Although John Wesley Powell and party are usually given credit
for the first river descent through the Grand Canyon, the ghost of
James White has haunted those claims. White was a Colorado
prospector, who, almost two years before Powell's journey, washed
up on a makeshift raft at Callville, Nevada. His claim to have
entered the Colorado above the San Juan River with another man
(soon drowned) as they fled from Indians was widely disseminated
and believed for a time, but Powell and his successors on the river
publically discounted it. Colorado River runners and historians
have since debated whether White's passage through Grand Canyon
even could have happened.
Hell or High Water is the first full account of White's
story and how it became distorted and he disparaged over time. It
is also a fascinating detective story, recounting how White's
granddaughter, Eilean Adams, over decades and with the assistance
of a couple of notable Colorado River historians who believed he
could have done what he claimed, gradually uncovered the record of
James White's adventure and put together a plausible narrative of
how and why he ended up floating helplessly down a turbulent river,
entrenched in massive cliffs, with nothing but a driftwood raft to
carry him through.
Subjects: History, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
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