one of the spare oars to try to compensate for better control and steering through rapids that allowed for such an experiment. On the other hand, do the math of how many men were able to row (and certainly Major Powell wasn’t one of them), and consider all of the negative aspects of the Whitehalls mentioned above, and you might come to the conclusion, as many of us do, the two men in the cockpit had plenty of hard work on their hands to try to keep the boats from any number of hazards that strictly had to be avoided at all costs.
The funny thing about the crew’s eventual achievements was how running the rapids really was easier than the hellish toil of having to portage or line the boats down the whitewater that the major deemed too difficult to try to run. Carrying thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies was harsh, demanding work. But lining the boats one at a time was even more worrisome and difficult, since there was always a danger of one of the boats getting away from the handlers, then busting into pieces on the rocks that might as well have been the river’s open mouth, where the rocks must have seemed like waiting fangs to devour the boats and/or the crew.
There will be more to say about rapids further along, especially in view of how the men will selectively run, or else walk around, certain stretches of the more notorious rapids that often announced their presence long before they were seen.
Testing The Pluck Of The Cockpit Crews: The Emma Dean was presumably light and controllable enough to scout the danger ahead. Hopefully, the major had ample time to see the approaching danger and alert the other boat crews. Sumner, who captained the Emma Dean, wrote in his journal how vulnerable it was in the stormy water. At that inaugural time of the journey (June 2nd, the tenth day of the expedition) he and the other men appear to be in high spirits and he talks about singing and yelling like drunken sailors through some of the rapids.
Now is as good a time to introduce all of the crew, since they’re compelled to finish the assignment they bargained for, come what may (or most of them will finish). Besides the major and his brother, Walter, the others were Jack Sumner, George Bradley, Billy Hawkins, Bill Dunn, Oramel and Seneca Howland, Andy Hall, and Frank Goodman. As mentioned, most of them were seasoned former Civil War veterans (except Bill Dunn, Frank Goodman, and Oramel Howland). Some were trappers and hunters (Sumner, Dunn, and Hawkins). Each man also had a specific job to do, as well as other tasks to perform along the way. Those who were recruited for these assignments (i.e., Sumner, Dunn, and Oramel Howland) previously signed an agreement and would be paid for their extra work. One other crew member, Hawkins, supposedly thought he would earn money for his added duties as the camp cook, but more about that touchy point further along, because it involves what happened to him, as well as two others, after the expedition was over. The rest of the details of the agreement will also be revealed before long. Individually, here are the crew members, who should all take a bow, as ghosts, due to their importance in the expedition.
George Young Bradley, whom Major Powell refers to as Bradey in his published manuscripts, was invited along to serve as a boatman and a geologist. Like the other unpaid members in the crew, his room and board, let’s call it, plus the experience, itself, was part of what made him sign up. He also got one other dispensation for doing so (see below). Bradley loved finding and studying fossils, and for this, alone, he certainly had something in common with Major Powell. Bradley was also an amateur geologist and naturalist, although he would have never considered himself on the par with the likes of Major Powell. That’s because Bradley was much too modest to presume such conceit or confidence. On the other hand, he wasn’t too reticent in expressing his thoughts and feelings about things, but mostly revealed to others in his private musings (written in his journal).
At five feet, nine inches and weighing some 150 pounds he was one of the tallest of the crew. Born in 1836, he hailed from Newberry, Massachusetts. At 32 years of age he was also one of the oldest men in the expedition. Bradley once served as a Lieutenant in the Civil War, then was discharged and later reenlisted in the Army. He was a sargent when the major found him at Fort Bridger. After discovering Bradley knew quite a lot about boats Major Powell asked General Grant, then the Secretary of War, with whom Major Powell had also served on his staff during the Civil War, to honorably discharge Bradley, so that he could join the first river expedition. Bradley was willing to go because he had had enough of Army life by this time.
As to what Major Powell thought about Bradley, he liked him. Powell thought he was a bit too careful in some of the things Bradley did, but the enigmatic man from Massachusetts was brave, generous, able-bodied, and had the right stuff to handle the assignment. Powell also thought Bradley could make split second decisions despite the peril the men faced on any given day. Besides loyalty and an ability to follow orders, these kind of qualities were what Powell counted on.
Initially, Bradley may have held Major Powell in high esteem. In time, however, Bradley (and most of the others) saw the major through two different lenses. Neither was rosy, although one was certainly more approving than the other. While Bradley and the others could respect the major for his bravado and for his appetite for conducting his scientific investigations, pseudo or fragmentary as some of his science and methodology turned out, the major was seriously lacking, indeed flawed in some respects. Notably, how he treated his men, or else his apparent indifference to the plight they faced, especially toward the end of the expedition when rations were low and morale was even lower. For example, in his June 11th entry Bradley wrote about the difficulty of getting through some bad rapids and the toil the men faced on that day. He equated the work to the crew being little more than galley slaves. Bradley’s most sarcastic remark in that entry complained about the major choosing another undesirable place to camp alongside the roaring rapid. In one of Bradley’s more colorful metaphors, he wrote If I had a dog that would lie where my bed is made tonight I would kill him and burn his collar and swear I never owned him.
