IT seems impossible that any
human being can ever have looked upon Yosemite Valley without raising the
question of its origin. Its physical features, sculptured in granite, are so
extraordinary that they at once stimulate the imagination to go in quest of
the efficient cause. Even the Indians are said to have speculated about the
Valley's origin in their legends, and the first white men who entered it in
1851, and encamped on the river-bank opposite El Capitan, immediately
occupied themselves with the question in their campfire talk. Although the
gold rush began in 1849, it was not until the beginning of the sixties that
a systematic geological survey of California was begun. Until then the state
was, geologically speaking, an unknown land. In the interest of the growing
industrial importance of mining this situation called for remedy, and in
1860 the California Legislature passed an Act to create the office of State
Geologist, and by a section of the same Act Josiah D. Whitney was appointed
to fill the office.
Whitney had the backing of
the leading geologists of his day and was a man of such prominence in his
field that he was made Professor of Geology at Harvard in 1865. He gathered
around him an able staff of assistants, among whom were William H. Brewer,
Charles F. Hoffman, and William M. Gabb. In 1863 Clarence King, also, joined
this group as volunteer assistant in geological field-work. During the
period from 1860 to 1874 Whitney conducted, with these and other assistants,
a topographical, geological, and natural history survey of California,
issuing six volumes under the title of "Geological Survey of California"
(Cambridge, 1865-70). The first volume, "Geology of California," published
in 1865, brought an intimation of the theory Whitney was going to propound
on the subject of Yosemite's origin. "The domes," he wrote, "and such masses
as that of Mount Broderick, we conceive to have been formed by the process
of upheaval, for we can discover nothing about them which looks like the
result of ordinary denudation. The Half Dome seems, beyond a doubt, to have
been split asunder in the middle, the lost half having gone down in what may
truly be said to have been 'the wreck of matter and the crush of worlds." In
1869 he published "The Yosemite Guide-Book" and came to be regarded as the
foremost scientific authority on everything pertaining to Yosemite Valley.
In this book he set forth his view of the Valley's origin as follows: "We
conceive that, during the process of upheaval of the Sierra, or, possibly,
at some time after that had taken place, there was at the Yosemite a
subsidence of a limited area, marked by lines of 'fault' or fissures
crossing each other somewhat nearly at right angles. In other and more
simple language, the bottom of the Valley sank down to an unknown depth,
owing to its support being withdrawn from underneath during some of those
convulsive movements which must have attended the upheaval of so extensive
and elevated a chain."
It only excites wonder now
that a geologist of Professor Whitney's standing should have propounded a
theory so completely at variance with the evidence. Indeed, members of his
own corps pointed out that the floor of the Valley was of one piece with the
sides and that there was no evidence of fault lines or of fusion. Although
Clarence King had observed enough evidence of glaciation in the Valley to
venture the opinion that it had once been filled with ice to the depth of at
least a thousand feet, Whitney stoutly asserted that "there is no reason to
suppose, or at least no proof, that glaciers have ever occupied the Valley
or any portion of it so that this theory [of glacial erosion], based on
entire ignorance of the whole subject, may be dropped without wasting any
more time upon it." It should be added that Clarence King shared his chief's
belief in a cataclysmic origin of the Valley, holding that glaciers only
scoured and polished it after it had been formed. [See original edition of
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, p. 134 (1872). Several writers have
mistakenly made Clarence King the originator of the glacial erosion theory
as regards Yosemite. He held no such theory. He did not even precede Muir in
the publication of his glacial observations in the chapter entitled "Around
Yosemite Walls, "for that chapter, unlike the others, was not published
serially in 1871, but appeared for the first time in the above-mentioned
volume in 1872. The dates affixed to the chapters of King's book in the
Scribner reprint are misleading, for they do not give the date of
publication, but the years in which the observations are supposed to have
Guide-Book" was published by authority of the California Legislature and the
views set forth in it, therefore, had official sanction in the eyes of the
public. Its author was the first scientist of standing who had reached a
definite conclusion after an examination of the geological evidence and he
was little inclined to give serious consideration to any view except his
own. It required considerable courage, knowledge, and interpretative ability
to go up against such a strongly intrenched and assertive antagonist. But
Muir, recognizing the subsidence theory as contrary to his reading of the
geological record, accepted the challenge. During the very first year of his
residence in the Valley (1869-70) he had become convinced that it had not
been formed by a cataclysm, but by long, slow, natural processes in which
ice played by far the major part. He never lost an opportunity to discuss
the question with interested visitors to the Valley and soon became the
recognized and finally victorious opponent of the cataclysmic theory. Since
there has been some misapprehension among historical geologists as to the
time when Muir began to advocate the glacial erosion theory it seems
appropriate to introduce some evidence on this point.
In the autumn of 1871 there
issued from The Riverside Press, then Hurd and Houghton, a curious novel
entitled "Zanita, a Tale of the Yosemite." Little did the publishers dream
that the hero of the tale would one day become one of their most famous
authors. Few now remember the writer [Thrèse Yelverton, Viscountess Avonmore,
1832-81, authoress and plaintiff in the famous suit of Theiwall vs.
Yelverton which the Court of Common Pleas at Dublin, Ireland, decided in her
favor. Though on this occasion (1861) the validity of both her Irish and her
Scottish marriage to William Charles Yelverton, fourth Viscount Avonmore,
was affirmed, the latter finally succeeded in getting a majority of the
House of Lords to decide against the marriage (1867). Her maiden name was
Maria Teresa Longworth. When her slender fortune had been spent in
litigation she supported herself largely by her writings for which she found
the materials in wide-ranging travels. Her ease was heralded to the entire
English-speaking world not only by journalists, but by such plays as Cyrus
Redding's A Wife and not a Wife, and James Roderick O'Flanagan's novel
Gentle Blood, or The Secret Marriage.] of the novel, though she was one of
the most noted women of her time, and a warm friend of John Muir. The
novel's chief interest lies in the fact that the authoress, coming to
Yosemite Valley and taking up her abode there for a season in the spring of
1870, appropriated the inhabitants as characters of her tale, and reported
their conversations. The names of Oswald and Placida Naunton are only thin
disguises for Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Hutchings; Zanita and Cozy are their
daughters, Florence and Gertrude; Methley is James C. Lamon, and Professor
Brown seems to play for the most part the role of Professor Josiah D.
