PERHAPS it is natural that so
picturesque a personality as John Muir should become a magnet for legends.
Several are already afloat in the Valley he loved, and two of them are
particularly baseless and absurd. The first is a canard about a sawmill by
means of which he is said to have denuded the Valley of trees. It was a tale
set afoot during the Hetch Hetchy controversy when his opponents were only
too anxious to discredit him in the eyes of the public. The fact that Muir
sawed only fallen timber has already been set forth in another connection
and requires no further statement. The second concerns the place of his
former habitation in the Valley. It owes its origin, no doubt, to the desire
of local guides to gratify the curiosity of visitors who wish to see some
particular spot that has associations with John Muir.
In a secluded, umbrageous
tangle of alders and azaleas, on the spit of land formed by the confluence
of Tenaya Creek with the Merced, stands what at first glance looks like the
remnants of a log cabin. Examination reveals the fact that there never had
been a floor or windows; that it was never more than partly roofed and too
low for a man to stand comfortably erect, while the opening which should
serve as a door is only three feet high. It is all that remains of the sheep
corral of John Lamon, the earliest inhabitant of the Valley. The myth-
making faculty of the local guide has glorified it as "Muir's Lost Cabin,"
and as such it has been pointed out to great numbers of eager sight-seers.
But there is no mystery about the two cabins
which Muir erected for himself in Yosemite. The places where they stood are
known, although not a vestige of the original structures remains. The first
he erected late in 1869 near the lower Yosemite Falls, and the site is now
indicated by a bronze plate on a glacial boulder. He left it in the autumn
of 1871 to take up his abode at Black's Hotel under the shadow of Sentinel
Rock. But during the spring and summer of 1872 he erected for himself a log
cabin in a clump of dogwood bushes, near the Royal Arches, on the banks of
the Merced. The precise locality is to be sought at the point where the
Merced approaches closest to the Royal Arches, and in a bold curve swings
southward again across the Valley. - In the same neighborhood Lamon had also
built his winter cabin. During the cold season of the year, when the south
side of the Valley is wrapped in the frosty shadows of its high walls, the
sun shines obliquely against the talus slopes of the north side and
generates a grateful warmth. Here, then, was Muir's second home in Yosemite
Valley - one, however, that he seems to have occupied very little after
1874. The survival of Lamon's old corral in the immediate neighborhood
appears to have led to its identification with this last of Muir's cabins.
The following winter letters of 1872 probably were written from there. Asa
Gray's visit doubtless had given new stimulus to his study of the Yosemite
flora, though in the absence of descriptive botanical handbooks he had great
difficulty in determining the species.
To J. B. McChesney
YOSEMITE, December 10th, 1872
Yours of November 30th is here. Many thanks for
the plants, though I am not much wiser. I knew the generic names of the
first three. Only two are fully named. I suppose that the specimens I sent
were too small and fragmentary to be determined with certainty. If I could
only have access to books containing these plants I could easily name them.
I have read Tyndall's "Hours of Exercise," etc. Tyndall is a true man, with
eyes that can see far down into the fountain truths of nature.
I am glad to know that you miss no opportunity
in seeking Nature's altars. May she be good to you and feed your soul while
you labor amid those Oakland wastes of civilization. I love [the] ocean as I
do the mountains indeed the mountains are an ocean with harder waves than
You must be very
happy in communion with so many kindred minds. I hope to know [Charles
Warren] Stoddard some day. Tell him that I am going to build a nest and that
it will always be open to him. Come next year, all of you. Come to these
purest of terrestrial fountains. Come and receive baptism and absolution
from civilized sins. You were but sprinkled last year. Come and be immersed!
You have never seen our Valley with her jewels on, never seen her flowers of
A few days ago
many a flower ripened in the fields of air and they have fallen to us. All
the trees and the bushes are flowered beyond summer, bowed down in snow
bloom and all the rocks are buried. The day after the "storm" (a most
damnable name for the flowering of the clouds) I lay out on the meadow to
eat a grand meal of new-made beauty, and about midday I suddenly wanted the
outside mountains, and so cast off my coat and ran up towards Glacier Point.
I soon was near [the] top, and was very hungry for the view that was so
grandly mingled and covered with snow and sky, but the snow was now more
than ten feet deep and dusty and light as winter fog. I tried to wallow and
swim it, but the slope was so steep that I always fell back and sank out of
sight, and I was fully baffled. I had a glorious slide downwards. Hawthorne
speaks of the spirituality of locomotive railroad travel, but this balmy
slide in the mealy snow out-spiritualized all other motions that I ever made
write again. I am lonely.
