John Wesley Powell: The One-Armed Explorer

By Don

July 5, 2024


Reading Time: 2 minutes

Stories of heroes, battles, and risk-takers inspire us.

This is one of the reasons in my weekly newsletter I share a story of strength every week… hearing a story of someone’s feat of strength and courage helps us get off the couch and get into action.

This one is especially remarkable to me for one reason… the modern day GPS. 

It’s hard to imagine a time prior to GPS. In the last few weeks, I have driven 1,000+ miles, and you can bet that a GPS has told me where to go every single one of those miles.

This next story is one of an adventurer who lived well before the GPS. 

This guy made a 1,000+ mile trip in a rowboat through largely unexplored rapids, without GPS, and with one arm.

Here’s the story of John Wesley Powell.

In 1834, an itinerant preacher and his wife gave birth to a baby boy named John Wesley Powell. The Powells were living in New York at the time, but they saw the opportunity in the western United States, and soon they settled in Wisconsin.

Young John Wesley Powell was an adventurer at heart.

  • When he was 21, he spent four months walking across Wisconsin.

  • When he was 22, he rowed down the Mississippi from Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

  • When he was 23, he rowed the Ohio River, from Pittsburgh to St. Louis.

When the Civil War broke out, Powell enlisted. And in 1862, Powell took a bullet to his right wrist, and under doctor’s orders, his right arm was amputated.

But this did little to stop Powell. In fact, his most famous exploit hadn’t happened yet.

In 1869, Powell recruited a team of 9 men to explore the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. This was dangerous journey, crossing about 1,000 miles of rapids, dangers, and risks.

Powell started his voyage in Wyoming, rowed through Utah, and 4-months later finished his trek through the Grand Canyon. Two years later, Powell did the same voyage again.

His writings and reflections on his journey, particularly that of the Grand Canyon, have enough inspiration to get anyone off the couch and into God’s creation.

“The Grand Canyon is a land of song. Mountains of music swell in the rivers, hills of music billow in the creeks and meadows of music murmur in the rills that ripple over the rocks. Altogether it is a symphony of multitudinous melodies”

– John Wesley Powell

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