Seventeen Years to Success:
John Muir, William Gladstone Steel, and the Creation of Yosemite and Crater Lake National Parks
By Stephen R. Mark, Historian, Crater Lake National Park, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
Chronology of William Steel' s life.
Over the past century, activists have done much to
stimulate legislative action for national parks and equivalent reserves.
Their efforts have been a key factor in the National Park System's
continued expansion, particularly with respect to natural areas located
in the western conterminous United States.(1) Great
Basin National Park is the most recent example of this, having been
established in Nevada during 1987.
In 1988, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
and City of Rocks National Reserve were established in Idaho. Like the
Great Basin proposal, these units were created through the efforts of
one activist.(2) This is hardly a new phenomena,
because many of the oldest park units were the result of one-man
efforts. Examples include Sequoia (1890), Crater Lake (1902) and Rocky
Campaigns for Sequoia and Rocky Mountain were
comparatively short (seven years each), in contrast to the 17 years it
took to obtain effective designation for Yosemite and Crater Lake. In
comparing Muir's campaign to place Yosemite Valley under national park
administration with Steel's effort to establish Crater Lake National
Park, there are some broad similarities. Each man won deceptively easy
battles soon after becoming an activist but found their larger goals
more elusive. Besides framing their proposals similarly, they shared
some methods still employed by modern park proponents. And like some of
their modern counterparts, Muir and Steel were also able to adapt to
changing political circumstances to finally achieve their aims.
John Muir (1838-1914) has become an international
figure whose stature is related to the impact of his writings upon the
conservation movement. After coming to California in 1868, he worked at
various seasonal jobs in the Sierra Nevada before making a name for
himself in the early 1870s as a writer. Although Muir mentioned national
parks and preservation of forests in his early writings, he did not
become an activist until 1889.(3)
The turning point came when Muir and an editor
named Robert Underwood Johnson embarked upon a camping trip to Yosemite
in 1889. On the second night of the trip, they sat in front of a
campfire planning a campaign that would alter Muir's life and the face
of Yosemite. As Johnson later recalled:
It was at our campfire at the Tuolumne fall at the head of the
canon that Muir let himself go in whimsical denunciation of the
commissioners [appointed by the State of California to manage the state
park in Yosemite Valley] who were doing so much to make ducks and drakes
of the less rugged beauty of the Yosemite by ill-judged cutting and
trimming of trees, arbitrary slashing of vistas, tolerating of
pig-sties, and making room for hay-fields by cutting down laurels and
under brush--the units by which the eye is enabled, in going from lower
to higher and stir, higher trees, ultimately to get adequate grandeur of
cliffs nearly three thousand feet high. It is an old scandal, and I only
refer to it now because it was at this campfire that a practical
beginning was made of a campaign which, after fifteen years, by the
recent act of recession of the Valley to the United States, we may
confidently hope has ended an era of ignorant mismanagement.(4)
Two superbly-timed magazine articles written by Muir for Johnson's
Century Magazine greatly aided passage of a bill creating a two
million acre forest reservation. in the Yosemite region on October 1,
1890.(5) Yosemite Valley, however, remained under
state control while the "forest reservation" became known as Yosemite
National Park. Not until June 11, 1906, did Muir and Johnson realize the
goal of getting the valley and surrounding national park under the
unified administration of the federal government.
To frame his proposal, Muir had to summarize how he would address
the problem of park management in Yosemite Valley. He did this by
centering on three main points, the first being that the valley was
explicitly a national, not state, concern. Muir believed the federal
government had the ability to provide more permanent improvements and
policies than did the state through its appointed commissioners. Federal
control would lead to increased appropriations for roads, trails, and
utilities which would facilitate greater tourist travel. The federal
authorities would also be in an economically disinterested position.
This would increase the chances that appropriate development would be
coordinated by a landscape architect.(6)
The second part of Muir's proposal was that resident authorities
must have sufficient power to protect the entire park area. Galen Clark
had been appointed guardian to the valley, but he had no assistants,
little money for administration, and was under the orders of
commissioners who were often motivated by political considerations. Muir
preferred the use of the U.S. Army to guard Yosemite Valley and the
backcountry from trespass by sheep, damage caused by careless campers,
and the effects of forest fires. The latter was to prove especially
troublesome under two jurisdictions because their representatives could
not agree over who should pay for fire protection.
Muir's third point was that recession of the valley -- ceding from
state ownership back to the federal government -- was tied to protecting
surrounding forests whose primary importance was conservation of water
supplies. He used the water supply argument to lobby against the
Caminetti bill of 1895 which would have reduced Yosemite National Park
by half and severely damaged the recession campaign.(7)
Muir's opposition to the bill also stemmed from the belief that the
newly created federal forest reserves (which were later to become
national forests) should not be compromised by inholdings. During this
period thousands of acres of formerly public domain forest land slipped
into private hands, often by fraudulent means. Once the timber was cut,
there were aesthetic problems and difficulties in maintaining enough
water for irrigation and municipal supplies. Without federal control, he
saw the infamous "stump forest" in Yosemite Valley being duplicated on a
larger scale throughout the Sierra.(8)
The components of Muir's campaign matched those of Steel's, though
the beginning of the Crater Lake effort predated attempts at Yosemite
recession. William Gladstone Steel (1854-1934), like Muir, enjoyed
something of an early victory by seeing ten townships around Crater Lake
reserved from settlement in 1886. This was done as a necessary first
step in the creation of a national park, but soon encountered the
reluctance of many congressmen who viewed such reservations as a drain
on the Treasury.
