John Muir (1838-1914) was America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He is renowned for his lone excursions of California's Sierra Nevada, Alaska's glaciers, and world wide travels. John Muir was the first President of the Sierra Club, in 1892. Although he hated to write, he was the author of nine books and so many letters and articles for newspapers and magazines that it took 179 pages to list over 500 references in a hard-cover bibliography published in 1896.
John Muir was born in Dunbar, in East Lothian, Scotland on April 21, 1838. At the age of ten (or, some sources suggest, 11) he emigrated with his family to America. The family settled in Wisconsin where they became farmers. He showed a knack for creating mechanical gadgets out of wood, and received a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.
After three years at the university, Muir went traveling and worked at odd-jobs for a while, until an accident in a carriage shop where he was working threatened to blind him. After this event, he began to pursue his interest in naturalism, beginning with a 1000 mile walk from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. Muir then traveled to Cuba and Panama, and wound up in California in 1868. He worked as a shepherd for a time, but soon began exploring the Yosemite Valley and Sierras.
Muir married Louie Wanda Strentzel in 1880, subsequently going to work with her father on his fruit farm in Martinez, California. The couple had two daughters, named Wanda and Helen. However, Muir did not stay put in his new domestic life. He took trips to Alaska, and overseas to Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Japan. Somewhat ironically, John Muir and his wife Louie lived in a 17-room mansion constructed almost entirely of redwood, built in 1882 by his father-in-law. The home was his wife's inheritance and reflects the Victorian taste of the Strentzel family. The house survived the 1906 earthquake, although most of the chimneys and fireplaces suffered damage. On the other hand, the lumber mill he operated in the Yosemite Valley was never fed a tree that had been cut, using only already-fallen trees as a source of wood.
In May 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt invited the naturalist John Muir to a four-day camping trip in the Yosemite wilderness, perhaps motivated by Muir's 1901 book Our National Parks. Both men had strong opinions on conservation, and had sharp disagreements on issues like hunting, animal rights, and forest management. Muir's poetic and evangelistic temperament, in contrast with Roosevelt's political drives, led to both tension and humor.
Both skillful storytellers, they (somewhat competitively) swapped the tales of some of their many adventures in the American wilderness - Roosevelt bringing a frontier ruffian to justice, for example, or Muir telling of his hair-raising encounter with a Yosemite bear. At the time of this historic meeting, many millions of acres of western forest were being exploited and abused by hunting, lumber, stock and mining interests.
Perhaps in part as a result of their discussion, by the end of Roosevelt's presidency America could boast of an additional 200 million acres of forest wilderness, five more national parks, and 65 wildlife preserves. The first national parks in the U.S. consisted mainly of tourist attractions; hot springs, geysers and the like. Muir's evangelism was instrumental in raising public awareness, bringing relatively widespread realization that ecosystems depend on all of their constituent parts. As Muir said, "As soon as we take one thing by itself, we find it hitched to everything in the universe." This point is central to the science of ecology.
Muir returned to his birthplace in Scotland in the 1890's. He said he always considered himself a Scot. Muir died of pneumonia at the age of 76. He is honored in California for his achievements in conservation every year on the 21st of April: John Muir Day.
On April 15, 2000, President Clinton proclaimed a Giant Sequoia National Monument, a process which John Muir was instrumental in starting nearly 100 years ago by urging President Theodore Roosevelt to protect America's treasures under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. In fact, Muir has been so instrumental in creating such resources that he is known in the U.S. as "Father of Our National Parks".
- Website: Sierra Club, John Muir Exhibit. (http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/)
- Website: Dunbar's John Muir Association (http://www.djma.org.uk/djma/)
- Website: tartans.com, Famous Scots - John Muir. (http://www.tartans.com/articles/famscots/johnmuir.html)
- Website: John Muir Live, Presentations. (http://www.johnmuirlive.com/present.html)
- Website: Jim Butler, John Muir. University of Alberta, Canada. (http://www.ualberta.ca/ERSC/jbutler/news12.htm)
- Website: Netstate, People of Alaska - John Muir (http://www.netstate.com/states/peop/people/ak_jm.htm)