The Stewarts and Their Assistance to John Wesley Powell’s Second Expedition
to Measure,
Map and Explore Southern Utah and Arizona

by Margery Boyden, Scudder Association Foundation Historian, © 2021. All rights reserved.



The Powell Survey Kanab Base Line Monument

Major John Wesley Powell’s first expedition had taken them through Kanab in 1870 on their way to explore the Colorado River. In the winter of 1871–1872, Powell’s second expedition[1]  returned again. Powell had begun the project in the spring of 1869 but had “lost one of their four boats loaded with equipment and food, and the trip turned into a race with starvation. They had to reach the mouth of the Virgin before their food ran out. Thus, the 1869 trip was too hurried to yield the results Major Powell desired.” They began the project anew on April 22, 1871. Olsen states that “during the first week in December 1871, Powell and A. H. Thompson [Powell’s brother-in-law] “made a preliminary reconnaissance to find a site for the base line. Eventually they decided the land directly below Kanab would do.” The tent camp they set up was “six miles due south of Kanab across the border in Arizona.” The day after Christmas they were ready to start measuring and “put up a flag at the north end, about a mile from the center of Kanab as it is today and started measuring south.” [2] Having nearly starved in their first attempt, it was fortuitous that the emerging settlement of Kanab could now also be a supply base.

The Powell Survey preceded the Geological Survey and from this location “Powell’s section of the United States, southern Utah and northern Arizona” was systematically explored. Robert W. Olsen, Jr. describes the process:

A base line is a line of known length across a stretch of country. From this line the countryside can be measured. The principle is one encountered in geometry. If you know the length of one side of a triangle and two of its angles, you can calculate the length of the other two sides. In this context the base line is the known side, and from it the members of the Powell Survey could project triangles to prominent land features. These triangles were not small. The base line was nine miles long. Extending from it the sides of the triangles reached out as much as twenty or thirty miles. Under right conditions they could be as long as sixty miles.[3]

In his book, Canyon Voyage, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, the young artist and assistant cartographer for Powell’s second expedition, describes what he found when he went to visit the remote settlement of Kanab, only a year and a half after the arrival in July 1870 of Bishop Levi Stewart and his associates who had been called to establish and layout the town of Kanab:

I was much interested to see Kanab of which so much had been said. I decided to take a Sunday trip in that direction. On the 17th of December about noon I put a saddle on a white mule named Trigger and was on my way. Emerging from the Chocolate Cliffs, the road led along the Vermilion Cliffs, crossing long ridges covered with cedars and pines,

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The Vermillion Cliffs, The Wave, east of Kanab

and soon joining a road that led from the canyon to the eastward where there was a very small settlement called Johnson…Trigger went along very well and I was in Kanab by 3 o’clock. The village which had been started only a year or two was laid out in the characteristic Mormon style, with wide streets and regular lots, fenced by wattling willows between stakes. Irrigation ditches ran down each side of every street, and from them the water derived from the creek that came down the canyon back of the town, could be led into any of the lots, each of which was about a quarter of an acre…Fruit trees, shade trees, and vines had been planted and were already beginning to promise results, while corn, potatoes, etc., gave fine crops. The original place of settlement was a square formed by one story log houses on three sides and a stockade on the fourth. This was called the fort and was a place of refuge…One corner of the fort was made by the walls of the school house which was at the same time meetng house and ballroom. The houses built outside the fort were substantially constructed…The entire settlement had a thrifty air as is the case with the Mormons. Not a grogshop or gambling saloon, or dance hall was to be seen; ordinarily the usual disgraceful accompaniments of the frontier town. A perfectly orderly government existed, headed by a bishop appointed by the church authorities in Sal Lake. I found Clem and Beaman (evidently photographers with Powell’s staff) domiciled with their photographic outfits with a swarm of children peeping through every crevice of the logs to get a view of the ‘Gentiles,’ a kind of animal they had seldom seen.[5]

When Powell chose the spot in Kanab for his operation, it was only a year after the tragic fire down at the fort that had taken the lives of six members of the Stewart family.

Robinson’s History of Kane County reveals that two of Levi Stewart’s sons, John Riley Stewart and William Thomas Stewart,[6] were recruited by Major John Wesley Powell in the winter of 1871–1872 to assist. 