Born in Ohio, Steel finished high school in Portland, Oregon. He
became a postal carrier after short stints as a newspaperman, railroad
promoter, and publisher. His first visit to Crater Lake came on a short
vacation from the Portland post office in 1885. Steel and a friend went
to southern Oregon to meet up with geologist Joseph LeConte who was
studying the volcanic features of the Pacific Coast. After seeing the
lake for the first time, Steel wrote:
Not a foot of the land about the lake had been touched or
claimed. An overmastering conviction came to me that this wonderful spot
must be saved, wild and beautiful, just as it was, for all future
generations, and that it was up to me to do something. I then and there
had the impression that in some way, I didn't know how, the lake ought
to become a National Park. I was so burdened with the idea that I was
distressed. [For] Many hours in Captain Dutton's tent [Dutton was head
of a small military party assigned to accompany LeConte], we talked of
plans to save the lake from private exploitation. We discussed its
wonders, mystery and inspiring beauty, its forests and strange lava
structure. The captain agreed with the idea that something ought to be
done--and done at once if the lake was to be saved, and that it should
be made a National Park.(9)
Upon returning to Portland, Steel began circulating a petition that
eventually found its way to the state legislature. It was favorably
received and a resolution recommending a public park around Crater Lake
was forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q.C. Lamar. As a
result, ten townships were withdrawn from entry by executive order of
President Grover Cleveland on February 1, 1886.(10)
Like Muir, Steel contended that his proposal was of national
concern. He did not support LeConte's view that efforts to establish a
state park at Crater Lake might be more fruitful.(11)
Steel was convinced that Oregon could not afford proper maintenance and
protection of Crater Lake, so he opposed the state park bills introduced
to Congress in 1889, 1891, and 1893.(12)
Provision was made in Steel's proposal for enforcement of the
regulations by resident authorities. Uppermost in his mind was the
damage caused by sheep. Their trampling had so destroyed the area's
vegetation in the years before the park was established that the result
could still be seen in the 1930s. Fires, whether started by lightning or
sheepmen, were another nemesis which Steel wanted controlled.(13)
The park proposal was also tied to the larger goal of protecting
forests in Oregon's Cascade Range. As with the Sierra, the primary
justification for their retention in public ownership was water supply.
Steel fought for the establishment of a 300-mile-long forest reserve
stretching from the Columbia River to the California border. This was
proclaimed by President Cleveland in 1893 and included the Crater Lake
reservation. The Cascade Forest Reserve was the largest in the nation
and was subsequently attacked by sheepmen and timber speculators.(14) Steel and a state supreme court justice named John
Waldo (both of whom envisioned a reserve managed much like a national
park) worked to defend it throughout the 1890s.(15)
TACTICS USED BY MUIR AND STEEL
Once the components of the Yosemite and Crater
Lake proposals had been formulated, Muir and Steel used some remarkably
similar methods to achieve their aims. Although the two men were only
acquaintances, they did have common interests and were in intermittent
contact from 1888 to 1912.(16) This would explain some
of the similarities, particularly with respect to the development and
use of constituencies to back their proposals.
Both Muir and Steel obtained early local support, something that
sustained them throughout their campaigns. The major cities of their
respective states furnished each man's base of support: Muir in San
Francisco and Steel in Portland. Having already emerged as a literary
figure, Muir had many powerful friends in California who could provide
him with introductions to useful contacts. Likewise, Steel was
well-situated within Oregon's Republican Party and had two brothers who
were Portland financiers. Each man received the support of their states'
major newspapers early in their campaigns. This move proved useful when
sheep and timber interests tried to dismantle Yosemite National Park and
the Cascade Forest Reserve. They also gave public lectures as a way to
enhance their proposals' credibility. The fact that each man was a
renowned climber and participant in the scientific study of mountain
areas helped attendance.(17)
Both men started their campaigns by writing articles in literary
magazines. Muir had a national audience while Steel's notoriety remained
largely regional.(18) Nevertheless, Steel was the
first to write a book that he could use to promote his proposal. The
Mountains of Oregon was published in 1890 as a loosely-organized
anthology of articles on mountaineering and proposed parks. Steel
highlighted the longest piece, one about Crater Lake, when he mailed
copies of the book to congressmen and other federal officials. The
book's title is interesting in light of an acknowledgment that Muir
wrote to Steel after receiving a copy:
I thank you for a copy of your little book The Mountains of Oregon +
congratulate you on the success with which you have brought together in
handsome shape so much interesting + novel mountain material.
