The Life and Letters of John Muir
by William Frederic Badè
Yosemite and Beyond
Perhaps it is natural that so picturesque a personality as John Muir should
become a magnet for legends. Several are already afloat in the Valley he
loved, and two of them are particularly baseless and absurd. The first
is a canard about a sawmill by means of which he is said to have denuded
the Valley of trees. It was a tale set afoot during the Hetch Hetchy controversy
when his opponents were only too anxious to discredit him in the eyes of
the public. The fact that Muir sawed only fallen timber has already been
set forth in another connection and requires no further statement. The
second concerns the place of his former habitation in the Valley. It owes
its origin, no doubt, to the desire of local guides to gratify the curiosity
of visitors who wish to see some particular spot that has associations
with John Muir.
In a secluded, umbrageous tangle of alders and azaleas, on the spit
of land formed by the confluence of Tenaya Creek with the Merced, stands
what at first glance looks like the remnants of a log cabin. Examination
reveals the fact that there never had been a floor or windows; that it
was never more than partly roofed and too low for a man to stand comfortably
erect, while the opening which should serve as a door is only three feet
high. It is all that remains of the sheep corral of John Lamon, the earliest
inhabitant of the Valley. The myth-making faculty of the local guide has
glorified it as "Muir's Lost Cabin," and as such it has been pointed out
to great numbers of eager sight-seers.
But there is no mystery about the two cabins which Muir erected for
himself in Yosemite. The places where they stood are known, although not
a vestige of the original structures remains. The first he erected late
in 1869 near the lower Yosemite Falls, and the site is now indicated by
a bronze plate on a glacial boulder. He left it in the autumn of 1871 to
take up his abode at Black's Hotel under the shadow of Sentinel Rock. But
during the spring and summer of 1872 he erected for himself a log cabin
in a clump of dogwood bushes, near the Royal Arches, on the banks of the
Merced. The precise locality is to be sought at the point where the Merced
approaches closest to the Royal Arches, and in a bold curve swings southward
again across the Valley. In the same neighborhood Lamon had also built
his winter cabin. During the cold season of the year when the south side
of the Valley is wrapped in the frosty shadows of its high walls, the sun
shines obliquely against the talus slopes of the north side and generates
a grateful warmth. Here, then was Muir's second home in Yosemite Valley--one,
however, that he seems to have occupied very little after 1874. The survival
of Lamon's old corral in the immediate neighborhood appears to have led
to its identification with this last of Muir's cabins. The following winter
letters of 1872 probably were written from there. Asa Gray's visit doubtless
had given new stimulus to his study of the Yosemite flora, though in the
absence of descriptive botanical handbooks he had great difficulty in determining
To J. B. McChesney
December 10th, 1872
Yours of November 30th is here. Many thanks for the plants, though
I am not much wiser. I knew the generic names of the first three. Only
two are fully named. I suppose that the specimens I sent were too small
and fragmentary to be determined with certainty. If I could only have access
to books containing these plants I could easily name them. I have read
Tyndall's Hours of Exercise [in the Alps]. Tyndall is a true man,
with eyes that can see far down into the fountain truths of nature.
I am glad to know that you miss no opportunity in seeking Nature's altars.
May she be good to you and feed your soul while you labor amid those Oakland
wastes of civilization. I love [the] ocean as I do the mountains--indeed
the mountains are an ocean with harder waves than yours.
You must be very happy in communion with so many kindred minds. I hope
to know [Charles Warren] Stoddard some day. Tell him that I am going to
build a nest and that it will always be open to him. Come next year, all
of you. Come to these purest of terrestrial fountains. Come and receive
baptism and absolution from civilized sins. You were but sprinkled last
year. Come and be immersed! You have never seen our Valley with her jewels
on, never seen her flowers of snow.
A few days ago many a flower ripened in the fields of air and they have
fallen to us. All the trees and the bushes are flowered beyond summer,
bowed down in snow bloom and all the rocks are buried. The day after the
"storm" (a most damnable name for the flowering of the clouds) I lay out
on the meadow to eat a grand meal of newmade beauty, and about midday I
suddenly wanted the outside mountains, and so cast off my coat and ran
up towards Glacier Point. I soon was near [the] top, and was very hungry
for the view that was so grandly mingled and covered with snow and sky,
but the snow was now more than ten feet deep and dusty and light as winter
fog. I tried to wallow and swim it, but the slope was so steep that I always
fell back and sank out of sight, and I was fully baffled. I had a glorious
slide downwards. Hawthorne speaks of the spirituality of locomotive railroad
travel, but this balmy slide in the mealy snow out-spiritualized all other
motions that I ever made in space.
