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John Muir's Evolving Attitudes Toward Native American Cultures

by Richard F. Fleck


Source: American Indian Quarterly, Vol 4 No 1 Feb., 1978, pg. 19-31. Reprinted on the John Muir Exhibit by permission of the author.

Both Herbert F. Smith and Thomas J. Lyon have already pointed out that very little criticism exists on the writings of John Muir perhaps because we are not yet ready for his advanced environmental thinking. Thus, there is no criticism on Muir's attitudes toward North American Indian cultures except brief commentary in Herbert F. Smith's John Muir (New York, 1965).

John Muir's impressions of North American Indian cultures, like those of Henry David Thoreau, changed markedly after he had actually lived with natives in the wilderness. While Muir strongly sympathized with the downtrodden Indian and seriously questioned harsh attitudes toward native Americans, he first had to overcome some fearful experiences which inevitably influenced his thinking; Muir's attitudes toward the Digger Indians of California were quite prejudiced, for- instance. However, after several excursions to the Alaskan glaciers where Muir lived among the various Thlinkit tribes including the Chilcats, Hoonas, and Takus, he grew to respect and honor their beliefs, actions, and life styles. Their essential joy despite harsh surroundings gave Muir his first due that native Americans were capable of a sound and harmonious pattern of living.

When the Muir family moved from Scotland to Wisconsin in 1849, they soon became aware of weary and forlorn bands of Winnebago Indians who begged for food. After a short while, young Muir's favorite horse was stolen by one of these Indians who treated the animal quite cruelly, as the Muirs later learned. They heard of valuable things being stolen from their neighbors' farms as well. At times the Winnebagos took it upon themselves to slaughter farmers' livestock for food. All of this naturally frightened the young lad from Scotland. However, Muir listened with eager intentness to an argument between his stern father and a neighbor over Indian land rights which he later recalled in Boyhood and Youth. This passage warrants complete citing:

I well remember my father's discussing with a Scotch neighbor, a Mr. George Mair, the Indian question as to the rightful ownership of the soil. Mr. Mair remarked one day that it was pitiful to see how the unfortunate Indians, children of Nature living on the natural products of the soil, hunting, fishing, and even cultivating small corn-fields on the most fertile spots, were now being robbed of their lands and pushed ruthlessly back into narrower and narrower limits by alien races who were cutting off their means of livelihood. Father replied that surely it could have never been the intention of God to allow Indians to rove and hunt over so fertile a country and hold it forever in unproductive wildness, while Scotch and Irish and English farmers could put it to so much better use. Where· an Indian required thousands of acres for his family, these acres in the hands of industrious, God-fearing farmers would support ten or a hundred times more people in a far worthier manner, while at the same time helping to spread the gospel. Mr. Mair urged that such farming as our first immigrants were practicing was in many ways rude and full of mistakes of ignorance, yet, rude as it was, and ill-tilled as were most of our Wisconsin farms by unskillful, inexperienced settlers who had been merchants and mechanics and servants in the old countries, how should we like to have specially trained and educated farmers drive us out of our homes and farms, such as they were, making use of the same argument, that God could never have intended such ignorant, unprofitable, devastating farmers as we were to occupy land upon which scientific farmers could raise five or ten times as much on each acre as we did? And I well remember thinking that Mr. Mair had the better side of the argument. It then seemed to me that, whatever the final outcome might be, it was at this state of the fight only an example of the rule of might with but little or no thought for the right or welfare of the other fellow if he were the weaker; that 'they should keep who can,' as Wordsworth makes the marauding Scottish Highlanders say .1

So, despite the fact that Muir recollected Winnebagos as "blackmailing," "pig killing," "cruel," and "fearful' he did sympathize with their cause, and such an early sympathy later helped inculcate a deeper appreciation for Indian cultures with which he became more familiar. Such a positive attitude may have come about, in part at least, through his reaction against his father's stern Calvinism. As Thomas j . Lyon points out, "The chief aspect of Calvinism which Muir later rejected or outgrew was its man-centeredness" which fostered "anthropocentrism. " 2 Euro-American culture was, for Muir, particularly anthropocentric, especially in its biased attitudes toward alien Indian cultures. As we shall see, Muir himself fell victim to anthropocentrism after he had settled in the mountains of California where he encountered Digger Indians.

