AFTER his marriage Muir
rented from his father-in-law a part of the Strentzel ranch, and then
proceeded with great thoroughness to master the art of horticulture, for
which he possessed natural and perhaps inherited aptitude. But when July
came, the homing instinct for the wilderness again grew strong within him.
He doubtless had an understanding with his wife that he was to continue
during the next summer the unfinished explorations of 1879. The lure of
"something lost behind the ranges" was in his case a glacier, as Mr. Young
reports in his "Alaska Days with John Muir." The more immediate occasion of
his departure was a letter from his friend Thomas Magee, of San Francisco,
urging him to join him on a trip to southeastern Alaska. The two had
traveled together before, and he acted at once upon the suggestion, leaving
for the North on July 30th.
To Mrs. Muir
OFF CAPE FLATTERY
Monday, August 2d, 1880 10 A.M.
MY DEAR WIFE:
All goes well. In a few hours
we will be in Victoria. The voyage thus far has been singularly calm and
uneventful. Leaving you is the only event that has marred the trip and it is
marred sorely, but I shall make haste to you and reach you ere you have the
time to grieve and weary. If you will only be calm and cheery all will be
better for my short spell of ice-work.
The sea has been very smooth,
nevertheless Mr. Magee has been very sick. Now he is better. As for me I
have made no sign, though I have had some headache and heartache. We are now
past the Flattery Rocks, where we were so roughly storm-tossed last winter,
and Neah Bay, where we remained thirty-six hours. How placid it seems now -
the water black and gray with reflections from the cloudy sky, fur seals
popping their heads up here and there, ducks and gulls dotting the small
waves, and Indian fishing-boats towards the shore, each with a small glaring
red flag flying from the masthead.
Behind the group of white
houses nestled in the deepest bend of the bay rise rounded, ice-swept hills,
with mountains beyond them folding in and in, in beautiful braids, and all
densely forested. We are so near the shore that with the mate's glasses I
can readily make out some of the species of the trees. The forest is in the
main scarce at all different from those of the Alaskan coast. Now the Cape
Lighthouse is out of sight and we are fairly into the strait. Vancouver
Island is on [the] left in fine clear view, with forests densely packed in
every hollow and over every bill and mountain. How beautiful it is! How deep
and shadowy its canons, how eloquently it tells the story of its sculpture
during the Age of Ice! How perfectly virgin it is! Ships loaded with Nanaimo
coal and Puget Sound coal and lumber, a half- dozen of them, are about us,
beating their way down the strait, and here and there a pilot boat to
represent civilization, but not one scar on the virgin shore, nor the smoke
of a hut or camp.
I have just been speaking
with a man who has spent a good deal of time on the island. He says that so
impenetrable is the underbrush, his party could seldom make more than two
miles a day though assisted by eight Indians. Only the shores are known.
Now the wind is beginning to
freshen and the small waves are tipped with white, milk- white, caps, almost
the only ones we have seen since leaving San Francisco. The Captain and
first officer have been very attentive to us, giving us the use of their
rooms and books, etc., besides answering all our questions anent the sea and
We shall reach Victoria about
two or three o'clock. The California will not sail before tomorrow sometime,
so that we shall have plenty [of] time to get the charts and odds and ends
we need before leaving. Mr. Magee will undoubtedly go on to Wrangell, but
will not be likely to stop over.
Ten minutes past two by your
We are just rounding the
Esquimalt Lighthouse, and in a few minutes more will be tied up at the
wharf. Quite a lively breeze is blowing from the island, and the strait is
ruffled with small shining wavelets glowing in the distance like silver.
Hereabouts many lofty moutonned rock-bosses rise above the forests, bare of
trees, but brown looking from the mosses that cover them. Since entering the
strait, the heavy swell up and down, up and down, has vanished and all the
sick have got well and are out in full force, gazing at the harbor with the
excitement one always feels after a voyage, whether the future offers much
brightness or not.
The new Captain of the
California is said to be good and careful, and the pilot and purser I know
well, so that we will feel at home during the rest of our trip as we have
thus far; and as for the main objects, all Nature is unchangeable, loves us
all, and grants gracious welcome to every honest votary.
I hope you do not feel that I
am away at all. Any real separation is not possible. I have been alone, as
far as [concerns] the isolation that distance makes, so much of my lifetime
that separation seems more natural than absolute contact, which seems too
good and indulgent to be true.
Her Majesty's ironclad
Triumph is lying close alongside. How huge she seems and impertinently
strong and defiant, with a background of honest green woods! Jagged-toothed
wolves and wildcats harmonize smoothly enough, but engines for the
destruction of human beings are only devilish, though they carry preachers
and prayers and open up views of sad, scant tears. Now we are making fast.
"Make fast that line there, make fast," "let go there," "give way."
We will go on to Victoria
this afternoon, taking our baggage with us, and stay there until setting out
on the California. The ride of three miles through the woods and round the
glacial bosses is very fine. This you would enjoy. I shall look for the
roses. Will mail this at once, and write again before leaving this grand old
And now, my dear Louie, keep
a good heart and do the bits of work I requested you to do, and the days in
Alaska will go away fast enough and I will be with you again as if .1 had
been gone but one day.
Ever your affectionate husband
To Mrs. Muir
August 3, 1880, 3.45 P.M.
The Vancouver roses are out
of bloom hereabouts but I may possibly find some near Nanaimo. I mailed you
a letter yesterday which you will probably receive with this.
Arriving at Esquimalt we
hired a carriage driven by a sad-eyed and sad-lipped negro to take us with
all our baggage to Victoria, some three miles distant. The horses were also
of melancholic aspect, lean and clipper-built in general, but the way they
made the fire fly from the glacial gravel would have made Saint Jose and his
jet beef-sides hide in the dust. By dint of much blunt praise of his team he
put them to their wiry spring-steel metal and we passed everything on the
road with a whirr - cab, cart, carriage, and carryall. We put up at the
Driard House and had a square, or cubical, meal. Put on a metallic
countenance to the landlord on account of the money and experience we
carried, nearly scared him out of his dignity and made him give us good
At 6.45 P.M. the California
arrived, and we went aboard and had a chat with Hughes, the purser. He at
once inquired whether I had any one with me, meaning you, as Vanderbilt had
given our news. Learned that the California would not sail until this
evening and made up our minds to take a drive out in the highways and byways
adjacent to the town. While strolling about the streets last evening I felt
a singular interest in the Thlinkit Indians I met and something like a
missionary spirit came over me. Poor fellows, I wish I could serve them.
There is good eating, but
poor sleeping here. My bed was but little like our own at home. Met Major
Morris, the Treasury agent, this morning. He is going up with us. He is, you
remember, the writer of that book on Alaska that I brought with me.