Whitney, but with occasional admixtures of Professor Joseph LeConte. The
hero of the novel is John Muir himself - under the name of Kenmuir. It is
the sobriquet by which she addresses him in extant letters, at the same time
identifying herself among the characters by signing herself as "Mrs. Brown."
"Dear Kenmuir," she writes in 1871, . .
"The Daughters of Ahwahnee will be out in fall.
How you will laugh when you see it. You and Cosa are the best survivors,
except the everlasting hills and vales." Subsequently, writing from Hong
Kong, she complained that the publishers had effaced many passages besides
changing the title to "Zanita." In spite of much exaggeration and unreal
sentiment., a student of early Yosemite life will find here more than a
historical setting. So much is clear from a reference to the book in one of
Yelverton's book [he writes] I have not yet seen. A friend sent me a copy,
but it failed to reach hither. I saw some of the manuscript and have some
idea of it. She had a little help from me, the use of my notebooks, etc.,
some of which, I suppose, she may have worked into her descriptions.
The Naunton family is the Hutchings family. The
name Zanita is a fragment of the word manzanita, the Spanish name of a very
remarkable California shrub. "Zanita" is Floy Hutchings, [Florence Hutchings
was the first white child born in Yosemite Valley (August 23, 1864). She
died in 1881, was buried in the Valley, and Mount Florence was named for
her.] a smart and handsome and mischievous Topsy that can scarce be
overdrawn.... She is about seven or eight years old. Her sister Cosa, as we
call her (I have forgotten what Mrs. Yelverton calls her), is more beautiful
far in body and mind, a very precious darling of a child. Mrs. Naunton or
Hutchings, was always kind to me, but Mr. Naunton is a very different
character in reality, whatever Mrs. Yelverton made of him.
As for Kenmuir, I don't think she knew enough of
wild nature to pen him well, but I have often worn shirts, soiled, ragged
and buttonless, but with a spray like what I sent you stuck somewhere, or a
carex, or chance flower. It is about all the vanity I persistently indulge
in, at least in bodily adornments.
There can be little doubt that we have in the
pages of this novel a fairly accurate description of Muir's personal
appearance in 1870, however distortedly she may have reproduced his views
and conversation. While to her mind "his garments had the tatterdemalion
style of a Mad Tom," she "soon divined that his refinement was innate, and
his education collegiate." "Kenmuir, I decided in my mind, was a gentleman,"
so runs her naïve comment, revealing her at the same time upon her own lofty
perch of assumed gentility. It is of interest to find her noting Muir's
"glorious auburn hair," "his open blue eyes of honest questioning," and "his
bright intelligent face, shining with a pure and holy enthusiasm." She saw
his "lithe figure. . . skipping over the rough boulders, poising with the
balance of an athlete, or skirting a shelf of rock with the cautious
activity of a goat, never losing for a moment the rhythmic motion of his
flexile form. . . His figure was about five feet nine, well knit, and
bespoke that active grace which only trained muscles can assume." This new
acquaintance, the like of whom, by her own confession, she had never met in
all her travels, proved a tempting hero for her tale of Yosemite. Either
from lack of skill in portrayal, or because in this case fact was stranger
than fiction, the reviewers of "Zanita" were left unconvinced. "One says
your character is all 'bosh,'" she writes to Muir, "and only exists in my
imagination. I should like to tell him that you had an existence in my heart
of the Valley's origin, always one of the primary interests of Yosemite
residents and visitors, is not overlooked by the author of "Zanita." The
appearance of Whitney's "Yosemite Guide-Book" naturally had given new
stimulus to discussion, particularly by the authoritative manner in which
its author sought to settle the question. The views attributed to Muir in
Mrs. Yelverton's reports of these discussions furnish a clue to the early
date at which he had reached conclusions opposed to those of Whitney. Among
the Valley conversations of 1870, related by her in chapter four, is one in
which the alias of Whitney ascribes the formation of the Valley to the
falling out of the bottom "in the wreck of creation," whereupon Kenmuir
gracious! there never was a 'wreck of creation.' As though the Lord did not
know how to navigate. No bottom He made ever fell out by accident. These
learned men pretend to talk of a catastrophe happening to the Lord's works,
as though it were some poor trumpery machine of their own invention. As it
is, it was meant to be.
"Why! I can show the Professor where the mighty
cavity has been grooved and wrought out for millions of years. A day and
eternity are as one in His mighty workshop. I can take you where you can see
for yourself how the glaciers have labored, and cut and carved, and
elaborated, until they have wrought out this royal road."
This novel also indicates that Muir knew at
least as early as 1870 that ice had overridden Glacier Point, a fact of some
historical interest since the origin of the name is not certainly known, and
if any one other than Muir bestowed it he can hardly have grasped the
meaning of the evidences of glaciation observed there. One would naturally
suppose Clarence King to have been the first to perceive both the fact and
the significance of it, but he set the limit of the highest ice-flood far
below Glacier Point. But Muir, during the first year of his residence in the
Valley, had fathomed the meaning of its glacial phenomena much more
completely than he has ever received credit for, and when he propounded a
theory of glacial erosion to account for the Valley's origin, he apparently
had already correlated the ice-record on Glacier Point. At any rate Mrs.
Yelverton, in speaking of Glacier Point as the place where she had first
seen Muir, notes the existence there of "traces of ancient glaciers which he
said 'are no doubt the instruments the Almighty used in the formation of the
direct, witness that Muir held the glacial origin theory as early as 1870,
and probably earlier, is found in the writings of his friend Joseph LeConte.
