John Muir: A Brief Biography – Sierra Club
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John Muir, farmer, inventor, herder, naturalist, explorer, writer, and conservationist, was born on April 21, 1838 in Dunbar, Scotland. until he was eleven years old he attended the local schools of that small coastal town. In 1849, the Muir family immigrated to the United States, first settling in Source Lake and later moving to Hickory Hill Farm near Portage, Wisconsin.
Muir’s father was very strict with discipline and made his family work from dawn to dusk. Whenever they were allowed a brief period of time away from the plow and hoe, Muir and his younger brother would wander the fields and woods of the rich Wisconsin countryside. john became more and more the loving observer of the natural world. he also became an inventor, a carver of curious but practical wooden mechanisms. he made watches that kept accurate time and created a wonderful device that got him out of bed before dawn.
In 1860, Muir brought her inventions to the Madison State Fair, where they won admiration and awards. Also that year he entered the University of Wisconsin. he was getting good grades, but after three years he left madison to travel the northern united states and canada, making his way through the still virgin land.
In 1867, while working in a carriage repair shop in Indianapolis, Muir suffered a blinding eye injury that would change his life. when he regained his sight a month later, muir decided to turn his gaze to the fields and forests. there began his years of wanderlust. he walked a thousand miles from indianapolis to the gulf of mexico. he sailed to cuba and then to panama, where he crossed the isthmus and sailed up the west coast, landing in san francisco in march 1868. from then on, though he would travel around the world, california became the he home of him
it was the sierra nevada and yosemite of california that really claimed it. In 1868, he hiked through the San Joaquin Valley through waist-high wildflowers and entered the highlands for the first time. he would later write: “then it seemed to me that the sierra should not be called the snowy mountain range, or snowy mountain range, but the light mountain range… the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain ranges that I have seen in my life “. he herded sheep that first summer and made his home in yosemite.
by 1871 he had found living glaciers in the sierra and had conceived his then controversial theory of glaciation of the yosemite valley. he began to be known throughout the country. Famous men of the time, Joseph Leconte, Asa Grey, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, made their way to the door of his pine cabin.
Beginning in 1874, a series of articles by Muir entitled “Studies in the Sierra” launched her successful writing career. he left the mountains and lived for a time in oakland, california. From there he made many voyages, including his first to Alaska in 1879, where he discovered Glacier Bay. In 1880 he married Louie Wanda Strentzel and moved to Martinez, California, where they raised his two daughters, Wanda and Helen. Settling somewhat into domestic life, Muir went into partnership with his mother-in-law and managed the family fruit ranch with great success.
But ten years of active ranching did not quell Muir’s wanderlust. His travels took him many more times to Alaska, Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, Japan, and of course, again and again to his beloved Sierra Nevada. .
In later years he turned more seriously to writing, publishing 300 articles and 10 major books recounting his travels, expounding his naturalistic philosophy, and inviting everyone to “climb the mountains and receive his good news.” muir’s love of the highlands gave his writings a spiritual quality. His readers, whether they were presidents, congressmen, or ordinary people, were inspired and often moved to action by the enthusiasm of Muir’s boundless love of nature.
Through a series of articles appearing in Century magazine, Muir drew attention to the devastation of mountain rangelands and forests by sheep and cattle. with the help of century associate editor robert underwood johnson, muir worked to remedy this destruction. in 1890, due in large part to the efforts of muir and johnson, an act of congress created yosemite national park. Muir was also personally involved in the creation of Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks. Muir is deservedly often called the “father of our national park system”.
johnson and others suggested to muir that an association be formed to protect the newly created yosemite national park from raids by ranchers and others who would reduce its boundaries. In 1892, Muir and several of his followers founded the Sierra Club to, in Muir’s words, “do something for the wilderness and make the mountains happy.” Muir served as the club’s president until his death in 1914.
in 1901, muir published our national parks , the book that caught the attention of president theodore roosevelt. In 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir in Yosemite. there, together, under the trees, they laid the foundation for roosevelt’s innovative and remarkable conservation programs.
muir and the sierra club fought many battles to protect yosemite and sierra nevada, the most dramatic being the campaign to prevent damming in the hetch hetchy valley within yosemite national park. In 1913, after years of effort, the battle was lost, and the valley that Muir compared to Yosemite itself was doomed to become a reservoir to supply the water needs of a growing San Francisco. The following year, after a brief illness, Muir died in a Los Angeles hospital after visiting his daughter Wanda.
john muir was perhaps the most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist in this country. he taught the people of his time and ours the importance of living and protecting our natural heritage. His words have increased our perception of nature. his personal and determined involvement in the great conservation issues of the day was and continues to be an inspiration to environmental activists around the world.
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