With pleasant memories of my meeting with you the year I was on Mt.
Muir's The Mountains of California was published in 1894. Far
more cohesive than Steel's book (which was a hasty arrangement of
material originally intended to be published in separate pamphlets), it
enhanced Muir's reputation among scientists and brought him critical
acclaim from the public. With the Caminetti bill looming over Yosemite
in 1895 and the forest reserves threatened by hostile interests, Muir
began to intensify his literary efforts. Ten of his essays were
published in the Atlantic Monthly starting in 1897 and later
appeared as a book entitled Our National Parks in 1901.(20) Six of the ten pieces were devoted to Yosemite,
while three others focused upon the fate of the forest reserves.
Both men found that groups organized to enjoy the outdoors could
form a useful constituency. Steel predated Muir in this regard by
organizing the Oregon Alpine Club on September 14, 1887. It was largely
a social fraternity whose purpose was "to attract attention to the
scenery of our [Pacific Northwest] mountain ranges.. By late 1892, the
expense of a mountaineering museum had bankrupted the club and
personally cost Steel $1,000. Membership had dwindled to less than a
hundred and most observers thought the club was dead.(21)
Steel eventually realized that an active mountaineering club might
have a longer life. On July 19, 1894, amid great local publicity, 193
climbers ascended Mount Hood and became the first Mazamas. According to
Steel, one of the group's aims was to make the Oregon Cascades famous
and to sponsor regular outings.(22) After being
elected its first president, Steel organized an outing to Crater Lake in
August 1896. The group gave it wide publicity and supplied the event
with an interesting touch by christening the mountain that contains the
The Sierra Club was organized May 25, 1892, and evolved from a
proposal that R. U. Johnson made to Muir in 1889 regarding an
"association for preserving California's monuments and natural
wonders."(24) The public meetings in San Francisco
were heavily attended at first and the club began publishing a regular
bulletin. As president, Muir's attendance at meetings was erratic so the
organizing fell to other board members. Almost nonexistent by 1898, the
club was revived when its new secretary William Colby sold the idea of
sponsoring regular outings. The first was held from a base camp in
Tuolumne Meadows in 1901 and was an immediate success. Aimed at
attracting new members, the outings included organized hikes as well as
natural history lectures by Muir and other club leaders.(25)
The differences between the Yosemite and Crater Lake proposals also
shaped the way each group responded as a constituency. Muir aimed to
provide better management for an area where there was substantial human
impact, so the Sierra Club aimed at becoming a Yosemite Valley resident.
As early as 1894, the Sierra Club's board of directors wanted to
establish a patrol system in the valley to help enforce state park
regulations. This would be "the first step in the direction of
preserving the Valley from the wanton destruction of visitors."(26)
What evolved was an information bureau housed in a refurbished wood
frame cottage in Yosemite Valley from 1898 to 1902. In 1903, the bureau
was moved to the newly completed LeConte Memorial at the base of Glacier
Point. The structure's completion coincided with the chaos arising from
a disastrous fire which burned from the Wawona Road to Glacier Point.
This happened largely because the state commissioners and U.S. Army
authorities could not agree who should fight the fire. The case for
recession was further strengthened that summer when the state
commissioners notified the transport companies not to allow more
visitors to enter the valley until overcrowded conditions were
The Mazamas' response to its founder's proposal was different
because Steel wanted national park status for a feature little known to
science. As a result, the group fostered scientific investigation at
Crater Lake on one occasion and used the findings to promote the
proposal. Although their involvement was largely peripheral, the
Mazamas' facilitation was important in allowing scientists to build upon
what an earlier expedition had done at Crater Lake.
During the summer of 1886, the U.S. Geological Survey sounded the
lake and mapped the area's topography.(28) Much of its
success was due to Steel, who, in his role as special assistant to the
expedition, was responsible for transporting the boats and equipment.
His role in the undertaking gave him credibility and allowed the Oregon
Alpine Club to cosponsor the O'Neal Expedition of the Olympic Mountains
in 1890. Another success followed so Steel felt confident in organizing
an even larger undertaking, the Mazamas outing of 1896. By arranging the
trip so that the Mazamas were climbing nearby Mount McLoughlin while
scientists from various government bureaus made their investigations, he
hoped to give the proposal both scientific merit and wide publicity.
After their climb and an excursion to Wizard Island, the Mazamas
assembled on a site overlooking Crater Lake so the findings could be
presented.(29) The outing also allowed the scientists
to meet with members of the National Forestry Commission, a body whose
purpose was to make recommendations about the disposition of the forest
reserves. For this to happen, Steel cut his participation in the Mazamas
trip short so he could bring the commission to the lake less-than a week
Neither Muir nor Steel were strangers to state and national politics
by the time they finished their park campaigns. Both found ways to
secure influence with businessmen, legislators, and government officials
through various lobbying techniques. In addition, each man chose an
unexpected intermediary when his proposal reached a crucial stage.