About nine o'clock we got a
horse and buggy at the livery stable and began our devious drive by going
back to the Dakota to call on First Officer Griffith and give him a box of
weeds for his kind deeds. Then took any road that offered out into the green
leafy country. How beautiful it is, every road banked high and embowered in
dense, fresh, green, tall ferns six to eight feet high close to the wheels,
then spira, two or three species, wild rose bushes, madroño, hazel,
hawthorn, then a host of young Douglas spruces and silver firs with here and
there a yew with its red berries and dark foliage, and a maple or two, then
the tall firs and spruces forming the forest primeval. We came to a good
many fields of grain, but all of them small as compared with the number of
the houses. The oats and barley are just about ripe. We saw little orchards,
too; a good many pears, little red-brown fellows, six hatfuls per tree, and
the queerest little sprinkling of little red and yellow cherries just
beginning to ripen. Many of the cottage homes about town are as lovely as a
cottage may be, embowered in honeysuckle and green gardens and bits of lawn
and orchard and grand oaks with lovely outlooks. The day has been
delightful. How you would have enjoyed it - all three of you.
Our baggage is already aboard
and the hour draws nigh. I must go. I shall write you again from Nanaimo.
Good-bye again, my love. Keep
a strong heart and speedily will fly the hours that bring me back to thee.
Love to mother and father. Farewell.
Ever your affectionate husband
To Mrs. Muir
ON BOARD THE CALIFORNIA 10
A.M., August 4th, 1880
We are still lying alongside
the wharf at Victoria. It seems a leak was discovered in one of the water
tanks that had to be mended, and the result was that we could not get off on
the seven o'clock tide last night.
Victoria seems a dry,
dignified, half-idle town, supported in great part by government fees. Every
erect, or more than erect, back- leaning, man has an office, and carries
himself with that peculiar aplomb that all the Hail Britannia people are so
noted for. The wharf and harbor stir is very mild. The steamer Princess
Louise lies alongside ours, getting ready for the trip to New Westminster on
[the] Fraser River. The Hudson's Bay Company's steamer Otter, a queer old
tubby craft, left for the North last night. A few sloops, plungers, and
boats are crawling about the harbor or lying at anchor, doing or dreaming a
business nobody knows. Yonder comes an Indian canoe with its one unique sail
calling up memories, many, of my last winter's rambles among the icebergs.
The water is ruffled with a slight breeze, scarce enough for small
white-caps. Though clearer than the waters of most harbors, it is not
without the ordinary drift of old bottles, straw, and defunct domestic
animals. How rotten the piles of the wharf are, and how they smell, even in
this cool climate!
They are taking hundreds of
barrels of molasses aboard - for what purpose? To delight the Alaska
younglings with 'lasses bread and smear their happy chubby cheeks, or to
make cookies and gingerbread? No, whiskey, Indian whiskey! It will be bought
by Indians, nine tenths of it and more; they will give their hard- earned
money for it, and their hard-caught furs, and take it far away along many a
glacial channel and inlet, and make it into crazing poison. Onions, too,
many a ton, are coming aboard to boil and fry and raise a watery cry.
Alone on the wharf, I see a
lone stranger dressed in shabby black. He has a kind of unnerved, drooping
look, his shoulders coming together and his toes and his knees and the two
ends of his vertebral column, something like a withering leaf in hot
sunshine. Poor fellow, he looks at our ship as if he wanted to go again to
the mines to try his luck. And here come two Indian women and a little girl
trotting after them. They seem as if they were coming aboard, but turn aside
at the edge of the wharf and descend rickety stairs to their canoe, tied to
a pile beneath the wharf. Now they reappear with change of toilet, and the
little girl is carrying a bundle, something to eat or sell or sit on.
Yonder comes a typical John
Bull, grand in size and style, carmine in countenance, abdominous and
showing a fine tight curve from chin to knee, when seen in profile, yet
benevolent withal and reliable, confidence-begetting. And here just landed
opposite our ship is a pile of hundreds of bears' skins, black and brown,
from Alaska, brought here by the Otter, a few deer skins too, and wildcat
and wolverine. The Hudson's Bay Company men are about them, showing their
Ten minutes to twelve o'clock
"Let go that line there,"
etc., tells that we are about to move. Our steamer swings slowly round and
heads for Nanaimo. How beautiful the shores are! How glacial, yet how leafy!
The day becomes calmer, and brighter, and everybody seems happy. Our fellow
passengers are Major Morris and wife, whom I met last year, Judge Deady, a
young Englishman, and [a] dreamy, silent old gray man like a minister.
We are entering Nanaimo
To Mrs. Muir
A FEW MILES FROM NANAThIO
9 August 5th, 1880
We are coaling here, and what
a rumble they are making! The shores here are very imposing, a beveled
bluff, topped with giant cedar, spruce, and fir and maple with varying
green; here and there a small madroño too, which here is near its northern
We went ashore last eve at
Nanaimo for a stroll, Magee and I, and we happened to meet Mr. Morrison, a
man that I knew at Fort Wrangell, who told me particulars of the sad Indian
war in which Toyatte was killed. He was present and gave very graphic
We sailed hither at daylight
this morning, and will probably get away, the Captain tells me, about eleven
o'clock, and then no halt until we reach Wrangell, which is distant from
here about sixty hours.
I hardly know, my lassie, what I've been writing, nothing, I fear, but very
small odds and ends, and yet these may at least keep you from wearying for
an hour, and the letters, poor though they be, shall yet tell my love, and
that will redeem them. I mail this here, the other two were mailed in
Victoria, my next from Wrangell.
Heaven bless you, my love,
and mother and father. I trust that you are caring for yourself and us all
by keeping cheery and strong, and avoiding the bad practice of the
stair-dance. Once more, my love, farewell, I must close in haste. Farewell.
Ever your affectionate husband
Missionary S. Hall Young was
standing on the wharf at Fort Wrangell on the 8th of August, watching the
California coming in, when to his great joy he spied John Muir standing on
the deck and waving his greetings. Springing nimbly ashore, Muir at once
fired at him the question, "When can you be ready?" In response to Young's
expostulations over his haste, and his failure to bring his wife, he
exclaimed: "Man, have you forgotten? Don't you know we lost a glacier last
fall? Do you think I could sleep soundly in my bed this winter with that
hanging on my conscience? My wife could not come, so I have come alone and
you've got to go with me to find the lost. Get your canoe and crew and let
us be off."
To Mrs. Muir
SITKA ON BOARD THE CALIFORNIA
August 10th, 1880
10.30 P.M. of your time
MY OWN DEAR LOUIE:
I'm now about as far from you
as I will be this year - only this wee sail to the North and then to thee,
my lassie. And I'm not away at all, you know, for only they who do not love
may ever be apart. There is no true separation for those whose hearts and
souls are together. So much for love and philosophy. And now I must trace
you my way since leaving Nanairno.
We sailed smoothly through
the thousand evergreen isles, and arrived at Fort Wrangell at 4.30 A.M. on
the 8th. Left Wrangell at noon of the same day and arrived here on the 9th
at 6 A.M. Spent the day in friendly greetings and saunterings. Found Mr.
Vanderbilt and his wife and Johnnie and, not every way least, though lat,
little Annie, who is grown in stature and grace and beauty since last I
To-day Mr. Vanderbilt kindly
took myself and Mr. Magee and three other fellow passengers on an excursion
on his steamer up Peril Strait, about fifty miles. (You can find it on one
of the charts that I forgot to bring.) We returned to the California about
half-past nine, completing my way thus far.
