Grand Canyon Exploration Log August 30, – September 1, 1869

by Walter Mow

August 30, — “We run in two or three short, low canyons to-day, and on emerging from one we discover a band of Indians in the valley below. They see us, and scamper away in eager haste to hide among the rocks. Although we land and call for them to return, not an Indian can be seen”.

“Two or three miles farther down, in tuning a short bend of the river, we come upon another camp. So near are we before they can see us that I shout to them, and, being able to speak a little of their language, I tell them we are friends; but they all flee to the rocks, except a man, a woman, and two children. We and talk to them. They are without lodges, but have built shelters of boughs, under which they wallow in the sand. The man is dressed in a hat; the woman, in a string of beads only. At first they are evidently much terrified; but when I talk to them in their own language and tell them we are friends, and inquire after the people in the Mormon towns, they are soon reassured and beg for tobacco. Of this precious article we have none to spare. Sumner looks around in the boat for something to give them, and finds a little piece of colored soap, which they receive as a valuable present, –rather as a thing of beauty than as a useful commodity, however. They are either unwilling or unable to tell us anything about the Indians or white people, and so we push off, for we must lose no time”.

“We camp at noon under the right bank. And now as we push out we are in great expectancy, for we hope every minute to discover the mouth of the Rio Virgen. Soon one of the men exclaims: ‘Yonder’s an Indian in the river’”. Looking for a few minutes, we certainly do see two or three persons. The men bend to their oars and pull towards them. Approaching, we see that there are three white men and an Indian hauling a seine, and then we discover that it is just at the mouth of the long-sought river”.

“As we come near, the men seem far less surprised to see us than we do to see them. They evidently know who we are, and with talking with them they tell us that we have been reported lost long ago, and that some weeks before a message had been sent from Salt Lake City with instructions for them to watch for any fragments or relics of our party that might drift down the stream”.

“Our new friends, Mr. Asa and his two sons, tell us that they are pioneers of a town that is being built on the bank. Eighteen or twenty miles up the valley of the Rio Virgen there are two Mormon towns, St. Joseph and St. Thomas. To-night we dispatch an Indian to the last mentioned place to bring any letters that may be there for us”.

“Our arrival here is very opportune. When we look over our stores of supplies, we find about 10 pounds of flour, 15 pounds of dried apples, but 70 or 80 pounds of coffee”.

August 31, — “This afternoon the Indian returns with a letter informing us that Bishop Leithhead of St. Thomas and two or three other Mormons are coming down with a wagon, bringing us supplies. They arrive about sundown. Mr. Asa treats us with great kindness to the extent of his ability; but Bishop Leithhead brings in his wagon two or three dozen melons and many other little luxuries, and we are comfortable once more”.

September 1, — “This morning Sumner, Bradley, Hawkins and Hall, taking on a small supply of rations, start down the Colorado with the boats. It is their intention to go to Ft. Mojave, and perhaps from there overland to Los Angeles”.

“Captain Powell and myself return with Bishop Leithhead to St. Thomas. From St. Thomas we go to Salt Lake City”.


Of the 10 men who began the expedition with Major Powell, six made the entire journey. Frank Goodman would leave the party at the junction of the Green and Uinta Rivers in present day Utah. Captain Oramel Howland, his younger brother, Seneca Howland and William Dunn would leave the party two days before the end of the expedition. It is suspected they were killed by Indians as they sought the Mormon towns of southwestern Utah.

Major Powell would retrace a great part of the expedition’s river route in his 1871-72 expedition, entering the Green again at the town of Green River, Wyoming and leaving the Colorado at Kanab Creek in the Grand Canyon.


Powell’s professional career would include appointment as the director of the U. S. Geologic Survey, a post he would fill from 1881 to 1894. The Smithsonian Institute would name him director of the Bureau of Ethnology and under his directorship the Smithsonian published a classification of Native American languages.

Major Powell’s narrative of this historic journey was first published in 1875; a revised and renamed edition was published in 1895 titled: “The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons”, it is from this edition that this article was composed. Other than clarifications or definitions, the words are all Major Powell’s.

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