After years of petitions, testimonials, and localized legislative
support, the proposals began to move toward realization when Theodore
Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1901. It was Roosevelt's influence
that allowed the Crater Lake bill to come up for debate in the House of
Representatives in April of 1902.(31) Muir's most
publicized lobbying for recession came when he and Roosevelt camped
alone in Yosemite for three days in May 1903.(32) This
led to the president's intervention when Senate cooperation was needed
to add the valley to Yosemite National Park in 1906.
Although Roosevelt was a key figure in the adoption of both
proposals, Muir and Steel had to use unusual intermediaries before the
President could sign either bill. In Muir's case this proved to be E.H.
Harriman, president of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Harriman made use
of the railroad's influence on the California state legislature after
Muir and William Colby did some hard lobbying for recession. When the
measure came up for a vote in February of 1905, nine crucial votes
turned the tide and it passed. About a year later Harriman came to the
rescue again when a joint resolution accepting the valley stalled in the
Although Harriman's actions can be explained largely by his
friendship with Muir, the Southern Pacific also wanted control of
transportation to Yosemite.(34) In spite of the
railroad's ulterior motive, Muir accepted Harriman's assistance. He
reasoned that federal control of the entire park area would lessen the
destruction caused by the numerous concessioners (27 at the time of
recession) and other entrenched interests. Furthermore, the Sierra
Club's board declared that Yosemite's poorly-maintained toll roads and
the valley's substandard accommodations were hurting California's
Steel's intermediary was Gifford Pinchot. At first this seems
strange, especially given the view that Pinchot's name never appeared in
connection with the promotion of national parks.(36)
But he did seem to have been more enthusiastic about Crater Lake than
Muir, whose writing about his visit in 1896 indicated that the most
impressive feature of southern Oregon was its variety of tree species.(37) Pinchot camped with Muir at the lake and later
. . .we drove to Crater Lake, through the wonderful forests of the
Cascade Range, while John Muir and Professor [William H.] Brewer made
the journey short with talk worth crossing the continent to hear. Crater
Lake seemed to me like a wonder of the world.(38)
A somewhat similar situation developed in February 1902 when Steel
was eliciting testimonials for the bill which would establish Crater
Lake National Park. Muir begged off in his response:
I don't know the Crater Lake region well enough to answer the
question "Why should a national park be established to include Crater
You know this region much better than I do. I should try to show
forth its beauty + usefulness explaining its features in detail +
pointing out those which are novel + which require Government care in
their preservation etc. . .(39)
By contrast, Pinchot's reply was ecstatic:
. . . You ask me why a national park should be established around
Crater Lake. There are many reasons. In the first place, Crater Lake is
one of the great natural wonders of this continent. Secondly, it is a
famous resort for the people of Oregon and of other States, which can
best be protected and managed in the form of a national park. Thirdly,
since its chief value is for recreation and scenery and not for the
production of timber, its use is distinctly that of a national park and
not a forest reserve. Finally, in the present situation of affairs it
could be more carefully guarded and protected as a park than as a
The bill was passed unanimously by the committee but was opposed by
the Speaker of the House who refused to let it be debated. He relented
only after Pinchot had spoken to Roosevelt about the bill.(41) After it passed the Senate, Pinchot wrote Steel
. . You give me more thanks than my small share in getting the
Crater Lake bill passed deserves, but I am sincerely glad it has got
along so far. There is no doubt, in my judgment, that the President will
sign it. . .(42)
Steel's triumph came a week later on May 22, 1902 when Crater Lake
became a national park. His ability to get along with Pinchot allowed
the proposal to get over the final hurdle. This is in contrast to Muir
who had severed all ties with the forester in 1897 over the issue of
sheep in the forest reserves.
The best explanation for why Pinchot was willing to do Steel's
bidding might be common interest. Passage of the Crater Lake bill
occurred three years before Pinchot created the U.S. Forest Service and
stimulated transfer of the reserves from control by the Interior
Department's General Land Office to the Department of Agriculture. Steel
started the first forestry organization in Oregon and had surveyed the
Stehekin section of the Washington Reserve when Pinchot was "special
forest agent" for Interior in 1897.(43) They shared a
vehement dislike for the GLO's administration of the reserves, and Steel
had at one point begun to waver from his previous position on sheep.(44) It was only when Pinchot attempted to bring the
national parks under Forest Service administration in 1904 that this
coalition began to wither.
RAMIFICATIONS OF THE PARK CAMPAIGNS
Although Muir and Steel at last saw their
proposals favorably received by Congress, neither park retained all of
what Steel obtained in 1886 and Muir won in 1890. Crater Lake National
Park was established without the adjoining Diamond Lake area which had
been in the original reservation. The opposition generated by Pinchot's
Forest Service has been successful in stopping Diamond Lake's
incorporation into the park and all but two minor extensions.(45) Yosemite National Park was reduced by boundary
changes in 1905, which allowed some notable giant sugar pines to pass
into private ownership. The trees were restored to the park in 1939 over
the objection of the Forest Service, but they seemed small compensation
for the part Pinchot played in damming Hetch Hetchy.(46)
Perhaps the long campaigns waged by Muir and Steel also have a
lesson. Park management continues to deal with problems that both men
thought were going to be solved by enactment of their proposals. It may
have saddened Muir to find the National Park Service having difficulty
implementing its plan to reduce congestion in Yosemite Valley. A similar
irony exists at Crater Lake where extensive research is being conducted
to determine if a geothermal energy company's drilling outside the park
could affect the lake.