Most fortunately John Muir, at the age of twenty-two, left his father's stern household where hard work was the rule and playing and story telling were the exceptions. He studied at the University of Wisconsin {with no financial support from his father) as a special student, taking whichever courses had the most intellectual appeal. In Madison he studied under Professor Ezra Slocum Carr, who, along with Mrs. Carr, introduced Muir to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Probably Thoreau's essays on Maine had the most appeal to Muir (he later mentions The Maine Woods in his letters) 3 because of the New England author's fine descriptions of the wilderness and his deep concern for vanishing Indian cultures. In many respects Muir's Travels in Alaska (1915) and Thoreau's Maine Woods (1864) are comparable works as will be shown.

When Muir arrived in California after his thousand mile walk from Wisconsin to Florida, he chose to work as a shepherd in the high Sierra. It was here that he encountered and observed Digger Indians and other tribes. Muir's attitudes toward the California Indians were at best ambivalent. He still had to overcome his fearful contact with Winnebago Indians back in Wisconsin even though he sympathized with their plight. Nor could he understand why Digger Indians were exceptionally unclean in body, especially since they lived in the pure and fresh wilderness. The fact that the mountain tribes left no trace of their civilization bothered him as well. Apparently Muir did not consider their legends of any importance as did many readers of San Francisco's earliest newspapers. It is no wonder that he used such negative terms as "dirty," "garrulous as jays," "Superstitious," "deadly," "lazy," "squirrelish," and "wife stealing" to describe California Indians. On the other hand, he expressed sympathy for the expulsion of Chief Tenaya from Yosemite 4 and believed that the Indians of the Shasta region were .. miserably demoralized." 5 He felt that Indian pine nut feasts were among the most joyous events he ever witnessed 6 and that the canyon tribes possessed the virtues of endurance and intelligence.7 In his book My First Summer in the Sierra, Muir expresses his ambivalence toward Indians in the following significant statement: "Perhaps if 1 knew them better, I should like them better. The worst thing about them is their uncleanliness." 8 Alaska would afford Muir a grand opportunity to know Indians better.

Thirty years after John Muir first immigrated to America, he set sail in May, 1879 aboard the Dakota for the virgin wilderness of Alaska. His main object was to study the immense living glaciers of "cup handle" Alaska. Here he would confirm his suspicions that our planet's landscapes are constantly evolving and changing because of slow and powerful natural forces. But he, too, would evolve and change from his somewhat ambivalent stance toward various Indian cultures to a positive admiration. Two more trips to Alaska in 1880 and 1881 form the fabric of Travels in Alaska, first published one year after his death and compiled from his Journal and previously published magazine articles. Muir met Samuel H. Young, a missionary at Fort Wrangell, and the two became travelling companions throughout the panhandle where Muir would study Young would preach. Both men were Thoreau and Emerson enthusiasts, and both had copies of the New Englanders' works. My best guess is that Muir carried with him Thoreau's Maine Woods. If he did not physically have that book, he certainly did mentally, for there are many striking similarities in their growing fascination for native American cultures. Both books, for example are based on three separate excursions to the wilderness, and both Thoreau and Muir experience culture shock when they first enter Indian worlds. But the two writers begin to respect and admire that Indian world once they mingle with the people. They both attempt to learn the native Indian dialects as well as their mythology and world views.

Thoreau employs such expressions as "shabby," "woe begone," " dull," "greasy-looking," "sluggish," "sinister" and "slouching" to describe Penobscots in his first visited Indian village in Maine where the homes looked "forlorn and cheerless."9 But after his second and third voyages to Maine during which time he got to know Joe Atteon and Joe Pol is quite well, his depictions become more enthusiastic: he uses the terms "beautiful simplicity.'' "'steady and reliable" to describe his guide Joe Polis who exhibits great natural abilities in woodcraft, singing, and wilderness survival. Likewise Muir begins Travels in Alaska by describing coastal Indians with "hideous" face paint and " fearful" and "superstitious" manners. He was amazed that Thlinkits were not as curious about beautiful, wild country as he. However, after Muir got to know individual Indians like Kadachan and Toyatte quite well, his expressions became more generous including .. wise," "stoic," "dignified" and "happy." But let us examine Travels in Alaska more closely to see how and why Muir does change.

