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John Wesley Powell. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-20230).


Powell, John Wesley (24 March 1834–23 September 1902), explorer, geologist, and anthropologist, was born in Mount Morris, New York, the son of Joseph Powell, a tailor and Methodist Episcopal licensed exhorter, and Mary Dean. Powell’s parents, who were emigrants from England, moved the family successively west and finally settled in Wheaton, Illinois. Young Powell’s education was intermittent but included some course work at Wheaton and Oberlin Colleges. He worked on the family farm and taught school, but his real interests lay in all phases of natural history and in archaeology. He made numerous collections of natural objects, often by traveling overland or alone in a boat along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He became well known among amateur natural historians and was elected secretary of the Illinois Society of Natural History in March 1861....