We owe an enormous debt to these two men and other activists who
have seen their proposals added to the National Park System. They were
willing, as few people have been, to carry a considerable burden for
little material gain. In most cases (Muir is a notable exception) the
reward of activists has been obscurity. Nonetheless, as Steel expressed
it in 1930, there is an intangible satisfaction:
Plundering through this wilderness of sin and corruption, tasting
of its wickedness, forgetting my duty to God and man, striving to catch
bubbles of pleasure and the praise of men, guilty of many
transgressions, I now look back on this my 76th birthday, and my heart
bounds with joy and gladness, for I realize that I have been the cause
of opening up this wonderful lake for the pleasure of mankind, millions
of whom will come and enjoy a and unborn generations will profit by its
glories. Money knows no charm like this and I am the favored one. Why
should I not be happy?(47)
Acknowledgments: The author wishes to thank Mark Wagner, Maureen
Briggs, Melanie Smith, and Kent Taylor for their assistance in the
preparation of this paper. It was originally presented to the 43rd
annual meeting of the California History Institute in Stockton,
1. This growth has occurred in spite of some
government officials expressing the view that this category was "rounded
out" in 1940 by the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park in
California. Over 40 sites are currently targeted by the National Parks
and Conservation Association (a group that has lobbied Congress since
1919 to defend, promote, and improve the National Park System) as
potential additions to the natural area branch of the System. Over half
are in the western United States.
2. It took Ralph Starr Waite 25 years to see the
Great Basin proposal accepted. In Idaho, Paul Fritz took considerably
less time because there was less perceived conflict among other groups.
3. Edith J. Hadley in her PhD. dissertation, "John
Muir's Views of Nature and their Consequences" (Univ. of Wisconsin,
1956), states that Muir toyed with the idea of a national park at
Yosemite as early as 1872. There is some indication that Muir was
willing to take steps publicly to further the cause of forest
conservation before he met with Johnson; J.D. Hooker to Muir, March 19,
1886, microfilm reel 19, Microfilm edition of the John Muir Papers, R.H.
Limbaugh and K.E. Lewis eds. (Stockton, CA; University of Pacific,
4. R.U. Johnson, "Personal Impressions of John
Muir," Outlook 80 (June 3, 1905), 303-304.
5. Ibid., p. 304. The articles were: "The
Treasures of Yosemite", Century 40 (August 1890), 483-500;
"Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park," Century 40
(September 1890), 656-667. Several open letters that Muir sent to
Johnson may have also been a factor in the passage of legislation
creating a Yosemite National Park; see the Sierra Club Bulletin
29 (October 1944), 45-49.
6. Muir quoted in "Proceedings of the Meeting of
the Sierra Club," November 23, 1895, in Sierra Club Bulletin 1:6
(May 1896), 271-284.
7. San Francisco Examiner, January 15, 1895,
p. 9; also cited in William F. and Mamie B. Kimes' John Muir: A
Reading Bibliography, (Fresno, CA: Panorama West Books, 1986), 150.
8. The "stump forest" is referred to in "The
Treasures of the Yosemite", but the water supply argument is more fully
developed in Muir's "Hunting Big Redwoods", Atlantic Monthly 88
(September 1901), 304-320. This is a point upon which Muir agreed with
the utilitarians in the forestry movement; see Gifford Pinchot, A
Primer of Forestry, Part II-Practical Forestry, USDA-Bureau of
Forestry Bulletin No. 24, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,
1900), 87. The degree to which forests affect water supply was an
important part of subsequent U.S. Forest Service research; see Raphael
Zon, Forests and Water in the Light of Scientific Investigation
(Washington: GPO, 1927).
9. Quoted in Harlan D. Unrau, Administrative
History Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USDI-National Park
Service, (Denver: NPS, 1988), 27-28. Steel has a different account in
"Crater Lake and How to See It", The West Shore 12:3 (March
1886), 104-106; also "Crater Lake Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,"
Steel Points Junior 1:2 (August 1925), n.p.
10. Special Session, Oregon Legislature, "S.J.M.
No. 5", adopted November 18, 1885, Steel Letters, Box 1, Item 211,
Museum Collection, Crater Lake National Park. Executive Order, February
1, 1886, Record Group 49 [General Land Office], Division R, Box 125,
Rogue River file, National Archives, and "The President's Order",
Steel Points, 1:2 (January 1907), 73.
11. LeConte to Steel, January 5, 1886, Steel
Letters, Box 1, Item 210, Museum Collection, Crater Lake National Park.
