Biography of the Father of National Parks: John Muir

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and nature preservationist John Muir were photographed on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park in 1906. Upper and lower Yosemite Falls are in the background.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and nature preservationist John Muir were photographed on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park in 1906. Upper and lower Yosemite Falls are in the background. | Source

John Muir's Early Years

John Muir—naturalist, author, conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club, activist who petitioned the US Congress for the passage of the National Park bill—was born in Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland on April 21, 1838, the third oldest of eight children. The National Park bill established both Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park in California. Muir's activism helped preserve Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other wildness areas, keeping those areas in their natural state.

Muir's family immigrated to the United States in 1849, when Muir was 11 years old. Daniel Muir, John Muir's father, was a very religious man. He felt that the Church of Scotland—the Presbyterian Church—was not strict enough in faith and practice, so the family left Dunbar for Portage, Wisconsin and joined the Disciples of Christ, a congregation of the Campbellite Restoration Movement. At the age of 11, John Muir was "persuaded" by his father to memorize and be able to recite all of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament.

John Muir was photographed by Francis M. Fritz in 1907.
John Muir was photographed by Francis M. Fritz in 1907. | Source

College Years and Avoiding the Military Draft

John Muir enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and studied botany, chemistry, and geology. The science courses Muir took had a profound influence on him, creating a path he would follow for the rest of his life.

Muir dropped out of the university in 1864 at the age of 26 and went to Canada in order to avoid the military draft. He spent nine months in the woods and swamps of the Lake Huron area collecting plants. In the winter of 1864, Muir and his brother Dan, who had also left the United States to avoid the draft, found jobs at a saw mill in Ontario.

John Muir returned to the United States in the spring of 1866. He worked in Indianapolis, Indiana for a year at a factory which manufactured wagon wheels. Muir's eye was injured in an accident at the factory, and he had to remain in a darkened room for six weeks. During the period in the darkened room, Muir kept thinking of the outdoors and the beauty and wonder of nature.

When his period of convalescence was over, Muir didn't return to his job at the factory. Instead, he decided to go for a walk.

Muir Walks from Indiana to Florida

Muir walked from Indiana to Florida, a distance of nearly 1000 miles—1600 kilometers. He chronicled his journey in his book, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Muir's plan when he reached Florida was to book passage on a ship to South America and meander from one end of the continent to the other. Muir contracted malaria in Florida, so instead of sailing to South America, he sailed to New York.

John Muir Travels to California

When he arrived in New York, John Muir booked passage to San Francisco, California. He traveled to Yosemite National Park as soon as he arrived in San Francisco in the early spring of 1868.

Yosemite Valley

John Muir's Yosemite Years

John Muir spent a week in Yosemite, exploring as much as he could in that short period of time. He returned to Yosemite and obtained work as a shepherd. Using the knowledge he gained while working at the saw mill in Canada, Muir designed a mill which was powered by water. He used the mill, located at Yosemite Creek, to cut trees which had been felled by the wind. He used the wood to build a cabin by the creek.

Muir lived in the cabin for two years, spending his time exploring Yosemite's back country and also discovering as much as he could about Yosemite Valley. Muir's knowledge of botany and geology and his living in Yosemite Valley caused him to become known as the best person to serve as a Yosemite guide.

Views of Yosemite National Park

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Half DomeHalf Dome in the background, Mirror Lake in the foregroundMirror Lake in Yosemite ValleyMirror Lake in Yosemite ValleyYosemite Falls, the highest measured waterfall in North America—2,425 feet (739 meters)—is located at an elevation of 5,404 feet (1,647 meters)Mule Deer in Yosemite Valley
Half Dome
Half Dome | Source
Half Dome in the background, Mirror Lake in the foreground
Half Dome in the background, Mirror Lake in the foreground | Source
Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley
Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley | Source
Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley
Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley | Source
Yosemite Falls, the highest measured waterfall in North America—2,425 feet (739 meters)—is located at an elevation of 5,404 feet (1,647 meters)
Yosemite Falls, the highest measured waterfall in North America—2,425 feet (739 meters)—is located at an elevation of 5,404 feet (1,647 meters) | Source
Mule Deer in Yosemite Valley
Mule Deer in Yosemite Valley | Source

Yosemite National Park is Established

John Muir, who had proven that Yosemite Valley had been formed by the activity of glaciers rather than by earthquakes, wanted the pristine nature of the Yosemite area—especially Yosemite Valley—preserved. Muir wrote two articles for Century magazine in 1890, The Treasure of the Yosemite and Features of the Proposed National Park.

He used his influence to have a bill introduced in the US Congress in 1890 to have the Yosemite area declared a national park. Yellowstone National Park had already been established, and Muir wanted the same for Yosemite.