During the interval between this and the next
letter he made a rapid trip to Oakland in order to forward some literary
plans in consultation with Mrs. Carr and others. On this occasion he met
Edward Rowland Sill. In returning to Yosemite he walked from Turlock via
Hopeton and Coulterville. The excursion to Cloud's Rest described in his
letter to Gray came as the conclusion of this return walk which included a
very adventurous first climb through the Tenaya Caņon, and which forms the
subject of a long letter to Mrs. Carr, published under the title of "A
Geologist's Winter Walk." This very characteristic letter, in which he
relates how he punished his "ill- behaved bones" for allowing themselves to
be demoralized by even a brief sojourn in "civilization," will be found in
its completest form in "Steep Trails." In spite of what Muir characterized
as the "angular factiness of his pursuits," Dr. Gray was found to have
carefully preserved the following and other Muir letters at the Gray
Herbarium in Cambridge.
To Asa Gray
VALLEY, December 18, 1872
MY DEAR GRAY:
I received the last of your notes two days ago,
announcing the arrival of the ferns. You speak of three boxes of Primula. I
sent seven or eight.
had some measurements to make about the throat of the South Dome, so
yesterday I climbed there, and then ran up to Clouds' Rest for your Primulas,
and as I stuffed them in big sods into a sack, I said, "Now I wonder what
mouthfuls this size will accomplish for the Doctor's primrose hunger."
Before filling your sack I witnessed one of the most glorious of our
mountain sunsets; not one of the assembled mountains seemed remote - all had
ceased their labor of beauty and gathered around their parent sun to receive
the evening blessing, and waiting angels could not be more solemnly hushed.
The sun himself seemed to have reached a higher life as if he had died and
only his soul were glowing with rayless, bodiless Light, and as Christ to
his disciples, so this departing sun soul said to every precious beast, to
every pine and weed, to every stream and mountain, "My peace I give unto
I ran home in the
moonlight with your sack of roses slung on my shoulder by a buckskin string
- down through the junipers, down through the firs, now in black shadow, now
in white light, past great South Dome white as the moon, past spirit-like
Nevada, past Pywiack, through the groves of Illilouette and spiry pines of
the open valley, star crystals sparkling above, frost crystals beneath, and
rays of spirit beaming everywhere.
I reached home a trifle weary, but could have
wished so Godful a walk some miles and hours longer, and as I slid your
roses off my shoulder I said, "This is one of the big round ripe days that
so fatten our lives - so much of sun on one side, so much of moon on the
I have a rare
chance of getting your plants packed out of the Valley to-morrow, and so
have determined to send all together with a few seeds in a box by Wells
Fargo Express. The books, both Hutchings' and mine, are along all right.
Many thanks. I am hard at work on dead glaciers.
I am very cordially
To J. B. McChesney
YOSEMITE VALLEY, December 20th, 1872
MY DEAR MCCHESNEY
Among all the souls which shine upon my eye up
from that dim and distant Oakland none is of purer ray than your own, and
living or dying, in this land or in that, I shall never cease to thank God
for friends like you.
My excursion down into that befogged jungle of human plants in which you
manage to live and love forms a far more notable chapter in my personal
history than any of you can comprehend, and now that I am warm again, safe
nestled in mountain ether, I seem to have returned to life from a strange
and half-remembered death.
Here many a thought comes crowding to my page,
but I must hush them back, for they would overcrowd a thousand letters. So
drawing a long sigh I must content myself with saying 'thank you' for all
your kindness, and leave you to eat the good brown bread of your little
hills, and whatsoever of God you can find there, until your angel shall
again guide you to the clean fountains of the Sierras.
Remember me to all your family and to Kelsey and
any of my friends you chance to see - Miss Brigham, Sill, and all the rest.
Kiss your Alice some extra times for me. She is the sweetest flake of
childhood I found in all your town, and she comes back to me in form and
voice and in touch too, with most living vividness.
Farewell. I am
Ever your friend
One of the gifts
that came to his cabin at Christmas time was a beautiful lamp from a friend
in Chicago, to whom he addressed the following letter in acknowledgment:
To Mrs. Kate N. Daggett
YOSEMITE VALLEY, December 30th, 1872
[Salutation torn off.]
I have just this minute for the first time
lighted your elegant lamp, and I send you again most cordial thanks for so
precious a gift.
is the first St. Germain lamp I have seen, and it is certainly the most
beautiful of all light fountains. Its forms have been composed by a true
artist. Its many curves blend into song with scarce a discordant tone. The
trill around the base of the chimney is all that my eye-ear dislikes.