Farewell, write again. I am lonely.
During the interval between this and the next letter he made a rapid trip
to Oakland in order to forward some literary plans in consultation with
Mrs. Carr and others. On this occasion he met Edward Rowland Sill. In returning
to Yosemite he walked from Turlock via Hopeton and Coulterville. The excursion
to Clouds Rest described in his letter to Gray came as the conclusion of
this return walk which included a very adventurous first climb through
the Tenaya Canyon, and which forms the subject of a long letter to Mrs.
Carr, published under the title of "A Geologist's Winter Walk." This very
characteristic letter, in which he relates how he punished his "ill behaved
bones" for allowing themselves to be demoralized by even a brief sojourn
in "civilization," will be found in its completest form in Steep Trails
In spite of what Muir characterized as the "angular factiness of his pursuits,"
Dr. Gray was found to have carefully preserved the following and other
Muir letters at the Gray Herbarium in Cambridge.
To Asa Gray
My Dear Gray:
December 18th, 1872
I received the last of your notes two days ago, announcing the arrival
of the ferns. You speak of three boxes of Primula. I sent seven or eight.
I had some measurements to make about the throat of the South Dome,
so yesterday I climbed there, and then ran up to Clouds Rest for your Primulas,
and as I stuffed them in big sods into a sack, I said, "Now I wonder what
mouthfuls this size will accomplish for the Doctor's primrose hunger."
Before filling your sack I witnessed one of the most glorious of our mountain
sunsets; not one of the assembled mountains seemed remote--all had ceased
their labor of beauty and gathered around their parent sun to receive the
evening blessing, and waiting angels could not be more solemnly hushed.
The sun himself seemed to have reached a higher life as if he had died
and only his soul were glowing with rayless, bodiless
as Christ to his disciples, so this departing sun soul said to every precious
beast, to every pine and weed, to every stream and mountain, "My peace
I give unto you."
I ran home in the moonlight with your sack of roses slung on my shoulder
by a buckskin string--down through the junipers, down through the firs,
now in black shadow, now in white light, past great South Dome white as
the moon, past spirit-like Nevada, past Pywiack, through the groves of
Illilouette and spiry pines of the open valley, star crystals sparkling
above, frost crystals beneath, and rays of spirit beaming everywhere.
I reached home a trifle weary, but could have wished so Godful a walk
some miles and hours longer, and as I slid your roses off my shoulder I
said, "This is one of the big round ripe days that so fatten our lives--so
much of sun on one side, so much of moon on the other. "
I have a rare chance of getting your plants packed out of the Valley
tomorrow, and so have determined to send all together with a few seeds
in a box by Wells Fargo Express. The books, both Hutchings' and mine, are
along all right. Many thanks. I am hard at work on dead glaciers.
I am very cordially
To J. B. McChesney
My Dear McChesney:
December 20th, 1872
Among all the souls which shine upon my eye up from that dim and distant
Oakland none is of purer ray than your own, and living or dying, in this
land or in that, I shall never cease to thank God for friends like you.
My excursion down into that befogged jungle of human plants in which
you manage to live and love forms a far more notable chapter in my personal
history than any of you can comprehend, and now that I am warm again, safe
nestled in mountain ether, I seem to have returned to life from a strange
and half-remembered death.
Here many a thought comes crowding to my page, but I must hush them
back, for they would overcrowd a thousand letters. So drawing a long sigh
I must content myself with saying 'thank you' for all your kindness, and
leave you to eat the good brown bread of your little hills, and whatsoever
of God you can find there, until your angel shall again guide you to the
clean fountains of the Sierras.
Remember me to all your family and to Kelsey and any of my friends you
chance to see--Miss Brigham, Sill, and all the rest. Kiss your Alice some
extra times for me. She is the sweetest flake of childhood I found in all
your town, and she comes back to me in form and voice and in touch too,
with most living vividness.
Farewell. I am
Ever your friend
One of the gifts that came to his cabin at Christmas time was a
beautiful lamp from a friend in Chicago, to whom he addressed the following
letter in acknowledgment:
To Mrs. Kate N. Daggett
[Salutation torn off.]
December 30th, 1872
I have just this minute for the first time lighted your elegant lamp,
and I send you again most cordial thanks for so precious a gift.
