John Wesley Powell

The city of Powell was named for famed explorer John Wesley Powell. Powell wasn't the first European to travel the area but he was probably one of the most famous. John Colter (previously of the Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804-1806) made the first recorded visit to the Powell area by a white man. After him came a number of fur trappers and other mountain men.

The first herd of cattle arrived in the valley from Oregon in the late 1870's. In 1888, the USGS surveyed the area with an eye toward developing a dam and canal system through the valley. When work began on the Shoshone Project and the Buffalo Bill dam in 1907, Camp Colter was established near the present site of Powell. The Powell Post Office was established in 1908, about the same time irrigation water was made available for farmers and ranchers in the area. Homesteaders came in and, with that irrigation water, turned an area that was previously sagebrush flats into fertile farm land. When the Bureau of Reclamation finished up their work in the area, Camp Colter became an obvious location for a town. However, Colter as a name was already taken. So someone suggested Powell as he had been head of the survey team for the Buffalo Bill Dam project.

Today, Powell is still an agricultural center but the local economy has diversified with commercial, educational and industrial development. Northwest College, an excellent community college, is based in Powell. Powell Valley has a high desert climate and even though it is between two high mountain ranges, winters are mild and the valley floor stays nearly snow-free.