In September 1867, at Colorado’s Middle Park Hot Springs (the heart of Hot Sulphur Springs), Major and Mrs. John Wesley Powell arrived with a letter written in Denver by the landlord William N. Byers, editor of the Rocky Mountain News. The letter was given to Jack Sumner, Byers brother-in-law. Sumner ran a trading post for hunters, trappers, and the Northern Ute Native Americans. Part of the clientele were; Bill Dunn, Billy Hawkins, Oramel Howland, and Seneca Howland. Major Powell a right arm amputee, had a common bond with Sumner, Dunn, Hawkins, and Seneca Howland, they were all Union Army Civil War veterans.
Near the springs was the Grand River as the headwaters of the Colorado River were called. Over a campfire chat the Major and Sumner made a plan to navigate by boat the Grand, Green, and Colorado Rivers, to the Gulf of California. Sumner assisted Powell in exploring Byers and Cedar (Gore) Canyons. Gore Canyon proved futile to go through. A decision was made to start at the main tributary of the Colorado, the Green River in Wyoming. Major Powell had to return to Illinois where he was a natural science professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, and curator of the Natural History Society’s Museum. Departing on November 6, the Powell’s promised to return next season to help Mr. Byers climb Longs Peak, where a failed attempt was made in 1864.
The Colorado Scientific Exploring Expedition arrived at Hot Sulphur Springs in August 1868, led by J.W. and Emma Dean Powell. In the entourage was J.W.’s brother and veteran Walter, two Methodist ministers, and university students. Bathing in the hot springs were the Utes. Intrigued by their language, Prof Powell had a student record a Ute vocabulary of 500 words. The task of Longs Peak was next. On August 20, the Powell brothers, William Byers, Jack Sumner, Ned Farrell, students Sam Garman, and L.W. Keplinger, set out on horseback. Grizzly the pack mule carried the supplies. On August 23, the Powell-Byers party made the “First Recorded Ascent of Longs Peak.” Garman and Keplinger, documented the nation’s first high altitude weather conditions with instruments donated by the Smithsonian Institute. Named by the 1873 Hayden Survey for their achievements are Powell Peak and Lake Powell in Grand County. And Keplinger Lake in Boulder County. These landmarks are located in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Returning to Hot Sulphur Springs the scientific expedition ended. Some returned to Illinois, others traveled west over Gore Pass, and the Flat Tops trail. On the banks of the White River three cabins were built for winter quarters near present day Meeker. (One cabin is upright at the White River Museum). Nearby, the Utes had their winter encampment. Emma Powell kept the cabins in order, while the Powell brothers, leftover students, and the Middle Park Five, went into Utah, and Wyoming, to survey rivers.
With this knowledge Mr. and Mrs. Powell took a train to Illinois in January 1869. J.W. Powell had Thomas Bagley build four Whitehall keel boats in Chicago. The scout boat named Emma Dean was 16 feet long, made of white pine. Three freight boats Maid of the Canyon, Kitty Clyde’s Sister, and No Name, were of white oak, and 21 feet long. Arriving on May 11, at the Union Pacific Rail Road station in Green River City, Wyoming was J.W. Powell. Present to greet and unload the cargo of boats, supplies, and rations, were Walter Powell, the Middle Park Five, and fellow veteran George Bradley. The cargo was taken to an islet away from curious town folk. However, Frank Goodman a veteran was interested. Major Powell planned for nine boatmen, and needed one more. He discovered Andy Hall, 19 years old from Scotland.
On May 24, at 1 p.m. the Colorado River Exploring Expedition launched from Expedition Island. In the pilot boat Emma Dean, were Major Powell, Jack Sumner, and Bill Dunn. Followed by Kitty Clyde’s Sister, with Walter Powell and George Bradley. The No Name, held Oramel Howland, Seneca Howland, and Frank Goodman. Last was Maid of the Canyon with Billy Hawkins and Andy Hall. Thus, began the 925 miles voyage in 99 days going through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. For some of the Middle Park Five they would reach and go beyond the intended destination. Others would not.
On June 9, the No Name was demolished at Disaster Falls, Colorado. The occupants swam to an island, and were rescued by Jack Sumner in the Emma Dean. Recovered was a smuggled keg of whiskey, and a few barometers. Frank Goodman, Billy Hawkins, and the Major, went to the Utah Uintah Agency for more supplies. Goodman bid them goodbye on July 5. The confluence of the Green, Grand, and Colorado Rivers in Stillwater Canyon was reached on July 16. Written in the journals about the Grand, “the same river that passes by Hot Sulphur Springs is here, the pride of Colorado.” At breakfast on August 28, the Howland brothers, and Bill Dunn decided to leave the expedition at Separation Rapid, Arizona. The Emma Dean was anchored should they want to return. All three were subsequently killed.
The six remaining men who were half starved continued with two battered boats. On August 30, they saw three men fishing from a bank where the Virgin River met the Colorado. The three fishermen were Joseph Asey and sons. Joseph informed Major Powell he was at the Mormon settlement of Callville, Nevada. The Asey family invited the expedition members into their home. Bishop Leithead was called for at St. Thomas. The Bishop brought a wagon load of mail and melons. Jack Sumner said, “We ate melons till the morning star could be seen.” On September 1, the Powell brothers went back with the Bishop to St. George, Utah. The remaining four expedition members continued down the Colorado River towards the Gulf. Billy Hawkins and George Bradley jumped off at Ehrenberg, Arizona. Whereas, Sumner and Hall, made it to the Gulf of California in late September. The final stretch being 525 miles.
Jack Sumner leader of the Middle Park Five, proved no mission was too big or sacrifice to small. He carried The Code of The West from Longs Peak elevation 14,255 feet, through the Colorado River Canyons to sea level.