John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland, in 1838 and died in Los
Angeles, California, in 1914. His family emigrated to Wisconsin in 1849
to work a series of hardscrabble farms under the direction of a
religious zealot father, whose fire and brimstone was tempered by a
loving and good humored mother. He studied the natural sciences at the
University of Wisconsin, but did not take a degree. After recovering
from blindness caused by an industrial accident in 1868, he began 40
years of intermittent wandering in the wilderness of North America,
which produced some of the best nature writing in the English language.
His works include The Mountains of California, Our National Parks, My
First Summer in the Sierra, Steep Trails, Stickeen, and others.
Muir's great contribution to wilderness preservation was to
successfully promote the idea that wilderness had spiritual as well as
economic value. This revolutionary idea was possible only because Muir
was able to publish everything he wrote in the four principal monthly
magazines read by the American middle class in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries (Scribner's, Atlantic Monthly,
Harper's, and Century). This was the present day equivalent
of being able to control the content of all three major television
networks. As power begets the respect of the powerful, Muir's good will
and opinion were sought by some of the most powerful figures in his
time; men such as railroad baron Edward Henry Harriman and Theodore
Roosevelt. The young borax magnate, Stephen T. Mather was a disciple of
Muir's and an early member of Muir's famed Sierra Club.
Although Muir died two years before the creation of the National Park
Service, he may not have been entirely happy with the choice of
departments to administer his beloved national parks. Muir regarded the
Department of the Interior of the time to be staffed by incompetents, if
not outright criminals, and much preferred the incorruptability of the
guardian of the time, the U.S. Army.