John Wesley Powell and Indian Affairs

The Powell-Ingalls Special Commission meeting with Southern Paiutes near St. George. Standing figure at far left is Major John Wesley Powell. Note the empty shirt sleeve; he lost an arm in the Civil War. Washington County, Utah. September 1873. U.S. Geological Survey photo (from Smithsonian Collection).

“In 1873, [John Wesley] Powell and G. W. Ingalls were appointed Special Commissioners for the Department of Indian Affairs.” They were assigned to investigate the “conditions and wants” of the Indians of Utah, Nevada, southern Idaho, northern Arizona, and southeastern California. 
          During the summer and into early November, Powell and Ingalls visited Indian camps. They met with Naches, a son of Chief Winnemucca of the Nevada Northern Paiutes; Seguit, a Gosiute from Skull Valley, Utah; Kanosh, chief of the Utah Pahvant Utes; and many others. Powell collected names of Indian leaders, family relati0nships, vocabulary words in their languages, myths and stories. 

Major Powell talking to a Paiute Indian during northern Arizona survey, 1873. Photo by Hillers from U.S. Geological Survey.

          Photographer John K. (“Jack”) Hillers accompanied Powell and Ingalls during their investigations. 
          Powell and Ingalls filed their final report in Decmber 1873. They said the Indians “understand that settlement of their country by white men is inevitable, know the folly of contending against it, ask that they may have lands of their own and be assisted to become farmers and stock raisers, but especially do they ask that they may have cattle.” Powell and Ingalls recommended that Richard Komas, a native Ute and then a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, be employed to assist as interpreter in settling these Indian peoples.
          In 1879, the four great western suveys (Powell, Hayden, King and Wheeler) were officially ended.  Fieldwork by the King survey had been completed in 1873. The United States Geological Survey was established. The legislation that created the Geological Survey provided for completion of the Powell survey. The project was assigned to the Smithsonian Institution with Powell directing the work in a new position as Director of  The Bureau of Ethnology. He was also named to the dual position of Director of the Geological Survey in 1881.
Hillers continued to work as a photographer with Powell until 1900. Ingalls became an Indian Agent for the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations.

Source: “John Wesley Powell’s Anthropological Fieldwork,” by Don D. Fowler and Catherine S. Fowler, Geological Survey Professional Paper 670,

Full text of the Powell-Ingalls report:


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