On my return from the first exploration of the canyons of the Colorado, I found that our journey had been the theme of much newspaper writing. A story of disaster had been circulated, with many particulars of hardship and tragedy, so that it was currently believed throughout the United States that all the members of the party were lost save one. A good friend of mine had gathered a great number of obituary notices, and it was interesting and rather flattering to me to discover the high esteem in which I had been held by the people of the United States. In my supposed death I had attained to a glory which I fear my continued life has not fully vindicated.
The exploration was not made for adventure, but purely for scientific purposes, geographic and geologic, and I had no intention of writing an account of it, but only of recording the scientific results. Immediately on my return I was interviewed a number of times, and these interviews were published in the daily press; and here I supposed all interest in the exploration ended. But in 1874 the editors of Scribner's Monthly requested me to publish a popular account of the Colorado exploration in that journal. To this I acceded and prepared four short articles, which were elaborately illustrated from photographs in my possession.
In the same year - 1874 - at the instance of Professor Henry of the Smithsonian Institution, I was called before an appropriations committee of the House of Representatives to explain certain estimates made by the Professor for funds to continue scientific work which had been in progress from the date of the original exploration. Mr. Garfield was chairman of the committee, and after listening to my account of the progress of the geographic and geologic work, he asked me why no history of the original exploration of the canyons had been published. I informed him that I had no interest in that work as an adventure, but was interested only in the scientific results, and that these results had in part been published and in part were in course of publication. Thereupon Mr. Garfield, in a pleasant manner, insisted that the history of the exploration should be published by the government, and that I must understand that my scientific work would be continued by additional appropriations only upon my promise that I would publish an account of the exploration. I made the promise, and the task was immediately undertaken.
My daily journal had been kept on long and narrow strips of brown paper, which were gathered into little volumes that were bound in sole leather in camp as they were completed. After some deliberation I decided to publish this journal, with only such emendations and corrections as its hasty writing in camp necessitated. It chanced that the journal was written in the present tense, so that the first account of my trip appeared in that tense. The journal thus published was not a lengthy paper, constituting but a part of a report entitled "Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and its Tributaries. Explored in 1869, 1870, 1871, and 1872, under the direction of the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution." The other papers published with it relate to the geography, geology, and natural history of the country. And here again I supposed all account of the exploration ended. But from that time until the present I have received many letters urging that a popular account of the exploration and a description of that wonderful land should be published by me. This call has been voiced occasionally in the daily press and sometimes in the magazines, until at last I have concluded to publish a fuller account in popular form. In doing this I have revised and enlarged the original journal of exploration, and have added several new chapters descriptive of the region and of the people who inhabit it. Realizing the difficulty of painting in word colors a land so strange, so wonderful, and so vast in its features, in the weakness of my descriptive powers I have sought refuge in graphic illustration, and for this purpose have gathered from the magazines and from various scientific reports an abundance of material. All of this illustrative material originated in my work, but it has already been used elsewhere.
Many years have passed since the exploration, and those who were boys with me in the enterprise are - ah, most of them are dead, and the living are gray with age. Their bronzed, hardy, brave faces come before me as they appeared in the vigor of life; their lithe but powerful forms seem to move around me; and the memory of the men and their heroic deeds, the men and their generous acts, overwhelms me with a joy that seems almost a grief, for it starts a fountain of tears. I was a maimed man; my right arm was gone; and these brave men, these good men, never forgot it. In every danger my safety was their first care, and in every waking hour some kind service was rendered me, and they transfigured my misfortune into a boon.
To you - J. C. Sumner, William H. Dunn, W. H. Powell, G. Y. Bradley, O. G. Howland, Seneca Howland, Prank Goodman, W. E. Hawkins, and Andrew Hall - my noble and generous companions, dead and alive, I dedicate this book.