The J.W. Powell Survey (1871-1894)

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John Wesley Powell, a civil war veteran, botanist, geologist, and sociologist, was one of four men during the 1870s to lead a United States Geological Survey of the West. The J. W. Powell Survey unofficially began in 1867 when Powell led a small team of mountain men down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon for the first time in history. In 1870, Congress officially established a Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountains region with Powell in charge. This momentous event was just the beginning of Powell’s life as a surveyor, and he continued leading surveys until 1894. Throughout this time, Powell and the botanists he employed were able to collect botanical specimens for numerous museums and herbariums across the United States. The most unlikely and least known botanist that traveled with J.W. Powell was his sister “Nellie” who had studied botany at Wheaton College. She wished to accompany her brother through Utah to make collections of flora during his 1871-72 expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers. |Additional Sources: "Pyrrocoma.” Flora of North America, n.d. florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=127795 Gray, Asa. "Botany of the Black Hills." In U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountains Region 1880. Washington, DC: U.S. Congress, 1880. Nicholls, Graham. Alpine Plants of North America: An Encyclopedia of Mountain Flowers from the Rockies to Alaska. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Incorporated, 2002. Powell, John Wesley. Seeing Things Whole: The Essential John Wesley Powell (Pioneers of Conservation). 1 ed. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2004. Powell. US Geographical and Geological Annual Report 1880. Washington, DC: U.S. Congress, 1880. Turner Photographics. "Aster foliaceus.” Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, n.d. flower/aster-foliaceus Vasey, George. Field Notes from George Vasey. Personal Account. Colorado River Exploring Expedition, May-September 1868. Worster, Donald. A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.


  • Canby, William Marriott and Joseph Nelson Rose. George Vasey: A biographical sketch. Botanical Gazette 18 (1893): 170-183.
  • Connecticut Botanical Society. "Common Arrow-grass (Triglochin maritimum)." Connecticut Wildflowers, 2005. http://www.ct-botanical-
  • Desert USA. "John Wesley Powell.” Desert Biomes, n.d. magnov97/nov_pap/du_jwpowell.html

Date Range

1871 - 1894


  • Geology
  • Plants
  • Botany


  • United States
  • Colorado
  • Colorado River
  • Grand Canyon
  • Utah
  • Arizona


Expedition name