This is the first St. Germain lamp I have seen, and it is certainly
the most beautiful of all light fountains. Its forms have been composed
by a true artist. its many curves blend into song with scarce a discordant
tone. The trill around the base of the chimney is all that my eye-ear dislikes.
The massive finely moulded foundation glows like an ice-polished dome,
and the grateful green of the shade is like that of high glacier lakes.
If among the multitude of articles that now enter a human home there be
one that deserves to be crowned with beauty above everything else, it is
the fountain of light. The poet is the only workman capable of making a
It is delightful to observe how steadily God-born beauty is flowing
into all the handiwork of man. Nature is insinuating herself into every
pore of humanity, and it is oozing out in forms that are constantly becoming
less and less impure, and those forms of purer and more direct Godfulness
are coming not only from the study cells of the painter and architect and
art poets in general recognized as such, but they are flowing from the
workshop from the foundry and the forge.
I know little of men, seeing them only afar off and in the lump, but
standing as I now do on the mountain-side and contemplating the various
hives of industry among civilizations old and new, all looming on my vision,
dim in the great sea-divided distances, I have this one big, well-defined
faith for humanity as a workman, that the time is coming when every "article
of manufacture" will be as purely a work of God as are these mountains
and pine trees and bonnie loving flowers.
I only meant to say you another warm thank you, but the fresh dewy beauty
of your sunrise lamp conjured and loosened these thoughts and sent them
down to my page, as rain and frost loosen and send down trains of rattling
rough-angled rocks to Yosemite meadows.
I suppose our dear Mrs. Carr has told you of the eclipse of my life,
years ago when my eyes were quenched just at the spring-dawn of summer
when the voice of the bluebird began to appear mingled with the first flower-words
of Erigenia and Anemone. But though in that terrible darkness I died to
light, I lived again, and God who is Light has led me tenderly from light
to light to the shoreless ocean of rayless beamless Spirit Light that bathes
these holy mountains.
The earlier writings of John Ruskin were at this time widely read
and discussed both in England and in America, and Muir, also, was a deeply
interested reader. But he took exception to the unqualified admiration
with which some of his friends accepted Ruskinian ideas. In the following
letter we have a brief but searching critique, from his point of view,
of the dualism and artificiality of Ruskin's nature philosophy.
To J. B. McChesney
January 10th, 1873
I have just finished a ramble through the handsome gardens of Ruskin
that you gave me. Page after page is studded with flowers like a glacier
meadow, and most of his chapters of hill and dale make a handsome landscape
in spite of his numberless boundaries and human-carved rocks.
Few of our modem writers are so strikingly suggestive as Ruskin. His
pungent steel-tempered sentences compel one to think, and his errors and
absurdities are so clearly expressed that they do good rather than harm.
Ruskin is great, but not a great man--only a great ready-to-burst bud
of a man. He is chained and tethered, not like the stars, by Nature's own
laws, but by ropes and chains manufactured in the mills and forges of conventions,
and although they are made of good material and are so transparent in places
as to be well-nigh invisible, and he roams as if loose over this world
and what he takes to be the next, yet after all one never can feel that
he is free. His widest world, his highest sky, is enclosed by a hard definite
shell making one think of a mouse beneath a huge bellglass, so huge that
it does not feel its bounds. The bellglass underneath which Ruskin lives
and moves and brandishes his verbal spears is made of the heaviest and
most opaque stuff in the universe--a thousand times denser than
There are writers of far lesser intellectual development who yet give
hints and hopes of indefinite growth--it doth not appear what they shall
be, but Ruskin leaves us nothing to hope. Among all the possibilities of
after-development I can find nothing that will fit him. His very hopes
and longing of heaven that he places deep in the immensities and eternities
are weighed and measured and branded and they are bounded by surfaces definite
as those of a crystal and could be made to order like bricks by Yankee
But the worst thing I find in his books is his lack of faith in the
Scriptures of Nature. Nature, according to Ruskin, is the joint work of
God and the devil, and therefore made up of alternate strips and bars of
evil and good.
We must not dwell in contact with Nature, he tells us, else we will
become blind to her beauty, which is the vulgar gross old heresy that familiarity
with God will produce contempt of him. He would have us take beauty as
we do roast beef or medicine, at stated times, the intervals to be measured
by a London watch instead of inhaling it every moment as we do breath.
Evil, he says, always exists with good and ugliness with beauty, in
order to act as foils the one for the other. Beside every mountain angel
he sets a mountain devil, that the blackness of the one may be made wholly
striking by the whiteness of the other, and that the angel's white may
be brightened by the devil's black. Here I want to say so much that I cannot
Ruskin, with all his well-bred amiability, is an infidel to Nature.
