“Gentlemen you are going to reap up a legacy of discord, lawsuits, and misery if we continue to go down this course.”
John Wesley Powell to the 1893 Los Angeles International Irrigation Conference
As the machine of Manifest Destiny churned west in the late 1800’s, John Wesley Powell dedicated his life to understanding the region’s complexities, fueling his passionate warnings to the U.S. Congress that the stories of a verdant Eden had little basis in fact. Were these lands to be settled with European-style sedentary agriculture, he urged that one would need to proceed with extreme caution as there “was not sufficient water to irrigate all this arid land.”
In this episode, Ten Across founder Duke Reiter talks to historian and author John F. Ross about Powell’s prophetic work and perilous adventures as an explorer and ardent scientist—what he knew to be true about America’s drought prone region, why nobody listened, and what can still be learned today.
John F. Ross is a former editor of American Heritage and Smithsonian magazines, and the author of five books. His most recent work is The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West. His previous books include Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed and War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America’s First Frontier, which won the Fort Ticonderoga Award for Contributions to American History.