The massive finely moulded foundation glows like
an ice-polished dome, and the grateful green of the shade is like that of
high glacier lakes. If among the multitude of articles that now enter a
human home there be one that deserves to be crowned with beauty above
everything else, it is the fountain of light. The poet is the only workman
capable of making a candlestick.
It is delightful to observe how steadily God-
born beauty is flowing into all the handiwork of man. Nature is insinuating
herself into every pore of humanity, and it is oozing out in forms that are
constantly becoming less and less impure, and those forms of purer and more
direct Godfulness are coming not only from the study cells of the painter
and architect and art poets in general recognized as such, but they are
flowing from the workshop - from the foundry and the forge.
I know little of men, seeing them only afar off
and in the lump, but standing as I now do on the mountain-side and
contemplating the various hives of industry among civilizations old and new,
all looming on my vision, dim in the great sea-divided distances, I have
this one big, well-defined faith for humanity as a workman, that the time is
coming when every "article of manufacture" will be as purely a work of God
as are these mountains and pine trees and bonnie loving flowers.
I only meant to say you another warm thank- you,
but the fresh dewy beauty of your sunrise lamp conjured and loosened these
thoughts and sent them down to my page, as rain and frost loosen and send
down trains of rattling rough- angled rocks to Yosemite meadows.
I suppose our dear Mrs. Carr has told you of the
eclipse of my life, years ago when my eyes were quenched just at the
spring-dawn of summer when the voice of the bluebird began to appear mingled
with the first flower-words of Erigenia and Anemone. But though in that
terrible darkness I died to light, I lived again, and God who is Light has
led me tenderly from light to light to the shoreless ocean of rayless
beamless Spirit Light that bathes these holy mountains.
The earlier writings of John Ruskin were at this
time widely read and discussed both in England and in America, and Muir,
also, was a deeply interested reader. But he took exception to the
unqualified admiration with which some of his friends accepted Ruskinian
ideas. In the following letter we have a brief but searching critique, from
his point of view, of the dualism and artificiality of Ruskin's nature
To J. B.
VALLEY, January 10th, 1873
I have just finished a ramble through the
handsome gardens of Ruskin that you gave me. Page after page is studded with
flowers like a glacier meadow, and most of his chapters of hill and dale
make a handsome landscape in spite of his numberless boundaries and human-
our modern writers are so strikingly suggestive as Ruskin. His pungent
steel- tempered sentences compel one to think, and his errors and
absurdities are so clearly expressed that they do good rather than harm.
Ruskin is great, but not a great man - only a
great ready-to-burst bud of a man. He is chained and tethered, not like the
stars, by Nature's own laws, but by ropes and chains manufactured in the
mills and forges of conventions, and although they are made of good material
and are so transparent in places as to be well-nigh invisible, and he roams
as if loose over this world and what he takes to be the next, yet after all
one never can feel that he is free. His widest world, his highest sky, is
enclosed by a hard definite shell making one think of a mouse beneath a huge
bell-glass, so huge that it does not feel its bounds. The bell- glass
underneath which Ruskin lives and moves and brandishes his verbal spears is
made of the heaviest and most opaque stuff in the universe - a thousand
times denser than hammered steel.
There are writers of far lesser intellectual
development who yet give hints and hopes of indefinite growth - it doth not
appear what they shall be, but Ruskin leaves us nothing to hope. Among all
the possibilities of after-development I can find nothing that will fit him.
His very hopes and longings of heaven that he places deep in the immensities
and eternities are weighed and measured and branded and they are bounded by
surfaces definite as those of a crystal and could be made to order like
bricks by Yankee machinery.
But the worst thing I find in his books is his
lack of faith in the Scriptures of Nature. Nature, according to Ruskin, is
the joint work of God and the devil, and therefore made up of alternate
strips and bars of evil and good.
We must not dwell in contact with Nature, he
tells us, else we will become blind to her beauty, which is the vulgar gross
old heresy that familiarity with God will produce contempt of him. He would
have us take beauty as we do roast beef or medicine, at stated times, the
intervals to be measured by a London watch instead of inhaling it every
moment as we do breath.
Evil, he says, always exists with good and
ugliness with beauty, in order to act as foils the one for the other. Beside
every mountain angel he sets a mountain devil, that the blackness of the one
may be made wholly striking by the whiteness of the other, and that the
angel's white may be brightened by the devil's black. Here I want to say so
much that I cannot say anything.
