University Studies of the University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



1952 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska


I should explain that this book is more or less an accident. It started with a suggestion by my friend and former colleague, the late Joseph Kinsey Howard, that the Major was worth knowing. A Montana newspaperman and writer, Howard had been impressed by the amazing far-sightedness of Powell's report, published in 1878, on the arid lands of the West. At the time I was preparing a report of my own for a Rockefeller Foundation research project in the humanities. Upon reading the Major's study of the arid lands, it occurred to me that it would be profitable to review all his materials from the point of view of American regionalism.

I quickly found that the Major was no mere regionalist, that he had been in a relatively short space of time an explorer, geologist, anthropologist, administrator, and philosopher. At the time of his death in 1902 there were already a number of enduring monuments to his memory: a half-dozen outstanding scholarly studies, a host of scientific and philosophic articles, the establishment and directorship for twentythree years of the Bureau of American Ethnology, and a masterful record as Director for thirteen formative years of the U. S. Geological Survey. Besides all this, there was his conquest of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. This one-armed Civil War veteran was, I discovered, an important though almost forgotten figure. The Major grew on me, just as he must have grown on his colleagues in those eventful years in American science and public policy.