Soon after Muir first arrived at Fort Wrangell, he was warned by the white residents that he should beware of Indians on his glacial explorations for they were a bad lot. Perhaps he relied upon his old feelings toward Wisconsin and California Indians when he built a fire in the rainy woods to cause a weird glow in the sky which frightened the superstitious Indians of the area. Sounding somewhat like Hank Morgan in Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Muir takes pride in his seeming power over the local primitives in describing their wild fear. A few days later, when he discovered that the Indian at Wrangell wore ridiculous face paint, he assumed all the more the aspect of a superior lord who was slumming it.

While still at Wrangell Island, Muir was invited to a dance in which "excellent imitations were given of the gait, gestures, and behavior of several animals under different circumstances-walking, hunting, capturing, and devouring their prey, etc." And the animal movements "were so accurately imitated that they seemed the real thing." 10 Even though Muir thought it was altogether a wonderful show, he still remained somewhat aloof from these picturesque Indians. But when Muir sailed south to explore the ruins of a Stickeen village at the opposite end of Wrangell Island, he responded quite positively to these architectural remains, remembering that the Digger Indians left no trace of their civilization: The magnitude of the ruins and excellence of the workmanship manifest in them was astonishing as belonging to Indians. For example, the first dwelling we visited was about forty feet square, with walls built of planks two feet wide and six inches thick. The ridge pole of yellow cypress was two feet in diameter, forty feet long, and as round and true as if it had been turned in a lathe; and though lying in the damp weeds it was perfectly sound ... Each of the wall planks had evidently been hewn out of a whole log, and must have required sturdy deliberation as well as skill. Their geometrical truthfulness was admirable. With the same tools not one in a thousand of our skilled mechanics could do as good work. Compared with it the bravest work of civilized backwoodsman is feeble and bungling. The completeness of form, finish, and proportion of these timbers suggested skill of a wild and positive kind, like that which guides the woodpecker in drilling round holes, and the bee in making its cells.'' 11 We see here that his objection of Indians leaving no traces of existence vanishes.

Muir was quite taken in by Stickeen totem poles, so much so that he sketched them in his Journal and described them with enthusiasm. "Some of the most imposing were said to commemorate some event of an historical character. But a telling display of family pride seemed to have been the prevailing motive. All the figures were more or less rude, and some were broadly grotesque, but there was never any feebleness of obscurity in the expression. On the contrary every feature showed grave force and decision; while the childish audacity displayed in the designs, combines with manly strength in their execution, was truly wonderful." 12

Through art, then, Muir was first able to see the depths of humanity of Thlinkit Indians. His first Indian travelling companion and guide, Kadachan, was a happy and merry fellow who liked to tell stories and tales of his people and who could laugh at himself for failing to retrieve ducks he had shot. Kadachan's mother, on the other hand, had a woeful and sorrowful face like those of the Kawkuitl Indians described in Margaret Craven's moving book, I Heard the Owl Call My Name. Seeing Indian joy and sorrow helped Muir culturally adjust to Thlinkits much like Margaret Craven's protagonist, Mark Brian. Muir began to laugh with Kadachan and listen with care to his fascinating theories and stories about animal life. Like Thoreau, Muir listened to stories and traditions by the evening campfires: u After supper we sat long around our fire, listening to the Indians' stories about the wild animals, their hunting adventures, wars, traditions, religion, and customs." 13 The California naturalist marvelled at Indian explanations of animal behavior as in the following theory of why birds honk: .. The Indians said that geese, swans, cranes, etc., making their long journeys in regular order thus called aloud to encourage each other and enable them to keep stroke and time like men in rowing or marching (a sort of "row, brothers, row," or "Hip, hip"' of marching soldiers.)" 14