Olsen specifies: “On January 7 Thompson decided to secure Kanab men to measure the base line. Charles Riggs and Thomas Stewart were hired, and Captain Pardyn Dodds was to be in charge. This heralded a new phase in the operations of the expedition. It released the regular members for triangulation and other jobs. They would move from the base line area to prominent land features and triangulate back to the base line. In this way these features would be related to the base line, and larger triangles would be projected.”[7]

They completed the measuring on the Kanab base line in September of 1872 and ran the line from their north end into Kanab. “Thompson had an astronomic pier built. This was the new north end, and was a structure of rock” with “an astronomic transit on the pier, and a tent was erected around the whole thing.[8] This time they had driven in their stakes for their base camp across the street from Levi Stewart’s new home. That was convenient for, “From here, time signals were exchanged with the observatory at Salt Lake City by way of the Deseret Telegraph”[9] and it was the Stewart family who was running the telegraph office. Olsen says, “With the exchange of signals in September of 1872, Powell’s area was integrated with the rest of the United States.”


Levi Stewart home 

The second expedition team was disbanded on November 30, 1872 and headed east but Thompson and Dellenbaugh remained at Kanab to “finish the original draft of the map.” They made camp with their tent across the street from the Levi Stewart home where Powell’s meridian marker still stands. In a letter written August 25, 1934 shortly before his death to his friend in Kanab, Rose Hicks Hamlin, Dellenbaugh says it was in this tent in that encampment across the road from the Stewart home that some major events took place and offers additional detail and the role that John Stewart played:

One thing before I forget it: the first preliminary map of the Grand Canyon region was made in a tent on a lot in Kanab the winter of 1872-73. Some have asked recently who named the Grand Canyon. It was Major Powell and I was the first to put the name on the map, which I did in that tent in Kanab in January 1873. The first base line, so far as I know between the Colorado State Line and the Sierra Nevada, was the one the Powell Survey measured for nine miles south from a lot in Kanab; or rather from the ground just outside of the lot.

At this spot, a stone foundation was built about two feet wide and four feet long and two feet high, very strong and solid. On this Professor Thompson set up a transit instrument. A tent was erected over the hole large enough to give head room inside, and with a roof that folded back so the telescope of the transit could be brought to bear on the stars. By this means and a time connection by telegraph with Salt Lake the meridian was exactly established.

Our base line next was measured south on this meridian for nine miles, passing through the gap as I remember the distance. From each end of this line we took our angles to the visible peaks and promontories and carried on the triangulation far and wide. Of course, we had to make scouting trips in all directions and we depended on the men of Kanab for help in this work. They were excellent workers and always faithful, agreeable and competent.

First there was Jacob Hamlin, or ‘Old Jacob’ as everybody called him, though he was not very old at that time. He did not assist in the topographical scouting but in other ways. Frank Hamblin and Lyman Hamblin, Nathan Adams (Senior), Joe Hamblin, Fred Hamblin, George Adair, the Nebekers, Brigham Young [a younger generation], John Stewart, to some extent John W. Young, helped scout through the canyon of the Virgin, with Powell and Jones from Long Valley to Schunesberg. Will Johnson for a time was assistant geologist after our John Stewart had to go back home on account of illness.”[10]


John Riley Stewart 

John Riley Stewart has an interesting history in his own right as recorded by his great-granddaughter Vera Anderson Christensen. This excerpt is given here and may also help to clear up confusion that has occurred on the Internet by people mixing up different people named John Stewart.

When John was thirteen, his mother, Melinda, passed away. At age sixteen John drove a team and wagon to Omaha, Nebraska to bring back goods for his father’s store. At twenty-one he was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in the Civil War. He was wounded and recovered at the home of relatives in Illinois. There he fell in love with his cousin Frances Ellen Van Hooser. They were married in Florence, Nebraska on July 4, 1862. Their honeymoon was in a covered wagon crossing the plains to Utah.

Levi put his son, John, in charge of land he had acquired in Juab Valley south of Provo. This is where John and Frances Ellen made their first home. Their baby son, John Clarence, was born on April 20, 1863. The young mother did not regain her strength and she passed away on February 13, 1864. John took his baby to Levi’s home in Big Cottonwood where his sister, Louisa, cared for John Clarence.

Also in that area now known as Highland Drive lived the Edward and Nancy Areta Porter Stevenson family. They had a charming daughter, Eliza, one of the first children born in Utah on April 16, 1848. John and Eliza were friends for years. They fell in love and were married on December 1, 1865 in the Endowment House. She took care of baby Clarence. Her first baby, Eliza Melinda was born, but she died and was buried by Frances Ellen.[11]

Vera also mentions that John took over the railroad contract his father received in 1868. John and Eliza went with his father to establish Kanab where he was active in the community and his livestock that he ran on the Kaibab. Vera continues:

When Major John Wesley Powell of the U.S. Geological Survey came to Kanab and made his headquarters there, John acted as his guide. This was because of his knowledge of the country and Grand Canyon area. He proved to be a valuable help to Powell. John and Eliza and Major and Mrs. Powell became great friends.[12]

Dellenbaugh’s letter speaks to the cordial, mutually beneficial relationship between Powell’s men and the people of Kanab.