You never can feel that there is the slightest union betwixt Nature
and him. He goes to the Alps and improves and superintends and reports
on Nature with the conceit and lofty importance of a factor of a duke's
Kalmia, one of the very dearest of our mountain flowers, a companion
of Bryanthus and Cassiope, one of the purest and most outspoken words of
love that God has ever uttered on mountain meadow, he calls a type of deceit
because when he eats it, it poisons him--is unfit for his stomach--a good
English reason for setting it on the devil's half of Nature. But I have
lived with and loved Kalmia many a day, and slept with my cheek upon her
bonnie purple flowers, and I know that she is not a devil's foil for any
plant. She was born and bred in Love Divine and dwells in Love and speaks
And I know something about "the blasted trunk, and the barren rock,
the moaning of the bleak winds, the solemn solitudes of moors and seas,
the roar of the black, perilous, merciless whirlpools of the mountain streams;"
and they have a language for me, but they declare nothing of wrath or of
hell, only Love plain as was ever spoken.
Christianity and mountainanity are streams from the same fountain, and
when I read the bogies of Ruskin's "mountain gloom" and mountain evil,
and mountain devil, and the unwholesomeness of mountain beauty as everyday
breath and bread, then I wish for plenty of words and a preacher's commission.
Farewell. My kindest regards to your parents and wife and younglings.
Ever truly thine
To Asa Gray
Dear Dr. Gray:
February 22nd, 1873
Your letter of January 4th arrived just before our trails were snow-blocked.
The seeds I sent in a letter envelope are Libocedrus decurrens.
As for the express charges on the primula box, I have not got the receipt
by me and cannot tell what they amount to, but you must remember that you
gave me money sufficient to prepay all such boxes for a year to come.
Did I tell you that our wee primula grows upon the Hoffmann range a
few miles west of Mount Hoffmann, and also on the east slope of the Sierra,
between Mounts Lyell and Ritter? Next summer I will find a new genus and
a half dozen new species for that generous embalming which you propose.
Here are a few plants which I wish you would name for me.
Our winter is very glorious. January was a block of solid sun-gold,
not of the thin frosty kind, but of a quality that called forth butterflies
and tingled the fern coils and filled the noontide with a dreamy hum of
insect wings. On the 15th of January I found one big Phacelia in full bloom
on the north side of the Valley about one thousand feet above the bottom
or five thousand above the sea. Also at the same sunny nook several bushes
of Arctostaphylos glauca were in full flower, and many other plants
were swelling their buds and breathing fragrance, showing that they were
full of the thoughts and intentions of spring. Our Laurel was in flower
a month ago; so was our winter wheat (Libocedrus).
This month up to present date has been profusely filled with snow. About
ten feet has fallen on the bottom of the Valley since the 30th of January.
Your primulas on Clouds' Rest must be covered to a depth of at least twelve
or fifteen feet. I wish you could see our pines in full bloom of soft snow,
or waving in storm. They know little of the character of a pine tree who
see it only when swaying drowsily in a summer breeze or when balanced motionless
and fast asleep in hushed sunshine.
We are grandly snowbound and have all this winter glory of sunlight
and storm-shade to ourselves. Our outside doors are locked, and who will
I call your attention to the two large yellow and purple plants from
the top of Mount Lyell, above all of the pinched and blinking dwarfs that
almost justify Darwin's mean ungodly word "struggle." They form a rounded
expansion upon the wedge of plant life that slants up into the thin lean
sky. They are the noblest plant mountaineers I ever saw, climbing above
the glaciers into the frosty azure, and flowering in purple and gold, rich
and abundant as ever responded to the thick, creamy sun-gold of the tropics.
Ever very cordially yours
In his reply to this letter, which reflects Muir's watchful interest
in the sun-warmed winter cliff gardens above his cabin, Gray reported on
the plants Muir had sent for identification. "If you will keep botanizing
in the High Sierra," he wrote, "you will find curious and new things, no
doubt. One such, at least, is in your present collection in letter--the
wee mouse-tail Ivesia. And the rare species of Lewisia is as good
as new, and is so wholly to California . . . . Ivesia Muirii is
the first fruit--'the day of small things.' Get a new alpine genus, that
I may make a Muiria glacialis!" The primula so often referred to
is the beautiful alpine red-purple Sierra Primrose (Primula suffrutescens
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Dear Mrs. Carr:
March 30th, 
Your two last are received. The package of letters was picked up by
a man in the Valley.