And now for my future plans.
The California sails to-morrow afternoon some time for Fort Wrangell, and I
mean to return on her and from there set out on my canoe trip. I do not
expect to be detained at Wrangell, inasmuch as I saw Mr. [S. Hall] Young,
who promised to have a canoe and crew ready. I mean to keep close along the
mainland, exploring the deep inlets in turn, at least as far north as the
Taku, then push across to Cross Sound and follow the northern shore,
examining the glaciers that crowd into the deep inlet that puts back
northward from near the south extremity of the Sound, where I was last year.
Thence I mean to return eastward along the southern shore of the Sound to
Chatham Strait, turn southward down the west shore of the Strait to Peril
Strait, and follow this strait to Sitka, where I shall take the California.
Possibly, however, I may, should I not be pushed for time, return to
Wrangell. Mr. Magee will, I think, go with me, though very unwilling to do
August 11th, at noon
I have just returned from a
visit to the Jamestown. The Commander, Beardslee, paid me a visit here last
evening, and invited me aboard his ship. Had a pleasant chat, and an
invitation to make the Jamestown my home while here.
I also found my friend
Koshoto, the Chief of the Hoonas, the man who, I told you, had entertained
Mr. Young and me so well last year on Cross Sound, and who made so good a
speech. He is here trading, and seemed greatly pleased to learn that I was
going to pay him another visit; said that meeting me was like meeting his
own brother who was dead, his heart felt good, etc. .
I have been learning all
about the death of the brave and good old Toyatte. I think that Dr. Corliss,
one of the Wrangell missionaries, made a mistake in reference to the seizure
of some whiskey, which caused the beginning of the trouble.
This is a bright, soft, balmy
day. how you would enjoy it! You must come here some day when you are strong
enough. . . . Everybody inquires first on seeing me, "Have you brought your
wife?" and then, "Have you a photograph?" and then pass condemnation for
The mail is about to close,
and I must write to mother.
Affectionately your husband
How eagerly I shall look for
news when I reach Fort Wrangell next month!
To Mrs. Muir
RESIDENCE OF MR. YOUNG, FORT
11.45 A.M., August 14th, 1880
I am back in my old quarters,
and how familiar it all seems! - the lovely water, the islands, the Indians
with their baskets and blankets and berries, the jet ravens prying and
flying here and there, and the bland, dreamy, hushed air drooping and
brooding kindly over all. I miss Toyatte so much. I have just been over the
battleground with Mr. Young, and have seen the spot where he fell.
Instead of coming here direct
from Sitka we called at Kiawak on Prince of Wales Island for freight,
—canned salmon, oil, furs, etc., —which detained us a day. We arrived here
last evening at half-past ten. Klawak is a fishing and trading station
located in a most charmingly beautiful bay, and while lying there, the
evening before last, we witnessed a glorious auroral display which lasted
more than three hours. First we noticed long white lance-shaped streamers
shooting up from a dark cloud-like mass near the horizon, then a
well-defined arch, the corona, almost black, with a luminous edge appeared,
and from it., radiating like spokes from a hub, the streamers kept shooting
with a quick glancing motion, and remaining drawn on the dark sky, distinct,
and white, as fine lines drawn on a blackboard. And when half the horizon
was adorned with these silky fibrous lances of light reaching to and
converging at the zenith, broad flapping folds and waves of the same white
auroral light came surging on from the corona with astonishing energy and
quickness, the folds and waves spending themselves near the zenith like
waves on a smooth sloping sand-beach. But throughout the greater portion of
their courses the motion was more like that of sheet lightning, or waves
made in broad folds of muslin when rapidly shaken; then in a few minutes
those delicate billows of light rolled up among the silken streamers, would
vanish, leaving the more lasting streamers with the stars shining through
them; then some of the seemingly permanent streamers would vanish also, and
appear again in 'vivid white, like rockets shooting with widening base,
their glowing shafts reflected in the calm water of the bay among the stars.
It was all so rare and so
beautiful and exciting to us that we gazed and shouted like children at a
show, and in the middle of it all, after I was left alone on deck at about
half-past eleven, the whole sky was suddenly illumined by the largest meteor
I ever saw. I remained on deck until after midnight, watching. The corona
became crimson and slightly flushed the bases of the streamers, then one by
one the shining pillars of the glorious structure were taken down, the
foundation arch became irregular and broke up, and all that was left was
only a faint structureless glow along the northern horizon, like the
beginning of the dawn of a clear frosty day. The only sounds were the
occasional shouts of the Indians, and the impressive roar of a waterfall.
Mr. Young and I have just
concluded a bargain with the Indians, Lot and his friend, to take us in his
canoe for a month or six weeks, at the rate of sixty dollars per month. Our
company will be those two Indians, and Mr. Young and myself, also an Indian
boy that Mr. Young is to take to his parents at Chilkat, and possibly
Colonel Crittenden as far as Holkham Bay....
You will notice, dear, that I
have changed the plan I formerly sent you in this, that I go on to the
Chilkat for Mr. Young's sake, and farther; now that Mr. Magee is out of the
trip, I shall not feel the necessity I previously felt of getting back to
Sitka or Wrangell in time for the next steamer, though it is barely possible
that I shall. Do not look for me, however, as it is likely I shall have my
hands full for two months. To-morrow is Sunday, so we shall not get away
before Monday, the 16th. How hard it is to wait so long for a letter from
you! I shall not get a word until I return. I am trying to trust that you
will be patient and happy, and have that work done that we talked of.
Every one of my old
acquaintances seems cordially glad to see me. I have not yet seen Shakes,
the Chief, though I shall ere we leave. He is now one of the principal
church members, while Kadachan has been getting drunk in the old style, and
is likely, Mr. Young tells me, to be turned out of the church altogether.
John, our last year's interpreter, is up in the Cassiar mines. Mrs.
McFarlane, Miss Dunbar, and the Youngs are all uncommonly anxious to know
you, and are greatly disappointed in not seeing you here, or at least
getting a peep at your picture. "Why could she not have come up and stayed
with us while you were about your ice business?" they ask in disappointed
tone of voice.
Now, my dear wife, the
California will soon be sailing southward, and I must again bid you
good-bye. I must go, but you, my dear, will go with me all the way. How
gladly when my work is done will I go back to thee! With love to mother and
father, and hoping that God will bless and keep you all, I am ever in heart
and soul the same,
6 P.M. I have just dashed off
a short "Bulletin" letter.
The events that followed are
graphically narrated in Part II of "Travels in Alaska." Eight days after his
arrival at Fort Wrangell, Muir and Mr. Young got started with their party,
which consisted of the two Stickeen Indians - Lot Tyeen and Hunter Joe - and
a half-breed named Smart Billy. There was also Mr. Young's dog Stickeen,
whom Mr. Muir at first accepted rather grudgingly as a supercharge of the
already crowded canoe, but who later won his admiration and became the
subject of one of the noblest dog stories in English literature.
The course of the expedition
led through Wrangell Narrows between Mitkof and Kupreanof Islands, up
Frederick Sound past Cape Fanshaw and across Port Houghton, and then up
Stephens Passage to the entrance of Holkham Bay, also called Sumdum.
