Muir, John

John Muir (1838-1914) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the United States in 1849. He learned about the natural world by studying it as a boy. He entered but did not graduate from the University of Wisconsin. Blinded for one month by an eye injury while working in a shop, Muir determined to live in nature. He walked from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, and later crisscrossed the west coast until he settled in California, which became his home. He developed a new theory about the glaciers of the state’s past and became well-known for his thinking about nature. Although Muir married Louisa (Louie) Wanda Strentzel in 1880 and became a fruit farmer, he never stopped traveling. He went to Asia, Europe, Alaska, South America, Australia, and wrote about his journeys.

Muir crusaded to stop the despoilment of natural places by western cattle and sheep ranchers and with Century Magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson, was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite and other national parks such as Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Mount Rainier, and Sequoia. His efforts culminated in the founding of the Sierra Club in 1892.

Theodore Roosevelt read Muir’s writings and in 1903 they spent three nights camping in Yosemite together. Muir and Roosevelt did not see eye to eye on hunting, but Roosevelt was sympathetic to Muir’s philosophies concerning the need to preserve wild spaces for the health of the universe—including humans. Roosevelt esteemed Muir and called him Oom John, an affectionate term meaning “uncle” in Dutch.  Muir died in 1914, secure in his role as one of the leading voices for wilderness preservation.