Dutton expressed similar thoughts upon going back to Washington, D.C.;
Dutton to Steel, February 27, 1886, SL, Box 1, Item 195.
12. Unrau, op. cit. 37.
13. LeConte noted the effects of large fires on
his 1885 trip to Crater Lake; Sierra Club Bulletin 1:6 (May
1895), 269-270. Muir mentioned fire's effect on the Crater Lake area in
his journal entry of August 31, 1896; Linnie Marsh Wolfe, John and
the Mountains: the Unpublished Journals of John Muir (Boston:
Houghton-Mifflin, 1938), 357.
14. The Cascade Forest Reserve consisted of
4,883,588 acres when it was proclaimed on September 28, 1893. Next in
size was the Sierra FR which was established on February 14, 1893, and
had 4,096,000 acres.
15. An 18 page letter that Waldo wrote to the
President on April 28, 1896, was probably the most eloquent defense of
the reserve; a typescript copy of it is in the Oregon Historical Society
Library, Portland. Steel also saw the Cascade Reserve as giving Crater
Lake another layer of protection. Without its creation, he feared the
possibility of the Crater Lake townships reserved in 1886 being restored
to entry. An order by the Secretary of Interior was revoked for a brief
time in 1890 at Sequoia before park proponents succeeded in getting
national park designation for the Giant Forest and other groves; George
W. Stewart to Col. John R. White, June 8, 1929, in Fry and White's
Big Trees (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1930),
16. Their first meeting was in 1888 when Muir
climbed Mount Rainier. Both of them attended the National Park
Conference of 1912, held at Yosemite; see Proceedings
(Washington: GPO, 1913).
17. Muir began giving public lectures in 1876 and
throughout the next decade went to west coast cities to speak about
glaciers, botany, and his travels. By the time he became an activist,
he was a popular speaker whose income from other sources allowed him to
be very selective. Steel's career as a speaker began when he returned
from Crater Lake in 1885 and broadened over time to include several
lecturing trips across the country.
18. Although Muir began his literary career by
mostly writing for newspapers, he found the national literary magazines
not only paid better but were a more effective way of promoting his
proposals; see Stephen Fox, John Muir and his Legacy: the American
Conservation Movement (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1981).
Steel's writings, by contrast, were generally newspaper articles whose
distribution was limited to the Pacific Northwest.
19. Muir to Steel, October 2, 1892, SL, Box 1,
20. Originally published in Boston by
Houghton-Mifflin; a reprint by the University of Wisconsin Press
appeared in 1981.
21. Portland Oregonian, December 28, 1892
in Steel Scrapbook 9:1, Mazamas Library, Portland.
22. Medford (Oregon) Mail, September 27,
1895, in Steel Scrapbook 2:2, Museum Collection, Crater Lake National
Park. Article II of the Mazamas' constitution is precise: "The objects
of this organization shall be the exploration of snow-peaks and other
mountains, especially those of the Pacific Northwest; the collection of
scientific knowledge and other data concerning the same; the
encouragement of annual expeditions with the above objects in view; the
preservation of the forests and other features of mountain scenery as
far as possible in their natural beauty and the dissemination of
knowledge concerning the beauty and grandeur of the mountain scenery of
the Pacific Northwest."
23. John D. Scott, We Climb High, A Chronology
of the Mazamas 1894-1964 (Portland: Mazamas, 1969), 3. In 1895,
Muir and LeConte were among the first three honorary members to be
elected by the Mazamas.
24. Johnson to Muir, November 21, 1889, microfilm
reel 6, Muir Papers, also cited in Fox, p. 106. The second issue of the
Sierra Club Bulletin (June 1893, 31-39) showed that the club was
interested in more than just California from the beginning. Club member
Mark Kerr wrote an article about Crater Lake based on his experiences as
topographer on the USGS expedition of 1886.
25. Linda Greene, Historic Resource Study,
Yosemite National Park, (Denver: NPS, 1987), 355-356.
26. Elliott McAllister, "Report of the Board of
Directors", Sierra Club Bulletin 1:4 (May 1894).
27. Muir, et. al., "Statement Concerning the
Proposed Recession of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove by the
State of California to the United States," Sierra Club Bulletin
5:3 (January 1905), 242-250.
28. "Report of Capt. C.E. Dutton," Part 1, USGS
Eighth Annual Report, 1886-1887, (Washington: GPO, 1887), 156-159; more
detail is in his letters and scrapbooks held by Crater Lake National
29. The scientists were J.S. Diller (USGS),
Frederick Coville (Bureau of Plant Industry), C. Hart Merriam
(Biological Survey), and Barton Evermann (U.S. Fish Commission); their
papers were later published in Mazama 1:2 (October 1897),
30. Steel later recalled that he had to walk from
Crater Lake to Medford (some 85 miles in two days) so he could escort
the commission back to the lake. Although the group recommended Mount
Rainier and Grand Canyon for national park status, they failed to reach
a consensus about whether to include Crater Lake. Its members were:
Charles S. Sargent (Harvard University), William H. Brewer (Yale
University), Arnold Hague (USGS), Henry S. Abbott (U.S. Engineer Corps),
Alexander Agassiz (Coast and Geodetic Survey), Gifford Pinchot, and
31. Unrau, p. 100; Steel to Roosevelt, May 10,
1902, SL, Box 2, Item 11.
