Biography / Administrative History
A Scottish-born journalist and naturalist, John Muir (1838-1914) studied botany and geology at the University of Wisconsin (1861-1863). He worked for awhile as a mill hand at the Trout Broom Factory in Meaford, Canada (1864-1866), then at an Indianapolis carriage factory (1866-1867), until an accident temporarily blinded him and directed his thoughts toward full-time nature study. Striking out on foot for South America, Muir walked to the Gulf of Mexico (September 1867-January 1868), but a long illness in Florida led him to change his plans and turn his interests westward. Muir arrived by ship at San Francisco (March 1868), walked to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and began a five year wilderness sojourn (1868-1873) during which he made his year-round home in the Yosemite Valley. Working as a sheepherder and lumberman when he needed money for supplies, Muir investigated the length and breadth of the Sierra range, focusing most of his attention on glaciation and its impact on mountain topography. He began to publish newspaper articles about what he saw in the California mountains and these articles brought him to the attention of such intellectuals as Asa Gray and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom sought him out during their visits to California. Encouraged by Jeanne Carr, wife of his one-time botany professor, Ezra S. Carr, Muir took up nature writing as a profession (1872). He set up winter headquarters in Oakland and began a pattern of spring and summer mountaineering followed by winter writing based upon his travel journals that he held to until 1880. His treks took him to Mount Shasta (1874, 1875 & 1877), the Great Basin (1876, 1877, 1878), southern California and the Coast Range (1877), and southern Alaska (1879). Muir found that he could finance his modest bachelor lifestyle with revenue from contributions published in various San Francisco newspapers and magazines. During this period he launched the first lobbying effort to to protect Sierra forests from wasteful lumbering practices (1876).
In 1880 he married Louisa Strentzel, daughter of a prominent physician and horticulturist in Martinez, Calif. Quickly learning the fruit business, Muir soon found himself caught up in the full-time management of his father-in-law's orchard properties. Two daughters (Annie Wanda, b. 1881 and Helen Lillian, b. 1886) added to his domestic responsibilities. His writing diminished during this decade, with only one lengthy project completed ( Picturesque California, 1888).
Prompted by the persistent urging of Robert Underwood Johnson, an editor of Century Magazine, and freed from many business obligations by his father-in-law's death and the subsequent sale of much of Strentzel's property by Louisa Strentzel Muir, John Muir launched a major writing and lobbying campaign that culminated in the creation of Yosemite, Sequoia and General Grant (Kings Canyon) National Parks (1890). He also helped found the Sierra Club (1892) and used its collective influence to protect the boundaries of Yosemite (1895) from lumber interests. During the 1890s Muir again began to travel, visiting Alaska, 1890; Europe, 1893; Arizona & Oregon, 1896; Canada & Alaska, 1897, 1899; the Midwest and New England, 1898) and also published his first important book, The Mountains of California (1894).
During Muir's final fourteen years, he was hounded by a variety of family difficulties and political failures that probably hastened his death. Louisa, Muir's wife, died in 1905. In the same year his younger daughter, Helen, contracted tuberculosis and Muir shepherded the young woman to various spas ultimately settling her in Daggett in the Mojave Desert (1905). Meanwhile, the naturalist found himself at odds with "utilitarian" conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, who were less interested in the preservation of wilderness than in the controlled 'harvesting' of forest resources. Pinchot also favored conversion of the Hetch Hetchy Valley to a reservoir for the city of San Francisco, an idea which ultimately became a reality despite Muir's dogged opposition (1908-1913). Still, John Muir found time and energy both for travel and for writing. In 1903 he ushered President Theodore Roosevelt through Yosemite, then shortly afterward took a year's voyage around the world (1903-1904). In 1906 Muir spent much time with daughter Helen in Arizona, the following year he summered in the Hetch Hetchy with California painter, William Keith and in 1909 visited the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River with John Burroughs and E.H. Harriman. His most extended trip during these years was a six month tour of South America and Africa (1911-1912). Muir somehow found time during the same years to publish Stickeen (1908), My First Summer in the Sierra (1910) and The Yosemite (1912).
From the guide to the John Muir papers, 1849-1957, (University of the Pacific. Library. Holt-Atherton Dept. of Special Collections)