Fourteen and a half hours up the Endicott Arm of this bay, which Muir was
the first white man to explore, he found the glacier he had suspected there
- a stream of ice three quarters of a mile wide and eight or nine hundred
feet deep, discharging bergs with sounds of thunder. He had scarcely
finished a sketch of it when he observed another glacial cañon on the west
side of the fiord and, directing his crew to pull around a glaciated
promontory, they came into full view of a second glacier, still pouring its
ice into a branch of the fiord. Muir gave the first of these glaciers the
name Young in honor of his companion, who complains that some later
chart-maker substituted the name Dawes, thus committing the larceny of
stealing his glacier.
In retracing their course,
after some days spent in exploring the head of the fiord, they struck a
side-arm through which the water was rushing with great force. Threading the
narrow entrance, they found themselves in what Muir described as a new
Yosemite in the making. He called it Yosemite Bay, and has furnished a
charming description of its flora, fauna, and physical characteristics in
his "Travels in Alaska."
On August 21st, Young being
detained by missionary duties, Muir set out alone with the Indians to
explore what is now known as the Tracy Arm of Holkham Bay. The second day he
found another kingly glacier hidden within the benmost bore of the fiord.
"There is your lost friend," said the Indians, laughing, and as the thunder
of its detaching bergs reached their ears, they added, "He says, Sagh-a-ya?"
(How do you do?)
After leaving Taku Inlet,
Muir laid his course north through Stephens Passage and around the end of
Admiralty Island, where a camp was made only with difficulty. The next
morning he crossed the Lynn Canal with his boat and crew and pitched camp,
after a voyage of twenty miles, on the west end of Farewell Island, now
Pyramid Island. Early the following day they turned Point Wimbledon, crept
along the lofty north wall of Cross Sound, and entered Taylor Bay. During a
part of this trip, the canoe was exposed to a storm and swells rolling in
past Cape Spencer from the open ocean. It was an undertaking that called for
courage, skill, and hardihood of no mean order.
At the head of Taylor Bay,
Muir found a great glacier consisting of three branches whose combined
fronts had an extent of about eight miles. Camp was made near one of these
fronts in the evening of August 29th. Early the following morning, Muir
became aware that "a wild storm was blowing and calling," and before any one
was astir he was off - too eager to stop for breakfast —into the rain-laden
gale, and out upon the glacier. It was one of the great, inspired days of
his life, immortalized in the story of "Stickeen," the brave little dog [Mr.
Muir received so many letters inquiring about the dog's antecedents that he
asked Mr. Young in 1897 to tell him what he knew of Stickeen's earlier
history. Some readers may be interested in his reply, which was as follows:
"Mrs. Young got him as a present from Mr. H-, that Irish sinner who lived in
a cottage up the beach towards the Presbyterian Mission in Sitka."] that had
become his inseparable companion.
Muir's time was growing
short, so he hastened on with his party the next day into Glacier Bay, where
among other great glaciers he had discovered the previous autumn the one
that now bears his name. Several days were spent there most happily,
exploring and observing glacial action, and then the canoe was turned
Sitka-ward by way of Icy, Chatham, and Peril Straits, arriving in time to
enable him to catch there the monthly mail steamer to Portland. Thus ended
the Alaska trip of 1880.
"After all, have you not
found there is some happiness in this world outside of glaciers, and other
glories of nature?" The friend who put this question to John Muir, in a
letter full of pleasantries and congratulations, had just received from him
a jubilant note announcing the arrival of a baby daughter on March 27th. His
fondness of children now had scope for indulgence at home, and he became a
most devoted husband and father.
But for the time being he was
to be deprived of this new domestic joy. For when he received an invitation
to accompany the United States Revenue steamer Corwin on an Arctic relief
expedition in search of DeLong and the Jeannette, it was decided in family
council that so unusual an opportunity to explore the northern parts of
Alaska and Siberia must not be neglected. His preparations had to be made in
great haste while the citizens of Oakland were giving a banquet in honor of
Captain C. L. Hooper and the officers of the Corwin at the Galinda Hotel in
Oakland on April 29th. Fortunately, the Captain was an old friend whom he
had known in Alaska and to whom he could entrust the purchase of the
necessary polar garments from the natives in Bering Straits.
The Corwin sailed from San
Francisco on May 4, 1881, and the following series of letters was written to
his wife during the cruise. They supplement at many points the more formal
account of his experiences published in "The Cruise of the Corwin." One of
the objectives of the expedition was Wrangell Land in the Arctic Ocean,
north of the Siberian coast, because it had been the expressed intention of
Commander DeLong to reach the North Pole by traveling along its eastern
coast, leaving cairns at intervals of twenty-five miles. It was not known at
this time that Wrangell Land did not extend toward the Pole, but was an
island of comparatively small extent. It was found later, by the log of the
Jeannette, that the vessel had drifted, within sight of the island, directly
across the meridians between which it lies. 'While the Corwin was still
searching for her and her crew, the Jeannette was crushed in the ice and
sank on June 12, 1881, in the Arctic Ocean, one hundred and fifty miles
north of the New Siberian Islands.
Meanwhile Captain Hooper
succeeded in penetrating, with the Corwin, the ice barrier that surrounded
Wrangell Land. So far as known, the first human beings that ever stood upon
the shores of this mysterious island were in Captain Hooper's landing party,
August 12, 1881, and John Muir was of the number. The earliest news of the
event, and of the fact that DeLong had not succeeded in touching either
Herald Island or Wrangell Land, reached the world at large in a letter from
Muir published in the "San Francisco Evening Bulletin," September 29, 1881.
Since the greater part of the
first two letters, written to his wife at sea and while approaching
Unalaska, was quoted in the writer's introduction to "The Cruise of the
Corwin," they are omitted here for the sake of brevity.
To Mrs. Muir
MONDAY, 4 P.M., May 16, 
Since writing this forenoon,
we reached the mouth of the strait that separates Unalaska Island from the
next to the eastward, against a strong headwind and through rough snow
squalls, when the Captain told me that he thought he would not venture
through the Strait to-day, because the swift floodtide setting through the
Strait against the wind was surely raising a dangerously rough sea, but
rather seek an anchorage somewhere in the lee of the bluffs, and wait the
fall of the wind. As he approached the mouth of the Strait, however, he
changed his mind and determined to try it.
When the vessel began to
pitch heavily and the hatches and skylights were closed, I knew that we were
in the Strait, and made haste to get on my overcoat and get up into the
pilothouse to enjoy the view of the waves. The view proved to be far wilder
and more exciting than I expected. Indeed, I never before saw water in so
hearty a storm of hissing, blinding foam. It was all one leaping, clashing,
roaring mass of white, mingling with the air by means of the long hissing
streamers dragged from the wave- tops, and the biting scud. Our little
vessel, swept onward by the flood pouring into Bering's Sea and by her
machinery, was being buffeted by the head-gale and the huge, white,
over-combing waves that made her reel and tremble, though she stood it
bravely and obeyed the helm as if in calm water. After proceeding about five
or six miles into the heart of this grand uproar, it seemed to grow yet
wilder and began to bid defiance to any farther headway against it. At
length, when we had nearly lost our boats and [were] in danger of having our
decks swept, we turned and fled for refuge before the gale. The giant waves,
exulting in their strength, seemed to be chasing us and threatening to
swallow us at a gulp, but we finally made our escape, and were perhaps in no
great danger farther than the risk of losing our boats and having the decks
After going back about ten
miles, we discovered a good anchorage in fifteen fathoms of water in the lee
of a great bluff of lava about two thousand feet high, and here we ride in
comfort while the blast drives past overhead. If we do not get off
to-morrow, I will go ashore and see what I can learn.