Ruskin, with all his well-bred amiability, is an
infidel to Nature. You never can feel that there is the slightest union
betwixt Nature and him. He goes to the Alps and improves and superintends
and reports on Nature with the conceit and lofty importance of a factor of a
one of the very dearest of our mountain flowers, a companion of Bryanthus
and Cassiope, one of the purest and most outspoken words of love that God
has ever uttered on mountain meadow, he calls a type of deceit because when
he eats it, it poisons him - is unfit for his stomach - a good English
reason for setting it on the devil's half of Nature. But I have lived with
and loved Kalmia many a day, and slept with my cheek upon her bonnie purple
flowers, and I know that she is not a devil's foil for any plant. She was
born and bred in Love Divine and dwells in Love and speaks Love only.
And I know something about "the blasted trunk,
and the barren rock, the moaning of the bleak winds, the solemn solitudes of
moors and seas, the roar of the black, perilous, merciless whirlpools of the
mountain streams;" and they have a language for me, but they declare nothing
of wrath or of hell, only Love plain as was ever spoken.
Christianity and mountainanity are streams from
the same fountain, and when I read the bogies of Ruskin's "mountain gloom,"
and mountain evil, and mountain devil, and the unwholesomeness of mountain
beauty as everyday breath and bread, then I wish for plenty of words and a
Farewell. My kindest regards to your parents and wife and younglings. I am
Ever truly thine
To Asa Gray
YOSEMITE VALLEY, February 22, 1873
DEAR DR. GRAY:
Your letter of January 4 arrived just before our
trails were snow-blocked. The seeds I sent in a letter envelope are
As for the express charges on the primula box, I have not got the receipt by
me and cannot tell what they amount to, but you must remember that you gave
me money sufficient to prepay all such boxes for a year to come.
Did I tell you that our wee primula grows upon
the Hoffman range a few miles west of Mount Hoffman, and also on the east
slope of the Sierra, between Mounts Lyell and Ritter? Next summer I will
find a new genus and a half dozen new species for that generous embalming
which you propose. Here are a few plants which I wish you would name for me.
Our winter is very glorious. January was a block
of solid sun-gold, not of the thin frosty kind, but of a quality that called
forth butterflies and tingled the fern coils and filled the noontide with a
dreamy hum of insect wings. On the 15th of January I found one big Phacelia
in full bloom on the north side of the Valley about one thousand feet above
the bottom or five thousand above the sea. Also at the same sunny nook
several bushes of Arctostaphylos glauca were in full flower, and many other
plants were swelling their buds and breathing fragrance, showing that they
were full of the thoughts and intentions of spring. Our Laurel was in flower
a month ago; so was our winter wheat (Libocedrus).
This month up to present date has been profusely
filled with snow. About ten feet has fallen on the bottom of the Valley
since the 30th of January. Your primulas on Clouds' Rest must be covered to
a depth of at least twelve or fifteen feet. I wish you could see our pines
in full bloom of soft snow, or waving in storm. They know little of the
character of a pine tree who see it only when swaying drowsily in a summer
breeze or when balanced motionless and fast asleep in hushed sunshine.
We are grandly snowbound and have all this
winter glory of sunlight and storm-shade to ourselves. Our outside doors are
locked, and who will disturb us?
I call your attention to the two large yellow
and purple plants from the top of Mount LyeIl, above all of the pinched and
blinking dwarfs that almost justify Darwin's mean ungodly word "struggle."
They form a rounded expansion upon the wedge of plant life that slants up
into the thin lean sky. They are the noblest plant mountaineers I ever saw,
climbing above the glaciers into the frosty azure, and flowering in purple
and gold, rich and abundant as ever responded to the thick, creamy sun-gold
of the tropics.
very cordially yours
In his reply to
this letter, which reflects Muir's watchful interest in the sun-warmed
winter cliff gardens above his cabin, Gray reported on the plants Muir had
sent for identification. "If you will keep botanizing in the High Sierra,"
be wrote, "you will find curious and new things, no doubt. One such, at
least, is in your present collection in letter - the wee mouse-tail Ivesia.
And the rare species of Lewisia is as good as new, and is so wholly to
California. . . . Ivesia Muirii is the first fruit - 'the day of small
things.' Get a new alpine genus, that I may make a Muiria glacialis!" The
primula so often referred to is the beautiful alpine red-purple Sierra
Primrose (Primula suffrutescens Gray).
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE VALLEY, March 30th, [1873.]
DEAR MRS. CARE:
Your two last are received. The package of
letters was picked up by a man in the Valley. There was none for thee. I
have Hetch Hetchy about ready. I did not intend that Tenaya ramble ["A
Geologist's Winter Walk"] for publication, but you know what is better.
I mean to write and send all kinds of game to
you with hides and feathers on, for if I wait until all become one it may be
too long. As for LeConte's "Glaciers," they will not hurt mine, but
hereafter I will say my thoughts to the public in any kind of words I chance
to command, for I am sure they will be better expressed in this way than in
any second-hand hash, however able.
Oftentimes when I am free in the wilds I
discover some rare beauty in lake or cataract or mountain form, and
instantly seek to sketch it with my pencil, but the drawing is always
enormously unlike the reality. So also in word sketches of the same beauties
that are so living, so loving, so filled with warm God, there is the same
infinite shortcoming. The few hard words make but a skeleton, fleshless,
heartless, and when you read, the dead bony words rattle in one's teeth. Yet
I will not the less endeavor to do my poor best, believing that even these
dead bone-heaps called articles will occasionally contain hints to some
living souls who know how to find them. I have not received Dr. Stebbins'
letter. Give him and all my friends love from me. I sent Harry Edwards the
butterflies I had lost. Did he get them?
Farewell, dear, dear spiritual mother. Heaven
repay your everlasting love.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
[YOSEMITE], April 1st, 1873
DEAR MRS. CARR:
Yours containing Dr. Stebbins' was received
to-day. Some of our letters come in by Mariposa, some by Coulterville, and
some by Oak Flat, causing large delays.
I expect to be able to send this out next
Sunday, and with it "Hetch Hetchy," which is about ready, and from this time
you will receive about one article a month.
This letter of yours is a very delightful one. I
shall look eagerly for the "Rural Homes."
When I know Dr. Stebbins' summer address I will
write to him. He is a dear young soul, though an old man. I am "not to
write" - therefore, farewell, with love.
I will some time send you
Big Tuolumne Caņon
Ascent of Mount Ritter
Formation of Yosemite Valley
Other Yosemite Valleys (1, 2, 3, 4, or more)
The Lake District
Formation of Lakes
Transformation of Lakes to Meadows, Wet
The Glacial Period
Formation of Simple Canons to Meadows, Dry
Formation of Compound Canons to Sandy Flats, Treeless, or to Sandy Flats,
Description of Each Glacier of Region Origin of Sierra Forests
Distribution of. Forests
A Description of each of the Yosemite Falls, and of the Basins from whence
Yosemite Shadows, as Related to Groves,
Meadows and Bends of the River Avalanches, Earthquakes, Birds, Bears, etc.
and "mony mae."
To Sarah Muir
September 3rd, 1873
DEAR SISTER SARAH:
I have just returned from the longest and
hardest trip I have ever made in the mountains, having been gone over five
weeks. I am weary, but resting fast; sleepy, but sleeping deep and fast;
hungry, but eating much. For two weeks I explored the glaciers of the
summits east of here, sleeping among the snowy mountains without blankets
and with but little to eat on account of its being so inaccessible. After my
icy experiences it seems strange to be down here in so warm and flowery a
I will soon be
off again, determined to use all the season in prosecuting my researches -
will go next to Kings River a hundred miles south, then to Lake Tahoe and
adjacent mountains, and in winter work in Oakland with my pen.
The Scotch are slow, but some day I will have
the results of my mountain studies in a form in which you all will be able
to read and judge of them. In the mean time I write occasionally for the
"Overland Monthly," but neither these magazine articles nor my first book
will form any finished part of the scientific contribution that I hope to
make.... The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I
can, studying incessantly.
My love to you all, David and the children and
Mrs. Galloway who though shut out from sunshine yet dwells in Light. I will
write again when I return from Kings River Caņon. The leaf sent me from
China is for Cecelia.
Farewell, with love everlasting
The exploratory excursion into the Kings River
region, which he had in prospect when he wrote to his sister, forms the
subject of several of the following letters. As both the letters and his
notebooks show, the trip involved almost incredible physical exertion and
endurance on his part. By delaying his start for a day, Muir succeeded in
persuading Galen Clark to go along. Unfortunately the latter's duties as
Guardian of Yosemite Valley compelled him to leave the party before its
objects had been accomplished. In his volume, "The Yosemite," Muir has paid
a warm tribute to Clark both as a man and a mountaineer. After the botanist
Dr. A. Kellogg and the artist William Simms left him at Mono, Muir pushed on
alone to Lake Tahoe.
Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
STATION, September 13th, 
DEAR MRS. CARR:
We have just arrived from the Valley, and are
now fairly off for the ice in the highest and broadest of the Sierras. Our
party consists of the blessed Doctor [A. Kellogg] and Billy Simms, Artist,
and I am so glad that the Doctor will have company when I am among the
summits. We hoped to have secured Clark also, a companion for me among the
peaks and snow, but alack, I must go alone. Well, I will not complain a
word, for I shall be overpaid a thousand, thousand fold. I can give you no
measured idea of the time of our reaching Tahoe, but I will write always on
coming to stations if such there be in the rocks or sage where letters are
Now for God's
glorious mountains. I will miss you, yet you will more than half go. It is
only now that I feel that I am taking leave of you. Farewell. Love to all.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Camp on South Fork, San Joaquin, near divide of
San Joaquin and Kings River,
September 27th [?} [1873.]
DEAR MRS. CARR:
We have been out nearly two weeks. Clark is
going to leave us. Told me five minutes ago. Am a little nervous about it,
but will of course push on alone.
We came out through the Mariposa Grove, around
the head of the Chiquita Joaquin, across the caņon of the North Fork of San
Joaquin, then across the caņon of Middle Fork of San Joaquin, and up the
east side of the South Fork one day's journey. Then picked our wild way
across the caņon of the South Fork and came up one day's journey on the west
side of the caņon; there we made a camp for four days. I was anxious to see
the head fountains of this river, and started alone, Clark not feeling able
to bear the fatigue involved in such a trip. I set out without blankets for
a hard climb; followed the Joaquin to its glaciers, and climbed the highest
mountain I could find at its head, which was either Mount Humphreys or the
mountain next south. This is a noble mountain, considerably higher than any
I have before ascended. The map of the Geological Survey gives no detail of
this wild region.
gone from camp four days; discovered fifteen glaciers, and yosemite valleys
"many O." The view from that glorious mountain (13,500 feet high?) is not to
be attempted here. Saw over into Owens River valley and all across the
fountains of Kings River. I got back to camp last evening. This morning
after breakfast Clark said that he ought to be at home attending to business
and could not feel justified in being away, and therefore had made up his
mind to leave us, going home by way of the valley of the main Joaquin.
We will push over to the Kings River region and
attempt to go down between the Middle and North Forks. Thence into the caņon
of the South Fork and over the range to Owens Valley, and south to Mount
Whitney if the weather holds steady, then for Tahoe, etc. As we are groping
through unexplored regions our plans may be considerably modified. I feel a
little anxious about the lateness of the season. We may be at Tahoe in three
or four weeks.
We had a
rough time crossing the Middle Fork of the Joaquin. Browny rolled down over
the rocks, not sidewise but end over end. One of the mules rolled
boulder-like in a yet more irregular fashion. Billy went forth to sketch
while I was among the glaciers, and got lost - was thirty-six hours without
I have named a
grand wide-winged mountain on the head of the Joaquin Mount Emerson. Its
head is high above its fellows and wings are white with ice and snow.
This is a dear bonnie morning, the sun rays
lovingly to His precious mountain pines. The brown meadows are nightly
frosted browner and the yellow aspens are losing their leaves. I wish I
could write to you, but hard work near and far presses heavily and I cannot.
Nature makes huge demands, yet pays an thousand, thousand fold. As in all
the mountains I have seen about the head of Merced and Tuolumne this region
is a song of God.
way home yesterday afternoon I gathered you these orange leaves from a grove
of one of the San Joaquin yosemites. Little thought I that you would receive
them so soon.
me to the Doctor and the boys and to Mrs. and Mr. Moore and Keith. Dr.
Kellogg wishes to be kindly remembered. Farewell.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Camp in dear Bonnie Grove where the pines meet
the foothill oaks. About eight or ten miles southeast from the confluence of
the North Fork of Kings River with the trunk.
October 2d[?] [1873.]
DEAR MRS. CARR:
After Clark's departure a week ago we climbed
the divide between the South Fork of the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers. I
scanned the vast landscape on which the ice had written wondrous things.
After a short scientific feast I decided to attempt entering the valley of
the west branch of the North Fork, which we did, following the bottom of the
valley for about ten miles, then was compelled to ascend the west side of
the caņon into the forest. About six miles farther down we made out to
reenter the caņon where there is a yosemite valley, and by hard efforts
succeeded in getting out on the opposite side and reaching the divide
between the North Fork and the Middle Fork. We then followed the top of the
divide nearly to the confluence of the North Fork with the trunk, and
crossed the main river yesterday, and are now in the pines again over all
the wildest and most impracticable portions of our journey.
In descending the divide to the, main Kings
River we made a descent of near seven thousand feet, "down derry down" with
a vengeance, to the hot pineless foothills. We rose again and it was a most
grateful resurrection. Last night I watched the writing of the spiry pines
on the sky gray with stars, and if you had been here I would have said,
when the Doctor and I were bed-building, discussing as usual the goodnesses
and badnesses of boughy mountain beds, we were astonished by the appearance
of two prospectors coming through the mountain rye. By them I send this
To-day we will
reach some of the Sequoias near Thomas' Mill (vide Map of Geological
Survey), and in two or three days more will be in the caņon of the South
Fork of Kings River. If the weather appears tranquil when we reach the
summit of the range I may set out among the glaciers for a few days, but if
otherwise I shall push hastily for the Owens River plains, and thence up to
working hard and shall not feel easy until I am on the other wise beyond the
reach of early snowstorms. Not that I fear snowstorms for myself, but the
poor animals would die or suffer.
The Doctor's duster and fly-net are safe, and
therefore he is. Billy is in good spirits, apt to teach sketching in and out
of season. Remember me to the Doctor and the boys and Moores and Keith, etc.
Ever yours truly
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
INDEPENDENCE, October 16th, 1873
DEAR MRS. CARR:
All of my season's mountain work is done. I have
just come down from Mount Whitney and the newly discovered mountain five
miles northwest of Whitney, and now our journey is a simple saunter along
the base of the range to Tahoe, where we will arrive about the end of the
month, or a few days earlier.
I have seen a good deal more of the high
mountain region about the heads of Kings and Kern Rivers than I expected to
see in so short and so late a time. Two weeks ago I left the Doctor and
Billy in the Kings River yosemite, and set out for Mount Tyndall and
adjacent mountains and canons. I ascended Tyndall and ran down into the Kern
River caņon and climbed some nameless mountains between Tyndall and Whitney,
and thus gained a pretty good general idea of the region. After crossing the
range by the Kearsage Pass, I again left the Doctor and Billy and pushed
southward along the range and northward and up Cottonwood Creek to Mount
Whitney; then over to the Kern Caņon again and up to the new "highest" peak
which I did not ascend, as there was no one to attend to my horse.
Thus you see I have rambled this highest portion
of the Sierra pretty thoroughly, though hastily. I spent a night without
fire or food in a very icy wind-storm on one of the spires of the new
highest peak, by some called Fisherman's Peak. [Now called Mount Whitney. An
error in the first Geological Survey map, explained by Clarence King in the
second edition of his Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, led to the
identification of Sheep Mountain as Mount Whitney.] That I am already quite
recovered from the tremendous exposure proves that the day previous I
climbed two mountains, making over ten thousand feet of altitude. It seems
that this new Fisherman's Peak is causing some stir in the newspapers. If I
feel writeful I will send you a sketch of the region for the "Overland."
I saw no mountains in all this grand region that
appeared at all inaccessible to a mountaineer. Give me a summer and a bunch
of matches and a sack of meal and I will climb every mountain in the region.
I have passed through Lone Pine and noted the
yosemite and local subsidences accomplished by the earthquakes. The bunchy
bushy composite of Owen's Valley are glorious. I got back from Whitney this
P.M. How I shall sleep! My life rose wave-like with those lofty granite
waves. Now it may wearily float for a time along the smooth flowery plain.
Love to all my friends.
Ever cordially yours
The "stir in the
newspapers," alluded to by Muir, was partly at the expense of Clarence King
who, in his published account of what he believed to have been the first
ascent of Mount Whitney, had described it as a somewhat venturesome
undertaking. It now became evident that he had missed Mount Whitney and
climbed an easy neighboring mountain of less elevation. In 1903 Mr. George
W. Stewart published in the "Mount Whitney Club Journal" a communication
from Muir which is of considerable interest in this connection, not only
because it presents the original records of first ascents of Mount Whitney,
but also because in it Muir states it to have been his uniform practice
never to leave his name on any mountain, rock, or tree. "Reading the
accounts of these Whitney climbs [in the above-mentioned journal] recalls to
mind," he writes, "my first ascent in October, 1873. Early in the morning of
the 25th I left my horse on a meadow a short distance north of the Hockett
trail crossing of the summit, and climbed the mountain (now Sheep Mountain),
about fourteen thousand feet high, named Mount Whitney on the State
Geological Survey map of the region. To the north about eight miles I saw a
higher peak and set off to climb it the same day. I reached the summit
needles about eleven o'clock that night, and danced most of the time until
morning, as the night was bitterly cold and I was in my shirt-sleeves. The
stars and the dawn and the sunrise were glorious, but, having had no supper,
I was hungry and hastened back to camp, and to Independence, where I left my
horse, and set out again for the summit afoot, direct from the east side,
going up a caņon opposite Lone Pine. I reached the summit about eight
o'clock A.M., October 29, 1873. In a yeast-powder can I found the following
account of first ascents, which I copied into my notebook as follows:
Sept. 19, 1873. This peak, Mt. Whitney, was this
day climbed by Clarence King, U.S. Geologist, and Frank F. Knowles, of Tule
River. On Sept. 1st, in New York, I first learned that the high peak south
of here, which I climbed in 1871, was not Mt. Whitney, and I immediately
came here. Clouds and storms prevented me from recognizing this in 1871, or
I should have come here then.