Muir began to realize that Indian interest in animal behavior was not only knowledgeable but insightful. He writes, "I ready enjoyed the Indians' campfire talk this evening on their ancient customs, how they were taught by their parents ere the whites came among them, their religion, ideas connected with the next world, the stars, plants, the behavior and language of animals under different circumstance, manner of getting a living, etc. When our talk was interrupted by the howling of a wolf on the opposite side of the strait, Kadachan puzzled the minister with the question, 'Have wolves souls?' The Indians believe that they have; giving as foundation for their belief that they are wise creatures who know how to catch seals and salmon by swimming slyly upon them with their heads hidden in a mouthful of grass, hunt deer in company, and always bring forth their young at the same and most favorable time of the year. 1 inquired how it was that with enemies so wise and powerful the deer were not all killed. Kadachan replied that wolves knew better than to kill them all and thus cut off their most important food-supply." 15 Here is strong evidence for the Thlinkit's ecological understanding of his environment acquired through observation and not books. Indians can learn much from their land, and this is significant for Muir.

The belief that native peoples lived harmoniously with the land before the coming of white man is clearly evident in another book of Muirs' en tided The Cruise of the Corwin (published posthumously in 1918) based on his trip to the Arctic in 1881. While this volume concerns itself mainly with glaciology, it does contain a significant amount of commentary on the harmonious existence of An:tic cultures in a seemingly hostile environment. Quite naturally Muir strongly criticizes intrusions of white men into the Arctic bringing with them alcohol, repeating rifles, and other items which disrupt sound ecological relationships.

Of the Eskimoan Chukahis, Muir wrote, "they seem more confident of their ability to earn a living than most whites on their farms." 16 This is a rather telling statement. In fact, of all the Eskimoan peoples, the Chukchis seemed to Muir the most self-sufficient largely because of their maintaining the ancient way of reindeer herding. Muir remarks that "They are not savage by any means, however, but steady, industrious workers, looking well ahead, providing for the future, and consequently seldom in want, save when at long intervals disease or other calamities overtake their herds." 17

John Muir observed an important reindeer killing ritual reminiscent of Pueblo deer killing ceremonies depicted by Frank Waters in The Man Who Killed the Deer: "After it was slain they laid it on its side. One of the women brought forward a branch of willow about a foot long, with green leaves on it, and put it under the animal's head. Then she threw four or five handfuls of the blood, from the knife-wound back of the shoulder, out over the ground to the south· ward, making me get out of the way, as if this direction were the only proper one:. Next she took a cupful of water and poured a little on its mouth and tail and on the wound. While this ceremony was being performed all the family looked serious, but as soon as it was over they began to laugh and chat as before." 18 True reverence for all forms of life strongly appealed to the California naturalist.

However, when Muir encountered native villages at the Diomede Islands that had been virtually destroyed by alcoholism brought on by white traders trying to make a better deal, he reacted forcefully by writing, "Unless some aid be extended by our government which claims these people in a few years at most every soul of them will have vanished from the face of the earth; for, even where alcohol is left out of the count, the few articles of food, clothing, guns, etc., furnished by the traders, exert a degrading influence, making them less self-reliant, and less skillful as hunters. They seem susceptible of civilization, and well deserve the: attention of our government." 19 Here Muir is clearly advocating the maintenance of self-reliant harmonious cultures which arc: threatened by cheap commercialism.

In the second edition of The Mountains of California (which contains some additional turn·of·the-century material written after his Alaskan experiences along with the first edition's harsh reactions to Digger Indians) Muir lashes out at those forces in "civilization" which tend to disrupt natural harmonies. What he saw happening in the Arctic, he sees happening in his own beloved California at the turn of the century. Of the Hetch Hetchy dam proposal, Muir remarks, "These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have: a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the: God of the: mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. " 20 Native Alaskan cultures were:, for him, in marked contrast, and they confirmed his belief that a viable: alternative life style was possible.