Have learned already since
the snow ceased falling that all the region hereabouts has been glaciated
just like that thousand miles to the eastward. All the sculpture shows this
How pleasant it seems to be
able to walk once more without holding on and to have your plate lie still
on the table!
It is clearing up. The
mountains are seen in groups rising back of one another, all pure white. The
sailors are catching codfish. There are two waterfalls opposite our harbor.
Good-night to all. Oh, if I
could touch my baby and thee!
This has been a very grand
day - snow, waves, wind, mountains!
To Mrs. Muir
TUESDAY, May 17, 1881
The gale having abated early
this morning, we left our anchorage on the south side of the island and
steamed round into the Strait to try it again after our last evening's
defeat, and this time we were successful, after a hard contest with the
tide, which flows here at a speed of ten miles an hour.
The clouds lifted and the sun
shone out early this morning, revealing a host of mountains nobly sculptured
and grouped and robed in spotless white. Turn which way you would, the
mountains were seen towering into the dark sky, some of them with streamers
of mealy snow wavering in the wind, a truly glorious sight. The most
interesting feature to me was the fine, clear, telling, glacial
advertisement displayed everywhere in the trends of the numerous inlets and
bays and valleys and ridges, in the peculiar shell-shaped névé amphitheaters
and in the rounded valley bottoms and forms of the peaks and the cliff
fronts facing the sea. No clearer glacial inscriptions are to be found in
any mountain range, though I had been led to believe that these islands were
all volcanic upheavals, scarce at all changed since their emergence from the
waves, but on the contrary I have already discovered that the amount of
glacial degradation has been so great as to cut the peninsula into islands.
I have already been repaid for the pains of the journey.
My health is improving every
day in this bracing cold, and you will hardly recognize me when I return.
The summer will soon pass, and we hope to be back to our homes by October or
November. . . . This is a beautiful harbor, white mountains shutting it in
all around - white nearly to the water's edge.
I will write again ere we
leave, and then you will not hear again, probably, until near the middle of
June, when we expect to meet the St. Paul belonging to the Alaska Commercial
Company at St. Michael. Then I will write and you may receive my letter a
month or two later.
Good-bye until to-morrow.
To Mrs. Muir
WEDNESDAY, May 18th, 1881
The Storm-King of the North
is again up and doing, rolling white, combing waves through the jagged
straits between this marvelous chain of islands, circling them about with
beaten, updashing foam, and piling yet more and more snow on the clustering
cloud-wrapped peaks. But we are safe and snug in this landlocked haven
enjoying the distant storm-roar of wave and wind. I have just been on deck;
it is snowing still and the deep bass of the gale is sounding on through the
mountains. How weird and wild and fascinating all this hearty work of the
storm is to me. I feel a strange love of it all, as I gaze shivering up the
dim white slopes as through a veil darkly, becoming fainter and fainter as
the flakes thicken and at length hide all the land.
Last evening I went ashore
with the Captain, and saw the chief men of the place and the one white
woman, and a good many of the Aleuts. We were kindly and cordially
entertained by the agent of the Alaska Commercial Company, Mr. Greenbaum,
and while seated in his "elegant" parlor could hardly realize that we were
in so remote and cold and silent a wilderness.
As we were seated at our ease
discussing Alaskan and Polar affairs, a knock came to the door, and a tall,
hoary, majestic old man slowly entered, whom I at once took for the Russian
priest, but to whom I was introduced as Dr. Holman. He shook hands with me
very heartily and said, "Mr. Muir, I am glad to see you. I had the pleasure
of knowing you in San Francisco." Then I recognized him as the dignified old
gentleman that I first met three or four years ago at the home of the Smiths
at San Rafael, and we had a pleasant evening together. He has been in the
employ of the Alaska Commercial Company here for a year, caring for the
health of the Company's Aleuts. His own health has been suffering the
meanwhile, and to-day I sent him half a dozen bottles of the Doctor's wine
to revive him. This notable liberality under the circumstances was caused,
first, by his having advised me years ago to take good care of my steps on
the mountains; second, to get married; third, for his pictures, drawn for
me, of the bliss of having children; fourth, for the sake of our mutual
friends; fifth, for his good looks and bad health; and half-dozenth, because
fifteen or twenty years ago on a dark night, while seeking one of his
patients in the Contra Costa hills, he called at the house of Doctor
Strentzel for directions and was invited in and got a glass of good wine. A
half-dozen bottles for a half-dozen reasons! "That's consistent, isn't it?"
I mean to give a bottle to a friend of the Captain who is stationed at St.
Michael, and save one bottle for our first contact with the polar ice-pack,
and one with which to celebrate the hour of our return to home, friends,
We had fresh-baked stuffed
codfish for breakfast, of which I ate heartily, stuffing and all, though the
latter was gray and soft and much burdened with minced onions, and then I
held out my plate for a spoonful of opaque, oleaginous gravy! This last
paragraph is for grandmother as a manifestation of heroic, all- enduring,
We have not yet commenced to
coal, so that we will not get off for the North before Sunday. There is a
schooner here that will sail for Shoal- water Bay, Oregon, in a few days,
and by it I will send four or five letters. The three or four more that I
intend writing ere we leave this port I will give to the agent of the
Company here to be forwarded by the next opportunity in case the first batch
should be lost. Then others will be sent from St. Michael by the Company's
steamer, and still others from the Seal Islands and from points where we
fall in with any vessel homeward bound.
Good-night to all. I am
multiplying letters in case some be lost. A thousand kisses to my child.
This is the fifth letter from Unalaska. Will write two more to be sent by
To Mrs. Muir
SUNDAY AFTERNOON, May 22, 1881
We left Unalaska this morning
at four o'clock and are now in Bering Sea on our way to St. George and St.
Paul Islands. .. . Next Tuesday or Wednesday we expect to come in sight of
the ice, but hope to find open water, along the west shore, that will enable
us to get through the Strait to Cape Serdze or thereabouts. In a month or so
we expect to be at St. Michael, where we will have a chance to send more
letters and still later by whalers.
You will, therefore, have no
very long period of darkness, though on my side I fear I shall have to wait
a long time for a single word, and it is only by trusting in you to be
cheerful and busy for the sake of your health and for the sake of our little
love and all of us that I can have any peace and rest throughout this trip,
however long or short. Now you must be sure to sleep early to make up for
waking during the night, and occupy all the day with light work and cheerful
thoughts, and never brood and dream of trouble, and I will come back with
the knowledge that I need and a fresh supply of the wilderness in my health.