The latter, for many years Professor of Geology in the University of
California, arrived in the State one year later than Muir and made his first
visit to Yosemite and the High Sierra with a company of students in the
summer of 1870. Muir and Le- Conte met in Yosemite through the mediation of
Mrs. Carr, and Muir, on account of his knowledge of the region north of
Yosemite, was invited to accompany the party across the crest of the Sierra
to Mono Lake. On the night of the eighth of August the party was encamped on
a meadow near what is now called Eagle Peak, and there LeConte made the
following entry in his journal:
After dinner, lay down on our blankets, and
gazed up through the magnificent tall spruces into the deep blue sky and the
gathering masses of white clouds. Mr. Muir gazes and gazes and cannot get
his fill. He is a most passionate lover of nature. Plants, and flowers, and
forests, and sky, and clouds, and mountains, seem actually to haunt his
imagination. He seems to revel in the freedom of this life. I think he would
pine away in a city or in conventional life of any kind. He is really not
only an intelligent man, as I saw at once, but a man of strong, earnest
nature, and thoughtful, closely observing and original mind. I have talked
much with him to-day about the probable manner in which Yosemite was formed.
He fully agrees with me that the peculiar cleavage of the rock is a most
important point, which must not be left out of account. He further believes
that the Valley has been wholly formed by causes still in operation in the
Sierra - that the Merced Glacier and the Merced River and its branches.. .
have done the whole work.
This reference of LeConte to Muir's glacial
observations fully bears out the evidence of Mrs. Yelverton's novel that
Muir had as early as 1870 definitely reached the conclusion that Yosemite is
not the result of a sudden and exceptional catastrophe, but the product of
"causes still in operation," as stated by Professor LeConte. In other words
Muir was at this time aware also of the existence of residual glaciers in
the High Sierra, for in his letter of August 7, 1870, he mentions his
intention "to set some stakes in a dozen glaciers and gather some arithmetic
for clothing my thoughts." A year later (1871) he had verified by actual
measurements his belief that what Whitney called snowfields were glaciers,
and he had also found one in the Merced group of mountains that was
delivering glacial mud, or rock meal, showing that the process of erosion on
a small scale was still going on.
LeConte's inference from Muir's conversation,
that he believed the ancient Merced Glacier and subsequent Merced River to
"have done the whole work" of forming Yosemite Valley, requires some
modification, for Muir did assume a certain amount of pre-glacial and
post-glacial erosion, as may be seen in certain passages of his "Sierra
Studies." But it still is far from proved that he was wrong in regarding
these particular erosion factors as subordinate. In justice to Muir it must,
of course, be remembered that neither he nor any other geologist was at this
time reckoning with the work of successive glacial epochs, least of all in
Yosemite where the evidence of two glaciations remains speculative and
theoretical. These are, at most, but shiftings of the boundaries of the
original problem, and in no way detract from the value of Muir's pioneering
Muir most at this time was the ease with which bands of Yosemite pilgrims
were captured by Whitney's exceptional creation theory of the Valley's
origin, thus coming to regard it as "the latest, most uncompanioned wonder
of the earth."
wonder [said Muir] that a scientist standing on the Valley floor and looking
up at its massive walls, has been unable to interpret its history. The
magnitude of the characters in which the account of its origin is recorded
has prevented him from reading it. "We have interrogated," says the
scientist, "all the known valley-producing causes. The torrent has replied,
'It was not I'; the glacier has answered, 'It was not I'; and the august
forces that fold and crevass whole mountain chains disclaim all knowledge of
But, during my few
years' acquaintance with it, I have found it not full of chaos,
uncompanioned and parentless. I have found it one of many Yosemite valleys,
which differ not more than one pine tree differs from another. Attentive
study and comparison of these throws a flood of light upon the origin of the
Yosemite; uniting her, by birth, with sister valleys distributed through all
the principal river-basins of the range.
The scorn with which Whitney and his assistants
rejected Muir's theory and observations as those of a "shepherd" had not the
slightest discouraging effect upon him, for he knew they had seen but a
fraction of the evidence, and that hastily. It only sent him back to his
mountain temples for more revealing facts which he wrote and preached to his
friends with the zeal of a Hebrew prophet and no apology except that of
Amos, "The Lord Jehovah hath spoken; who can but prophesy?" It is the voice
of a man with a divine call that is heard in the following letters:
To Catharine Merrill
YOSEMITE VALLEY, July 12th, 
Your sister's note which came with the little
plants tells that you are about to escape from the frightful tendencies of a
"Christian" school to the smooth shelter of home. I glanced at the
regulations, order, etc., in the catalogue which you sent, and the grizzly
thorny ranks of cold enslaving "musts" made me shudder as I fancy I should
had I looked into a dungeon of the olden times full of rings and thumbscrews
and iron chains. You deserve great credit for venturing into such a place.
None but an Indiana professor would dare the dangers of such a den of
ecclesiastical slave-drivers. I suppose that you were moved to go among
those flint Christians by the same motives of philanthropy which urged you
amongst other forms of human depravity.
From my page I hold my bosom to our purple rocks
and snowy waters and think of the divine repose which enwraps them all
together with the tuned flies, and birds, and plants which inhabit them, and
I thank God for this tranquil freedom, this glorious mountain Yosemite
I have been
with you and your apostolic friends these fifteen minutes and I feel a kind
of choking and sinking as though I were smothering in nightmare. Come to
Yosemite! Change the subject.
Last Sabbath week I read one of the most
magnificent of God's own mountain manuscripts my rambles of the last two
years in the basin of Yosemite Creek north of the Valley, I had gathered
many faint hints from what I read as glacial footprints in the rocks worn by
the storms and blotting chemistry of ages. Now there is a deep canon in the
top of the Valley wall near the upper Yosemite Falls which has engaged my
attention for more than a year, and I could not account for its formation in
any other way than by a theory which involved the supposition that a glacier
formerly filled the basin of the stream above Suddenly the big truth came to
the birth. I ran up the mountain, 'round to the top of the falls, said my
prayers, received baptism in the irised spray and ran northward toward the
head of the basin, full of faith, confident that there was a writing for me
somewhere on the rock, and I had not drifted four miles before I found all
that I had so long sought in a narrow hollow where the ice had been
compelled to wedge through under great pressure, thus deeply grooving and
hardening the granite and making it less susceptible of decomposition. I
continued up the stream to its source in the snows of Mt. Hoffman, and
everywhere discovered strips of meadow and sandy levels formed from the
matter of moraine sand and bouldery accumulations of all kinds, smoothed and
leveled by overflowing waters.
