John Muir (1838-1914) was an American environmentalist, writer and explorer. With his passion for nature he was one of the most influential American writers and activists on environmental affairs; his efforts helped to establish Yosemite and Sequoia national parks in California. Many natural wonders have been named in his honor, including Muir Woods National Monument, a virgin stand of redwoods, near San Francisco, California. Muir preached that nature was sacred and humans are intruders who should look but not develop. He was opposed by the efficiency-oriented conservationists led by Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt. He founded the Sierra Club and remains an icon of liberalism. He was primarily responsible for defining the environmentalist position, in the debate between Conservation and environmentalism.
Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland. His intensely religious Presbyterian family emigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old and settled on a farm near Portage, Wisconsin. Muir endured very heavy farm labor but by home schooling and systematic self-education he escaped to attend the University of Wisconsin from 1859 to 1863; he did not graduate. A botanist, he took extensive walking trips to study plants. In 1867 he pledged to devote the rest of his life "to the study of the inventions of God." Muir made a walking trip from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico to observe the plants, animals, and physical features of the country. During this trip Muir kept extensive journals, in which he entered day by day his observations on the flora, the forests, physiography of the country, and experiences with the inhabitants. He also confided to it his personal reflections on man's attitude toward nature, the animal world, and the processes of life and death. The journal is important for an understanding of Muir at this stage of his career. It was published after Muir's death as A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916).
Muir explored the Yosemite Valley in 1868-74. He was the first to show that Yosemite was formed by glacial erosion. During this time he also studied glaciers in the Sierra Nevada. Muir was the first to explore Glacier Bay, Alaska, where, in 1879, he discovered the glacier that now bears his name.
In 1880, Muir married Louie Wanda Strentzel; they had two daughters. She was the only surviving child of Dr. John Strentzel, an expatriate Pole who sought refuge in America after the unsuccessful Polish revolution of 1830 and who operated a leading fruit ranch in the Alhambra Valley, California. Muir took over the ranch, becoming a noted and wealthy horticulturist. In 1891 he resumed his travels. He had become interested in the study of trees, especially pines and sequoias, and went to Australia, Africa, and South America to visit the forests. Through his studies, Muir was to become the leading U.S. forest expert of his time.
In 1889 he initiated a movement to preserve the sequoias in the Yosemite Valley and the surrounding area. His efforts influenced Congress to pass the Yosemite National Park bill (1890), which established the Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. He also influenced President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside national monuments, national forest reserves, and national parks.
In 1897 President Grover Cleveland created thirteen forest reservations comprising more than twenty-one million acres; lumber companies immediately nullify the reserves by congressional action. Muir fought a holy battle against the lumberman, portraying it as a contest "between landscape righteousness and the devil." In two brilliant magazine articles, one in Harper's Weekly (June 5, 1897), entitled "Forest Reservations and National Parks," the other in the Atlantic Monthly (August 1897) on "The American Forests," Muir turned the tide of public sentiment. Muir's style rose to the impassioned oratory of a Hebrew prophet arraigning wickedness in high places and preaching the sacred duty of so using the country we live in that we may not leave it ravished by greed and ignorance, but may pass it on to future generations undiminished in richness and beauty. Muir had now become the acknowledged leader of the environmental movement in the United States.
Muir was a bitter enemy of the Hetch Hetchy dam, but was overruled by the democratic dominated United States Congress under the Raker Act. Although the dam still stands, the Sierra Club has sought to have it demolished, as have the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
The Muir Woods National Monument, a virgin stand of redwoods in northern California, is named in his honor.
- Strong, Douglas H. Dreamers & Defenders: American Conservationists 1988 online edition
- Worster, Donald. A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir (2008) excerpt and text search
- Muir, John. John Muir: Nature Writings: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth; My First Summer in the Sierra; The Mountains of California; Stickeen; Essays (Library of America) edited by William Cronon (1997) excerpt and text search
- Muir, John. A Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf (1916), edited by William Frederic Badè; 219pp full text online
- Muir, John. The Mountains of California (1894) complete text online
- Muir, John. Travels in Alaska (1979 ed.) full text online
- Muir, John. The Yosemite (1920) full text online
- Muir, John. John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other Writings, edited by Terry Gifford (1996) 912pp excerpt and text search
- Muir, John "Alaska. The Discovery of Glacier Bay" online
- Muir, John "The American Forests" online
- Muir, John "Among the Animals of the Yosemite" online
- Muir, John "Among the Birds of the Yosemite" online
- Muir, John "The Coniferous Forests of the Sierra Nevada" online
- Muir, John "Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park" online
- Muir, John "The Forests of Yosemite Park" online
- Muir, John "Fountains and Streams of the Yosemite" online
- Muir, John "In the Heart of the California Alps" online
- Muir, John "Living Glaciers of California" online
- Muir, John "The New Sequoia Forests of California" online
- Muir, John "A Rival of the Yosemite, King's River Canon" online
- Muir, John "Snow-Storm on Mount Shasta" online
- Muir, John "Studies in the Sierra: The Glacier Meadows of the Sierra" online
- Muir, John "Studies in the Sierra: The Mountain Lakes of California" [ http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=ABP7664-0017-69 online]
- Muir, John "Studies in the Sierra: The Passes of the Sierra" online
- Muir, John "The Treasures of the Yosemite" online
- Muir, John "The Wild Gardens of the Yosemite Park" online
- Muir, John "The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West" online
- Muir, John "The Wild Sheep of the Sierra" online
- Muir, John "The Yellowstone National Park" online
- Muir, John "The Yosemite National Park" online