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John Wesley Powell's famed Green, Colorado River expeditions set to music

Let's Go! A John Wesley Powell Story
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 30, 2024

VERNAL, Utah — The Green and Colorado rivers are significantly important to Utah history and they are a featured character in a new musical.

"Let's Go! A John Wesley Powell Story" looks back on the life of Powell and his mapping of the two rivers. It was written by Jon Stearmer, who is the Chief Deputy Uintah County Attorney in his day job.

"So any time that I go to the Green River or the Colorado River, I always carry a copy of John Powell’s journal and see what he was doing on that particular section of river," he said in a recent interview with FOX 13 News.

The show, with music by Alan Doyle, chronicles a portion of Powell's life when he sought to fill in a "hole in the map" where the rivers were, Stearmer said.

"He's a very unique individual, but then also very much like a lot of people who lived in the mid 1800s. I mean, they had to deal with the Civil War. Then there was the expansion of the United States for good and bad," he said.

Both rivers are significantly important not just to Utah, but to the western United States. The Colorado River, a frequent subject of political battles, supplies water to more than 40 million people. While the Colorado gets a lot of the attention, Stearmer said he believes it is a tributary of the mighty Green River.

"It seems like the politics of the time Colorado won the day and they got to have the river named after them. But the Green, it's just a bigger river," he said, smiling. " And so I like to always say that the Colorado is a tributary to the Green."

Congressman John Curtis recently spoke about "Let's Go!" in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, as part of recognition for Uintah County's annual John Wesley Powell River Festival. The musical delves into the life of Powell, but also dabbles in the politics of water — then and now.

"I think he was a little bit prophetic in the way that he saw water playing out in the West," Stearmer said. "Unfortunately, the people at the time back then weren't listening to him and maybe today? Maybe we'll listen to him a little bit more."

The show is being produced by Vernal's Outlaw Trail Theater. It runs through July 6.

This article is published through the Colorado River Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative supported by the Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water, and Air at Utah State University. See all of our stories about how Utahns are impacted by the Colorado River at