There was none for thee. I have Hetch Hetchy about ready. I did not
intend that Tenaya ramble ["A Geologist's Winter Walk"] for publication,
but you know what is better.
I mean to write and send all kinds of game to you with hides and feathers
on, for if I wait until all become one it may be too long. As for LeConte's
"Glaciers," they will not hurt mine, but hereafter I will say my thoughts
to the public in any kind of words I chance to command, for I am sure they
win be better expressed in this way than in any second-hand hash, however
Oftentimes when I am free in the wilds I discover some rare beauty in
lake or cataract or mountain form, and instantly seek to sketch it with
my pencil, but the drawing is always enormously unlike the reality. So
also in word sketches of the same beauties that are so living, so loving,
so filled with warm God, there is the same infinite shortcoming. The few
hard words make but a skeleton, fleshless, heartless, and when you read,
the dead bony words rattle in one's teeth. Yet I will not the less endeavor
to do my poor best, believing that even these dead bone-heaps called articles
will occasionally contain hints to some living souls who know how to find
them. I have not received Dr. Stebbins' letter. Give him and all my friends
love from me. I sent Harry Edwards the butterflies I had lost. Did he get
Farewell, dear, dear spiritual mother. Heaven repay your everlasting
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Dear Mrs. Carr:
April 1st, 1873
Yours containing Dr. Stebbins' was received to-day. Some of our letters
come in by Mariposa, some by Coulterville, and some by Oak Flat, causing
I expect to be able to send this out next Sunday, and with it "Hetch
Hetchy," which is about ready, and from this time you will receive about
one article a month.
This letter of yours is a very delightful one. I shall look eagerly
for the "Rural Homes."
When I know Dr. Stebbins' summer address I will write to him. He is
a dear young soul, though an old man. I am "not to write"--therefore, farewell,
I will some time send you
Big Tuolumne Canyon
Ascent of Mount Ritter
Formation of Yosemite Valley
Other Yosemite Valleys (1, 2, 3, 4, or more)
The Lake District
Formation of Lakes
Transformation of Lakes to Meadows, Wet
The Glacial Period
Formation of Simple Canyons to Meadows, Dry
Formation of Compound Canyons to Sandy
Flats, Treeless, or to Sandy Flats, Forested
Description of Each Glacier of Region
Origin of Sierra Forests
Distribution of Forests
A Description of each of the Yosemite Falls,
and of the Basins from whence derived
Yosemite Shadows, as Related to Groves,
Meadows and Bends of the River
Avalanches, Earthquakes, Birds, Bears, etc.
and "mony mae."
To Sarah Muir Galloway
Dear Sister Sarah:
September 3rd, 1873
I have just returned from the longest and hardest trip I have ever
made in the mountains, having been gone over five weeks. I am weary, but
resting fast; sleepy, but sleeping deep and fast; hungry, but eating much.
For two weeks I explored the glaciers of the summits east of here, sleeping
among the snowy mountains without blankets and with but little to eat on
account of its being so inaccessible. After my icy experiences it seems
strange to be down here in so warm and flowery a climate.
I will soon be off again, determined to use all the season in prosecuting
my researches--will go next to Kings River a hundred miles south, then
to Lake Tahoe and adjacent mountains, and in winter work in Oakland with
The Scotch are slow, but some day I will have the results of my mount
mountain studies in a form in which you all will be able to read and judge
of them. In the mean time I write occasionally for the
but neither these magazine articles nor my first book will form any finished
part of the scientific contribution that I hope to make. . . . The mountains
are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.
My love to you all, David and the children and Mrs. Galloway who though
shut out from sunshine yet dwells in Light. I will write again when I return
from Kings River Canyon. The leaf sent me from China is for Cecelia.
Farewell, with love everlasting
The exploratory excursion into the Kings River region, which he
had in prospect when he wrote to his sister, forms the subject of several
of the following letters. As both the letters and his notebooks show, the
trip involved almost incredible physical exertion and endurance on his
part. By delaying his start for a day, Muir succeeded in persuading Galen
Clark to go along. Unfortunately the latter's duties as Guardian of Yosemite
Valley compelled him to leave the party before its objects had been accomplished.
In his volume, The Yosemite, Muir has paid a warm tribute to Clark
both as a man and a mountaineer. After the botanist Dr. A. Kellogg and
the artist William Simms left him at Mono, Muir pushed on alone to Lake
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Dear Mrs. Carr:
September 13th, [1873.]