This dead glacier was about twelve miles in
length by about five in breadth - of depth I have as yet no reliable data.
Its course was nearly north and south, at right angles to the branches of
the summit glaciers which entered Yosemite by the canons of the Tenaya and
Nevada streams. It united with those opposite Hutchings, in the Valley.
Perhaps it was not born so early as those of the summits, but I am sure that
it died long before they were driven from the canons of Nevada and Teñaya.
This is intensely interesting to me, and from its semi-philosophic character
ought to be so in some degree to any professor. You must write. My love to
all. You must write. I start tomorrow for the High Sierra about Mt. Dana and
over in the Mono basin among the lavas and volcanoes. Will be back in a
To Mrs. Ezra S.
I was so stunned and dazed by your last that I
have not been able to write anything. I was sure that you were coming, and
you cannot come, and Mr. King, the artist, left me the other day, and I am
done with Hutchings, and I am lonely. Well, it must be wait, for although
there is no common human reason why I should not see you and civilization in
Oakland, I cannot escape from the powers of the mountains. I shall tie some
flour and a blanket behind my saddle and return to the Mono region, and try
to decide some questions that require undisturbed thought. Then I will stalk
about over the summit slates of Dana and Gibbs and Lyell, reading new
chapters of glacial manuscript and more if I can. Then, perhaps, I will
follow the Tuolumne down to the Hetch Hetchy Yosemite. Then perhaps follow
every Yosemite stream back to its smallest sources in the mountains of the
Lyell group and the Cathedral group and the Obelisk and Mt. Hoffman. This
will, perhaps, be my work until the coming of the winter snows, when I will
probably find a sheltered rock nook where I can make a nest of leaves and
mosses and doze until spring.
I expect to be entirely alone in these mountain
walks, and notwithstanding the glorious portion of daily bread which my soul
will receive in these fields where only the footprints of God are seen, the
gloamin' will be very lonely, but I will cheerfully pay this price of
friendship, hunger, and all besides.
I suppose you have seen Mr. King, who kindly
carried some [butter]flies for Mr. Edwards. [Mr. Henry Edwards, actor and
entomologist; for a report on this package of butterflies see pp. 263, 264,
ch. viii.] I thought you would easily see him or let him know that you had
his specimens. I collected most of them upon Mount Hoffman, but was so busy
in assisting Reilly that I could not do much in butterflies. Hereafter I
shall be entirely free.
The purples and yellows begin to come in the
green of our groves and the rocks have the autumn haze and the water songs
are at their lowest hushings. Young birds are big as old ones, and it is the
time of ripe berries, and is it true that those are Bryant's "melancholy
days"? I don't know. I will not think, but I will go above these brooding
days to the higher brighter mountains..
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE, September 8th, 1871
I am sorry that King made you uneasy about me.
He does not understand me as you do, and you must not heed him so much. He
thinks that I am melancholy, and above all that I require polishing. I feel
sure that if you were here to see how happy I am, and how ardently I am
seeking a knowledge of the rocks you could not call me away, but would
gladly let me go with only God and his written rocks to guide me. You would
not think of calling me to make machines or a home, or of rubbing me against
other minds, or of setting me up for measurement. No, dear friend, you would
say, "Keep your mind untrammeled and pure. Go unfrictioned, unmeasured, and
God give you the true meaning and interpretation of his mountains."
You know that for the last three years I have
been ploddingly making observations about this Valley and the high mountain
region to the East of it, drifting broodingly about and taking in every
natural lesson that I was fitted to absorb. In particular the great Valley
has always kept a place in my mind. How did the Lord make it? What tools did
He use? How did He apply them and when? I considered the sky above it and
all of its opening canons, and studied the forces that came in by every door
that I saw standing open, but I could get no light. Then I said, "You are
attempting what is not possible for you to accomplish. Yosemite is the end
of a grand chapter. If you would learn to read it go commence at the
Then I went
above to the alphabet valleys of .1the summits, comparing canon with cañon,
with all their varieties of rock structure and cleavage, and the comparative
size and slope of the glaciers and waters which they contained. Also the
grand congregation of rock creations were present to me, and I studied their
forms and sculpture. I soon had a key to every Yosemite rock and
perpendicular and sloping wall. The grandeur of these forces and their
glorious results overpower me, and inhabit my whole being. Waking or
sleeping I have no rest. In dreams I read-blurred sheets of glacial writing
or follow lines of cleavage or struggle with the difficulties of some
extraordinary rock form. Now it is clear that woe is me if I do not drown
this tendency toward nervous prostration by constant labor in working up the
details of this whole question. I have been down from the upper rocks only
three days and am hungry for exercise already.
Professor Runkle, [John Daniel Runkle.]
President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was here last week,
and I preached my glacial theory to him for five days, taking him into the
canons of the Valley and up among the grand glacier wombs and pathways of
the summit. He was fully convinced of the truth of my readings, and urged me
to write out the glacial system of Yosemite and its tributaries for the
Boston Academy of Science. I told him that I meant to write my thoughts for
my own use and that I would send him the manuscript and if he and his wise
scientific brothers thought it of sufficient interest they might publish it.
He is going to send me some instruments, and I
mean to go over all the glacier basins carefully, working until driven down
by the snow. In winter I can make my drawings and maps and write out notes.
So you see that for a year or two I will be very busy.
I have settled with Hutchings and have no
dealings with him now. I think that next spring I will have to guide a month
or two for pocket money, although I do not like the work. I suppose I might
live for one or two seasons without work. I have five hundred dollars here,
and I have been sending home money to my sisters and brothers - perhaps
about twelve or fifteen hundred, and a man in Canada owes me three or four
hundred dollars more which I suppose I could get if I was in need; but you
know that the Scotch do not like to spend their last dollar. Some of my
friends are badgering me to write for some of the magazines, and I am almost
tempted to try it, only I am afraid that this would distract my mind from my
main work more than the distasteful and depressing labor of the mill or of
guiding. What do you think about it?
Suppose I should give some of the journals my
first thoughts about this glacier work as I go along, and afterwards gather
them and press them for the Boston wise. Or will it be better to hold my
wheesht [Scotch word for "silence."] and say it all at a breath? You see how
practical I have become, and how fully I have burdened you with my little
will ask, "What plan are you going to pursue in your work?" Well, here it is
- the only book I ever have invented. First, I will describe each glacier
with its tributaries separately, then describe the rocks and hills and
mountains over which they have flowed or past which they have flowed,
endeavoring to prove that all of the various forms which those rocks now
have is the necessary result of the ice action in connection with their
structure and cleavage, etc. - also the different kinds of caflons and lake
basins and meadows which they have made. Then, armed with these data, I will
come down to Yosemite, where all of my ice has come, and prove that each
dome and brow and wall, and every grace and spire and brother is the
necessary result of the delicately balanced blows of well directed and
combined glaciers against the parent rocks which contained them, only thinly
carved and moulded in some instances by the subsequent action of water, etc.
Libby sent me Tyndall's new book, and I have
looked hastily over it. It is an alpine mixture of very pleasant taste, and
I wish I could enjoy reading and talking it with you. I expect Mrs.
Hutchings will accompany her husband to the East this winter, and there will
not be one left with whom I can exchange a thought. Mrs. Hutchings is going
to leave me out all the books I want, and Runkle is going to send me Darwin.
These, with my notes and maps, will fill my winter hours, if my eyes do not
fail. And now that you see my whole position I think that you would not call
me to the excitements and distracting novelties of civilization.
This bread question is very troublesome. I will
eat anything you think will suit me. Send up either by express to Big Oak
Flat or by any other chance, and I will remit the money required in any way
My love to
all and more thanks than I can write for your constant kindness.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE, September or October, 1871
DEAR FRIEND MRS. CARR:
I am again upon the bottom meadow of Yosemite,
after a most intensely interesting bath among the outer mountains. I have
been exploring the upper tributaries of the Cascade and Tamarack streams,
and in particular all of the basin of Yosemite Creek. The present basin of
every stream which enters the Valley on the north side was formerly filled
with ice, which also flowed into the Valley, although the ancient ice basins
did not always correspond with the present water basins because glaciers can
flow up hill. The whole of the north wall of the valley was covered with an
unbroken flow of ice, with perhaps the single exception of the crest of
Eagle Cliff, and though the book of glaciers gradually dims as we go lower
on the range, yet I fully believe that future investigation will show that
in the earlier ages of Sierra Nevada ice vast glaciers flowed to the foot of
the range east of Yosemite, and also north and south at an elevation of 9000
feet. The glacier basins are almost unchanged, and I believe that ice was
the agent by which all of the present rocks received their special forms.
More of this some other day. Would that I could
have you here or in any wild place where I can think and speak! Would you
not be thoroughly iced? You would not find in me one unglacial thought.
Come, and I will tell you how El Capitan and Tissiack were fashioned.
I will most likely live at Black's Hotel this
winter in charge of the premises, and before next spring I will have an
independent cabin built, with a special Carr corner where you and the Doctor
can come and stay all summer. Also, I will have a tent so that we can camp
and receive night blessings where we choose, and then I will have horses
enough so that we can go to the upper temples also.
I wish you could see Lake Tenaya. It is one of
the most perfectly and richly spiritual places in the mountains, and I would
like to preempt there. Somehow I should feel like leaving home in going to
Hetch Hetchy. Besides, there is room there for many other claims, and soon
will fill with coarse homesteads. But as the winter is so severe at Lake
Tenaya, very few will care to live there. Hetch Hetchy is about four
thousand feet above sea, while Lake Tenaya is eight. I have been living in
these mountains in so haunting, hovering, floating a way, that it seems
strange to cast any kind of an anchor. All is so equal in glory, so
ocean-like, that to choose one place above another is like drawing dividing
lines in the sky.
think I answered your last with respect to remaining here in winter. I can
do much of this ice work in the quiet, and the whole subject is purely
physical, so that I can get but little from books. All depends upon the
goodness of one's eyes. No scientific book in the world can tell me how this
Yosemite granite is put together, or how it has been taken down. Patient
observation and constant brooding above the rocks, lying upon them for years
as the ice did, is the way to arrive at the truths which are graven so
lavishly upon them.
Would that I knew what good prayers I could say,
or good deeds I could do, so that ravens would bring me bread and venison
for the next two years. Then would I get some tough gray clothes, the color
of granite, so no one could see or find me but yourself Then would I
reproduce the ancient ice-rivers, and watch their workings and dwell with
them. I go again to my lessons tormorrow morning.
Some snow fell and, bye the bye, I must tell you
about it. If poor, good, melancholic Cowper had been here yesterday morning
here is just what he would have sung:
"The rocks have been washed, just washed in a
Which winds to their faces conveyed.
The plentiful cloudlets bemuffled their brows,
Or lay on their beautiful heads.
But cold sighed the winds in the fir trees
And down in the pine trees below;
For the rain that came laying and washing in love
Was followed, alas, by a snow."
Which, being unmetaphored and prosed into sense,
means that yesterday morning a strong southeast wind, cooled among the
highest snows of the Sierra, drove back the warm northwest winds from the
hot San Joaquin plains and burning foothill woods, and piled up a jagged
cloud addition to our Valley walls. Soon those white clouds began to darken
and to reach out long filmy edges, which uniting over the Valley made a
close dark ceiling. Then came rain, unsteady at first, now a heavy gush,
then a sprinkling halt, as if the clouds so long out of practice had
forgotten something. But after a half hour of experimental pouring and
sprinkling there came an earnest, steady, well-controlled rain. On the
mountain the rain soon turned to snow, and some half-melted flakes reached
the bottom of the Valley. This morning Starr King and Tissiack and all the
upper valley rim is white....
Ever devoutly your friend,
The following letter furnishes a good summary of
Muir's glacial studies at the stage which they had reached in 1871.
Attention should be called to the fact that in his opening sentence, Muir
gives the California State Geological Survey credit for views which its
chief had already repudiated, for in his Yosemite Guide Book of 1869 Josiah
D. Whitney asserted that he had made an error in the first volume of the
Survey when he stated that glaciers had entered the Valley from the head of
VALLEY, September 24th, 1871
The main trunk glaciers which entered Yosemite
by the Tenaya, and Nevada, and South Canons, have been known to many since
the publication of the first volume of the California State Geological
Survey; but I am not aware of the existence of any published account of the
smaller glaciers, which entered the Valley by the lower side canons, or
indeed that their former existence was known at all.
I have been haunting the rocks of this region
for a long time, anxious to spell out some of the great mountain truths
which I felt were written here, and ever since the number, and magnitude,
and significance of these Yosemite glaciers began to appear, I became eager
for knowledge concerning them and am now devoting all my time to their
You know my
views concerning the formation of Yosemite, that the great Valley itself,
together with all of its various domes and sculptured walls, were produced
and fashioned by the united labors of the grand combination of glaciers
which flowed over and through it, their forces having been rigidly governed
and directed by the peculiar physical structure of the granite of which this
region is made, and, moreover, that all of the rocks and lakes, and meadows
of the whole upper Merced basin owe their specific forms and carving to this
same glacial agency.
left the Valley two weeks ago to explore the main trunk glacier of Yosemite
Creek basin, together with its radiating border of tributaries, gathering
what data I could read regarding their age, and direction, size, etc., also
the kind and amount of work which they had done, but while I was seeking for
traces of the western shore of the main stream upon the El Capitan ridge, I
discovered that the Yosemite glacier was not the lowest ice stream which
flowed to the Valley, but that the Ribbon basin or Virgin's Tears as it is
also called, was also the bed of an ancient glacier which flowed nearly
south, uniting with the central glaciers of the summits, in the valley below
glacier must have been one of the very smallest of the ice streams which
flowed to Yosemite, having been only about four miles in length by three in
width. It had some small groove tributaries from the slopes of El Capitan,
but most of its ice was derived from a high spur of the Hoffman group to the
north, which runs nearly southwest. Its bed is steep and regular, and it
must have flowed with considerable velocity.
I could not find any of the original grooved and
polished surfaces of the old bed, but some protected patches may still exist
where a boulder of the proper form has settled upon a rounded summit. I
found many such preserved patches in the basin of Yosemite creek, one of
which is within half a mile of the top of the falls. It has a polished
surface of about four square feet, with very distinct strim and grooves,
although the unsheltered rock about it is eroded to the depth of four or
as this small glacier sloped openly to the sun, and was not very deep, it
was one of the first to die, and of course its written pages have been
longer exposed to blurring rains and frosts, but notwithstanding the many
crumbling blotting storms which have fallen upon the lithograhs of this
small ice-stream, the great truth of its former existence in this home,
written in characters of moraine, and meadow, and fluted slope, is just as
clear as when all of its shining newborn rocks gleamed forth the full
shadowless poetry of its whole life.
There are a few castle-shaped piles, and
crumbling domes upon its east bank, excepting which the basin is now plain
and lake-like. But it contains most lovely meadows, interesting in their
present flora, and in their glacial history, and noble forests made up
mostly of the two silver firs (Picea amabilis and P. grandis) planted upon
moraines which have been spread and leveled by the agency of water.
These rambling researches in the Ribbon basin
recalled some observations made by me a year ago in the lower portion of the
caflons of the Cascade and Tamarack streams, and I now guessed that careful
search would discover abundant glacial manuscript in those basins also.
Accordingly on reaching the highest point on the rim of the Ribbon ice, I
obtained broad map views of both the Cascade and Tamarack basins, and
singled out from their countless adornments many forms of lake, and rock,
which seemed to be genuine glacier workmanship, unmarred in any way by the
various powers which have come upon them since they were abandoned by their
highest ridge of the Ribbon glacier basin, bounded its ice on the north, and
upon its opposite side I saw shining patches, which I ran down to examine.
They proved to be polished unchanged fragments of the bottom of another
ancient ice stream, which according to the testimony of their striae, had
flowed south 40º west. This new glacier proved to be the eastmost tributary
of the Cascade. Anxious to know it better, I proceeded west along the Mono
trail to Cascade meadows, then turning to the right, entered the mouth of
the tributary at the upper end of the meadows. Both of the ridges which
formed the banks of the stream are torn and precipitous, evidently the work
of ice. I followed up the bed of the tributary to its source, upon the flat
west bank of the Yosemite basin, and throughout its whole length there is
abundance of polished tablets, and moraines, and various kinds of rock
sculpture forming ice testimony as full and indisputable as can be rendered
by the most recent glacier pathways of the Alps.
I should gladly have welcomed the grateful toil
of exploring the main trunk of this Cascade glacier from its farthest snows
upon the Tuolumne divide, to its mouth in the Merced Cañon below Yosemite,
but my stock of provisions was too small, and besides I felt that I would
most likely have to explore the basin of Tamarack also, and following
westward among the older, changed, and covered glacier highways, I might
drift as far as the end of Pilot Peak ridge. Therefore turning reluctantly
to the easier pages of Yosemite Creek I resolved to leave those lower
chapters for future lessons. But before proceeding with Yosemite Creek let
me distinctly give here as my opinion that future investigation will
discover proofs of the existence in the earlier ages of a Sierra Nevada ice
of vast glaciers which flowed to the very foot of the range.
