The Life and Letters of John Muir
by William Frederic Badè
Winning a Competence
There was an interval of ten years during which Mr. Muir devoted himself
with great energy and success to the development of the Alhambra fruit
ranch. According to a fictitious story, still encountered in some quarters,
he was penniless at the time of his marriage. On the contrary, he had several
thousand dollars at interest and, according to a fragment of uncompleted
memoirs, was receiving from one hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars
for each of his magazine articles. "After my first article," he wrote,
"I was greatly surprised to find that everything else I offered was accepted
and paid for. That I could earn money simply with written words seemed
In the same memoirs Muir generalizes as follows on the decade between
1881 and 1891:
About a year before starting on the Arctic expedition I was
married to Louie Strentzel, and for ten years I was engaged in fruit-raising
in the Alhambra Valley, near Martinez, clearing land, planting vineyards
and orchards, and selling the fruit, until I had more money than I thought
I would ever need for my family or for all expenses of travel and study,
however far or however long continued. But this farm work never seriously
interrupted my studies. Every spring when the snow on the mountains had
melted, until the approach of winter, my explorations were pushed farther
and farther. Only in the early autumn, when the table grapes were gathered,
and in winter and early spring, when the vineyards and orchards were pruned
and cultivated, was my personal supervision given to the work. After these
ten years I sold part of the farm and leased the balance, so as to devote
the rest of my life, as carefree as possible, to travel and study. Thus,
in 1891, I was again free from the farm and all bread winning cares.
In the extant correspondence of the early eighties one gets only indirect
and fugitive hints of Muir's activities. Worthy of notice is the fact that
during July, 1884, he took his wife to the Yosemite Valley, and their joint
letters to the grandparents and the little daughter, left at home, afford
amusing glimpses of a husband who has never played courier to a wife and
of a wife who mistakes trout for catfish and suspects a bear behind every
bush. It should be added that in Mrs. Muir's letters there is a note of
concern for her husband's health, which had begun to suffer under the exacting
cares of the ranch. "I am anxious about John," she writes. "The journey
was hard for him, and he looks thin and pale and tired. He must not leave
the mountains until he is well and strong again."
The arrival, in 1886, of a second daughter, believed to have been of
frail health during her infant years, brought an increase of parental cares
and anchored the family to the ranch more closely than ever. Mrs. Muir
was naturally disinclined to travel, and both of them were full of misgivings
regarding anything that might imperil the safety of the children. Under
the circumstances Muir became more and more absorbed in the management
of the ranch and care for his own.
Meanwhile time was working changes in the Wisconsin family circle from
which John had gone out in 1867. Nearly eighteen years had gone by since
he had seen his father and mother, brothers and sisters. His brother-in-law
David Galloway died suddenly in September, 1884, his father and mother
were growing infirm, the wife of his brother David was smitten with an
incurable malady, and death was thinning the ranks of the friends of his
youth. In view of these circumstances he began to feel more and more strongly
the desire to revisit the scenes and friends of his boyhood. "I mean to
see you all some time this happy new year ," he wrote to his brother
David at the close of December. "Seeing you after so long a journey in
earth's wildest wildernesses will make [the experience] indeed new to me.
I could not come now without leaving the ranch to go to wreck, a score
of workmen without a head, and no head to be found, though I have looked
long for a foreman. Next spring after the grapes are pruned and sulphured,
etc., and the cherry crop sold, I mean to pay off all but a half-dozen
or so and leave things to take their course for a month or two. Can't you
send me some good steady fellow to learn this fruit business and take some
of the personal supervision off my shoulders? Such a person could be sure
of a job as long as he liked."
It seems worth while to record, in this connection, an incident of dramatic
and pathetic interest which occurred during the summer of 1885, just before
Muir made his first return trip to his old Wisconsin home. Helen Hunt Jackson
had come to San Francisco in June after months of illness, caused, as she
thought, by defective sanitation in a Los Angeles boarding-house. Having
recently been appointed Special Commissioner to inquire into the conditions
surrounding the Mission Indians of California, she gave herself with devotion
and ability to the righting of their wrongs. Among her particular friends
was Mrs. Carr, at whose suburban Pasadena home, "Carmelita," she had written
a part of her Indian story "Ramona." It was quite natural, therefore, that
she should apply to John Muir for help in planning a convalesent's itinerary
in the mountains. "I know with the certainty of instinct," she wrote, "that
nothing except three months out of doors night and day will get this poison
out of my veins. The doctors say that in six weeks I may be strong enough
to be laid on a bed in a wagon and drawn about."
It is easy to imagine the surprise and amusement of Muir when he read
her statement of the conditions and equipment required for her comfort.
She wished to be among trees where it was moist and cool, being unable
to endure heat. She wanted to keep moving, but the altitudinal range must
not exceed four thousand feet, and, above all, she must not get beyond
easy reach of express and post-offices. Her outfit was to consist of eight
horses, an ambulance, two camp-wagons for tents, and a phaeton buggy. The
attendants were to comprise four servants, a maid, and a doctor.
"Now do you know any good itinerary," she inquired, "for such a cumbrous
caravan as this? How you would scorn such lumbering methods! I am too ill
to wish any other. I shall do this as a gamester throws his last card!"
In conclusion she stated that she had always
cherished the hope of seeing him some time. "I believe," she adds, "I know
every word you have written. I never wished myself a man but once. That
was when I read how it seemed to be rocked in the top of a pine tree in
Muir's reply to this request, according to the draft of a letter found
among his papers, was as follows:
To Helen Hunt Jackson
Martinez, June 16th, 1885
My Dear Mrs. Jackson:
Your letter of June 8th has shown me how sick you are, but also that
your good angel is guiding you to the mountains, and therefore I feel sure
that you will soon be well again.
When I came to California from the swamps of Florida, full of malarial
poison, I crawled up the mountains over the snow into the blessed woods
about Yosemite Valley, and the exquisite pleasure of convalescence and
exuberant rebound to perfect health that came to me at once seem still
as fresh and vivid after all these years as if enjoyed but yesterday.
The conditions you lay down for your itinerary seem to me desperately
forbidding. No path accessible to your compound congregation can be traced
across the range, maintaining anything like an elevation of four thousand
feet, to say nothing of coolness and moisture, while along the range the
topography is still less compliant to your plans. When I was tracing
the Sequoia belt from the Calaveras to the Kern River I was compelled to
make a descent of nine thousand feet in one continuous swoop in crossing
the Kings River Valley, while the ups and downs from ridge to ridge throughout
the whole course averaged nearly five thousand feet.
No considerable portion of the middle and southern Sierra is cool and
moist at four thousand feet during late summer, for there you are only
on the open margin of the main forest zone, which is sifted during the
day by the dry warm winds that blow across the San Joaquin plains and foothills,
though the night winds from the summit of the range make the nights delightfully
cool and refreshing.
The northern Sierra is considerably cooler and moister at the same heights.
From the end of the Oregon Railroad beyond Redding you might work up by
a gentle grade of fifty miles or so to Strawberry Valley where the elevation
is four thousand feet. There is abundance of everything, civilized as well
as wild, and from thence circle away all summer around Mount Shasta where
the circumference is about one hundred miles, and only a small portion
of your way would lie much above or below the required elevation, and only
the north side, in Shasta Valley, would you find rather dry and warm, perhaps,
while you would reach an express station at every round or a good messenger
could find you in a day from the station at any point in your orbit. And
think how glorious a center you would have!--so glorious and inspiring
that I would gladly revolve there, weary, afoot, and alone for all eternity.