Bradley in many ways is John Colton Sumner. Supposedly, Sumner is third in command after Major Powell and his brother, Walter. But some historians think Sumner was the number two man all along. He was hired as a boatman; most historians also agree he was the chief boatman. In addition to his other duties, he was asked to make observations with the sextant. This is why he was signed on as one of the few paid crew members.
Sumner was a true mountain man who proved himself as a valuable physical asset to Major Powell and the others. By nature he was modest and mostly kept his opinions to himself during the expedition. He referred to himself in his diaries as the trapper and pretty much stayed away from the kind of musings Bradley would later reveal, that is, once his journal was published years after his death. Some of what Sumner inscribed in his journal was the usual data Major Powell expected him to jot down, for he was asked to do this by the major, as a backup to his own writings. But Sumner also logged other insightful information, some of it humorous, and all of it was plain spoken, especially the social milieu of his fellow crew men that he observed. His post expedition letters, as interviews, also revealed the disappointment, indeed the bitterness, he felt about how he was not duly compensated for the work and wages the major had promised to pay.
Major Powell had met Sumner in Colorado, in 1867. One has to wonder what might have happened in the major’s life had he not met this talented, young man who teemed with spirit, and had the kind of background experience to master whatever he set out to do and learn. He was born in 1840 in Indiana and raised in Iowa. Sumner had learned quite a lot about life in his relatively short years up until the time he met the major. At that time, Sumner ran a trading post for his brother-in-law, William N. Byers, who was the editor for the Rocky Mountain News, in Denver. Hot Sulfur Springs, in Middle Park, Colorado (near Empire) was a perfect place for a nearly perfect mountain man to begin his new life in the high country. Although Sumner was fairly new to the Rockies, arriving a little over a year before the major got there, he was already well established in his bailiwick and reputation. In a way the meeting was providential for Sumner and Major Powell. At least initially their meeting of minds worked well for both of them. At that time, the major was on a field trip with his students, including his devoted wife and confrere, Emma. She was also one of the students (she loved ornithology, among other earth sciences the major was also deeply interested in). Because Major Powell was the curator for a natural history museum located on the grounds of Illinois State University, at Normal, where he also did some teaching, Emma was his assistant. The Rocky Mountain Expedition that Major Powell organized that year and the next was ostensibly meant to collect specimens for the museum. Yet there would be a new vision quest that came from the original plan to get out of Dodge, in this case, Illinois, and set up camp in the Rocky Mountain West.
That serendipitous assignment as the museum’s curator, along with the grant money and other financial backing he received, was how Major Powell organized a lengthy field trip to the Rockies for select students and friends (fourteen in all). Eventually, he was introduced to Sumner, who was a true jack-of-all-trades and a master of most of them. Major Powell the educator was fast turning to the new life of an explorer and Sumner would greatly assist him in achieving this new role the major fancied. The relationship between the guileless mountain man and the imminent explorer of the West country would last for a few good years, where both men expanded their personal horizons, although the major went much farther with his career than he ever thought possible.
Along with Dunn, Hawkins, and Oramel Howland, two years later Sumner later joined forces with the major for the purpose of exploring the Green and Colorado Rivers. While Major Powell would end up saying it was his idea to run and organize the expedition in the first place, Sumner claimed it was his. When the more complete story of this text is explained, the reader will have to ponder for him or herself who really came up with the idea to launch such an ambitious undertaking. For now, it is a moot point to debate, simply because both men may have came up with the idea, each in different ways, at different times. It is where they started that counts the most, for it would seem at that time the adventure could have gone up or down river, and if the latter, then the Grand and Green River confluence might have been the proposed and ideal starting point.
Sumner was one of the smallest crew members but also the tallest in another way. He stood 5 feet, 5 3/4 inches in height and might as well have been twice that size considering his prowess as a boatman and aide-de-camp for Major Powell. He embodied the true spirit of the West, namely self-sufficiency, loyalty, and a man who could be trusted and relied upon to do anything expected of him. During the 1869 expedition, Sumner even saved Major Powell’s life twice at significant risk to himself, including rescuing some of the precious cargo from one of the boats that was destroyed early on in the expedition.