We have just arrived from the Valley, and are now fairly off for the
ice in the highest and broadest of the Sierras. Our party consists of the
blessed Doctor [A. Kellogg] and Billy Simms, Artist, and I am so
glad that the Doctor will have company when I am among the summits. We
hoped to have secured Clark also, a companion for me among the peaks and
snow, but alack, I must go alone. Well, I will not complain a word,
for I shall be overpaid a thousand, thousand fold. I can give you no measured
idea of the time of our reaching Tahoe, but I will write always on coming
to stations if such there be in the rocks or sage where letters are written.
. . .
Now for God's glorious mountains. I will miss you, yet you will more
than half go. It is only now that I feel that I am taking leave of you.
Farewell. Love to all.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Camp on South Fork, San Joaquin, near
Dear Mrs. Carr:
divide of San Joaquin and Kings River
September 27th[?] [ 1873.]
We have been out nearly two weeks. Clark is going to leave us. Told
me five minutes ago. Am a little nervous about it, but will of course push
We came out through the Mariposa Grove, around the head of the Chiquita
Joaquin, across the canyon of the North Fork of San Joaquin, then across
the canyon of Middle Fork of San Joaquin, and up the east side of the South
Fork one day's journey. Then picked our wild way across the canyon of the
South Fork and came up one day's journey on the west side of the canyon;
there we made a camp for four days. I was anxious to see the head fountains
of this river, and started alone, Clark not feeling able to bear the fatigue
involved in such a trip. I set out without blankets for a hard climb; followed
the Joaquin to its glaciers, and climbed the highest mountain I
could find at its head, which was either Mount Humphreys or the mountain
next south. This is a noble mountain, considerably higher than any I have
before ascended. The map of the Geological Survey gives no detail of this
I was gone from camp four days; discovered fifteen glaciers, and yosemite
valleys "many O." The view from that glorious mountain (13,500 feet high?)
is not to be attempted here. Saw over into Owens River valley and all across
the fountains of Kings River. I got back to camp last evening. This morning
after breakfast Clark said that he ought to be at home attending to business
and could not feel justified in being away, and therefore had made up his
mind to leave us, going home by way of the valley of the main Joaquin.
We will push over to the Kings River region and attempt to go down between
the Middle and North Forks. Thence into the canyon of the South Fork and
over the range to Owens Valley, and south to Mount Whitney if the weather
holds steady, then for Tahoe, etc. As we are groping through unexplored
regions our plans may be considerably modified. I feel a little anxious
about the lateness of the season. We may be at Tahoe in three or four weeks.
We had a rough time crossing the Middle Fork of the Joaquin. Browny
rolled down over the rocks, not sidewise but end over end. One of the mules
rolled boulder-like in a yet more irregular fashion. Billy went forth to
sketch while I was among the glaciers, and got lost--was thirty-six hours
I have named a grand wide-winged mountain on the head of the
Joaquin Mount Emerson. Its head is high above its fellows and wings are
white with ice and snow.
This is a dear bonnie morning, the sun rays lovingly to His precious
mountain pines. The brown meadows are nightly frosted browner and the yellow
aspens are losing their leaves. I wish I could write to you, but hard work
near and far presses heavily and I cannot. Nature makes huge demands, yet
pays an thousand, thousand fold. As in all the mountains I have seen about
the head of Merced and Tuolumne this region is a song of God.
On my way home yesterday afternoon I gathered you these orange leaves
from a grove of one of the San Joaquin yosemites. Little thought I that
you would receive them so soon.
Remember me to the Doctor and the boys and to Mrs. and Mr. Moore and
Keith. Dr. Kellogg wishes to be kindly remembered. Farewell.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Camp in dear Bonnie Grove where the pines meet
Dear Mrs. Carr:
the foothill oaks. About eight or ten miles southeast
from the confluence of the North Fork of Kings
River with the hunk.
October 2nd [?] [1873.]
After Clark's departure a week ago we climbed the divide between the
South Fork of the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers. I scanned the vast landscape
on which the ice had written wondrous things. After a short scientific
feast I decided to attempt entering the valley of the west branch of the
North Fork, which we did, following the bottom of the valley for about
ten miles, then was compelled to ascend the west side of the canyon into
the forest. About six miles farther down we made out to re-enter the canyon
where there is a yosemite valley, and by hard efforts succeeded in getting
out on the opposite side and reaching the divide between the North Fork
and the Middle Fork. We then followed the top of the divide nearly to the
confluence of the North Fork with the trunk, and crossed the main river
yesterday, and are now in the pines again over all the wildest and most
impracticable portions of our journey.