The Kings River yosemite would be a delightful summer den for you, abounding
in the best the mountains have to give. Its elevation is about five thousand
feet, length nine miles, and it is reached by way of Visalia and Hyde's
Mills among the Sequoias of the Kaweah, but not quite accessible to your
wheels and pans, I fear. Have you considered the redwood region of the
Coast Range about Mendocino? There you would find coolness, moist air,
and spicy woods at a moderate elevation.
If an elevation of six thousand feet were considered admissible, I would
advise your going on direct to Truckee by rail, rather than to Dutch Flat,
where the climate may be found too dry and hot. From Truckee by easy stages
to Tahoe City and thence around the Lake and over the Lake all summer.
This, as you must know, is a delightful region--cool and moist and leafy,
with abundance of food and express stations, etc.
What an outfit you are to have--terrible as an army with banners! I
scarce dare think of it. What will my poor Douglas squirrels say at the
sight? They used to frisk across my feet, but I had only two feet, which
seemed too many have a hundred, besides wooden spokes and spooks. Under
ordinary circumstances they would probably frighten the maid and stare
the doctor out of countenance, but every tail will be turned in haste and
hidden at the bottom of the deepest knot-holes. And what shuffling and
haste there will be in the chaparral when the bears are getting away! Even
the winds might hold their breath, I fancy, "pause and die," and the great
pines groan aghast at the oncoming of so many shining cans and carriages
and strange colors.
But go to the mountains where and how you will, you soon will be free
from the effects of this confusion, and God's sky will bend down about
you as if made for you alone, and the pines will spread their healing arms
above you and bless you and make you well again, and so delight the heart
"If nothing else comes of my camping air-castle," she wrote from
1600 Taylor Street, San Francisco, two days after receiving Muir's answer,
"I have at least one pleasure from it--your kind and delightful letter.
I have read it so many times I half know it. I wish Mrs. Carr were here
that I might triumph over her. She wrote me that I might as well ask one
of the angels of heaven as John Muir, 'so entirely out of his line' was
the thing I proposed to do. I knew better, however, and I was right. You
are the only man in California who could tell me just what I needed to
know about ranges of climate, dryness, heat, etc., also roads."
But the author of "Ramona" was never to have an opportunity to play
her last card, for she was beyond even the healing of the mountains if
she could have reached them. Indeed, one detects a presentiment of her
doom in the closing lines of her letter to the man who had fired her imagination
with his contagious faith in the restorative powers of nature. "If you
could see me," she writes, "you would only wonder that I have courage to
even dream of such an expedition. I am not at all sure it is not of the
madness which the gods are said to send on those whom they wish to destroy.
They tell me Martinez is only twenty miles away: do you never come into
town? The regret I should weakly feel at having you see the 'remains' (ghastly
but inimitable word) of me would, I think, be small in comparison with
the pleasure I should feel in seeing you. I am much too weak to see strangers--but
it is long since you were a stranger." Whether the state of his own health
had permitted him to call on "H. H.," as she was known among her friends,
before he started East, in August, to see his parents, is not clear. Certain
it is that by a singular coincidence he was ringing her door-bell almost
at the moment when the brave spirit of this noble friend of the Indians
was taking flight. "Mrs. Jackson may have gone away somewhere," he remarked
in writing to his wife the next day: "could get no response to my ringing--blinds
The immediate occasion of his decision to go East is best told in some
further pages from unpublished memoirs under the title of "Mysterious Things."
Though Muir's boyhood was passed in communities where spooks, and ghosts,
and clairvoyance were firmly believed in, he was as a man singularly free
from faith in superstitions of this kind. But there were several occasions
when he acted upon sudden and mysterious impulses for which he knew no
explanation, and which he contents himself simply to record. One of these
relates to the final illness and death of his father and is told as follows:
In the year 1885, when father was living with his youngest
daughter in Kansas City, another daughter, who was there on a visit,
wrote me that father was not feeling as well as usual on account of not
being able to take sufficient exercise. Eight or ten years before this,
when he was about seventy years of age, he fell on an icy pavement and
broke his leg at the hip joint, a difficult break to heal at any time,
but in old age particularly so. The bone never knitted, and he had to go
on crutches the balance of his life.
One morning, a month or two after receiving this word from my sister,
I suddenly laid down my pen and said to my wife: "I am going East, because
somehow I feel this morning that if I don't go now I won't see father again."
At this time I had not seen him for eighteen years. Accordingly I went
on East, but, instead of going direct to Kansas City, I first went to Portage,
where one of my brothers and my mother were living.
As soon as I arrived in Portage, I asked mother whether she thought
she was able to take the journey to Kansas City to see father, for I felt
pretty sure that if she didn't go now she wouldn't see him again alive.
I said the same to my brother David. "Come on, David: if you don't go to
see father now, I think you will never see him again." He seemed greatly
surprised and said: "What has put that in your head? Although he is compelled
to go around on crutches, he is, so far as I have heard, in ordinary health."
I told him that I had no definite news, but somehow felt that we should
all make haste to cheer and comfort him and bid him a last good-bye. For
this purpose I had come to gather our scattered family together. Mother,
whose health had long been very frail, said she felt it would be impossible
for her to stand the journey. David spoke of his business, but I bought
him a railway ticket and compelled him to go.
On the way out to Kansas City I stopped at Lincoln, Nebraska, where
my other brother, Daniel, a practicing physician, was living. I said, "Dan,
come on to Kansas City and see father." "Why?" he asked. "Because if you
don't see him now, you never will see him again. I think father will leave
us in a few days." "What makes you think so?" said he; "I have not heard
anything in particular." I said, "Well, I just kind of feel it. I have
no reason." "I cannot very well leave my patients, and I don't see any
necessity for the journey." I said, "Surely you can turn over your patients
to some brother physician. You will not probably have to be away more than
four or five days, or a week, until after the funeral." He said, "You seem
to talk as though you knew everything about it." I said, "I don't know
anything about it, but I have that feeling--that presentiment, if you like--nothing
more." I then bought him a ticket and said, "Now let's go: we have no time
to lose." Then I sent the same word to two sisters living in Kearney and
Crete, Nebraska, who arrived about as soon as we did.
Thus seven of the eight in our family assembled around father for the
first time in more than twenty years. Father showed no sign of any particular
illness, but simply was confined to his bed and spent his time reading
the Bible. We had three or four precious days with him before the last
farewell. He died just after we had had time to renew our acquaintance
with him and make him a cheering, comforting visit. And after the last
sad rites were over, we all scattered again to our widely separated homes.
The reader who recalls, from the opening chapters of this work,
the paternal severity which embittered for John Muir the memory of the
youthful years he spent on the farm, will be interested in a few additional
details of this meeting of father and son after eighteen years. In spite
of the causes which had estranged them so long ago, John had never withheld
his admiration for the nobler traits of his father's character, and he
apparently cherished the hope that some day he might be able to sit down
quietly with him and talk it all out. It seemed futile to do this so long
as the old man was actively engaged in evangelistic work, which shut out
from calm consideration anything that seemed to him to have been or to
be an embarrassment of his calling. Now that he was laid low, John deemed
that the proper time had arrived, but for this purpose he had come too
"Father is very feeble and helpless," he wrote to his wife from the
aged man's bedside. "He does not know me, and I am very sorry. He looks
at me and takes my hand and says, 'Is this my dear John?' and then sinks
away on the pillow, exhausted, without being able to understand the answer.
This morning when I went to see him and was talking broad Scotch to him,
hoping to stir some of the old memories of Scotland before we came here,
he said, 'I don't know much aboot it noo,' and then added, 'You're a Scotchman,
aren't you?' When I would repeat that I was his son John that went to California
long ago and came back to see him, he would start and raise his head a
little and gaze fixedly at me and say, 'Oh, yes, my dear wanderer,' and
then lose all memory again. . . . I'm sorry I could not have been here
two or three months earlier, though I suppose all may be as well, as it
A few months earlier, when Daniel Muir was still in full possession
of his faculties, he had particularly mentioned to his daughter Joanna
some of the cruel things he had said and done to his "poor wandering son
John." This wanderer, crossing the mountains and the plains, in response
to a mysterious summons, had gathered the scattered members of the former
Fountain Lake home to his dying father's bedside, and, as the following
letter shows, was keeping solitary vigil there, when the hour of dissolution
To Mrs. Muir
803 Wabash Avenue
Kansas City, Missouri
October 6th, 1885
You will know ere this that the end has come and father is at rest.
He passed away in a full summer day evening peace, and with that peace
beautifully expressed, and remaining on his countenance as he lies now,
pure and clean like snow, on the bed that has borne him so long.
Last evening David and I made everybody go to bed and arranged with
each other to keep watch through the night, promising the girls to give
warning in time should the end draw near while they slept. David retired
in an adjoining room at ten o'clock, while I watched alone, he to be called
to take my place at two or three in the morning, should no marked change
take place before that time.
About eleven o'clock his breathing became calm and slow, and his arms,
which had been moved in a restless way at times, at length were folded
on his breast. About twelve o'clock his breathing was still calmer, and
slower, and his brow and lips were slightly cold and his eyes grew dim.
At twelve-fifteen I called David and we decided to call up the girls, Mary,
Anna, and Joanna, but they were so worn out with watching that we delayed
a few minutes longer, and it was not until about one minute before the
last breath that all were gathered together to kiss our weary affectionate
father a last good-bye, as he passed away into the better land of light.
Few lives that I know were more restless and eventful than his--few
more toilsome and full of enthusiastic endeavor onward towards light and
truth and eternal love through the midst of the devils of terrestrial strife
and darkness and faithless misunderstanding that well-nigh overpowered
him at times and made bitter burdens for us all to bear.
But his last years as he lay broken in body and silent were full of
calm divine light, and he oftentimes spoke to Joanna of the cruel mistakes
he had made in his relations towards his children, and spoke particularly
of me, wondering how I had borne my burdens so well and patiently, and
warned Joanna to be watchful to govern her children by love alone. . .
Seven of the eight children will surely be present [at the funeral].
We have also sent telegrams to mother and Sarah, though I fear neither
will be able to endure the fatigues of the journey. . . . In case they
should try to be present, David or I would meet them at Chicago. Then the
entire family would be gathered once more, and how gladly we would bring
that about, for in all our devious ways and wanderings we have loved one
In any case, we soon will be scattered again, and again gathered together.
In a few days the snow will be falling on father's grave and one by one
we will join him in his last rest, all our separating wanderings done forever.
Love to all, Wanda, Grandma, and Grandpa. Ever yours, Louie
To Mrs. Muir
Portage City, Wisconsin
September 10th, 1885
I have just returned from a visit to the old people and old places
about our first home in America, ten or twelve miles to the north of this
place, and am glad to hear from you at last. Your two letters dated August
23d and 28th and the Doctor's of September 1st have just been received,
one of them having been forwarded from the Yellowstone, making altogether
four letters from home besides Wanda's neat little notes which read and
look equally well whichever side is uppermost. Now I feel better, for I
had begun to despair of hearing from you at all, and the weeks since
leaving home, having been crowded with novel scenes and events, seemed
about as long as years.
As for the old freedom I used to enjoy in the wilderness, that, like
youth and its enthusiasms, is evidently a thing of the past, though I feel
that I could still do some good scientific work if the necessary leisure
could be secured. Your letters and the Doctor's cheer and reassure me,
as I felt that I was staying away too long and leaving my burdens for others
to carry who had enough of their own, and though you encourage me to prolong
my stay and reap all the benefit I can in the way of health and pleasure
and knowledge, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the main vintage
will soon be on and require my presence, to say nothing of your uncertain
state of health. Therefore I mean to begin the return journey next Saturday
morning by way of Chicago and Kansas City. . . .
Still another of your letters has just arrived, dated August 31st, by
which I learn that Wanda is quite well and grandma getting stronger, while
you are not well as you should be. I have tried to get you conscious of
the necessity of the utmost care of your health--especially at present--and
again remind you of it.
The Yellowstone period was, as you say, far too short, and it required
bitter resolution to leave all. The trip, however, as a whole has been
far from fruitless in any direction. I have gained telling glimpses of
the Continent from the car windows, and have seen most of the old friends
and neighbors of boyhood times, who without exception were almost oppressively
kind, while a two weeks' visit with mother and the family is a great satisfaction
to us all, however much we might wish it extended. . . .
I saw nearly all of the old neighbors, the young folk, of course, grown
out of memory and unrecognizable; but most of the old I found but little
changed by the eighteen years since last I saw them, and the warmth of
my welcome was in most instances excruciating. William Duncan, the old
Scotch stone-mason who loaned me books when I was little and always declared
that "Johnnie Moor will mak a name for himsel some day," I found hale and
hearty, eighty-one years of age, and not a gray hair in his curly, bushy
locks--erect, firm of step, voice firm with a clear calm ring to it, memory
as good as ever apparently, and his interest in all the current news of
the world as fresh and as far-reaching. I stopped overnight with [him]
and talked till midnight.
We were four days in making the round and had to make desperate efforts
to get away. We climbed the Observatory that used to be the great cloud-capped
mountain of our child's imagination, but it dwindled now to a mere hill
two hundred and fifty feet high, half the height of that vineyard hill
opposite the house. The porphyry outcrop on the summit is very hard, and
I was greatly interested in finding it grooved and polished by the ice-sheet.
I began to get an appetite and feel quite well. Tell Wanda I'll write her
a letter soon. Everybody out in the country seemed disappointed not seeing
you also. Love to all.
Early in 1887 a letter from Janet Moores, one of the children who
had visited Muir in his dark-room in Indianapolis many years ago, brought
him news that she had arrived in Oakland. She was the daughter of his friend
Mrs. Julia Merrill Moores, and a sister of Merrill Moores, who spent a
season with John in Yosemite and in 1915 was elected a member of Congress
To Miss Janet Douglass Moores
My dear Friend Janet:
February 23, 1887
Have you really turned into a woman, and have you really come to California,
the land of the sun, and Yosemite and a' that, through the whirl of all
those years! Seas between us braid hae roared, my lassie, sin' the auld
lang syne, and many a storm has roared over broad mountains and plains
since last we parted. Yet, however, we are but little changed in all that
signifies, saved from many dangers that we know, and from many more that
we never shall know--kept alive and well by a thousand, thousand miracles!
Twenty years! How long and how short a time that seems to-day! How many
times the seas have ebbed--and flowed--with their breaking waves around
the edges of the continents and islands in this score of years, how many
times the sky has been light and dark, and the ground between us been shining
with rain, and sun, and snow: and how many times the flowers have bloomed,
but for a' that and a' that you seem just the same to me, and time and
space and events hide you less than the thinnest veil. Marvelous indeed
is the permanence of the impressions of those sunrise days, more enduring
than granite mountains. Through all the landscapes I have looked into,
with all their wealth of forests, rivers, lakes, and glaciers, and happy
living faces, your face, Janet, is still seen as clear and keenly outlined
as on the day I went away on my long walk.
Aye, the auld lang syne is indeed young. Time seems of no avail to make
us old except in mere outer aspects. To-day you appear the same little
fairy girl, following me in my walks with short steps as best you can,
stopping now and then to gather buttercups, and anemones, and erigenias,
sometimes taking my hand in climbing over a fallen tree, threading your
way through tall grasses and ferns, and pushing through very small spaces
in thickets of underbrush. Surely you must remember those holiday walks,
and also your coming into my dark-room with light when I was blind! And
what light has filled me since that time, I am sure you will be glad to
know--the richest sun-gold flooding these California valleys, the spiritual
alpenglow steeping the high peaks, silver light on the sea, the white glancing
sunspangles on rivers and lakes, light on the myriad stars of the snow,
light sifting through the angles of sun-beaten icebergs, light in glacier
caves, irised spray wafting from white waterfalls, and the light of calm
starry nights beheld from mountain-tops dipping deep into the clear air.
Aye, my lassie, it is a blessed thing to go free in the light of this beautiful
world, to see God playing upon everything, as a man would play on an instrument,
His fingers upon the lightning and torrent, on every wave. of sea and sky,
and every living thing, making all together sing and shine in sweet accord,
the one love-harmony of the Universe. But what need to write so far and
wide, now you are so near, and when I shall so soon see you face to face?
Drawing in letter of February 23, 1887
to Miss Janet Douglass Moores
I only meant to tell you that you were not forgotten. You think I may
not know you at first sight, nor will you be likely to recognize me. Every
experience is recorded on our faces in characters of some sort, I suppose,
and if at all telling, my face should be quite picturesque and marked enough
to be readily known by anybody looking for me: but when I look in the glass,
I see but little more than the marks of rough weather and fasting. Most
people would see only a lot of hair, and two eyes, or one and a half, in
the middle of it, like a hillside with small open spots, mostly overgrown
with shaggy chaparral, as this portrait will show [drawing]. Wanda, peeping
past my elbow, asks, "Is that you, Papa?" and then goes on to say that
it is just like me, only the hair is not curly enough; also that the little
ice and island sketches are just lovely, and that I must draw a lot just
like them for her. I think that you will surely like her. She remarked
the other day that she was well worth seeing now, having got a new gown
or something that pleased her. She is six years old.
The ranch and the pasture hills hereabouts are not very interesting
at this time of year. In bloom-time, now approaching, the orchards look
gay and Dolly Vardenish, and the home garden does the best it can with
rose bushes and so on, all good in a food and shelter way, but about as
far from the forests and gardens of God's wilderness as bran-dolls are
from children. I should like to show you my wild lily and Cassiope and
Bryanthus gardens, and homes not made with hands, with their daisy carpets
and woods and streams and other fine furniture, and singers, not in cages;
but the legs and ankles are immensely important on such visits. Unfortunately
most girls are like flowers that have to stand and take what comes, or
at best ride on iron rails around and away from what is worth seeing; then
they are still something like flowers--flowers in pots carried by express.
I advised you not to come last Friday because the weather was broken,
and the telephone was broken, and the roads were muddy, but the weather
will soon shine again, and then you and Mary can come, with more comfort
and safety. Remember me to Mary, and believe me,
Ever truly your friend
Muir's literary unproductiveness during the eighties began to excite
comment among his friends if one may judge by several surviving letters
in which they inquire whether he has forsaken literature. His wife, also,
was eager to have him continue to write, and it was, perhaps, due to this
gentle pressure from several quarters that he accepted in 1887 a proposal
from the J. Dewing Company to edit and contribute to an elaborately illustrated
work entitled "Picturesque California." As usual with such works, it
was issued in parts, sold by subscription, and while it bears the publication
date of 1888, it was not finished until a year or two later.
As some of the following letters show, Muir found it a hard grind to
supply a steady stream of copy to the publishers and to supervise his corps
of workmen on the ranch at the same time. I am all nerve-shaken and lean
as a crow--loaded with care, work, and worry," he wrote to his brother
David after a serious illness of his daughter Helen in August, 1887. "The
care and worry will soon wear away, I hope, but the work seems rather to
increase. There certainly is more than enough of it to keep me out of mischief
forever. Besides the ranch I have undertaken a big literary job, an illustrated
work on California and Alaska, I have already written and sent in the two
first numbers and the illustrations, I think, are nearly ready."
The prosecution of this task involved various trips, and on some of
them he was accompanied by his friend William Keith, the artist. Perhaps
the longest was the one on which they started together early in July, 1888,
traveling north as far as Vancouver and making many halts and side excursions,
both going and coming. Muir was by no means a well man when he left home,
but in a train letter to his wife he expressed confidence that he would
"be well at Shasta beneath a pine tree." The excursion took him to Mount
Hood, Mount Rainier, Snoqualmie and Spokane Falls, and Victoria, up the
Columbia, and to many places of minor interest in the Puget Sound region.
In spite of his persistent indisposition he made the ascent of Mount Rainier.
"Did not mean to climb it," he wrote to his wife, "but got excited and soon
was on top."
It did not escape the keen eyes of his devoted wife that the work of
the ranch was in no small measure responsible for the failure of his health.
"A ranch that needs and takes the sacrifice of a noble life," she wrote
to her husband on this trip, "ought to be flung away beyond all reach and
power for harm. . . . The Alaska book and the Yosemite book, dear John,
must be written, and you need to be your own self, well and strong, to
make them worthy of you. There is nothing that has a right to be considered
beside this except the welfare of our children."
Muir's health, however, improved during the following winter and summer,
notwithstanding the fact that the completion of "Picturesque California"
kept him under tension all the time. By taking refuge from the tasks of
the ranch at a hotel in San Francisco, during periods of intensive application,
he learned to escape at least the strain of conflicting responsibilities.
But even so he had to admit at times that he was "hard at work on the vineyards
and orchards while the publishers of 'Picturesque California' are screaming
for copy." In letters written to his wife, during periods of seclusion
in San Francisco, Muir was accustomed to quote choice passages for comment
and approval. The fact is of interest because it reveals that he had in
her a stimulating and appreciative helper.
To Mrs. Muir
Grand Hotel, San Francisco, Cal.
July 4th, 1889
I'm pegging away and have invented a few good lines since coming here,
but it is a hard subject and goes slow. However, I'll get it done somehow
and sometime. It was cold here last evening and I had to put on everything
in my satchel at once. . . .
Last evening an innocent-looking "Examiner" reporter sent up his card,
and I, really innocent, told the boy to let him come up. He began to speak
of the Muir Glacier, but quickly changed the subject to horned toads, snakes,
and Gila monsters. I asked him what made him change the subject so badly
and what there was about the Muir Glacier to suggest such reprobate reptiles.
He said snakes were his specialty and wanted to know if I had seen many,
etc. I talked carelessly for a few minutes, and judge of my surprise in
seeing this villainous article. "John Muir says they kill hogs and eat
rabbits, but don't eat hogs because too big, etc." What poetry! It's so
perfectly ridiculous, I have at least had a good laugh out of it. "The
toughness of the skin makes a difference," etc.--should think it would!
The air has been sulphurous all day and noisy as a battlefield. Heard
some band music, but kept my room and saw not the procession.
Hope your finger is not going to be seriously sore and that the babies
are well. I feel nervous about them after reading about those geological
snakes of John Muir. . . .
My room is better than the last, and I might at length feel at home
with my Puget Sound scenery had I not seen and had nerves shaken with those
Gila monsters. I hope I'll survive, though the "Examiner" makes me say,
"If the poison gets into them it takes no time at all to kill them" (the
hogs), and my skin is not as thick. Remember me to Grandma, Grandpa, and
the babies, and tell them not the sad story of the snakes of Fresno.
