(April 21, 1838 - December 24, 1914) was an environmentalist, naturalist, traveler, writer, and
scientist. He is, however, probably best remembered as one of the greatest
champions of the Yosemite area's natural wonders. He thought
that nature was the outward manifestion of God and that the Sierra Nevada was sacred ground, even calling it
the "Range of Light." Anticipating the animal rights movement, Muir argued with vigor about
what he considered the questionable ethics of hunting (calling it the "murder business"). He also
anticipated modern conservation biologists by recognizing that everything
in nature is connected and that the preservation of large tracts
of unfragmented wilderness was the only real way to ensure a healthy ecosystem. Because of this, he argued for the protection of
entire river drainages, instead of isolated valleys.
Muir was born in
Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland and grew up on a Wisconsin farm. He attended the University of Wisconsin for several years,
but instead of graduating from a school built by the hand of man, Muir
opted to enroll in the "university of the wilderness" and
thus walked a thousand miles from Indiana to Florida. 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 bronc 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 sheepherder. 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 develop his theories
about how the area 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
In 1871 Muir discovered an active cirque 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
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 without fear 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
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 fact, in 1876 the American Association
for the Advancement of Science published a paper Muir wrote about
the trees' ecology and distribution.
soon started to switch from studying the Yosemite area and Sierra to
protecting it. A precipitating event for him was the discovery of a
sign illegally claiming private ownership in Kings Canyon, and loggers
cutting down ancient Giant Sequoia groves south of present day Sequoia National Park.
Muir threw himself
into his new role with great vigor. He saw the greatest threat to the
Yosemite area and the Sierras to be livestock, especially domestic sheep (calling them "hooved locusts"). In June 1889, the influential associate editor of Century magazine,
Robert Underwood Johnson, camped with Muir in Tuolumne Meadows and saw first hand the damage a
large flock of sheep had done to the grassland. Johnson agreed to publish
any article Muir wrote on the subject of excluding livestock from the
Sierra high country. He also agreed to use his influence to introduce
a bill to Congress that would make the Yosemite area into a national park, modeled after Yellowstone National Park.
A bill essentially
following 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), was passed
by Congress on September 30, 1890. To the dismay of Muir, 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 and was elected as its first president (a position he held
until his death 22 years later).
Muir later befriended
another leader in the conservation movement named Gifford Pinchot. That friendship was ended in the
summer of 1897 when Pinchot expressed his opinion that forests should be
managed for the betterment of mankind, while Muir wanted to preserve
nature in its natural state. This philosophical divide soon expanded
and split the conservationist movement into two camps: the preservationists,
led by Muir, and Pinchot's camp, who co-opted the term "conservationist."
In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt accompanied Muir on a visit
to the park. Muir joined Roosevelt in Oakland 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 a few ranges into the backcountry. While circling around
a fire, the duo talked late into the night, slept in the brisk open
air 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.
Pressure then started
to mount to dam the Tuolumne River for use as a water reservoir for San Francisco. The damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley was passionately opposed by
Muir who called Hetch Hetchy a "second Yosemite." Muir, the
Sierra Club and Robert Underwood Johnson fought against inundating the
valley and Muir even wrote Roosevelt pleading for him to scuttle the
project. After years of national debate that polarized the nation, Roosevelt's
successor, Woodrow Wilson signed the dam bill into law on December 19, 1913. Muir died soon afterward, some say from sorrow.
1838 -- April 21,
birthday of John Muir, born in Dunbar, Scotland.
1841 -- Began school
at the age of three.
1849 -- Immigration
to Wisconsin at the age of 11.
1860 -- Left home
(22 years of age) to exhibit
his inventions at State Agriculture Fair in Madison , Wisconsin;
brief jobs; enrolls at the University of Wisconsin.
1861-62 -- Attends
University of Wisconsin for 2-1/2 years (5 tri-semesters), teaches school
during the winter, forms friendship with the Carr's.
