The One-Armed Geologist Whose Daring Colorado River Descent Made the Grand Canyon Famous

John Wesley Powell's Expedition Opened the West. He Then Devoted His Life to Protecting It

In May 1869, ten men climbed into four small, wooden rowboats to attempt what no one had dared before: descend the Colorado River through the unknown, frightening confines of the Grand Canyon. The leading explorer of the day, John C. Frémont, called it a suicide mission.

But no one could dissuade the expedition’s leader, scientist and Civil War hero John Wesley Powell, from exploring the last largely unexplored section of continental America, a 100-by-300-mile swathe of labyrinthian canyon land of the high Colorado Plateau—and finishing what Lewis and Clark had …

The Savvy Press Agent Who Invented Buffalo Bill

"Arizona John" Burke Perfected the Art of Hype That Converted a Bison Hunter Into a Symbol of National Character

To appreciate the wonder and luster of a star in the sky, one must look off to its side—“averted vision,” it is called.

So it was in the late 19th century …

When Variety Theaters Tantalized the Frontier West

In 19th-Century Spokane, Risqué Performances Set off a Battle Over Civil Morality

In the spring of 1897, Spokane, Washington’s Spokesman-Review published an exposé of its city’s thriving red light district—known as Howard Street. The newspaper lingered on distasteful scenes in variety theaters …

Why Sheep Started So Many Wars in the American West

Each Year, an Idaho Festival Honors the Shepherds Who Sought to Keep the Peace

In early October, when the leaves turn golden and the shadows of the Sawtooth Mountains lengthen, the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival moves through south central Idaho. The festival, …

The Faux “Sioux” Sharpshooter Who Became Annie Oakley’s Rival

By Reinventing Herself as Indian, Lillian Smith Became a Wild West Sensation—and Escaped an Unhappy Past

At about 10:30 a.m. on the morning of August 3, 1901, more than 100,000 people jostled to catch a glimpse of Frederick Cummins’ Indian Congress parade at the Pan-American …

The Epic Effort to Map the West

A Brilliant Geographer and Famous Photographer Teamed Up to Tackle the Nearly Impossible Task of Surveying 19th-Century California

We’ll start in the 1840s, when Western North America was almost wholly empty of European-Americans. To prepare the land for settlement, the United States government sent teams of explorers into …