To Mrs. Muir
Grand Hotel, San Francisco Cal.
July 5th, 1889
Here are more snakes that I found in the "Call" this morning! The curly,
crooked things have fairly gained the papers and bid fair to crawl through
them all, leaving a track never, I fear, to be obliterated. The "Chronicle's"
turn will come next, I fancy, and others will follow. I suppose I ought
to write a good post-glacial snake history for the "Bulletin," for just
see how much better this lady's snakes are than mine in the "Examiner!"
"The biggest snake that ever waved a warning rattle"--almost poetry compared
with "John Muir says they don't eat sheep." "Wriggling and rattling aborigines!"
I'm ashamed of my ramshackle "Examiner" prose. The Indians "tree the game"
and "hang up his snakeship" "beautifully cured" in "sweet fields arrayed
in living green," "and very beautiful they are," etc., etc., etc. Oh, dear,
how scrawny and lean and mean my snake composition seems! Worse in its
brutal simplicity than Johnnie's composition about "A Owl." Well, it must
I'm pegging away. Saw Upham to-day. Dr. Vincent is at the Palace. Haven't
called on him; too busy. Love to all. Don't tell anybody about my poor
snakes, Kiss the babies.
To Mrs. Muir
Grand Hotel, July 6, 1889
Oh, dear Louie, here are more of "them snakes"--"whirled and whizzed like
a wheel," "big as my thigh, and head like my fist," all of them, you see,
better and bigger than John Muir's.
And when, oh, when, is that fatal interview to end? How many more idiotic
articles are to grow out of it? "Muir's Strange Story," "Elephants' bones
are sticking in the Yukon River, says geologist John Muir"! "Bering Straits
may be bridged because Bering Sea is shallow!" Oh! Oh! if the Examiner
would only examine its logic!!! Anyhow, I shall take fine cautious care
that the critter will not examine me again.
Oh, dear Louie, here's more, and were these letters not accompanied
by the documentary evidence, you might almost think that these reptiles
were bred and born in alcohol! "The Parson and the Snakes!" Think of that
for Sunday reading! What is to become of this nation and the "Examiner"?
It's Johnson, too. Who would have thought it? And think of Longfellow's
daughter being signed to such an article!
Well, I'm pegging away, but very slowly. Have got to the thirtieth page.
Enough in four days for fie minutes' reading. And yet I work
hard, but the confounded subject has got so many arms and
branches, and I am so cruelly severe on myself as to quality and honesty
of work, that I can't go fast. I just get tired in the head and lose all
power of criticism--until I rest awhile.
It's very noisy here, but I don't notice it. I sleep well, and eat well,
and my queer throat feeling has nearly vanished. The weather is very cool.
Have to put my overcoat on the bed to reinforce the moderate cover. . .
. Good-night. Love to babies and all.
To Mrs. Muir
Grand Hotel, San Francisco, Cal.
July 11, 1889
I was very glad to get your letter to-day, for as if, instead of a
week, I had been gone a year and had nothing but lonesome silence all the
You must see, surely, that I am getting literary, for I have just finished
writing for the day and it is half-past twelve. Last evening I went to
bed at this time and got up at six and have written twenty pages to-day,
and feel proud that now I begin to see the end of this article that has
so long been a black, growling cloud in my sky. Some of the twenty pages
were pretty good, too, I think. I'll copy a little bit for you to judge.
Of course, you say, "go to bed." Well, never mind a little writing more
or less, for I'm literary now, and the fountains flow. Speaking of climate
here, I say:
The Sound region has a fine, fresh, clean climate, well washed,
both winter and summer with copious rains, and swept with winds and clouds
from the mountains and the sea. Every hidden nook in the depths of the
woods is searched and refreshed, leaving no stagnant air. Beaver-meadows,
lake-basins, and low, willowy bogs are kept wholesome and sweet, etc.
The outer sea margin is sublimely drenched and dashed with
ocean brine, the spicy scud sweeping far inland in times of storm over
the bending woods, the giant trees waving and chanting in hearty accord,
as if surely enjoying it all.
Here's another bit: [Quotes what is now the concluding paragraph of Chapter
XVII in "Steep Trails," beginning "The most charming days here are days
of perfect calm," etc.].
Well, I may be dull to-morrow, and then too, I have to pay a visit to
that charming, entertaining, interesting [dentist] "critter" of files and
picks, called Cutlar. So much, I suppose, for cold wind in my jaw. Good-night.
Love to all,
To Mrs. Muir
Grand Hotel, San Francisco
July 12, 1889
Twelve and a half o'clock again, so that this letter should be dated
the 13th. Was at the dentist's an hour and a half. . . . Still, have done
pretty well, seventeen pages now, eighty-six altogether. Dewing is telegraphing
like mad from New York for Muir's manuscript. He will get it ere long.
Most of the day's work was prosy, except the last page just now written.
Here it is, Speaking of masts sent from Puget Sound, I write.
Thus these trees, stripped of their leaves and branches, are
raised again, transplanted and set firmly erect, given roots of iron, bare
cross-poles for limbs, and a new foliage of flapping canvas, and then sent
to sea, where they go merrily bowing and waving, meeting the same winds
that rocked them when they stood at home in the woods. After standing in
one place all their lives, they now, like sightseeing tourists, go round
the world, meeting many a relative from the old home forest, some, like
themselves, arrayed in broad canvas foliage, others planted close to shore,
head downward in the mud, holding whares platforms aloft to receive the
wares of all nations.
Imaginative enough, but I don't know what I'll think of it in the sober
morning. I see by the papers that [John] Swett is out of school, for which
I am at once glad, sorry, and indignant, if not more.
Love to all. Good-night
To Mrs. Muir
Grand Hotel, San Francisco
July 14, 1889
It is late, but I will write very fast a part of to-day's composition.
Here is a bit you will like:
The upper Snoqualmie Fall is about seventy-five feet high,
with bouncing rapids at head and foot, set in a romantic dell thatched
with dripping mosses, and ferns and embowered in dense evergreens and blooming
bushes. The road to it leads through majestic woods with ferns ten feet
long beneath the trees, and across a gravelly plain disforested by fire
many years ago, where orange lilies abound and bright shiny mats of kinnikinick
sprinkled with scarlet berries. From a place called "Hunt's," at the end
of the wagon road, a trail leads through fresh dripping woods never dry--Merten,
Menzies, and Douglas spruces and maple and Thuja. The ground is covered
with the best moss-work of the moist cool woods of the north, made up chiefly
of the various species of hypnum, with Marchantia jungermannia, etc.,
in broad sheets and bosses where never a dust particle floated, and where
all the flowers, fresh with mist and spray, are wetter than water-lilies.
Here's another kind--starting for Mount Rainier:
In the pool at the foot of the fall there is good trout-fishing, and
when I was there I saw some bright beauties taken. Never did angler stand
in a spot more romantic, but strange it seemed that anyone could give attention
to hooking in a place so surpassingly lovely to look at--the enthusiastic
rush and song of the fall; the venerable trees over-head leaning forward
over the brink like listeners eager to catch every word of their white
refreshing waters; the delicate maidenhairs and aspleniums, with fronds
outspread, gathering the rainbow spray, and the myriads of hooded mosses,
every cup fresh and shining.
The guide was well mounted, Keith had bones to ride, and so
had small queer Joe, the camp boy, and I. The rest of the party traveled
afoot. The distance to the mountain from Yelm in a straight line is about
fifty miles. But by the Mule-and-Yellow Jacket trail, that we had to follow,
it is one hundred miles. For, notwithstanding a part of the trail runs
in the air where the wasps work hardest, it is far from being an air-line
as commonly understood.