John Muir was equally fascinated by the rich legends and folktales of the Thlinkit Indians and recorded some of them in Travels in Alaska, as Herbert F. Smith states. 2l I quote the following tale involving a sick Indian boy being examined by a Thlinkit shaman who explains that the boy "has lost his soul, and this is the way it happened. He was playing among the stones down on the beach when he saw a crawfish in the water, and made fun of it, pointing his finger at it and saying, 'Oh, you crooked legs! Oh, you crooked legs! You can't walk straight; you go sidewise,' which made the crab so angry that he reached out his long nippers, seized the lad's soul, pulled it out of him and made off with it into deep water. 'And; continued the medicine-man, ' Unless his stolen soul is restored to him and put back in its place he will die. Your boy is really dead already; it is only his lonely, empty body that is living now, and though it may continue to live in this way for a year or two, the boy will never be of any account, not strong, nor wise, nor brave." 22 Muir repeats yet another Indian tale heard on his 1880 trip concerning a legendary stout creature called Yek who was responsible for rain by whirling himself over the ocean to gather rain clouds. 23

In addition to Thlinkit art and legend, Muir commented on their great respect for children: "Indeed, in all my travels I never saw a child, old or young, receive a blow or even a harsh word." 24 And a little later he writes, "I have never yet seen a child ill-used, even to the extent of an angry word. Scolding, so common a curse in civilization, is not known here at all. On the contrary the young are fondly indulged without being spoiled. Crying is very rarely heard." 25 Such observations are in marked contrast to the stem wrath of Muir's own father back in Scotland and Wisconsin. The joy of a live-and-let-live attitude was refreshing to Muir because he had experienced little of it as a boy. While Muir's father always stifled his son's curiosity, the Indian's "childlike attention was refreshing to see as compared with the deathlike apathy of weary town-dwellers, in whom natural curiosity has been quenched in toil and care and poor shallow comfort. " 26

Muir's own curiosity about the Indian way steadily increased the longer he stayed in Alaska. Like Thoreau, he attempted to learn some Indian tongue and in many instances recorded Indian words in his writings completely replacing English equivalents. I list just a few expressions in which Muir took particular joy: hyas klosh (good), Hoon (North wind), hi yu poojh (much shooting), sagh-a-ya (a greeting), Skookum chuck, Skookum chuck! (strong water, strong water) and the mixed English-Thlinkit Ice mountain hi uy kumtux hide (glaciers know how to hide extremely well). One finds it difficult to imagine Muir making such recordings in his journal before his Alaskan experience.

Far more important than interest in art, legend, and language is Muir's growing awareness of Indian wisdom and of the realization that all men are brothers. As earlier mentioned, Muir met the Reverend Samuel H. Young, a Presbyterian missionary at Fort Wrangell. When Young learned that Muir wished to visit coastal glaciers, he decided to go along to carry out his missionary work and enjoy some of Muir's insights. While on a canoe voyage northward during the trip of 1879, some Kake Indians visited Muir's and Young's camp. Mr. Young asked the Indians if they would be interested in having a missionary, and Muir quotes the head of the family's reply: "We have not much to say to you fellows. We always do to Boston men as we have done to you, give a little of whatever we have, treat everybody well and never quarrel. This is all we have to say." 27 Muir lets the reader draw his own conclusions by adding no commentary of his own. The California conservationist, like Mark Brian of I Heard the Owl Call My Name, soon realizes that these coastal Indians are inherently Christian and fully understand Christ's teaching of atonement and charity because they practiced such virtues long before they ever heard of Christ. As Muir writes, "The Thlinkit tribes give a hearty welcome to Christian missionaries. In particular they are quick to accept the doctrine of the atonement, because they themselves practice it, although to many of the civilized whites it is a stumbling block and rock of offense." 28 He proceeds to supply the illustration of a Stickeen chief who offered himself as a sacrifice to end all fighting between two warring tribes.

Muir's good Indian friend Toyatte, like Thoreau's Joe Polis, possessed the admirable qualities of being loving, honorable, sympathetic, straight forward, and natural. But Toyatte, as Muir discovered, made the supreme sacrifice for his tribe: "Soon after our return to Fort Wrangell this grand old man was killed in a quarrel in which be had taken no other part than that of peacemaker." 29 Instead of going to fight, Toyatte carried no weapon at all, but rather went in the battle field to cheer and rouse his companions. True enough, Chief Toyatte was a former slave holder, but his final sacrifice more than made up for his past failings.