Already it is clear that all of the upper basins
were filled with ice, so deep and universal that but few of the ridges were
sufficiently high to separate it into individual glaciers. Vast mountains
were flowed over, and rounded or moved away like boulders in a river.
Ice flowed into Yosemite by every one of its
canons, and at a comparatively recent period of its history, its north wall,
with perhaps the single exception of the crest of Eagle Cliff, was covered
with an unbroken stream of ice, the several glaciers having united before
coming to the wall.
decided not to hold his "wheesht." The above letter is an abridgment of an
article, entitled "Yosemite Glaciers," that he sent four days later as his
"first thoughts" to the New York "Tribune." After some delay it appeared in
that paper, December 5, 1871, and constitutes the first published statement
of the ice erosion theory to account for the origin of Yosemite. It is but
just to point out that Muir was not following in any one's footsteps in
propounding his theory, ['William Phipps Blake has been mistakenly credited
with being the originator of the theory. In his paper "Sur Faction des
anciens glaciers dans la Sierra Nevada de Californie et sur l'origine de la
vallee de Yo-Semite," published in the Corn pies Rendus des Seances de
l'Acadéinie des Sciences de Paris, tome 65, 1867, the origin of the Valley
is ascribed to sub-glacial erosion by water pouring from the glaciers above.
The precise form of statement is as follows: "On pout en conclure que cette
vallée parait due a une erosion sousg1aciaire, due a l'écoulement des eaux
provenant de Ia fonte des glaces suprieures."] for the simple reason that
there was no one to be followed, and though he put forward but a small part
of his evidence, it proved to be the begin- fling of the end of Whitney's
had hardly published his views and discoveries when Professor Samuel
Kneeland, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, utilized his
article, together with letters he had written to President J. D. Runkle, to
prepare a paper [On the Glaciers of the Yosemite Valley," read at a meeting
held February 21, 1872, and published in the Proceedings of the Society,
vol. xv, pp. 36-47 (1872). Also republished the same year in Kneeland's book
The Wonders of Yosemite Valley and of California.] for the Boston Society of
Natural History. Muir did not approve of the use that Kneeland made of his
materials, claiming that he gave him "credit for all the smaller sayings and
doings and stole the broadest truth to himself." But the paper had the
effect of attracting considerable attention to Muir's views and
Muir was going at his task systematically. The difficulty of correlating his
studies without good maps was in large measure surmounted by his ability to
sketch accurately and rapidly the physical features of the region under
examination. Nothing shows better his industry and the minute care with
which he worked than the large number of mountain sketches that date from
this period. By means of them he could, when working up his results, call to
mind with particularity and vividness the physiography of the country in
connection with his notes.
Early in November, 1871, when winter cold was
already settling upon the heights, he made his first expedition to Hetch
Hetchy, the "Tuolumne Yosemite," as he aptly described it, whose needless
destruction and conversion to the domestic uses of San Francisco was to
sadden the evening of his life. A hunter by the name of Joseph Screech is
said to have discovered the Valley in 1850, a year before Yosemite was
entered for the first time by Captain Boling's party. In 1871 its use was
claimed by a sheep owner named Smith and consequently was often called
Smith's Valley. This man's shepherd and a few Digger Indians were the only
occasional inhabitants of the Valley at this time.
Excerpts from a description of this "last raid
of the season" will give the reader an idea of the manner in which he fared
on these lonely excursions.
I went alone [he writes], my outfit consisting
of a pair of blankets and a quantity of bread and coffee. There is a weird
charm in carrying out such a free and pathless plan as I had projected;
passing through untrodden forests, from cañon to cañon, from mountain to
mountain; constantly coming upon new beauties and new truths. . . . As I
drifted over the dome-paved basin of Yosemite Creek.
sunset found me only three miles back from the
brow of El Capitan, near the head of a round smooth gap - the deepest groove
in the El Capitan ridge. Here I lay down and thought of the time when the
groove in which I rested was being ground away at the bottom of a vast
ice-sheet that flowed over all the Sierra like a slow wind.. . . My huge
camp fire glowed like a sun. . . . A happy brook sang confidingly, and by
its side I made my bed of rich, spicy boughs, elastic and warm. Upon so
luxurious a couch, in such a forest, and by such a fire and brook, sleep is
gentle and pure. Wildwood sleep is always refreshing; and to those who
receive the mountains into their souls, as well as into their sight -living
with them clean and free -sleep is a beautiful death, from which we arise
every dawn into a new-created world, to begin a new life in a new body.
The second day he suddenly emerged on top of the
wall of the main Tuolumne Cañon about two miles above Hetch Hetchy. After
describing glowingly the cañon floor four thousand feet below and the
sublime wilderness of mountains around and beyond, he indulges in some
reflections on the diversity of impression produced upon different persons
by such a scene.
To most persons unacquainted
with the genius of the Sierra Nevada [he observes], especially to those
whose lives have been spent in shadows, the impression produced by such a
landscape is dreary and hopeless. Like symbols of a desolate future, the
sunburned domes, naves, and peaks, lie dead and barren beneath a
thoughtless, motionless sky; weed-like trees darken their gray hollows and
wrinkles, with scarcely any cheering effect. To quote from a Boston
professor [J. D. Whitney], "The heights are bewildering, the distances
overpowering, the stillness oppressive, and the utter barrenness and
desolation indescribable." But if you go to the midst of these bleached
bones of mountains, and dwell confidingly and waitingly with them, be
assured that every death-taint will speedily disappear; the hardest rocks
will pulse with life, secrets of divine beauty and love will be revealed to
you by lakes, and meadows, and a thousand flowers, and an atmosphere of
spirit be felt brooding over all.
He descended into the cañon by what he at first
supposed to be a trail laid out by Indians, but soon discovered that it was
a bear-path leading to harvests of brown acorns in black oak groves and to
thickets of berry-laden manzanita. Muir never went armed on any of these
exploratory excursions, his aim being, so far as in him lay, to live at
peace with all the inhabitants of the wilds.