At the Soda Springs near Rainier.
Springs here and there bubble up from the margin of a level
marsh, both hot and cold, and likely to tell in some way on all kinds of
ailments. At least so we were assured by our kind buxom hostess, who
advised us to drink without ceasing from all in turn because "every one of
'em had medicine in it and [was] therefore sure to do good!" All our party
were sick, perhaps from indulging too freely in "canned goods" of uncertain
age. But whatever the poison might have been, these waters failed to wash
it away though we applied them freely and faithfully internally and externally,
and almost eternally as one of the party said.
The dentist is still hovering like an angel or something over me. The writing
will be finished to-morrow if all goes well. But punctuation and revision
will take some time, and as there is now enough to fill two numbers, I
suppose it will have to be cut down a little. Guess I'll get home Thursday,
but will try for Wednesday. Hoping all are well, I go to slumber.
Next morning all who had come through the ordeal of yellowjackets, ancient
meats, and medicinal waters with sufficient strength, resumed the journey
to Paradise Valley and Camp of the Clouds, and, strange to say, only two
of the party were left behind in bed too sick to walk or ride. Fortunately
at this distressing crisis, by the free application of remedies ordinary
and extraordinary, such as brandy, paregoric, pain-killer, and Doctor some-body-or-other's
Golden Vegetable Wonder, they were both wonderfully relieved and joined
us at the Cloud Camp next day, etc., etc., etc.
With loving wishes for all
To James Davis Butler
Martinez, September 1, 1889
My dear old friend Professor Buttler:
You are not forgotten, but I am stupidly busy, too much so to be able
to make good use of odd hours in writing. All the year I have from fifteen
to forty men to look after on the ranch, besides the selling of the fruit,
and the editing of "Picturesque California," and the writing of half of
the work or more. This fall I have to contribute some articles to the "Century
Magazine," so you will easily see that I am laden.
It is delightful to see you in your letters with your family and books
and glorious surroundings. Every region of the world that has been recently
glaciated is pure and wholesome and abounds in fine scenery, and such
a region is your northern lake country. How gladly I would cross the mountains
to join you all for a summer if I could get away! But much of my old freedom
is now lost, though I run away right or wrong at times. Last summer I spent
a few months in Washington Territory studying the grand forests of Puget
Sound. I then climbed to the summit of Mount Rainier, about fifteen thousand
feet high, over many miles of wildly shattered and crevassed glaciers.
Some twenty glaciers flow down the flanks of this grand icy cone, most
of them reaching the forests ere they melt and give place to roaring turbid
torrents. This summer I made yet another visit to my old Yosemite home,
and out over the mountains at the head of the Tuolumne River. I was accompanied
by one of the editors of the "Century," and had a delightful time. When
we were passing the head of the Vernal Falls I told our thin, subtle, spiritual
story to the editor.
In a year or two I hope to find a capable foreman to look after this
ranch work, with its hundreds of tons of grapes, pears, cherries, etc.,
and find time for book-writing and old-time wanderings in the wilderness.
I hope also to see you ere we part at the end of the day.
You want my manner of life. Well, in short, I get up about six o'clock
and attend to the farm work, go to bed about nine and read until midnight.
When I have a literary task I leave home, shut myself up in a room in a
San Francisco hotel, go out only for meals, and peg away awkwardly and
laboriously until the wee sma' hours or thereabouts, working long and hard
and accomplishing little. During meals at home my little girls make me
tell stories, many of them very long, continued from day to day for a month
or two. . . .
Will you be likely to come again to our side of the continent? How I
should enjoy your visit! To think of little Henry an alderman! I am glad
that you are all well and all together. Greek and ozone holds you in health.
. . .
With love to Mrs. Butler and Henry, James, the girls, and thee, old
friend, I am ever
The event of greatest ultimate significance in the year 1889 was
the meeting of Muir with Robert Underwood Johnson, the Century editor mentioned
in the preceding letter. Muir had been a contributor to the magazine ever
since 1878, when it still bore the name of "Scribner's Monthly," and therefore
he was one of the men with whom Mr. Johnson made contact upon his arrival
in San Francisco. Muir knew personally many of the early California pioneers
and so was in a position to give valuable advice in organizing for the
"Century" a series of articles under the general title of "Gold-Hunters."
This accomplished, it was arranged that Muir was to take Mr. Johnson into
the Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. Beside a camp-fire in the Tuolumne
Meadows, Mr. Johnson suggested to Muir that he initiate a project for the
establishment of the Yosemite National Park.
[For a very
readable account of this eventful incident see Robert Underwood Johnson's
In order to further the movement it was
agreed that he contribute a series of articles to the "Century," setting
forth the beauties of the region. Armed with these articles and the public
sentiment created by them, Johnson proposed to go before the House Committee
on Public Lands to urge the establishment of a national park along the
boundaries to be outlined by Muir.
Our country has cause for endless congratulation that the plan was carried
out with ability and success. In August and September, 1890, appeared Muir's
articles "The Treasures of Yosemite" and "Features of the Proposed Yosemite
National Park," both of which aroused strong public support for the project.
A bill introduced in Congress by General William Vandever embodied the
limits of the park as proposed by Mr. Muir, and on October 1, 1890 the
Yosemite National Park became an accomplished fact. The following letters
relate to the beginning and consummation of his far-sighted beneficial
To Mrs. Muir
Yosemite Valley, Cal.
June 3, 1889
We arrived here about one o'clock after a fine glorious ride through
the forests; not much dust, not very hot. The entire trip very delightful
and restful and exhilarating. Johnson was charming all the way. I looked
out as we passed Martinez about eleven o'clock, and it seemed strange I
should ever go past that renowned town. I thought of you all as sleeping
and safe. Whatever more of travel I am to do must be done soon, as it grows
ever harder to leave my nest and young.
The foothills and all the woods of the Valley are flowery far beyond
what I could have looked for, and the sugar pines seemed nobler than ever.
Indeed, all seems so new I fancy I could take up the study of these mountain
glories with fresh enthusiasm as if I were getting into a sort of second
youth, or dotage, or something of that sort. Governor W----- was in our
party, big, burly, and somewhat childishly jolly; also some other jolly
fellows and fellowesses.
Saw Hill and his fine studio. He has one large Yosemite--very fine,
but did not like it so well as the one you saw. He has another Yosemite
about the size of the Glacier that I fancy you would all like. It is sold
for five hundred dollars, but he would paint another if you wished.
Everybody is good to us. Frank Pixley is here and Ben Truman that wrote
about Tropical California. I find old Galen Clark also. He looks well,
and is earning a living by carrying passengers about the Valley. Leidig's
and Black's old hotels are torn down, so that only Bernards' and the new
Stoneman House are left. This last is quite grand; still it has a silly
look amid surroundings so massive and sublime. McAuley and the immortal
twins still flounder and flourish in the ethereal sky of Glacier Point.
I mean to hire Indians, horses, or something and make a trip to the
Lake Tenaya region or Big [Tuolumne] Meadows and Tuolumne Cañon.
But how much we will be able to accomplish will depend upon the snow, the
legs, and the resolution of the Century. Give my love to everybody at the
two houses and kiss and keep the precious babies for me as for thee.
Will probably be home in about a week.
Ever thine J. M.
To Robert Underwood Johnson
Martinez, March 4, 1890
Dear Mr. Johnson:
. . . The love of Nature among Californians is desperately moderate;
consuming enthusiasm almost wholly unknown. Long ago I gave up the floor
of Yosemite as a garden, and looked only to the rough taluses and inaccessible
or hidden benches and recesses of the walls. All the flowers are wallflowers
now, not only in Yosemite, but to a great extent throughout the length
and breadth of the Sierra. Still, the Sierra flora is not yet beyond redemption,
and much may be done by the movement you are making.