During the next five or six years when [Powell] was making other expeditions and was working on a geological survey of the Rocky Mountains for the government, [Powell] made Kanab his headquarters. At this time, through several years, many of the men and boys of the Kanab vicinity found employment in the service of Major Powell. They considered it an honor to assist in this important survey.

The surveying party got their mail and supplies from Kanab, and they depended on the settlers when they were ill or in danger, for relief and help. Everyone in Kanab, men and women alike, did their best to make the men comfortable during their stay.[13]

When Powell’s wife and his sister Mrs. Thompson joined the second expedition,[14] they became friends with the women at Kanab. Findlay says, “The presence in Kanab of Major Powell’s Geological Survey party lent an air of bustle and activity.”

Local men hired by the survey drew regular pay from the federal government and the people felt that they were able to indulge in some of the refinements of life. The cultural life of the community, as has already been mentioned, centered around the rock school house that had been completed the January before as a memorial to the tragic victims of the fire in the Stewart home. It was the center of all meetings, dances, plays, and social functions as well as school.[15]

Robinson concludes:

Connections between Kanab and the historic Powell Survey of 1871 and 1872 has been noted. Perhaps additional facts should be given. Powell’s scouting crew intended to reach the mouth of the Little Colorado by spring. Although the weather was stormy at Kanab that year, Professor Thompson, in charge of the geological work, sent men in a number of directions to place flags and monuments for future guides. It had been previously decided that a base line was to be measured from Kanab ten miles out.

The people of Kanab greatly benefited as headquarters for this survey. Not only were many of the men employed to help with the project, but the community benefited from the sale of vegetables, butter, milk, cheese and meat to the surveyors.[16]

A cooperative effort between the indigenous people and Kanab residents helped to supply Powell and his men with clothing. With the natives Powell “traded articles… and got them to tan buckskin for him” in a laborintensive process that yielded smooth and pliable results which were then “waterproofed by hanging over a smouldering willow fire. The Major then took them to Mary Ann Broadbent who made coats, shirts, and gloves for the Major and his men. Lavina Manhard Brown…had learned tailoring in Canada before coming to Utah.  She made buckskin breeches for the Major, and while he chatted with her about style and measurements, he often held her baby Nellie on his knee.” Others baked bread and mended or made clothes, the town blacksmith, who had learned his trade in Scotland, shod all the mules and horses, set the tires, and mended broken wagon wheels. After one of his trips to Washington, Major Powell paid him one hundred dollars in gold.”[17]

The people of Kanab and Major Powell’s party were mindful of the important work they were doing and so were younger generations. On Saturday, May 14, 1955, the Margery Stewart Camp, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers dedicated a monument to commemorate the spot on which Major John Wesley Powell established the meridian from which his base line was measured in his survey of 1872–3, and upon which all future surveys of this area have been based.” John Stewart’s name is on the monument.[18] The irony is that more recently, in the name of progress to widen the street, the marker was moved a few feet to get it out of the way!?

Lifelong bonds of friendships made through cooperation, and the beauty that these exploring Kanab pioneers would have seen as they worked together with Major Powell and his men on a project so important, obviously touched Powell’s cartographer Frederick Dellenbaugh too as he captures in this 1903 painting of nearby Zion Canyon.

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Zion Canyon by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, 1903


(Levi Stewart Memorial and Other Kanab Monuments

[1] Robert W. Olsen, Jr., “The Powell Survey Kanab Base Line,” Utah Historical Quarterly, volume 37, no. 2, 1969, Utah State History,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lobineau, Coyote Buttes a.k.a The Wave, Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona, (1998), Lobineau at Italian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons,,_Vermillion_Cliffs,_Arizona.jpg.

[5] Excerpt from Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Canyon Voyage, as quoted in Findlay, History of Kane County, 45–46. Dellenbaugh was also an accomplished artist.

[6] Adonis Findlay Robinson, comp. and ed., History of Kane County, (for Kane County Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Kane County Commissioners and Mayors and Councilmen of each community, Salt Lake City, Ut.: The Utah Printing Company, 1970), 50–54.

[7] Olsen, Jr., “The Powell Survey Kanab Base Line.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Robinson, 50–51.

[11] Vera A. Christensen, “Levi Stewart,” manuscript at L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Robinson, 44.

[14] Robinson, 45.

[15] Robinson 46.

[16] Robinson, 48.

[17] Robinson, 49.

[18] Robinson, 54.

[19] Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons,