John Muir (April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914) was a Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and early advocate of conservation of U.S. wilderness. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, and wildlife, especially in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, have been read by millions and are still popular today. His direct activism helped to save the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. His writings and philosophy strongly influenced the formation of the modern environmental movement.
In 1849 Muir's family emigrated to the United States, starting a farm near Portage, Wisconsin called Fountain Lake Farm, which is still owned by his descendants. Stephen Fox recounts that Muir's father found the Church of Scotland insufficiently strict in faith and practice, leading to their emigration and joining a congregation of the Campbellite Restoration Movement. At the age of 22 he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, paying his own way for several years. There, under a towering black locust tree beside North Hall, Muir took his first botany lesson. A fellow student plucked a flower from the tree and used it to explain how the grand locust is a member of the pea family, related to the straggling pea plant. Fifty years later, the naturalist Muir described the day in his autobiography: "This fine lesson charmed me and sent me flying to the woods and meadows in wild enthusiasm." But instead of graduating from a school built by the hand of man, Muir opted to enroll in the "university of the wilderness." He walked a thousand miles from Indiana to Florida, after spending most of the years 1866 and 1867 working as an industrial engineer in Indianapolis, where a factory accident almost cost him his eyesight. He had planned to continue on to South America, but was stricken by malaria and went to California instead.
Arriving in San Francisco in March 1868, Muir immediately left for a place he had only read about called Yosemite. After seeing Yosemite Valley for the first time he was captivated, and wrote, "No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite," and "[Yosemite is] the grandest of all special temples of Nature."
After his initial eight-day visit, he returned to the Sierra foothills and became a ferry operator, sheepherder and bronco buster. In May 1869 a rancher named Pat Delaney offered Muir a summer job in the mountains to accompany and watch over Delaney's sheep and shepherd. Muir enthusiastically accepted the offer and spent that summer with the sheep in the Yosemite area. That summer Muir climbed Cathedral Peak, Mount Dana and hiked the old Indian trail down Bloody Canyon to Mono Lake. During this time, he started to create theories about how the area was developed and how its ecosystem functioned.
Now more enthusiastic about the area than before, Muir secured a job operating a sawmill in the Yosemite Valley under the supervision of innkeeper James Hutchings. A natural born inventor, Muir designed a water-powered mill to cut wind-felled trees and he built a small cabin for himself along Yosemite Creek.
Pursuit of his love of science, especially geology, often occupied his free time and he soon became convinced that glaciers had sculpted many of the features of the valley and surrounding area. This notion was in stark contradiction to the accepted theory of the day, promulgated by Josiah Whitney (head of the California Geological Survey), which attributed the formation of the valley to a catastrophic earthquake. As Muir's ideas spread, Whitney would try to discredit Muir by branding him as an amateur and even an ignoramus. The premier geologist of the day, Louis Agassiz, however, saw merit in Muir's ideas, and lauded him as "the first man who has any adequate conception of glacial action."
In 1871 Muir discovered an active alpine glacier below Merced Peak, which further helped his theories to gain acceptance. He was also a highly productive writer and had many of his accounts and papers published as far away as New York. Also that year, one of Muir's heroes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, arrived in Yosemite and sought Muir out. Muir's former professor at the University of Wisconsin, Ezra Carr, and Carr's wife Jeanne encouraged Muir to publish his ideas. They also introduced Muir to notables such as Emerson, as well as many leading scientists such as Louis Agassiz, John Tyndall, John Torrey, Clinton Hart Merriam, and Joseph LeConte.
The author and professor Stephen Fox relates that, by the age of eleven, young Muir had learned to recite “by heart and by sore flesh” all of the New Testament and most of the Old. In maturity, though, Muir was never confused by orthodox beliefs. In a letter to his fond friend Emily Pelton of May 23, 1865, he wrote "I never tried to abandon creeds or code of civilization; they went away of their own accord . . . without leaving any consciousness of loss." Elsewhere in his writings, he likened the conventional image of a Creator "as purely a manufactured article as any puppet of a half-penney theater."
A large earthquake centered near Lone Pine, California in Owens Valley (see 1872 Lone Pine earthquake) was felt very strongly in Yosemite Valley in March 1872. The quake woke Muir in the early morning and he ran out of his cabin "both glad and frightened," exclaiming, "A noble earthquake!" Other valley settlers, who still adhered to Whitney's ideas, feared that the quake was a prelude to a cataclysmic deepening of the valley. Muir had no such fear and promptly made a moonlit survey of new talus piles created by earthquake-triggered rockslides. This event led more people to believe in Muir's ideas about the formation of the valley.
In addition to his geologic studies, Muir also investigated the living Yosemite area. He made two field studies along the western flank of the Sierra of the distribution and ecology of isolated groves of Giant Sequoia in 1873 and 1874. In 1876 the American Association for the Advancement of Science published a paper Muir wrote about the trees' ecology and distribution.
In 1880 Muir married Louisa Wanda Strentzel, whose parents owned a large ranch and fruit orchards in Martinez, California, a small town northeast of San Francisco. For the next ten years he devoted himself to managing the family ranch, consisting of of orchards and vineyards which became very successful. During this time two daughters were born, Wanda and Helen. When he died he left an estate of $250,000, worth more than $4 million dollars in 2005 terms (Worster). The house and part of the ranch are now a National Historical Site.
Muir travelled with the party that landed on Wrangel Island on the USS Corwin and claimed that island for the United States in 1881. He documented this experience in his book The Cruise of the Corwin.
On September 30, 1890, Congress passed a bill that essentially followed recommendations that Muir put forward in two Century articles—The Treasure of the Yosemite and Features of the Proposed National Park, both published in 1890. To Muir's dismay, however, the bill left Yosemite Valley in state control. With this partial victory under his belt, Muir helped form an environmental organization called the Sierra Club on May 28, 1892; he was elected its first president, a position he held until his death 22 years later. In 1894, his first book, The Mountains of California, was published.
In 1899, Muir accompanied railroad executive E. H. Harriman and other esteemed scientists on Harriman's famous exploratory voyage along the Alaska coast aboard the luxuriously refitted steamer called the George W. Elder. He would later rely on his friendship with Harriman to apply political pressure on Congress to pass conservation legislation.
In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt accompanied Muir on a visit to Yosemite. Muir joined Roosevelt in Oakland, California for the train trip to Raymond. The presidential entourage then traveled by stagecoach into the park. While traveling to the park, Muir told the president about state mismanagement of the valley and rampant exploitation of the valley's resources. Even before they entered the park, he was able to convince Roosevelt that the best way to protect the valley was through federal control and management.
After entering the park and seeing the magnificent splendor of the valley, the president asked Muir to show him the real Yosemite. Muir and Roosevelt set off largely by themselves and camped in the backcountry. While circling around a fire, the duo talked late into the night, slept in the brisk open air of Glacier Point and were dusted by a fresh snowfall in the morning—a night Roosevelt never would forget.
Muir then increased efforts by the Sierra Club to consolidate park management and was rewarded in 1905 when Congress transferred the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley into the park. His wife Louisa died on 6 August 1905.
John Muir's great-grandson, Michael Muir, founded a group called Access Adventure, to help people with disabilities experience the outdoors in their wheelchairs.
Three John Muir Trails (in California, Tennessee, and Wisconsin), the John Muir Wilderness, Mount Muir just off the John Muir Trail, the Muir Woods National Monument, John Muir High School, John Muir Elementary School John Muir College (a residential college of the University of California, San Diego), John Muir Country Park, in Dunbar and the John Muir Way in East Lothian are named in his honor, as is the asteroid 128523 John muir. An image of John Muir, with the California Condor and Half Dome, appears on the California state quarter which was released in 2005. A quotation of his appears on the reverse side of the Indianapolis Prize Lilly Medal for conservation. Also named for him is Muir's Peak in Mount Shasta, California (also known as Black Butte), and Muir Woods just north of San Francisco
On December 6 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted John Muir into the California Hall of Fame located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.
Muir's travels in Canada have been described by Roderick Nash as not simply journeys into wilderness, but trips to avoid military service. Nash wrote: "Muir's first encounter with the idea that nature had rights came as a consequence of draft-dodging.... Muir, who was twenty-six and single, felt certain he would be called, and he apparently had no interest in the fight to save the Union or free the slaves." In the actual event, however, and contrary to Nash, Muir was in the United States until after the Union Army draft following Gettysburg occurred, and his number simply was not drawn. As for Muir's aversion to the Civil War in general, he was of course a Scotsman—only becoming a U.S. citizen at age 65. When the Seventh Wisconsin Regiment (volunteers) left Madison, Wisconsin in 1861, Muir saw them off at the station; in a letter that same day to Mrs. Edward Pelton, he observed that the festive martial pomp seemed inappropriate, with visions of heroism soon to be replaced by harsh, unpleasant realities.
John Muir Health and Hill Physicians Medical Group Extend RelayHealth Clinical Connectivity to Create Regional Data Information Exchange.
Apr 22, 2009; John Muir Health, a preeminent northern California health system with two acute-care medical centers, and Hill Physicians Medical...