1863 -- Left the
University; foot tour of Wisconsin, Iowa , Illinois, and Canada.
1866 -- Indianapolis,
Indiana : worked for manufacturer of carriage parts.
1867 -- Eye injury.
Begins 1000 mile walk to Florida and then to Cuba.
1868 -- Voyage to
California: landed in San Francisco, March 28, and walked across the
valley; worked at ranch of Pat Delaney.
1869 -- Summer sheep
herder in high Sierra; returned to live in Yosemite, to work for Hutchings,
to operate saw mill; began exploration for signs of glaciers.
1871 -- Met Emerson
1872 -- Began to
publish articles in leading magazines.
1873 -- Continuous
residence in Yosemite ended.
1874 -- Met the
Strentzels in Alhambra Valley.
1875 -- Lived in
Bay Area writing magazine articles; trips to mountains; Utah .
1879 -- Proposed
to Louie Strentzel; First Alaska trip with S. Hall Young; discovery
of Glacier Bay and Muir Glacier.
1880 -- April 14:
marriage of John Muir (42) and Louie Strentzel (33); Second trip to
Alaska, adventure with Stickeen
1881 -- John Swett
bought ranch adjoining Muir holdings. Birth of Wanda Muir; railroad
built; third trip to Alaska aboard the Corwin.
1882-83 -- Construction
1882 -- Beginning
of extensive ranching period.
1886 -- Birth of
1888 -- Trip to
Mt. Rainier ; editor and contributor of Picturesque California,
1890 -- Alaska trip
to Muir Glacier; death of Dr. Strentzel; Muir family move to mansion.
1890 -- Yosemite
becomes a National Park.
1892 -- Founding
of the Sierra Club , end of
ranching career for John Muir.
1893 -- Trip to
Europe with William Keith.
1894 -- Mountains
of California published.
1898 -- Death of
1899 -- Mt. Rainier
National Park established; member of Harriman Alaska Expedition.
1901 -- Our
National Parks published.
1903 -- Theodore
Roosevelt visited Yosemite.
1904 -- World tour.
1905 -- Helen ill,
Adamana, Arizona for recovery.
1906 -- Petrified
Forest becomes a national monument; death of Louie Strentzel Muir, August
1906 -- San Francisco
earthquake, repair of house, marriage of Wanda to Thomas Hanna.
1908 -- Grand Canyon
National Park established.
1907-1913 -- Fight
to save Hetch Hetchy Valley;
First Summer in the Sierra (1911), The
Yosemite (1912), and The
Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913) published.
1910 -- Helen married
1911-12 -- Trip
to South America and Africa (73 years old.)
1914 -- December
24: death of John Muir of pneumonia in a Los Angeles Hospital.
Born April 21st in Dunbar, Scotland.
1841 Starts school at the age of three.
1845 Dunbar Grammar School: taught Latin, French, English, Maths, Geography
1849 Emigrates in February by sailing ship from Glasgow; 6 weeks to
New York thence via Great Lakes and wagon to Fountain Lake Wisconsin.
1850 From age 11 to 21 John Muir works on his father's farm; receives
no formal schooling but teaches himself maths, geometry, literature
1853 Ploughboy-inventor constructs clocks, barometers, hydrometers,
1860 Exhibits inventions at State Fair in Madison; enrols at the University
1861-2 Attends University of Wisconsin for almost 3 years; teaches school
1863 Leaves university; returns to Fountain Lake awaiting
draft for the American Civil War.
1864 To avoid the draft he travels to Canada and remains for 2 years. Works as mechanic in sawmill at Meaford. Factory
burns down March 1866; Muir returns to USA.
1866 Employed as foreman-engineer at carriage factory, Indianapolis; automates machinery
1867 Blinded in factory accident. After weeks of agony his sight returns.
Sets out on a 1000 mile walk to Florida and
1868 Sails to California via Panama Canal: lands in San Francisco, March
28. First visit to Yosemite from April - June.
1869 Summer shepherd at Tuolomne Meadows in the High Sierra
Starts to hike, climb and study the Sierra Ranges and
glaciers. Carries out first ascent of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite.
