From Green River, Wyoming on May 24, 1869 Major John Wesley Powell and a group of voyagers set out to discover the mysteries of one of the last unexplored regions in the continental United States—the Green and Colorado Rivers. Powell was a disabled veteran who lost his right arm in the Civil War. Later he turned to exploration, and in 1869 and 1871 led crews down the rivers and through the Grand Canyon.
The town of Green River was chosen as the starting point because it was here that the river and the transcontinental railroad met. The newly completed Union Pacific Railroad brought boats and supplies to the launch site.
Powell's expeditions departed from an area around a small island in the Green River. In 1969 the site was designated a National Historic Place and renamed Expedition Island.
Years later the wild river that Powell knew as the Green was tamed and changed by the installation of two dams; Fontenelle, fifty miles upstream from Green River, and Flaming Gorge, seventy miles downstream.
Powell was later appointed director of the Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology and director of the United States Geological Survey. He died in 1902 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Powell expeditions fired the imagination of the American public with the romance of exploring a final frontier, but more importantly, the scientific studies of the river basins were the first done in the remote Colorado Plateau, and formed the basis for a new arid land policy.