In his Journal, edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe under the title John of the Mountains, Muir comments on the altruistic nature of the Northwest potlatch: "Occasionally a rich Indian holds a grand potlatch, giving away all the hard earned savings of a lifetime. Then he becomes a chief or Tyee. A good way to get rid of riches in old age when from their kind they are hard to keep. It is the common price of fame and power." 30 Materialism was hardly a sin of this group of Indians. Alcoholism, introduced by whites as a device to take advantage of Thlinkits, was a weakness, but certainly not materialism so prevalent in Euro-American civilization. They were a spiritual people, as Muir points out: "A spirit was embodied in every mountain, stream and waterfal1." 31

Muir addressed himself to this spirituality, as Young explains in Alaska Days with John Muir, by telling "the eager natives wonderful things about what the great one God, whose name is Love, was doing for them." 32 Muir's preaching universal religion to the Indians and his constant search for new glaciers earned him the title of Glate Ankow (Ice Chief) according to Young. They liked to listen to the Ice Chief as much as the Reverend Samuel Young, and as Linnie Marsh Wolfe explains, Muir gave five sermons of his own at a Chilcat village "in which he told them all men were brothers, regardless of color or race. They were so delighted with the Ice Chief that they begged him to come back and be their teacher. If he did, old and young, would go to school. As an inducement they offered him a native wife, 33 However, Muir refused the offer: but as Muir wrote of his Thlinkit friends, "seem to be among old friends with whom I had long been acquainted, though had never been here before." 34

I do not mean to imply that Muir saw no evil among the Thlinkit Indians of Alaska. He strongly disapproved of slave holding, fratricidal battles, and alcoholism. While at a Hootsenoo village, Muir noted that "The whole village was afire with bad whiskey [sic]. This was the first time in my life that I learned the meaning of the phrase, 'a howling drunk.' Even our Indians. hesitated to venture ashore, notwithstanding whiskey [sic) storms were far from novel to them." 35 On Muir's second trip to Alaska in 1880 he did not fail to give a sharp reprimand to an Indian travelling companion who wantonly killed a seagull: "I asked him why he had killed the bird, and followed the question by a severe reprimand for his stupid cruelty, to which he could offer no other excuse than that he had learned from the whites to be careless about taking life." 36 Nonetheless, Muir's overall impressions of Thlinkit culture were strongly positive, so much so that he became one of them in spirit, and they even grew to understand and appreciate his extreme fascination for the remote wilderness of glaciers and mountain peaks.

To feel completely at home with a different people is to experience, in part, a oneness with them. Muir was brought back to his boyhood in bonny Scotland by experiencing such simple joys as eating sliced, raw turnips with Indians. And when Muir stayed with an Indian chief on Admiralty Island he "never felt more at home. The loving kindness bestowed on the little ones made the house glow." '37 On the way to Glacier Bay, a bad storm frightened Muir's Indian friends, Kadachan and Toyattc. To illustrate how much Muir had become part of Indian culture, I quote the following passage describing his words of cheer and their effect: "They seemed to be losing heart with every howl of the wind, and, fearing that they might fail me now that I was in the midst of so grand a congregation of glaciers, I made haste to reassure them, telling them that for ten years I had wandered alone among mountains and storms, and good luck always followed me; that with me, therefore, they need fear nothing. The storm would soon cease and the sun would shine to show us the way we should go, for God cares for us and guides us as long as we arc trustful and brave, therefore all childish fear must be put away. This little speech did good. Kadachan, with some show of enthusiasm, said he liked to travel with good-luck people; and dignified old Toyatte declared that now his heart was strong again, and he would venture on with me as far as I liked for my 'wawa' was 'delait' (my talk was very good). The old warrior even became a little sentimental, and said that even if the canoe was broken he would not greatly care, because on the way to the other world he would have good companions." 38 And it wasn't long until the Indians with Muir began to take delight in things they never before enjoyed like seeing glaciers and hearing the roar of icebergs breaking off into bays. One old chief whom Muir met on his third trip to Alaska actually stripped off his dry clothes and put on wet ones in sympathy for his white friend who continued on into stormy and drenched glacial country.