32. Muir, et. al., "Statement Concerning the
Proposed Recession", 245.
33. Harriman's role in the recession is discussed
in Fox, pp. 127-128. See also Richard J. Orsi, "Wilderness Saint and
'Robber Baron': The Anomalous Partnership of John Muir and the Southern
Pacific Company for Preservation of Yosemite National Park", Pacific
Historian, 29:2/3 (Summer/Fall 1985), 136-156.
34. John Ise, Our National Park Policy,
(Washington DC: Resources for the Future, 1961), 74.
35. Muir, et. al., "Statement Concerning the
Proposed Recession", 247.
36. Ise, p. 87.
37. Muir, "The National Parks and Forest
Reservations," Harpers Weekly 16:2111, (June 5, 1897), 566;
"Forest Field Studies", microfilm reel 28, Muir Papers; Wolfe, John
of the Mountains, 356-357.
38. Breaking New Ground (New York: Harcourt
Brace and Co., 1947), 101.
39. Muir to Steel, February 19, 1902, Steel
Scrapbook 22:2, p. 46, Museum Collection, Crater Lake National Park.
Another request for a short piece on the lake met with a similar
response; Muir to Steel, December 15, 1906, SL, Box 2, Item 22.
40. Pinchot to Steel, February 18, 1902, SL, Box
2, Item 20A.
41. Thomas H. Tongue [Oregon Congressman] to
Steel, April 18, 1902, Box 2 Item 21F.
42. Pinchot to Steel, May 15, 1902, SL, Box 2,
43. The Oregon Forestry Association was founded in
1896 as another way to defend the Cascade Reserve. Pinchot made it a
point to visit Stehekin that summer after Steel failed to receive a
patronage appointment as forest superintendent in Oregon. Steel,
however, was more inclined toward forest recreation than was Pinchot;
see Steel, "The Valley of the Stehekin", The State 2:1 (July 20,
1898) in Steel Scrapbook 10:2, Mazamas Library, Portland.
44. Wolfe in John of the Mountains,
379-380, gives Muir's journal entry for May 29, 1899: "Met Judge George.
Had a long talk on forest protection, found him lukewarm. Mr. Steel
uncertain on the same subject. Told him forest protection was the right
side and he had better get on record on that side as soon as possible.
He promised to do what he could against sheep pasture in the Rainier
Park and also in the Cascade Reservation"
45. No national parks have been established in
Oregon since the Forest Service was created. The Forest Service
administered Oregon Caves National Monument from its proclamation in
1909 until 1993, when it was transferred to the National Park Service by
executive order. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a former
46. The sugar pines discussed in Ise, pp. 406-407,
as is the Hetch Hetchy controversy on pp. 85-96.
47. Quoted September 7, 1930, History Files,
Crater Lake National Park.
William Gladstone Steel - Mazamas Founder:
A Chronology compiled by Stephen R. Mark, Historian, Crater Lake National Park
Portrait of Mr. Steel seated on base of only surviving tree around
which ropes were snagged to launch first boats. (National Park Service
Historic Photograph Collection.)
1854 Born on September 7 in Stafford, Ohio. His father
William was a Scottish immigrant who came to Virginia in 1817 at age 8.
His mother was a Virginia native, the former Elizabeth Lowry.
1868 Steel family left Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for
southeastern Kansas on March 25. They settled on a farm near Oswego in
1870 Read about Crater Lake for the first time, supposedly in
a newspaper containing his lunch.
1872 Family left Kansas for Portland, Oregon, where they
joined two of Will's brothers who had become successful financiers.
1873 Will completed high school in Portland and began a
three-year apprenticeship as a pattern maker for Smith Brothers Iron
Works. Started collecting newspaper clippings to place in
1875 Is said to have acquired an interest in
1879 Father William Steel died January 5. Later that year
Will became president of Portland's Philomathean League, a society for
oratory and debate. In October he established the Albany (Ore.)
Herald in an attempt to carry Linn County for the Republican
Party. The paper was sold the following summer.
1881 With his brother David, Will initiated publication of a
promotional journal called The Resources of Oregon and Washington
in November. Their main business associate was Chandler B. Watson, who
had visited Crater Lake in 1873.
1885 Steel arrived at Crater Lake for the first time on
August 15. Two days later he christened Wizard Island. On his return to
Portland, Steel consulted with Judge John B. Waldo in Salem about a
proposal to establish Crater Lake as a national park. Will's
professional status at this time was as superintendent of postal
carriers in Portland, owing to his brother George being postmaster.