All honor to those who came here before me.
Notice. Gentlemen, the looky finder of this half
a dollar is welcome to it. CARL RABE Sep. 6th, 1873
"Of course, I replaced these records, as well as
Carl Rabe's half a dollar, but did not add my own name. I have never left my
name on any mountain, rock, or tree in any wilderness I have explored or
passed through, though I have spent ten years in the Sierra alone."
In this Kings-Kern-Tahoe excursion Muir had
traveled over a thousand wilderness miles, climbed numerous peaks, and
discovered many glaciers and new yosemites. His observations had furnished
him with a harvest of new facts to be utilized in the projected series of
"Studies in the Sierra" which he had agreed to write for the "Overland
Monthly" during the coming winter. His articles on "Hetch Hetchy Valley,"
and "Explorations in the Great Tuolumne Caņon," had appeared in the same
magazine during July and August, lifting him at once to the rank of its
foremost contributor. In the second of these articles he had disproved
Whitney's statement that the Tuolumne Caņon was "probably inaccessible
through its entire length," and that "it certainly cannot be entered from
its head." "I have entered the Great Caņon from the north by three different
side canons," wrote Muir, "and have passed through it from end to end. . .
without encountering any extraordinary difficulties. I am sure that it may
be entered at more than fifty different points along the walls by
mountaineers of ordinary nerve and skill. At the head it is easily
accessible On both sides."
But Muir, as the reader will have perceived, was
a mountaineer of more than ordinary nerve and skill, and one secret of his
amazing physical endurance was not in his muscles, but in the spirit which
they served. Of this fact he was not wholly unaware when he wrote, "It is
astonishing how high and far we can climb in mountains that we love." But he
seems to have been conscious, also, of the development, in himself, of a
kind of muscle sense referred to in a passage which he wrote during the
exploring season of 1873:
The life of a mountaineer is favorable to the
development of soul-life as well as limb-life, each receiving abundance of
exercise and abundance of food. We little suspect the great capacity that
our flesh has for knowledge. Oftentimes in climbing caņon-walls I have come
to polished slopes near the heads of precipices that seemed to be too steep
to be ventured upon. After scrutinizing them, and carefully noting every
dint and scratch that might give hope of a foothold, I have decided that
they were unsafe. Yet my limbs, possessing a separate sense, would be of a
different opinion, after they also had examined the descent, and confidently
have set out to cross the condemned slopes against the remonstrances of my
other will. My legs sometimes transport me to camp in the darkness, over
cliffs and through bogs and forests that are inaccessible to city legs
during the day, even when piloted by the mind which owns them.
On the first of November Muir had reached Lake
Tahoe and in two weeks he was in Yosemite again. The Yosemite chapter of his
life was about to close and it cost him a severe struggle to separate
himself from the beloved Valley. But he had engaged himself to bring to
paper his mountain studies during the winter, a task that involved at least
a temporary sojourn in a place within easy reach of San Francisco. "I
suppose I must go into society this winter," he wrote to his sister Sarah on
November 14, 1873. "I would rather go back in some undiscoverable corner
beneath the rafters of an old garret with my notes and books and listen to
the winter rapping and blowing on the roof. May start for Oakland in a day
or two. Will probably live in Professor Carr's family."
He departed as the first snowflakes began to
whirl over the Valley which thereafter was to know him as a resident no
more. When he reached Oakland the Carr household was in deep mourning over
the tragic death of the eldest son, so he accepted the offer of a room in
the home of his friends Mr. and Mrs. J. B. McChesney, at 1364 Franklin