John Muir had to overcome some rather stringent preconceptions of Indians to love and respect his Thlinkit friends. The fact that he did consider them to be American orientals recently migrated from Siberia may have helped; he, too, after all, was an immigrant from Europe. But whether he could have gained the same respect for the older Sioux tribes of the Plains or for the Algonquins of the eastern woodlands is a moot point. One would presume that Muir would have reacted favorably to Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux especially considering his deep respect for the sacredness of the land so evident in John G. Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks. Muir learned from the Thlinkits that happiness in one's original environment is a true key to ecological wisdom. To be happy in a place is to be one with it. If a new settler or immigrant to a strange land cannot develop a sense of happiness, he will probably leave for some place else. Thlinkits took delight in simplistic wilderness living. As he wrote in Travels in Alaska, "There can be no happiness in this world or in any other for those who may not be happy here." 39 The Thlinkits were basically a merry people; one need only recall Kadachan's laughter over his own bungling attempts to retrieve a shot duck. Laughter and happiness connote inner harmony so essential to outer harmony. But many problems introduced by white men have caused sadness. Muir, like our own contemporary Arctic Scotsman Duncan Pryde, expressed a deep concern for the protection of the rights of these Northern peoples: "Unprincipled whisky-laden traders are their bane; common-sense Christian teachers their greatest blessing. A few good missionaries, a few good cannon with men behind them, and fair play, protection from whisky, is all the Alaska Indians require. Uncle Sam has no better subjects, white, black, or brown, or any more deserving his considerate care." 40 Muir's boyhood hesitant sympathy for Indians evolved into compassionate concern as a result of his Alaskan journeys.


1. John Muir, Boyhood and Youth (Boston, 1916), pp. 174-17 5.
2. Thomas J. Lyon, John Muir (Boise, 1972), pp. 14-15.
3. John Muir, Life and Letters (Boston, 1916), I, 223.
4. John Muir, Mountains of California (Boston, 1916), II, pp. 254-263.
5. John Muir, Steep Trails (Boston, 1916), p. 41.
6. Steep Trails, pp. 169-170.
7. Steep Trails, p. 375.
8. John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (Boston, 1916), p. 226.
9. Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods, ed. Joseph J. Moldenhauer (Princeton,
1972), pp. 6-7.
10. John Muir, Travels in Alaska (Boston, 1916), pp. 42-43.
11. Ibid., p. 90
12. Ibid., p. 91.
1}. Ibid., pp. 143-144.
14. Ibid., p. 150.
15. Ibid., pp. 151-152.
16. John Muir, The Cruise of the Corwin (Boston, 1918), p. 32.
17. Ibid., p. 228,
18. Ibid., p. 234.
19. Ibid., p. 122.
20. John Muir, The Mountains of California (Boston, 1916), II, p. 291.
21. Herbert F. Smith, John Muir (New York, 1965), p. 104.
22. Travels in Alaska, p. 286.
23. Ibid., p. 268.
24. Ibid., p. 1 SB.
25. Ibid., pp. 169-170.
26. Ibid., p. 191.
27. Ibid., p. 145.
28. Ibid., p. 242.
29. Ibid., p. 245.
30. John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished journals of John Muir, ed.
Linnie Marsh Wolfe (Boston, 1938), p. 273.
31. John of the Mountains, p. 315.
32. Samuel Hall Young, Alaska Days with John Muir (New York, 1915), p. 92.
33. Linnie Marsh Wolfe, Son of the Wilderness (New York, 1945), pp. 211· 212.
34. Travels in Alaska, p. 167.
3S. Ibid., p. 162.
36. Ibid., p. 285.
37. Ibid., p. 160.
38. Ibid., p. 179.
39. Ibid., p. 86.
40. John of the Mountains, p. 275.


Source: American Indian Quarterly, Vol 4 No 1 Feb., 1978, pg. 19-31. Reprinted on the John Muir Exhibit by permission of the author.

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