In descending the divide to the main Kings River we made a descent of
near seven thousand feet, "down deny down" with a vengeance, to the hot
pineless foothills. We rose again and it was a most grateful resurrection.
Last night I watched the writing of the spiry pines on the sky gray with
stars, and if you had been here I would have said, Look! etc.
Last evening when the Doctor and I were bed-building, discussing as
usual the goodnesses and badnesses of boughy mountain beds, we were astonished
by the appearance of two prospectors coming through the mountain rye. By
them I send this note.
To-day we will reach some of the Sequoias near Thomas' Mill (vide
Map of Geological Survey), and in two or three days more will be in the
canyon of the South Fork of Kings River, If the weather appears tranquil
when we reach the summit of the range I may set out among the glaciers
for a few days, but if otherwise I shall push hastily for die Owens River
plains, and thence up to Tahoe, etc.
I am working hard and shall not feel easy until I am on the other wise
beyond the reach of early snowstorms. Not that I fear snowstorms for myself,
but the poor animals would die or suffer.
The Doctor's duster and fly-net are safe, and therefore he is. Billy
is in good spirits, apt to teach sketching in and out of season. Remember
me to the Doctor and the boys and Moores and Keith, etc.
Ever yours truly
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Dear Mrs. Carr:
October 16th, 1873
All of my season's mountain work is done. I have just come down from
Mount Whitney and the newly discovered mountain five miles northwest of
Whitney, and now our journey is a simple saunter along the base of the
range to Tahoe, where we will arrive about the end of the month, or a few
I have seen a good deal more of the high mountain region about the heads
of Kings and Kern Rivers than I expected to see in so short and so late
a time. Two weeks ago I left the Doctor and Billy in the Kings River yosemite,
and set out for Mount Tyndall and adjacent mountains and canyons. I ascended
Tyndall and ran down into the Kern River canyon and climbed some nameless
mountains between Tyndall and Whitney, and thus gained a pretty good general
idea of the region. After crossing the range by the Kearsage Pass, I again
left the Doctor and Billy and pushed southward along the range and northward
and up Cottonwood Creek to Mount Whitney; then over to the Kern Canyon
again and up to the new "highest" peak which I did not ascend, as there
was no one to attend to my horse.
Thus you see I have rambled this highest portion of the Sierra pretty
thoroughly, though hastily. I spent a night without fire or food in a very
icy wind-storm on one of the spires of the new highest peak, by some called
Fisherman's Peak.[Now called Mount Whitney. An error in the
first Geological Survey map, explained by Clarence King in the second edition
of his Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, led to the identification
of Sheep Mountain as Mount Whitney.] That I am already quite recovered
from the tremendous exposure proves that I cannot be killed in any such
manner. On the day previous I climbed two mountains, making over ten thousand
feet of altitude. It seems that this new Fisherman's Peak is causing some
stir in the newspapers. If I feel writeful I will send you a sketch of
the region for the
I saw no mountains in all this grand region that appeared at all inaccessible
to a mountaineer. Give me a summer and a bunch of matches and a sack of
meal and I will climb every mountain in the region.
I have passed through Lone Pine and noted the yosemite and local subsidences
accomplished by the earthquakes. The bunchy bushy compositae of Owen's
Valley are glorious. I got back from Whitney this P.M. How I shall sleep!
My life rose wave-like with those lofty granite waves. Now it may wearily
float for a time along the smooth flowery plain.
Love to all my friends.
Ever cordially yours
The "stir in the newspapers," alluded to by Muir, was partly at the expense
of Clarence King who, in his published account of what he believed to have
been the first ascent of Mount Whitney, had described it as a somewhat
venturesome undertaking. It now became evident that he had missed Mount
Whitney and climbed an easy neighboring mountain of less elevation. In
1903 Mr. George W. Stewart published in the Mount Whitney Club Journal
a communication from Muir which is of considerable interest in this connection,
not only because it presents the original records of first ascents of Mount
Whitney, but also because in it Muir states it to have been his uniform
practice never to leave his name on any mountain, rock, or tree. "Reading
the accounts of these Whitney climbs [in the above-mentioned journal] recalls
to mind," he writes, "my first ascent in October, 1873. Early in the morning
of the 25th I left my horse on a meadow a short distance north of the Hockett
trail crossing of the summit, and climbed the mountain (now Sheep Mountain),
about fourteen thousand feet high, named Mount Whitney on the State Geological
Survey map of the region. To the north about eight miles I saw a higher
peak and set off to climb it the same day. I reached the summit needles
about eleven o'clock that night, and danced most of the time until morning,
as the night was bitterly cold and I was in my shirt-sleeves. The stars
and the dawn and the sunrise were glorious, but, having had no supper,
I was hungry and hastened back to camp, and to Independence, where I left
my horse, and set out again for the summit afoot, direct from the east
side, going up a canyon opposite Lone Pine. I reached the summit about
eight o'clock A.M., October 29th, 1873. In a yeast-powder can I found the
following account of first ascents, which I copied into my notebook as
|Sept. 19th, 1873. This peak, Mt. Whitney, was this day climbed by Clarence
King, U.S. Geologist, and Frank F. Knowles of Tule River. On Sept. 1st,
in New York, I first learned that the high peak south of here, which I
climbed in 1871, was not Mt. Whitney, and I immediately came here. Clouds
and storms prevented me from recognizing this in 1871, or I should have
come here then.
