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Book Review of Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West
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Powell came to "know the West as few men did and understand its problems better (6)." It was considered a desert in Pike's time but Wm. Gilpin described it as a 'Garden of Eden' and part of America's 'Manifest Destiny.'
The author offers a great amount of detail. Powell used a 'lining system;' rather than just running the river.
Stegner notes that Powell joined public service to practice science just as Henry Adams was leaving it because of corruption. JWP was to have his problems in D.C. and with territorial (and later state) governments.
Powell is best known for voyaging down the Colorado River but I would argue that his work in attempting to avoid settlers taking upo land in areas with insufficient rainfall is even more significant. The 20 inch annual rainfall line runs through Missouri and points West experience not only less rainfall but increasingly variable precipitation.
For a short while, Powell obtained Congressional support for a geological survey of the far western lands in order to classify them so that agricultural failures in years of scant rainfall would be avoided by not allowing incongruent uses in the first place. For example, a settler might need 1,000 acres to support his family in an area with rainfall sufficient only for light grazing.
Entries were actually closed under the Homestead Act, leading to a storm of complaints from would be settlers and their representatives. That soon ended this attempt at âscientific' land use. The work was dependent on appropriations to hire hydraulic engineers, engrave maps, etc. Note that the 1890 Congress included several states admitted in 1889.


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