Congress passed a bill on September 30, 1890 which created Yosemite National Park and also paved the way for a national park system in the United States. The bill followed the recommendations set forth in Muir's two magazine articles, but Yosemite Valley was not included in the land designed as being in Yosemite National Park. The bill left Yosemite Valley in the control of the state, which was greatly mismanaging the natural resources of the area.


Theodore Roosevelt Goes Camping with John Muir

When I visited Yosemite National Park a few years ago, I took a train from Orange County, California to the town of Merced, followed by a bus from Merced to Yosemite Valley. In 1903, United States President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt and John Muir traveled together to Yosemite by taking a train from Oakland, California to the town of Raymond, followed by a stagecoach to Yosemite Valley.

While traveling, Muir explained to the president, an ardent naturalist, that the state was mismanaging Yosemite Valley, thereby causing its natural resources to be destroyed. Before they had even reached their destination, John Muir had convinced "Teddy" Roosevelt that Yosemite Valley should be under federal control.

After viewing the sites in Yosemite Valley, the president decided he wanted to go camping in the back country and see more of the park. Roosevelt and Muir set out without a large entourage, and camped in the open air at Glacier Point. When they awoke, they were covered by a dusting of fresh snow. The president's trip to Yosemite is said by historians to be one of the most memorable events of his life.

In 1905, thanks to the efforts of John Muir, Congress transferred Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Redwoods from state to federal control.

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Comments 44 comments

Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 3 years ago from United States

I have been to Yosemite a couple of times and read about this icon.

It was good to know the history and how all these parks came under the federal control.

Interesting read, Daisy!

Sharing it across!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Ruchira,

Thanks for reading my article and being the first person to comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub.

I was aware of John Muir's association with Yosemite and Theodore Roosevelt. I learned a lot about Muir's early history while doing the research for my article.


Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 3 years ago from Brownsville,TX

Daisy how interesting and what a fabulous hub.. thank you for researching and writing this..I love the history on the parks and this man that cared so much.. and the books he wrote .. I know I will be ordering

Happy new Year to you

Sharing and pinning and twittering

Debbie


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Debbie,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub, and pinning and tweeting it.

John Muir was a remarkable man. Without his dedication to the national parks system, Yosemite Valley and Yosemite National Park would be very different places today.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this well researched piece. We have Muir Woods just north of us.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Martin (Mhatter99),

Thanks for reading and commenting in my article. There are a number of places in California named for John Muir, a fitting tribute to the man who helped preserve parts of our beautiful state.


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

Wonderfully interesting and so simply told. I did enjoy reading this lovely nub on such a very original great man. Thank you. Voting and sharing.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Penelope (GoodLady),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading and commenting in my article. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub. I appreciate your very kind words.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 3 years ago from Orange County, CA

It might be a good idea to have a holiday honoring this man's birthday, since we might not have had national parks because of his efforts. Voting this Up and Interesting.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Aurelio (alocsin),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. At the very least, there should be a "John Muir Day."


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

A great hub about a great man. Good job Daisy!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Sherry,

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Even though I knew a lot about John Muir, I learned quite a bit from doing my research for the Hub.


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

Very interesting and informative Hub, Daisy. Now I know more about this remarkable man, John Muir.

I visited Yosemite once, and I was amazed at the beauty of it all. I'm glad Muir had it made into a national park.

I voted this UP, and will share.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I used to tell my students about Muir walking to Florida and they wouldn't believe me. LOL I would imagine there are some adults who don't believe it either, and yet he did do it.

His book chronicling his time as a shepherd is poetic prose; his descriptions of nature in that book are some of the most beautiful ever written.

Great job of reviewing his life, Daisy, and thank you for the link. Happy New Year to you.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mary (mary615),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub.

Without John Muir, who knows what would have happened to Yosemite Valley and the rest of the Yosemite area?


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Bill (billybuc),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your anecdote and insightful comment. As soon as I began doing the research for my Hub, I thought of you and the great national parks articles you've published. I'm glad I was able to link to one of your Hubs.

I have two of Muir's books in the Cloud for my Kindle Fire, "The Yosemite" and "The Mountains of California." I think I'm going to download them to my tablet and read them while I'm on the recumbent bicycle at the gym.

Thanks for your New Year wishes. Happy New Year to Bev and you.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 3 years ago from Dubai

An interesting hub for the start of New Year. Hope to visit this park sometime soon!! Happy New Year.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nithya (Vellur),

Happy New Year. Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I appreciate your continued support of writing.