1871 Ralph Waldo Emerson visits Muir in Yosemite.
1871 Publishes first article on glaciers in New York Tribune.
1872 Asa Gray, Professor of Botany at Harvard visits Muir in Yosemite. Makes first ascent of
Mt. Ritter (13,000 ft.) via the North face.
1873 Solo-climbs Mt. Whitney (14,500 ft.); first recorded ascent by
1874 Solo ascent of Mt.
Shasta (14,400 ft.).
1875 Lives in Bay Area writing magazine articles; climbs Mt. Shasta and Mt. Whitney.
1876 Begins to write and lobby in public for forest protection and conservation.
Guides U.S. Geodetic Survey of Nevada and Utah mountains.
1877 Leads Prof. Asa Gray and Sir Joseph Hooker of Kew on expedition to Shasta
1879 First Alaska trip. Discovers Glacier Bay and Muir Glacier; names Geikie and Hugh
1880 Second trip to Alaska;
marries Louie Strentzel, April 14.
1881 Third trip to Alaska aboard the Corwin; birth of Wanda Muir
1882 Construction of Martinez mansion.
1882 Muir becomes a rancher and fruit farmer for 8 years.
1885 Daniel Muir dies with John Muir at his bedside.
1886 Birth of Helen Muir.
1888 Trip to Puget Sound and Mt. Shasta; climbs Mt. Rainier (14,500
1890 Fourth Alaska trip; 10 day solo-expedition by sled across Muir
Glacier; Yosemite becomes a National Park. Muir campaigns for Kings
Canyon and Sequoia National
1892 Co-forms the Sierra Club; serves as President until his death in
1893 Trip to Europe: Edinburgh, Dunbar,
Campaigns for creation of Rainier National Park.
1894 Muir's first book, The Mountains of California, published.
1896 Joins U.S. Forestry Commission on survey of Yellowstone, Black
Hills, Idaho, Oregon and Washington
forests. Later surveys the Cascades, Santa Lucia coast ranges, southern
California mountains, Grand Canyon and Southern Sierra. Fifth trip to
1897 Awarded honorary degree by University of Wisconsin.
Sixth trip to Alaska; 5 weeks via Banff and Canadian Rockies.
1898 Forestry Commission survey of North Carolina, Tennessee,
Delaware. John Muir also tours Montreal, St. Lawrence River, Maine and
Mt. Rainier National
Park established; seventh trip to Alaska with the Harriman
Expedition to Wrangell, Glacier Bay, Sitka & Prince William Sound.
1901 'Our National Parks' published.
1903 President Roosevelt spends 3 days and nights camping alone with
Muir in Yosemite.
1903 World tour: London, Paris, Holland, Berlin, Russia, Korea, Japan,
China, India, Egypt, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, Malaya, Philippines,
Hong Kong, Hawaii. At 65 he climbs the Mueller Glacier on Mt.Cook, New
1905 Daughter Helen ill; travels with Muir to Arizona for recovery. Studies Petrified Forest; campaigns for its protection.
Forest becomes a National Monument; death of Louie Strentzel Muir.
1906 San Francisco earthquake.
1908 Grand Canyon National Park and Muir Woods
National Monument established.
1907 Muir begins fight to save Hetch Hetchy
1909 'Stickeen' published; Muir leads President Taft through Yosemite.
1911 'My First Summer in the Sierra' published; awarded honorary degree
Year long trip to South America and Africa: Rio De Janeiro, and Buenos
Aires, the Amazon, Chile, Uruguay, Capetown, Zambesi, Lake Victoria,
1912 'The Yosemite' is published.
1913 Hetch Hetchy battle is lost; valley granted to San Francisco for
'Story of my Boyhood and Youth' published; honorary degree from University
1914 John Muir dies in Los Angeles Hospital from pneumonia on Christmas