1886 At Steel's urging, two national park bills were
introduced in Congress during January. On February 1 President Cleveland
reserved ten townships around the lake from settlement. Will directed
the transport of equipment for a U.S. Geological Survey expedition to
Crater Lake in July.
1887 On July 4 was the first person to successfully
illuminate Mount Hood at night. Organized the Oregon Alpine Club in
1888 Met John Muir for the first time in August. During that
month Steel planted the first fish in Crater Lake and made his only
known journey to the Oregon Caves.
1889 Attempted to find investors for a railroad to run from
Drain to the mouth of the Umpqua River. Assisted in the reorganization
of the Oregon Alpine Club.
1890 Published his only book, The Mountains of Oregon,
through his brother David. That summer Steel had the OAC co-sponsor the
O'Neil expedition of the Olympic Mountains. At its conclusion, members
express their gratitude to him at a dinner in Hoquiam, Washington.
1891 Formed a real estate partnership called Wilbur &
Steel in Portland. For the next two decades Steel assisted with the
development of North Portland, especially the area near what is
presently University Park and Portsmouth.
1892 OAC declared bankruptcy after Steel had used $1000 of
his own money for its operations.
1893 A four million acre Cascade Forest Reserve was
established by executive order. The predecessor to several national
forests and Crater Lake National Park, Steel and Waldo played the
largest role in lobbying for its creation.
1894 Organized the Mazamas on the summit of Mount Hood on
July 19. Some 193 people made the ascent, many from Steel's cabin near
1895 Traveled to Washington DC to foil the first
Congressional attempt at rescinding the Cascade Forest Reserve.
1896 Led a Mazama trip to Crater Lake in August. Steel also
facilitated the investigations of several government scientists in
conjunction with the gathering. Later in the month he brought the
National Forestry Commission to the lake. Founded the Oregon Forestry
Association as a result of his interest in Pacific Northwest
1897 Failed to secure a patronage appointment as
superintendent of the Cascade Forest Reserve. During the summer and fall
worked as a forest reserve surveyor for the U.S. Geological Survey in
the vicinity of Stehekin, Washington.
1900 Married Lydia Hatch in Portland on February 16.
1901 Steel's fish planting of 13 years before was declared a
success when trout were discovered in Crater Lake.
1902 After 17 years of painstaking effort, Steel was
triumphant when Crater Lake National Park was established on May 22.
1903 Brought 27 people to Crater Lake from Medford on August
5. This was his first attempt to provide visitor services at the
1906 Initiated publication of a pamphlet series called
Steel Points. Resigned from Mazamas on August 30.
1907 Established the Crater Lake Company with E.D. Whitney in
Portland on June 6. As the park's first concessioner, he provided
transportation for tourists, a tent camp at Annie Springs and boat tours
on the lake.
1909 Opened Camp Crater at the rim on July 20. After choosing
the site where the Mazamas gathered in 1896, Steel supplied the funds to
begin construction of the Crater Lake Lodge.
1912 Secured federal funds for the construction of a road
around Crater Lake. Sold his financial interest in the Crater Lake
concession to his Portland real estate partner, A L. Parkhurst.
1913 Appointed as Crater Lake National Park's second
superintendent on June 7.
1914 Endorsed government ownership of the park's concessions
as a way of helping the faltering Parkhurst complete his development at
1915 Was on hand when the partly-completed Crater Lake Lodge
opened on July 3. After a visit by William Jennings Bryan, Steel
recommended that an elevator be constructed from near the lodge to the
1916 Resigned as superintendent on November 20 in order to
accept the position of park magistrate. The job as magistrate was
created after the State of Oregon ceded jurisdiction over Crater Lake to
the Federal Government a year earlier.
1920 Took up residence in Eugene.
1921 Rejoined the Mazamas.
1924 Published a pamphlet titled "The Crater Lake Scandal" on
January 1. It was written to protest the treatment of Parkhurst, who had
been forced to give up the Crater Lake concession in 1920.
1925 His speech before a Eugene service club on Lincoln's
birthday was self-published, as was a volume of Steel Points
Junior called "Crater Lake Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow".
1927 Published his last pamphlet, a volume of Steel Points
1929 Relocated to Medford. Its newspaper reported Steel's
intent to assist with the growth of Oregon's state park system once the
parks had been incorporated into the State Highway Division.
1932 Initiated a campaign to build a road inside the caldera
from Rim Village on May 22. Made his last visit to Crater Lake that
summer, after which he suffered a long illness. Lydia Steel died in
Medford on November 9.
1934 Died November 21. Buried in Medford's Siskiyou Memorial
Park wearing his NPS uniform.
Source: U.S. National Park Service, Crater Lake National Park
For more, see Crater Lake: The Campaign to Establish a National Park in Oregon
by Steve Mark, in Southern Oregon Heritage Today, January 2001, Vol. 3 No. 1, published by the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
For an introduction to William Gladstone Steel, see his entry on our People Influenced by John Muir section.
For more information about John Muir in Oregon, see John Muir in Oregon by Ron Eber
Life and Contributions of John Muir
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