As to the management, it should, I think, be taken wholly out of the
Governor's hands. The office changes too often and must always be more
or less mixed with politics in its bearing upon appointments for the Valley.
A commission consisting of the President of the University, the President
of the State Board of Agriculture, and the President of the Mechanics Institute
would, I think, be a vast improvement on the present commission. Perhaps
one of the commissioners should be an army officer. Such changes would
not be likely, as far as I can see, to provoke any formidable opposition
on the part of Californians in general. Taking back the Valley on the part
of the Government would probably be a troublesome job. . . . Everybody
to whom I have spoken on the subject sees the necessity of a change, however,
in the management, and would favor such a commission as I have suggested.
For my part, I should rather see the Valley in the hands of the Federal
Government. But how glorious a storm of growls and howls would rend our
sunny skies, bursting forth from every paper in the state, at the outrage
of the "Century" Editor snatching with unholy hands, etc., the diadem from
California's brow! Then where, oh, where would be the "supineness" of which
you speak? These Californians now sleeping in apathy, caring only for what
"pays," would then blaze up as did the Devil when touched by Ithuriel's
spear. A man may not appreciate his wife, but let her daddie try to take
. . . As to the extension of the grant, the more we can get into
it the better. It should at least comprehend all the basins of the streams
that pour into the Valley. No great opposition would be encountered in
gaining this much, as few interests of an antagonistic character are involved.
On the Upper Merced waters there are no mines or settlements of any sort,
though some few land claims have been established. These could be easily
extinguished by purchase. All the basins draining into Yosemite are really
a part of the Valley, as their streams are a part of the Merced. Cut off
from its branches, Yosemite is only a stump. However gnarly and picturesque,
no tree that is beheaded looks well. But like ants creeping in the furrows
of the bark, few of all the visitors to the Valley see more than the stump,
and but little of that. To preserve the Valley and leave all its related
rocks, waters, forests to fire and sheep and lumbermen is like keeping
the grand hall of entrance of a palace for royalty, while all the other
apartments from cellar to dome are given up to the common or uncommon use
of industry--butcher-shops, vegetable-stalls, liquor-saloons, lumberyards,
But even the one main hall has a hog-pen in the middle of the floor,
and the whole concern seems hopeless as far as destruction and desecration
can go. Some of that stink, I'm afraid, has got into the pores of the rocks
even. Perhaps it was the oncoming shadow of this desecration that caused
the great flood and earthquake--"Nature sighing through all her works giving
sign of woe that all was lost." Still something may be done after all.
I have indicated the boundary line on the map in dotted line as proposed
above. A yet greater extension I have marked on the same map, extending
north and south between Lat. 38° and 37° 30'
and from the axis of the range
westward about thirty-six or forty miles. This would include three groves
of Big Trees, the Tuolumne Cañon, Tuolumne Meadows, and Hetch Hetchy
Valley. So large an extension would, of course, meet more opposition. Its
boundary lines would not be nearly so natural, while to the westward many
claims would be encountered; a few also about Mounts Dana and Warren, where
mines have been opened.
Come on out here and take another look at the Cañon. The earthquake
taluses are all smooth now and the chaparral is buried, while the river
still tosses its crystal arches aloft and the ouzel sings. We would be
sure to see some fine avalanches. Come on. I'll go if you will, leaving
ranch, reservations, Congress bills, "Century" articles, and all other
terrestrial cares and particles.
In the meantime I am
To Robert Underwood Johnson
Martinez, April 19th, 1890
My dear Mr. Johnson :
I hope you have not been put to trouble by the delay of that manuscript.
I have been interrupted a thousand times, while writing, by coughs, grippe,
business, etc. I suppose you will have to divide the article. I shall write
a sketch of the Tuolumne Cañon and Kings River yosemite, also the
charming yosemite of the Middle Fork of Kings River, all of which may,
I think, be got into one article of ten thousand words or twenty. If you
want more than is containied in the manuscript sent you on the peaks and
glaciers to the east of Yosemite, let me know and I will try to give what
is wanted with the Tuolumne Cañon.
The Yosemite "Century" leaven is working finely, even thus far, throughout
California. I enclose a few clippings. The "Bulletin" printed the whole
of Mack's "Times" letter on our honest Governor. [Charles Howard] Shinn
says that the "Overland" is going out into the battle henceforth in full
armor. The "Evening Post" editorial, which I received last night and have
just read, is a good one and I will try to have it reprinted. . . .
Mr. Olmsted's paper was, I thought, a little soft in some places, but
all the more telling, I suppose, in some directions. Kate, like fate, has
been going for the Governor, and I fancy he must be dead or at least paralyzed
How fares the Bill Vandever? I hope you gained all the basin. If you
have, then a thousand trees and flowers will rise up and call you blessed,
besides the other mountain people and the usual "unborn generations," etc,
In the meantime for what you have already done I send you a reasonable
number of Yosemite thanks, and remain
Very truly your friend
To Mr. and Mrs. John Bidwell
Dear Mrs. Bidwell and General:
April 19th, 1890
I've been thinking of you every day since dear Parry
C. Parry, 1823-90, Explored and collected on the Mexican boundary, in the
Rocky Mountains, and in California. The other botanists mentioned are John
Torrey, 1796-1873; Asa Gray, 1810-88; and Albert Kellogg, who died in 1887.]
It seems as if all the good flower people, at once great and good, have
died now that Parry has gone--Torrey, Gray, Kellogg, and Parry. Plenty
more botanists left, but none we have like these. Men more amiable apart
from their intellectual power I never knew, so perfectly clean and pure
they were--pure as lilies, yet tough and unyielding in mental fibre as
live-oaks. Oh, dear, it makes me feel lonesome, though many lovely souls
remain. Never shall I forget the charming evenings I spent with Torrey
in Yosemite, and with Gray, after the day's rambles were over and they
told stories of their lives, Torrey fondly telling all about Gray, Gray
about Torrey, all in one summer; and then, too, they told me about Parry
for the first time. And then how fine and how fruitful that trip to Shasta
with you! Happy days, not to come again! Then more than a week with Parry
around Lake Tahoe in a boat; had him all to myself--precious memories.
It seems easy to die when such souls go before. And blessed it is to feel
that they have indeed gone before to meet us in turn when our own day is
The Scotch have a proverb, "The evenin' brings a' hame." And so, however
separated, far or near, the evening of life brings all together at the
last. Lovely souls embalmed in a thousand flowers, embalmed in the hearts
of their friends, never for a moment does death seem to have had anything
to do with them. They seem near, and are near, and as if in bodily sight
I wave my hand to them in loving recognition.
To Robert Underwood Johnson
Martinez, May 8th, 1890
My dear Mr. Johnson:
. . . As I have urged over and over again, the Yosemite Reservation
ought to include all the Yosemite fountains. They all lie in a compact
mass of mountains that are glorious scenery, easily accessible from the
grand Yosemite center, and are not valuable for any other use than the
use of beauty. No other interests would suffer by this extension of the
boundary. Only the summit peaks along the axis of the range are possibly
gold-bearing, and not a single valuable mine has yet been discovered in
them. Most of the basin is a mass of solid granite that will never be available
for agriculture, while its forests ought to be preserved. The Big Tuolumne
Meadows should also be included, since it forms the central camping-ground
for the High Sierra adjacent to the Valley. The Tuolumne Cañon is
so closely related to the Yosemite region it should also be included, but
whether it is or not will not matter much, since it lies in rugged rocky
security, as one of Nature's own reservationis.
