John Muir (April 21, 1938 – December 24, 1914) was a naturalist and preservationist who spent the majority of his life in the California Sierras. He wrote the equivalent of ten volumes about various locations and aspects of nature throughout his lifetime. He co-founded the environmental preservation group the Sierra Club and is responsible for much of the preservation of Yosemite National Park.
Muir was born in Scotland to Daniel Muir and Anne Guilrye. His family moved to Portage, Wisconsin in 1849. Though raised in a deeply religious family and forced to memorize most of the bible, Muir abandoned his religious beliefs at a relatively early age. He eventually attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but never graduated despite taking a wide array of classes.
Muir followed his brother to Canada in 1864 to avoid the draft. While he wasn't working at a sawmill, he spent his time there wandering the fields and swamps around Lake Huron collecting plants. He returned to the United States in 1966 to work as a sawyer in an Indianapolis factory, and after nearly being blinded when a tool struck his eye, he became even more appreciative of his sight and the beauty in the world around him. He set out on a 1,000 trek down to Florida. Soon after arriving in Florida and taking up work at another factory, he hopped a ship to Cuba. He explored the botanical gardens and natural environment there before sailing back to New York and then heading on to California.
Muir quickly ventured into Yosemite, which he had previously only read about. His experience there was akin to a religious one, his journal entries brimming with awe at all that he was seeing. He built a small cabin along a creek and designed in such a way that the creek ran throughout the corner of a room so he could hear it while he slept.
John Muir with Theodore Roosevelt. Image source
Muir spent years writing and conducting field studies in Yosemite on geological as well as botanical subjects. After a few more enlightening excursions, Muir became the preservationist as his is now remembered. He became particularly opposed to the threat of domesticated livestock for their damaging effects on the grasslands of the Sierras. He harnessed his relationship with influential editor Robert Underwood Johnson to proliferate his ideas about preservation. In 1890, Congress passed a bill that followed most of Muir's recommendations.
In 1892, he co-founded the Sierra Club, which would go on to represent the opposition of the building of the Hetch Hetchy Dam.
Throughout his life, Muir published six volumes of writing on nature and four more were published after his death.
Many places in California and beyond have been named after Muir including:
Muir Beach, California
John Muir National Historic Site
Four John Muir Trails
Muir was married to Louisa Strentzel, had two daughters, and ten grandchildren. He died at California Hospital in Los Angeles. California celebrates John Muir Day on his birthday every year.
- Birthday Date: Monday, 21 April 2014