All honor to those who came here before me.
Notice. Gentlemen, the looky finder of this half a dollar is wellkome
Carl Rabe Sept. 6th, 1873
"Of course, I replaced these records, as well as Carl Rabe's half a dollar,
but did not add my own name. I have never left my name on any mountain,
rock, or tree in any wilderness I have explored or passed through, though
I have spent ten years in the Sierra alone."
In this Kings-Kern-Tahoe excursion Muir had traveled over a thousand
wilderness miles, climbed numerous peaks, and discovered many glaciers
and new yosemites. His observations had furnished him with a harvest of
new facts to be utilized in the projected series of "Studies in the Sierra"
which he had agreed to write for the
Overland Monthly during the
coming winter. His articles on "Hetch Hetchy Valley," and "Explorations
in the Great Tuolumne Canyon," had appeared in the same magazine during
July and August, lifting him at once to the rank of its foremost contributor.
In the second of these articles he had disproved Whitney's statement that
the Tuolumne Canyon was "probably inaccessible through its entire length,"
and that "it certainly cannot be entered from its head." "I have entered
the Great Canyon from the north by three different side canyons," wrote
Muir, "and have passed through it from end to end. . . without encountering
any extraordinary difficulties. I am sure that it may be entered at more
than fifty different points along the walls by mountaineers of ordinary
nerve and skill. At the head it is easily accessible on both sides."
But Muir, as the reader will have perceived, was a mountaineer of more
than ordinary nerve and skill, and one secret of his amazing physical endurance
was not in his muscles, but in the spirit which they served. Of this fact
he was not wholly unaware when he wrote, "It is astonishing how high and
far we can climb in mountains that we love." But he seems to have been
conscious, also, of the development, in himself, of a kind of muscle sense
referred to in a passage which he wrote during the exploring season of
The life of a mountaineer is favorable to the development of
soul-life as well as limb-life, each receiving abundance of exercise and
abundance of food. We little suspect the great capacity that our flesh
has for knowledge. Oftentimes in climbing canyon-walls I have come to polished
slopes near the heads of precipices that seemed to be too steep to be ventured
upon. After scrutinizing them, and carefully noting every dint and scratch
that might give hope of a foothold, I have decided that they were unsafe.
Yet my limbs, possessing a separate sense, would be of a different opinion,
after they also had examined the descent and confidently have set out to
cross the condemned slopes against the remonstrances of my other will.
My legs sometimes transport me to camp in the darkness, over cliffs and
through bogs and forests that are inaccessible to city legs during the
day, even when piloted by the mind which owns them.
On the first of November Muir had reached Lake Tahoe and in two
weeks he was in Yosemite again. The Yosemite chapter of his life was about
to close and it cost him a severe struggle to separate himself from the
beloved Valley. But he had engaged himself to bring to paper his mountain
studies during the winter, a task that involved at least a temporary sojourn
in a place within easy reach of San Francisco. "I suppose I must go into
society this winter," he wrote to his sister Sarah on November 14th, 1873.
"I would rather go back in some undiscoverable comer beneath the rafters
of an old garret with my notes and books and listen to the winter rapping
and blowing on the roof. May start for Oakland in a day or two. Will probably
live in Professor Carr's family. "
He departed as the first snowflakes began to whirl over the Valley which
thereafter was to know him as a resident no more. When he reached Oakland
the Carr household was in deep mourning over the tragic death of the eldest
son, so he accepted the offer of a room in the home of his friends Mr.
and Mrs. J. B. McChesney, at 1364 Franklin Street.
[End of Volume I]
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