I am already quite well and eat with savage appetite whatsoever is brought
This morning I devoured half
of a salmon trout eighteen inches long, a slice of ham, half a plateful of
potatoes, two biscuits, and four or five slices of bread, with coffee and
something else that I have forgotten, but which was certainly buried in me
and lost. For lunch, two platefuls of soup, a heap of fat compound onion
hash, two pieces of toast., and three or four slices of bread, with
potatoes, and a big sweet cake, and now at three o'clock I am very hungry -
a hunger that no amount of wave- tossing will abate. Furthermore, I look
forward to fat seals fried and boiled, and to walrus steaks and stews, and
doughnuts fried in train oil, and to all kinds of bears and fishy fowls with
eager longing. There! Is that enough, grandmother? All my table whims are
rapidly passing into the sere and yellow leaf and falling off.
I promise to comfort and
sustain you beyond your highest aspirations when I return and fall three
times a day on your table like a wolf on the fold. You know those slippery
yellow custards - well, I eat those also!
You must not forget Sam
Williams. [Editor of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin.] And now, my love,
good-night. I hope you are feeling strong-hearted. I wish I could write
anything, sense or nonsense, to cheer you up and brighten the outlook into
the North. I will try to say one more line or two when we reach the Islands
Love to all. Kiss Annie for
To Mrs. Muir
PLOVER BAY, SIBERIA
June 16th, 1881
My BELOVED WIFE:
We leave this harbor
to-morrow morning at six o'clock, for St. Michael, and the northward. The
Corwin is in perfect condition, and since the season promises to be a
favorable one, we hope to find the Jeannette and get home this fall. I have
not yet seen the American shore, but hope to see it very thoroughly, as
everything seems to work towards my objects. That the Asiatic and American
continents were one a very short geological time ago is already clear to me,
though I shall probably obtain much more available proof than I now have.
This is a grand fact. While the crystal glaciers were creating Yosemite
Valley, a thousand were uniting here to make Bering Strait and Bering Sea.
The south side of the Aleutian chain of islands was the boundary of the
continent and the ocean.
Since the Tom Pope came into
the harbor, I have written five "Bulletin" letters, which are for you
mostly, and therefore I need the less to write any detailed narrative of the
cruise. She will sail at the same hour as we do, and her Captain, Mr.
Millard, who has been many times in the Arctic both here and on the
Greenland side, has promised to make you a visit, and will be able to give
you much information.
If I could only get a line,
one word, from you to know that you were all well, I would be content to
await the end of the voyage with patience and fortitude. But, my dear, it's
terrible at times to have to endure for so long a dark silence. We will not
be likely to get a word before September. No doubt you have already received
the six or seven letters that I sent from Unalaska and St. Paul, also the
two or three "Bulletin" letters from Unalaska. Write [W.C.] Bartlett or the
office for a dozen copies of each, and save them for me.
We are drifting in the harbor
among cakes of ice about the size of the orchard, but they can do us no
harm. The great mountains forming the walls are covered yet with snow,
except on a few bare spots near their bases, and there is not a single tree.
Scarce a hint of any spring or summer have I seen since leaving San
Francisco and the orchard. I hope you will see Mr. Millard. You must keep
Annie Wanda downstairs or she may fall; and now, my wife and child, daughter
and mother, I must bid good-bye. Heaven bless you all! Send copies of my
"Bulletin" letters to my mother, and put this letter with my papers and
notebooks. You will get many other letters now that the whalers are
My heart aches, not to go
home ere I have done my work, but just to know that you are well.
Your affectionate husband
To Mrs. Muir
ST. MICHAEL, ALASKA
June 21, 1881
Sunshine, dear Louie,
sunshine all the day, ripe and mellow sunshine, like that which feeds the
fruits and vines! It came to us just [three] days ago when we were
approaching this little old-fashioned trading post at the mouth of the Yukon
On the day of our arrival
from Plover Bay, a little steamer came into the harbor from the Tipper
Yukon, towing three large boats loaded with traders, Indians, and furs - all
the furs they had gathered during the winter. We went across to the
storeroom of the Company to see them. A queer lot they were, whites and
Indians, as they unloaded their furs. It was worth while to look at the furs
too big bundles of bear skins brown and black, wolf, fox, beaver, marten,
ermine, moose, wolverine, wildcat - many of them with claws spread and hair
on end as if still alive and fighting for their lives. Some of the Indian
chiefs, the wildest animals of all, and the more notable of the traders, not
at all wild save in dress, but rather gentle and refined in manners, like
village parsons. They held us in long interesting talks and gave us some
valuable information concerning the broad wilds of the Yukon.
Yesterday I took a long walk
of twelve or fourteen miles over the tundra to a volcanic cone and back,
leaving the ship about twelve in the forenoon and getting back at half-past
eight. I found a great number of flowers in full bloom, and birds of many
species building their nests, and a capital view of the surrounding country
from the rim of an old crater, altogether making a delightful day, though a
very wearisome one on account of the difficult walking.
The ground back of St.
Michael stretches away in broad brown levels of boggy tundra promising fine
walking, but proving about as tedious and exhausting as possible. The spongy
covering [is] roughened with tussocks of grass and sedge and creeping
heathworts and willows, among which the foot staggers about and sinks and
squints, seeking rest and finding none, until far down between the rocking
tussocks. This covering is composed of a plush of mosses, chiefly sphagnum,
about eight inches or a foot deep, resting on ice that never melts, while
about half of the surface of the moss is covered with white, yellow, red,
and gray lichens, and the other half is planted more or less with grasses,
sedges, heathworts, and creeping willows, and a flowering plant here and
there such as primula and purple-spiked Pedicularis. Out in this grand
solitude- solitary as far as man is concerned - we met a great many of the
Arctic grouse, ptarmigan, cackling and screaming at our approach like old
laying hens; also plovers, snipes, curlews, sandpipers, loons in ponds, and
ducks and geese, and finches and wrens about the crater and rocks at its
And now good-bye again, and
love to all, wife, darling baby Anna, grandmother, and grandfather.
To Mrs. Muir
BETWEEN PLOVER BAY AND
ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND,
July 2d, 1881
My BELOVED WIFE:
After leaving St. Michael, on
the twenty- second of June. . . we went again into the Arctic Ocean to
Tapkan, twelve miles northwest of Cape Serdze, to seek the search party that
we left on the edge of the ice-pack opposite Koliuchin Island, and were so
fortunate as to find them there, having gone as far as the condition of the
ice seemed to them safe, and after they had reached the fountain-head of all
the stories we had heard concerning the lost whaler Vigilance and determined
them to be in the main true. At Cape Wankarem they found three Chukchis who
said that last year when the ice was just beginning to grow, and when the
sun did not rise, they were out seal-hunting three or four miles from shore
when they saw a broken ship in the drift ice, which they boarded and found
some dead men in the cabin and a good many articles of one sort and another
which they took home and which they showed to our party. This evidence
reveals the fate of at least one of the ships we are seeking.