As to the lower boundary, it should, I think, be extended so far as
to include the Big Tree groves below the Valley, thus bringing under Government
protection a section of the forest containing specimens of all the principal
trees of the Sierra, and which, if left unprotected, will vanish like snow
in summer. Some private claims will have to be bought, but the cost will
not be great.
While traveling about with Keith in the Northwest during July, 1888,
gathering materials for "Picturesque California," Muir was one day watching
at Victoria the departure of steamers for northern ports. Instantly he
heard the call of the "red gods" of Alaska and began to long for the old
adventurous days in the northern wildernesses. "Though it is now ten years
since my last visit here," he wrote to his wife in the evening, "Alaska
comes back into near view, and if a steamer were to start now it would
be hard indeed to keep myself from going aboard. I must spend one year
more there at the least. The work I am now doing seems much less interesting
and unimportant. . . . Only by going alone in silence, without baggage,
can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is
mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter."
The longed-for opportunity came two years later. During the winter of
1890 he had suffered an attack of the grippe which brought on a severe
bronchial cough. He tried to wear it out at his desk, but it grew steadily
worse. He then, as he used to relate with a twinkle in his eye, decided
upon the novel experiment of trying to wear it out by going to Alaska and
exploring the upper tributaries of the Muir Glacier. In the following letter
we get a glimpse of him after two weeks of active exploration around Glacier
To Mrs. Muir
Camp near eastern end of ice wall
July 7th, 
The steamer Queen is in sight pushing up Muir Inlet through a grand
crowd of bergs on which a clear sun is shining. I hope to get a letter
from you to hear how you and the little ones and older ones are.
I have had a good instructive and exciting time since last I wrote you
by the Elder a week ago. The weather has been fine and I have climbed two
mountains that gave grand general views of the immense mountain fountains
of the glacier and also of the noble St. Elias Range along the coast mountains,
La Pérouse, Crillon, Lituya, and Fairweather. Have got some telling
facts on the forest question that has so puzzled me these many years,,
etc., etc. Have also been making preliminary observations on the motion
of the glacier. Loumis and I get on well, and the Reid
Harry Fielding Reid.]
and Cushing party camped beside us are fine
company and energetic workers. They are making a map of the Muir Glacier
and Inlet, and intend to make careful and elaborate measurements of its
rate of motion, size, etc. They are well supplied with instruments and
will no doubt do good work.
I have yet to make a trip round Glacier Bay, to the edge of the forest
and over the glacier as far as I can. Probably Reid and Cushing and their
companions will go with me. If this weather holds, I shall not encounter
serious trouble. Anyhow, I shall do the best I can. I mean to sew the bear
skin into a bag, also a blanket and a canvas sheet for the outside. Then,
like one of Wanda's caterpillars, I can lie warm on the ice when night
overtakes me, or storms rather, for here there is now no night. My cough
has gone and my appetite has come, and I feel much better than when I left
home. Love to each and all.
If I have time before the steamer leaves I will write to my dear Wanda
and Helen. The crowd of visitors are gazing at the grand blue crystal wall,
tinged with sunshine. Ever thine
The crowning experience of this Alaska trip was the sled trip which
he made across the upper reaches of the Muir Glacier between the 11th and
the 21st of July. Setting out from his little cabin on the teriminal moraine,
Muir pushed back on the east side of the glacier toward Howling Valley,
fifteen miles to the northward, examined and sketched some of the lesser
tributaries, then turned to the westward and crossed the glacier near the
confluence of the main tributaries, and thence made his way down the west
side to the front. No one was willing to share this adventure with him
so he faced it, as usual, alone.
Chapter XVIII of "Travels in Alaska" gives, in journal form, an account
of Muir's experiences and observations on this trip. To this may be added
his description of two incidents as related in fragments of unpublished
In the course of this trip I encountered a few adventures
worth mention apart from the common dangers encountered in crossing crevasses.
Large timber wolves were common around Howling Valley,
feeding apparently on the wild goats of the adjacent mountains.
One evening before sundown I camped on the glacier about a mile above
the head of the valley, and, sitting on my sled enjoying the wild scenery,
I scanned the grassy mountain on the west side above the timber-line through
my field glasses, expecting to see a good many wild goats in pastures so
fine and wild. I discovered only two or three at the foot of a precipitous
bluff, and as they appeared perfectly motionless, and were not lying down,
I thought they must be held there by attacking wolves. Next morning, looking
again, I found the goats still standing there in front of the cliff, and
while eating my breakfast, preparatory to continuing my journey, I heard
the dismal long-drawn out howl of a wolf, soon answered by another and
another at greater distances and at short intervals coming nearer and nearer,
indicating that they had discovered me and were coming down the mountain
to observe me more closely, or perhaps to attack me, for I was told by
my Indians while exploring in 1879 and 1880 that these wolves attack either
in summer or winter, whether particularly hungry or not; and that no Indian
hunter ever ventured far into the woods alone, declaring that wolves were
much more dangerous than bears. The nearest wolf had evidently got down
to the margin of the glacier, and although I had not yet been able to catch
sight of any of them, I made haste to a large square from behind, in the
same manner as the hunted goats. I had no firearms, but thought I could
make a good fight with my Alpine ice axe. This, however, was only a threatened
attack, and I went on my journey, though keeping a careful watch to see
whether I was followed.
At noon, reaching the confluence of the eastmost of the great tributaries
and observing that the ice to the westward was closely crevassed, I concluded
to spend the rest of the day in ascending what is now called Snow Dome,
a mountain about three thousand feet high, to scan the whole width of the
glacier and choose the route that promised the fewest difficulties. The
day was clear and I took the bearings of what seemed to be the best route
and recorded them in my notebook so that in case I should be stopped by
a blinding snowstorm, or impassable labyrinth of crevasses, I might be
able to retrace my way by compass.
In descending the mountain to my sled camp on the ice I tried to shorten
the way by sliding down a smooth steep fluting groove nicely lined with
snow; but in looking carefully I discovered a bluish spot a few hundred
feet below the head, which I feared indicated ice beneath the immediate
surface of the snow; but inasmuch as there were no heavy boulders at the
foot of the slope, but only a talus of small pieces an inch or two in diameter,
derived from disintegrating metamorphic slates, lying at as steep an angle
as they could rest, I felt confident that even if I should lose control
of myself and be shot swiftly into them, there would be no risk of broken
bones. I decided to encounter the adventure. Down I glided in a smooth
comfortable swish until I struck the blue spot. There I suddenly lost control
of myself and went rolling and bouncing like a boulder until stopped by
plashing into the loose gravelly delta.
As soon as I found my legs and senses I was startled by a wild, piercing,
exulting, demoniac yell, as if a pursuing assassin long on my trail were
screaming: "I've got you at last." I first imagined that the wretch might
be an Indian, but could not believe that Indians, who are afraid of glaciers,
could be tempted to venture so far into the icy solitude. The mystery was
quickly solved when a raven descended like a thunderbolt from the sky and
alighted on a jag of a rock within twenty or thirty feet of me. While soaring
invisible in the sky, I presume that he had been watching me all day, and
at the same time keeping an outlook for wild goats, which were sometimes
driven over the cliffs by the wolves. Anyhow, no sooner had I fallen, though
not a wing had been seen in all the clear mountain sky, than I had been
seen by these black hunters who now were eagerly looking me over and seemed
sure of a meal. The explanation was complete, and as they eyed me with
a hungry longing stare I simply called to them: "Not yet!"
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