Men with Moxie: John Wesley Powell

This week’s Man with Moxie is a bit of a throwback. You may not have learned about John Wesley Powell in your American history course, but you damn well should have. Powell was born in 1834 to a poor family. However, this didn’t stop him from quickly obtaining a college degree (no small feat in the middle of the 19th century). Powell then fought in the Civil War for the Union where he lost most of an arm.

Meet Mr John Wesley Powell
Meet Mr John Wesley Powell

But none of this is the reason he is our Moxie man of the week. No, in fact, losing an arm in the Civil War is one of the more tame parts of Powell’s life.

In 1867, Powell set off to explore the West. Not content to simply walk around amid unknown dangers and potentially hostile natives, Powell’s favorite means of travel was by rickety canoe down deadly rivers. Instead of exploring around the Grand Canyon on foot, he chose to raft down the entirely unexplored  Colorado River and observe the country from there.

Choosing to travel by deadly rapids (with only one rowing arm) instead of walking–now that takes moxie.

Major Powell's famous armchair boat on the Colorado River In the Grand Canyon. August 22, 1872
Major Powell’s famous armchair boat on the Colorado River In the Grand Canyon. August 22, 1872

To add awesome to badass, he approached all of his explorations with an almost comical curiosity. Instead of being intimidated by natives, Powell would engage them to learn more of their culture. On one expedition, three of his men went missing and he suspected that Shivwit warriors were responsible. He later returned to investigate, and once he found the Shivwit tribe, instead of demanding retribution, he simply asked them why they had killed his men. Then they all sat back and smoked a whole bunch of pot. You know, for science.

John_Wesley_Powell_year_1869

No really, while other explorers and expansionists were pushing into the West, slaughtering native tribes and raising general hell, John Wesley Powell was passing around a Peace Pipe with the same guys who had killed three of his men. Now that’s a lot of moxie for a dude with one arm.