Our party, when they saw us,
came out to the edge of the ice. which extended about three miles from
shore, and after a good deal of difficulty reached the steamer. The north
wind was blowing hard, sending huge black swells and combing waves against
the jagged, grinding edge of the pack with terrible uproar, making it
impossible for us to reach them with a boat. We succeeded, however, in
throwing a line to them, which they made fast to a skin boat that they had
pushed over the ice from the shore, and, getting into it, they were dragged
over the stormy edge of ice waves and water waves and soon got safely
aboard, leaving the tent, provisions, dogs, and sleds at the Indian village,
to be picked up some other time.
Then we sailed southward
again to take our interpreter Chukchi Joe to his home, which we reached two
hours ago. Now we are steering for St. Michael again, intending to land for
a few hours on the north side of St. Lawrence Island on the way. At St.
Michael we shall write our letters, which will be carried to San Francisco
by the Alaska Commercial Company's steamer St. Paul, take on more
provisions, and then sail north again along the American shore, spending
some time in Kotzebue Sound, perhaps exploring some of the rivers that flow
into it, and then push on around Point Barrow and out into the ocean
northward as we can, our movements being always determined by the position
and movements of the ice-pack.
Before making a final effort
in August or September to reach Wrangell Land in search of traces of the
Jeannette, we will return yet once more to St. Michael for coal and
provisions which we have stored there in case we should be compelled to pass
a winter north of Bering Strait. The season, however, is so favorable that
we have sanguine hopes of finding an open way to Wrangell Land and returning
to our homes in October. The Jeannette has not been seen, nor any of her
crew, on the Asiatic coast as far west as Cape Yaken, and I have no hopes of
the vessel ever escaping from the ice; but her crew, in case they saved
their provisions, may yet be alive, though it is strange that they did not
come over the ice in the spring. Possibly they may have reached the American
coast. If so, they will be found this summer. Our vessel is in perfect
condition, and our Captain is very cautious and will not take any
considerable chances of being caught in the North pack.
How long it seems since I
left home, and yet according to the almanac it will not be two months until
the day after to-morrow! I have seen so much and gone so far, and the
nightless days are so strangely joined, it seems more than a year. And yet
how short a time is the busy month at home among the fruit and the work! My
wee lass will be big and bright now, and by the time I can get her again in
my arms she will be afraid of my beard. I have a great quantity of ivory
dolls and toys - ducks, bears, seals, walruses, etc. - for her to play with,
and some soft white furs to make a little robe for her carriage. But it is a
sore, hard thing to be out of sight of her so long, and of thee, Lassie, but
still sorer and harder not to hear. Perhaps not one word until I reach San
Francisco! You, however, will hear often..
This is a lovely, cool,
clear, bright day, and the mountains along the coast of Asia stand in
glorious array, telling the grand old story of their birth beneath the
sculpturing ice of the glacial period. But the snow still lingers here and
there down to the water's edge, and a little beyond the mouth of Bering
Strait the vast, mysterious ice-field of the North stretches away beneath a
dark, stormy sky for thousands of miles. I landed on East Cape yesterday and
found unmistakable evidence of the passage over it of a rigid ice-sheet from
the North, a fact which is exceedingly telling here. . .
My health is so good now that
I never notice it. I climbed a mountain at East Cape yesterday, about three
thousand feet high, a mile through snow knee-deep, and never felt fatigue,
my cheeks tingling in the north wind.. . . I have a great quantity of
material in my notebooks already, lots of sketches [of] glaciers, mountains,
Indians, Indian towns, etc. So you may be sure I have been busy, and if I
could only hear a word now and then from that home in the California hills I
would be the happiest and patientest man in all Hyperborea.
I am alone in the cabin; the
engine is grinding away, making the lamp that is never lighted now rattle,
and the joints creak everywhere, and the good Corwin is gliding swiftly over
smooth blue water about half way to St. Lawrence Island. And now I must to
bed! But before I go I reach my arms towards you, and pray God to keep you
To Mrs. Muir
ST. MICHAEL, July 4th, 1881
We arrived here this
afternoon at three o'clock and intend to stay about three days, taking in
coal and provisions, and then to push off to the North. We intend to spend
nearly a month along the American shore, perhaps as far north as Point
Barrow, before we attempt to go out into the Arctic Ocean among the ice, for
it is in August and September that the ice is most open. Then, if, as we
hope from the favorableness of the season, we succeed in reaching Wrangell
Land to search for traces of the Jeannette, or should find any sure tidings
of her, we will be back in sunny, iceless California about the end of
October, in grape-time. Otherwise we will probably return to St. Michael and
take on a fresh supply of coal and nine months' provisions, and go north
again prepared to winter in case we should get caught in the north of Bering
A few miles to the north of
Plover Bay some thirteen or fourteen canoe-loads of natives came out to
trade; more than a hundred of them were aboard at once, making a very lively
picture. When we proceeded on our way, they allowed us to tow them for a
mile or two in order to take advantage of the northerly current in going
back to their village. They were dragged along, five or six canoes on each
side, making the Corwin look like a mother field-mouse with a big family
hanging to her teats, one of the first country sights that filled me with
astonishment when a boy.
In coming here I had very
fine views of St. Lawrence Island from the north side, showing the, trend of
the ice-sheet very plainly, much to my delight. The middle of the island is
crowded with volcanic cones, mostly post-glacial, and therefore regular in
form and but little wasted, and I counted upwards of fifty from one point of
view. Just in front of this volcanic portion on the coast there is a dead
Esquimo village where we landed and found that every soul of the population
had died two years ago of starvation. More than two hundred skeletons were
seen lying about like rubbish, in one hut thirty, most of them in bed. Mr.
E. W. Nelson, a zealous collector for the Smithsonian Institution, gathered
about one hundred skulls as specimens, throwing them together in heaps to
take on board, just as when a boy in Wisconsin I used to gather pumpkins in
the fall after the corn was shocked. The boxfuls on deck looked just about
as unlike a cargo of cherries as possible, but I will not oppress you with
Some of the men brought off
guns, axes, spears, etc., from the abandoned huts, and I found a little box
of child's playthings which might please Anna Wanda, but which, I suppose,
you will not let into the house. Well, I have lots of others that I bought,
and when last here I engaged an Indian to make her a little fur suit, which
I hope is ready so that I can send it down by the St. Paul. I hope it may
fit her. I wish she were old enough to read the stories that I should like
to write her.
Love to all. Good-night.
To Mrs. Muir
ST. MICHAEL, July 9th, 1881
My DEAR WIFE:
We did not get away last
evening, as we expected, on account of the change in plans - as to taking
all our winter stores on board, instead of leaving them until another visit
in September. It is barely possible we might get caught off Point Barrow or
on Wrangell [Land] by movements in the ice-pack that never can be
anticipated. Therefore we will be more comfortable with abundance of bread
about us. In the matter of coal, there is a mine on the north coast where
some can be obtained in case of need, and also plenty of driftwood.