I hope you do get to visit Yosemite National Park and stay in Yosemite Valley some time in the future. Anyone wanting to stay in motel-like accommodations in Yosemite Lodge in Yosemite Valley has to book their room approxmately a year in advance.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina

Awesome hub, Daisy. I love the photos you took-clear shots, all of them. I've been to Yosemite a couple of times and its beauty is astounding. Your article is filled with info I did not know about J.M. Thanks for this very interesting hub. Sharing. Up/U/I/A/B

It's amazing that as early as the 1800's men left the U.S. for Canada to avoid the draft! I thought that was a Nam thing.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Denise,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub.

I'm glad you liked the photographs. I've been able to find images on Wikimedia Commons for many of the Hubs I publish.


Poetic Fool 3 years ago

Nice write, Daisy. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a few things. Thank goodness Yosemite and so many other places were preserved for posterity by Muir's efforts. Yosemite is one of my favorite places. Though I haven't been in a number of years, backpacking the Yosemite back country is one of my favorite things. I wish I knew then that I was following the footsteps of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt! Thanks for sharing this interesting hub!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Rick (Poetic Fool),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I appreciate your very kind words.

I knew about the John Muir / Teddy Roosevelt connection, but I learned a lot of other things about Muir while doing my research.

Yosemite is one of my favorite places to visit. I like staying at the Yosemite Lodge in Yosemite Village. I wish it wasn't necessary to reserve a room at least a year in advance. Sometimes it's difficult to plan vacations that way.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Beautiful pace and valuable information a lovely photo explains it all


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Devika (DDE),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Yosemite National Park is a beautiful place. I hope you get to visit it some day.


jhamann profile image

jhamann 3 years ago from Reno NV

John Muir is one of my heroes, and we tell the story of Stickeen the dog to my children every once in a while. Jamie


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Jamie (jhamann),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment.

I own two of John Muir's books, but I've never read the story he wrote about Stickeen. I'll have to put it on my "to read" list.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

Oh Daisy, how lucky we are for John Muir! Can you imagine if Yellowstone had been destroyed. This was so interesting, seems he was definitely in tune with nature. BTW your pictures are beautiful!

Voted up, useful, and interesting. P.S. When in CA I got to see Muir Woods.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mary (tillsontitan),

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I appreciate your continued support of my writing.

I'm glad you liked my photographs of Yosemite National Park. The park is so picturesque, I think it's difficult to not take great photos!


midget38 profile image

midget38 3 years ago from Singapore

Daisy, thank you for a tribute to a man who has certainly done wonders for the environment. Thanks for sharing, and I am passing this on.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Michelle (midget38),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub.

If it wasn't for John Muir, there wouldn't be a National Park system in the United States. What a great loss that would be!


rdsparrowriter profile image

rdsparrowriter 3 years ago

Interesting hub with so much to learn. Thank you for sharing. Voted up and shared :) God bless you!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

rdsparrowriter,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub. I'm glad you learned something new from the information I discussed.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

This is wonderful Daisy! We could all take a lesson or two from him on treasuring our environment!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Audrey,

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. If it weren't for John Muir, the United States would very likely never have had National Parks.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Excellent Hub! I love state and national parks. They are so important to our country. This is a new take on parks that many of us, me included, were totally not aware of . Thanks for the enlightenment!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Rebecca,

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I appreciate your very kind words.

I learned a lot about John Muir while doing the research for my article. I was aware of his association with Yosemite National Park, but I didn't know very much about his earlier years. We all would have missed out on so much if it were not for John Muir.


DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

DrBill-WmL-Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

Thanks for a neat hub on John Muir. I read a biography of him. I just finished The Bully Pulpit, about Teddy R. I appreciate you sharing this information and viewpoint! ;-)


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Bill (DrBill-WmL-Smith),

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed my Hub. If it weren't for John Muir, I don't think we would have a national park system in the United States.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 23 months ago from Nashville Tn.

I never get enough of beautiful Muir Woods. I will link this hub to my own about Muir Woods. Thanks Daisy.

Audrey


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 23 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Audrey (vocalcoach),

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. Thanks, too, for adding the link from your Hub to mine.

Where would we be without John Muir?


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 10 months ago from Orlando, FL

Interesting article! Way to go, John Muir for his dedication and to Daisy for recognizing his accomplishments! :)


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 10 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Linda (Sunshine625),

Thank for reading my article and posting your comment. Lovers of the outdoors owe a lot to John Muir.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 10 months ago from Dubai

Great hub, came back to read again. Thanks to John Muir the concept of National Parks was born.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 10 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nithya (Vellur),

Thanks for returning to read my article another time. John Muir did an incredible job in developing the concept of national parks.

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