Considered to be another of the three most important men on the first expedition was William Robert Wesley Hawkins. He was also the most mysterious crew member in some ways, at least he used to be mysterious. Billy Hawkins was also known as Missouri Rhodes and was born in July 1848 in Gentry County, Missouri. Major Powell met the congenial, though still somewhat enigmatic, Hawkins at Sumner’s trading post and cabin in 1868. Hawkins had already formed a hunting, guiding and trapping partnership with Sumner, Oramel Howland, and Bill Dunn. However, Hawkins went by the name of Missouri Rhodes at that time and the major often mentions him by this name in his writings.
At 5 feet, 5 inches in height, he was the smallest crew member. Apparently, Hawkins (Rhodes) got into some kind of trouble over a dispute of money with the Union Army after he was discharged and he decided to take the name of the late Missouri Rhodes and keep his own identity secret for his own reasons he never shared with the rest of the men. Hawkins, like the others Sumner kept company with at the trading post, met with Major Powell’s approval, and was soon invited to join the expedition as the cook. According to Hawkins’ word on the matter, Major Powell had offered to pay him $1.50 a day for providing meals, as well as being a part-time hunter. Part of the deal to sign Hawkins on was to purchase his traps, other equipment, and some of his stock. Unfortunately, Hawkins, like Sumner, saw very little of the money that he claimed he and the major had agreed to pay him once the expedition was over. So much for verbal agreements. Then again, so much for written agreements that also were not fully honored to all that was promised some of the men.
Soon after Hawkins met the major at Sumner’s encampment, he wrote, I found the Major a very pleasant gentleman and very easy to get acquainted with. Like most of the others in Major Powell’s company, however, years after the expedition was over Hawkins would write and explain something altogether different in describing how he ended up feeling about the major.
What did the major think of Hawkins? He graciously described him as an athlete and jovial good fellow, who hardly seems to know his own strength. As things turned out, the buckskin-clad, long-haired Hawkins proved to be another asset to the crew. He was also well liked by all.
William H. Dunn, like Hawkins, Sumner, and Oramel Howland, was hired by Major Powell. About his character, Hawkins later wrote words to the effect Dunn’s home state, Ohio, never claimed a gutsier man than William Dunn. However, there is little or nothing known about him, except he was reported to be as close to a classic mountain man as any man could be in his era. He wore buckskins, his hair was long, and he wore a beard. He was one of the paid three members listed in the original Agreement and was specifically recruited to make the barometrical observations. He was also considered by his peers to be the best swimmer in the group. At least he seemed to volunteer to plunge into the river whenever it called for someone to tackle a contingency. Later in this essay the relationship Major Powell had with Dunn, and vice versa, will fall apart over a seeming trivial matter. There will be at least two incidents that will create friction between the men, as well as draw lines in camp between other men who opposed Major Powell with respect to his stern measures and demands made upon the otherwise, well-liked and respected Bill Dunn.
Andrew Hall was a last minute recruit to the expedition and certainly the most affable of all the crew. At nineteen years old, Andy, whom Sumner wrote in his journal was from Fort Laramie, was the youngest crew member and had an irrepressible zest for life. The major saw the young Scottish immigrant sitting in a row boat along the banks of the Green River and decided there was room for Andy if he wanted to join the party. He did. His experience as a hunter and a trapper, also an Indian fighter, was deemed necessary by the major and all the other crew members liked him. Even when the rest of the crew was dead tired, Andy, as Bradley wrote in his diary, sat and tossed rocks across the river (in the lower half of Cataract River), seemingly just to amuse himself. Sumner called him a rollicking young Scotch boy and everyone got along well with Andy. In fact, he was the only one on the crew to name one of the canyons, Lodore, which he recalled the name from a Scottish poem, The Cataract of Lodore, by Robert Southey.
Oramel G. Howland was born in 1833 and had worked as a printer and an editor for the Rocky Mountain News, in Denver. More than likely, he met Sumner through William Byers, who also married Sumner’s sister, Elizabeth. Thus, the connection between the three men, including the fourth, Oramel’s brother, Seneca.
Like Sumner and Bradley, Oramel wrote some rather descriptive letters while on the river and later mailed to the Rocky Mountain News. At 36 years old, intellectually he was on the par with Major Powell, and certainly possessed an equal, if not greater, standard of education. He was also the third and last crew member on the original contract Powell made with some of his men. Oramel was to be paid a stipulated fee ($75, as were the other two) to make topographical drawings of the course of the rivers. He would also sometimes row, that is, when there were four boats to man.
By his nature, Oramel was an outspoken man who sometimes stood up to the major in matters of decision-making. In fact, he might have dubbed himself Major Powell’s equal, if not better in some ways. Here I must reveal the part of the story I had alluded to earlier, which involved the boat that was destroyed some two weeks into the expedition. The reason is to show cause why the relationship between the two men steadily declined, with dire consequences to three men toward the end of the journey.
