In defense of Stegner's Powell

  Dear HCN,

Karl Hess tells us, in "Imagine a West Without Heroes," that the West would best be managed by New Westerners and not by federalists, justifying his conclusion by portraying John Wesley Powell as a worn-out hero (HCN, 5/27/96).

It seems that many Western writers prefer to wrestle with the ghost of Powell. Perhaps the problem is that Powell never realized that we would pick apart his every word and deed. When I read Powell's report to Congress, Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, I don't see any recommendation to denude forest land with the intent of utilizing every drop of rain for the state. I read the exact opposite.

If Hess really missed the conservationist theme of Wallace Stegner's biography of Powell, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, I might be inclined to think that his heart is motivated by the same agenda as Stegner's anti-hero, William Gilpin, who coined the false promise that "rain will follow the plow." Powell's premise that good science will be the savior of the West is as valid today as it will be tomorrow. To manage the West without the check-and-balance system of federal programs and legislation, as imperfect as it sometimes is, would be a Gilpin-like mistake.

John Weisheit

Moab, Utah