Our cruise, notwithstanding
we have already made two trips into a portion of the Arctic usually blocked
most of the summer, we consider is just really beginning. For we have not
yet made any attempt to get to the packed region about Herald Island and
Wrangell Land. Perhaps not once in twenty years would it be possible to get
a ship alongside the shores of Wrangell Land, although its southern point is
about nine degrees south of points attained on the eastern side of the
continent. To find the ocean ice thirty or forty feet thick away from its
mysterious shores seems to be about as hopeless as to find a mountain
glacier out of its cañon. Still, this has been so remarkably open and mild a
winter, and so many north gales have been blowing this spring, [gales]
calculated to break up the huge packs and grind the cakes and blocks against
one another, that we have sanguine hopes of accomplishing all that we are
expected to do and get home by the end of October. If I can see as much of
the American coast as I have of the Asiatic, I will be satisfied, and should
the weather be as favorable I certainly shall. .
We may, possibly, be home ere
you receive any more [letters]. If not, think of me, dear, as happily at
work with no other pain than the pain of separation from you and my wee
lass. I have many times been weighing chances as to whether you have sent
letters by the Maryand-Helen, now called the "Rodgers," which was to sail
about the middle of June. She is a slow sailer, and has to go far out of her
course by Petropavlovskii, the capital of Kamchatka, for dogs, and will not
be through the Strait before the end of the season nearly. Yet a letter by
her is my only hope for hearing from you this season.
How warm and bland the
weather is here, 600 in the shade, and how fine a crop of grass and flowers
is growing up along the shores and back on the spongy tundra! The Captain
says I can have a few hours on shore this afternoon. I mean to go across the
bay three miles to a part of the tundra I have not yet seen. I shall at
least find a lot of new flowers and see some of the birds. Once more,
good-bye. I send Anna's parka by the St. Paul. Give my love to Sam Williams.
You must not forget him.
A month and three days after
the date of the preceding letter the Corwin succeeded in making a landing on
Wrangell Land. From some unpublished notes of Muir under the heading "Our
New Arctic Territory" we excerpt the following account of the event:
Next morning [August 12th]
the fog lifted, and we were delighted to see that though there was now about
eight miles of ice separating us from the shore, it was less closely packed,
and the Corwin made her way through it without great difficulty until within
two miles of the shore, where the craggy berg- blocks were found to be
extremely hard and wedged closely together. But a patch of open water near
the beach, now plainly insight, encouraged a continuance of the struggle,
and with a full head of steam on, the barrier was forced. By 10 o'clock A.M.
our little ship was riding at anchor less than a cable's length from the
beach, opposite the mouth of a river.
This landing point proved to
be in latitude 71° 4', longitude 177° 40' 30" W., near the East Cape. After
taking formal possession of the country, one party examined the level beach
about the mouth of the river, and the left bank for a mile or two, and a
hillside that slopes gently down to the river, while another party of
officers, after building a cairn, depositing records in it, and setting the
flag on a conspicuous point of the bluff facing the ocean, proceeded
northwestward along the brow of the short bluff to a marked headland, a
distance of three or four miles, searching attentively for traces of the
Jeannette expedition and of any native inhabitants that might chance to be
in the country. Then all were hurriedly recalled and a way was forced to
open water through ten miles of drift ice which began to close upon us.
To Mrs. Muir
POINT BARROW, August 16th, 1881
MY BELOVED WIFE:
Heaven only knows my joy this
night in hearing that you were well. Old as the letter is and great as the
number of days and nights that have passed since your love was written, it
yet seems as if I had once more been upstairs and held you and Wanda in my
arms. Ah, you little know the long icy days, so strangely nightiess, that I
have longed and longed for one word from you. The dangers, great as they
were, while groping and grinding among the vast immeasurable ice-fields
about that mysterious Wrangell Land would have seemed as nothing before I
knew you. But most of the special dangers are past, and I have grand news
for you, my love, for we have succeeded in landing on that strange ice-girt
country and our work is nearly all done and I am coming home by the middle
of October. No thought of wintering now and attempting to cross the frozen
ocean from Siberia. We will take no more risks. All is well with our stanch
little ship. She is scarce at all injured by the pounding and grinding she
has undergone, and sailing home seems nothing more than crossing San
Francisco Bay. We have added a large territory [Wrangell Land] to the domain
of the United States and amassed a grand lot of knowledge of one sort and
Now we sail from here
to-morrow for Cape Lisburne, or, if stormy, to Plover Bay, to coal and
repair our rudder, which is a little weak. Thence we will go again around
the margin of the main polar pack about Wrangell Land, but not into it, and
possibly discover a clear way to land upon it again and obtain more of its
geography; then leave the Arctic about the 10th of September, call at St.
Michael, at Unalaska, and then straight home.
I shall not write at length
now, as this is to go down by the Legal Tender, which sails in a few days
and expects to reach San Francisco by the 20th of September, but we may
reach home nearly as soon as she. I have to dash off a letter for the
"Bulletin" to-night, though I ought to go to bed. Not a word of it is yet
We came poking and feeling
our way along this icy shore a few hours ago through the fog, little
thinking that a letter from you was just ahead. Then the fog lifted, and we
saw four whalers at anchor and a strange vessel. When the Captain of the
Belvidere shouted, "Letters for you, Captain, by the Legal Tender," which
was the strange vessel, our hearts leaped, and a boat was speedily sent
alongside. I got the letter package and handed them round, and yours, love,
was the very last in the package, and I dreaded there was none. The Rodgers
had not yet been heard from. One of the whale ships was caught here and
crushed in the ice and sank in twenty minutes a month ago.
Good-bye, love. I shall soon
be home. Love to all. My wee lass-love - she seems already in my arms. Not
in dreams this time! From father and husband and lover.
Muir's collection of plants,
gathered in the Arctic lands touched by the Corwin, was naturally of
uncommon interest to botanists. Asa Gray returned from a European trip in
November, and in response to an inquiry from Muir at once wrote him to send
on his Arctic plants for determination. Those from Herald Island and
Wrangell Land, represented by a duplicate set in the Gray Herbarium at
Harvard, are still the only collections known to science from those regions.
In determining the plants, Gray found among them a new species of erigeron,
and in reporting it to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences named it
Erigeron Muirii in honor of its discoverer. Muir found it in July at Cape
Thompson on the Arctic shore of Alaska. [A complete list of his various
collections and of his glacial observations will be found in the appendix to
The Cruise of the Corwin, (1917).]
This cruise in the Arctic
Ocean, as it turned out, was to be the last of his big expeditions for some
time. Domestic cares and joys, and the development of the fruit ranch,
absorbed his attention more and more. The old freedom was gone, but the
following paragraph, from a letter written to Mrs. John Bidwell, of Rancho
Chico, on January 2, 1882, suggests that he had found a satisfying
substitute for the independence of earlier years:
I have been anxious to run up
to Chico in the old free way to tell you about the majestic icy facts that I
found last summer in the Lord's Arctic palaces, but, as you can readily
guess, it is not now so easy a matter to wing hither and thither like a
bird, for here is a wife and a baby and a home, together with the old press
of field studies and literary work, which I by no means intend to lose sight
of even in the bright bewitching smiles of my wee bonnie lassie. Speaking of
brightness, I have been busy, for a week or two just past, letting more
light into the house by means of dormer windows, and in making two more open
brick fireplaces. Dormer-windows, open wood-fires, and perfectly happy
babies make any home glow with warm sunny brightness and bring out the best
that there is in us.