When his boat, the No Name, wrecked in the Canyon of Lodore, the major wrote that it was an unfortunate accident. Yet in his later entries we find he never was certain if the crew of the No Name wasn’t entirely at fault for not seeing his signal in time, and therefore avoiding the pitfall. Oramel, however, claimed they were too far into the rapid to try to avoid the danger, especially due to the way the boat handled in the rough water. In this light, even if he and the others did see the flag signal the major used to warn the others, it was too late to try to do anything about the situation, other than to go with the river’s strong current and take their chances. In an instant all was lost and the danger was inevitable. Losing all of the maps he had made to that date, plus other work that was later ruined further down the river’s course, certainly didn’t help Oramel’s case. Still, the major, like all the others, were glad none of the men were killed or injured in the mishap. Only later in time did the loss affect the major’s mood and Oramel seemingly could never make up that mistake or incident, whichever way one chooses to call it.
Seneca B. Howland was Oramel’s younger, half-brother. At 5 feet, 9 1/2 inches tall, this Civil War hero was another of the least known men under Major Powell’s command. What we do know of him, however, shows that the twenty-six-year-old Seneca was a true Civil War hero, as was Major Powell, and his serving with the Vermont Infantry at Pickett’s Charge (at Gettysburg) won a decisive battle for the Union Army. Of course, Major Powell had long since been idolized by his biographers as a true and tried Civil War hero. Therefore, Seneca may have been one too many war heroes for these biographers to account for in similar testimony.
Walter Henry Powell was a former school teacher who entered the war soon after the conflict began. He was a lieutenant, and later a captain, in the Union Army. For part of his military service he had served with his brother, John Wesley. Born in Jackson, Ohio (1842), Walter Powell was arguably the strongest crew member but also the most mental. He was also the most belligerent and moody, the war more than likely was to blame for his often sour disposition.
After Walter left Shiloh, he was sent to Vicksburg and survived the Battle of Atlanta. During this latter conflict, however, he was captured, and along with most of his troops, incarcerated as a prisoner of war at Camp Sorghum (also known as Camp Asylum), near Charleston. For Walter Powell the war was now over and left him a mentally disenfranchised man in most ways.
Along with other psychological horrors he suffered, Walter Powell had what is described today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. When Major Powell devised his plans to explore the Green and Colorado River territory, he invited Walter along on the first expedition thinking it would do his brother good to keep his mind off of his ailments. Sadly, the former school teacher-turned-military officer suffered irreparable brain damage. He was also considered by most of the crew as irascible, even though his strength and size was a boon to their efforts. Still, Bradley, who oared with him for the duration of the expedition, may have known more about Walter than the other men, except the major, but did not mention Walter in his secret diary, not once. What Bradley knew he simply did not say and no one knows what Bradley’s reasons were for omitting such information, since he wrote about everyone else on the expedition. As far as Sumner was concerned, he thought Walter Powell was as worthless a piece of furniture.
Frank Valentine Goodman was an itinerant young Englishman who was searching for a lark in the way of some Western adventure. He loved the West and he happened upon Major Powell and his men at the right time. Possibly, he offered the major money to go along. Due to the major’s lack of sufficient funds to run the expedition the major more than likely accepted Goodman’s offering. Goodman didn’t exactly raise eyebrows in any of the writings the men kept, that is, as far as his talents go. More than likely, his skills were much lower than his aspirations in joining the expedition, including the glory that might come of it. As fate would have it, Goodman was on the No Name when it crashed, which stripped him, as well as the Howlands, of most of their personal possessions, including their camping gear. Just a couple of weeks later he left the party with the major’s blessing. Besides, they were down to three boats and eight men, plus Major Powell, to man them. Goodman’s loss proved to be a gain in another way.
There were two other men who might have gone with the ten men on the first historic run down the Green and Colorado Rivers. They were W. H. Bishop and some unknown young tenderfoot (mentioned earlier) who Major Powell brought with him from the East. Bishop eventually bowed out, while the unknown tenderfoot who came into camp with Major Powell had left for personal reasons, saying something to the effect he didn’t like the company he was with.
As you can see, most of the crew were seasoned former Civil War veterans (i.e., except Bill Dunn, Frank Goodman, and Oramel Howland) and there was a reason why Major Powell preferred former soldiers to citizens. He counted on their ability to take and follow orders without questioning his command. He could ask and want this, of course. The question was: Would his men comply under his somewhat militaristic campaign, for that is mainly how he ran the show?
Note: I had intended posting most of the crew's pictures here, but the source I requested the photos from sent, instead, the crew of the 1871 expedition. Mea cupla. But here's a parting photo that depicts what Powell's men struggled with throughout the day and on any given day of this exceeding and exacting down-river(s) excursion.
To be continued tomorrow (posting in the late afternoon). As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.
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