The sandy ground [he notes] was covered with
bear-tracks; but that gave me no anxiety, because I knew that bears never
eat men where berries and acorns abound. Night came in most impressive
stillness. My blazing fire illumined the brown columns of my guardian trees,
and from between their bulging roots a few withered breckans and golden-rods
leaned forward, as if eager to drink the light. Here and there a star
glinted through the shadowy foliage overhead, and in front I could see a
portion of the mighty cañon walls massed in darkness against the sky; making
me feel as if at the bottom of the sea. The near, soothing hush of the river
joined faint, broken songs of cascades. I became drowsy, and, on the
incense-like breath of my green pillow, I floated away into sleep.
After a careful exploration of the Hetch Hetchy
Valley he struck, on his return, straight across the mountains toward
Yosemite. November storms often blanket the High Sierra in snow, and he was
caught in the edge of a storm on the way back.
During the first night [he writes] a few inches
of snow fell, but I slept safely beneath a cedar-log, and pursued my journey
next day, charmed with the universal snow-bloom that was upon every tree,
bush, and weed, and upon all the ground, in lavish beauty. I reached home
the next day, rejoicing in having added to my mountain wealth one more
ended the exploring season of 1871, and in the following letter, written to
his mother immediately after the Hetch Hetchy excursion, we get a glimpse of
VALLEY, November 161h, 
Our high-walled home is quiet now; travel has
ceased for the season, and I have returned from my last hard exploratory
ramble in the summit mountains. I will remain during the winter at Black's
Hotel, taking care of the premises and working up the data which I have
garnered during these last months and years concerning the ancient glacial
system of this wonderful region. For the last two or three months I have
worked incessantly among the most remote and undiscoverable of the deep
caflons of this pierced basin, finding many a mountain page glorious with
the writing of God and in characters that any earnest eye could read. The
few scientific men who have written upon this region tell us that Yosemite
Valley is unlike anything else, an exceptional creation, separate in all
respects from all other valleys, but such is not true. Yosemite is one of
many, one chapter of a great mountain book written by the same pen of ice
which the Lord long ago passed over every page of our great Sierra Nevadas.
I know how Yosemite and all the other valleys of these magnificent mountains
were made and the next year or two of my life will be occupied chiefly in
writing their history in a human book - a glorious subject, which God help
me preach aright.
have been sleeping in the rocks and snow, often weary and hungry, sustained
by the excitements of my subject and by the Scottish pluck and perseverance
which belongs to our family. For the last few days I have been eating and
resting and enjoying long warm sleeps beneath a roof, in a warm, rockless,
my lonely journeys among the most distant and difficult pathless, passless
mountains, I never wander, am never lost. Providence guides through every
danger and takes me to all the truths which I need to learn, and some day I
hope to show you my sheaves, my big bound pages of mountain gospel.
I have been busy moving my few chattels from Hutchings' to Black's, about
half a mile down the Valley, and I scarce feel at home. Tidings of the great
far sweeping fires have reached our hidden home, and I am thankful that your
section of towns and farms has been spared. I heard a few weeks ago from
David and Joanna and learn that all is well. Wisconsin winter will soon be
upon you. May you enjoy its brightness and universal beauty in warm and
topmost mountains are white with their earliest snow, but the Valley is
still bare and brown with rustling leaves of the oak and alder and fronds of
the fast fading ferns. Between two and three thousand persons visited the
Valley this summer. I am glad they are all gone. I can now think my thoughts
and say my prayers in quiet.
Ever devoutly yours in family love.
It was during the winter of 1871-72 that Muir
began to write for publication. "In the beginning of my studies I never
intended to write a word for the press," he was accustomed to remark to his
friends. But in September, 18711 be sent the first of several serial letters
to the New York "Daily Tribune," and it appeared on December 5, 1871, under
the title "Yosemite Glaciers." The second and third, entitled "Yosemite in
Winter" and "Yosemite in Spring," appeared January 1 and May 7, 1872.
Extracts from letters written to friends in Boston were read at the
February, March, and May meetings of the Boston Society of Natural History
by Dr. Samuel Kneeland, and were afterwards published in the "Proceedings"
of the Society. In April, 1872, he began a series of contributions to the
"Overland Monthly," whose editorial direction had then passed from Francis
Bret Harte to Benjamin P. Avery. This was the magazine upon which John H.
Carmany, its publisher, is reputed to have spent thirty thousand dollars -
to make Bret Harte famous. Muir's first contribution, placed through the
mediation of Mrs. Carr, was "Yosemite Valley in Flood" - a vivid description
of a great storm that swept Yosemite for three days during the preceding
December. This article, exciting instant and widespread interest, was
followed in July by "Twenty Hill Hollow."
Many of his friends at this time were aware of
his literary ability through his letters and were urging him to write, but
no one had assessed his genius and his literary powers more accurately than
his friend Jeanne C. Carr. In an extant fragment of a letter written in
March she informs him that she has combined two of his glacial letters, one
written to her and the other to Professor LeConte, and that she is sending
this combination to Emerson with the request to get it published in the
"Atlantic." "You are not to know anything about it," she writes - "let it
take its chances." "My mind is made up on one point," she continues. "All
this fugitiveness is going to be gathered up, lest you should die like Moses
in the mountains and God should bury you where 'no man knoweth.' I copied
every word of your old Journal. It looks pretty, and reads well. You have
only to continue it and make the 'Yosemite Year Book,' painting in your
inimitable way the march of the seasons there. Try your pen on the humans,
too. Get sketches at least. I think it would be a beautiful book. Then you
will put your scientific convictions into clear-cut crystalline prose for
other uses." To these suggestions the following letter is in part a
To Mrs. Ezra
March 16th, 
February 26 reached me to-day, and as I have a chance to send you a hasty
line by an Indian who is going to Mariposa I would say that I fear you are
giving yourself far too much trouble about those little fragments. If they
or any other small pieces that chance to the end of my pen give you and the
Doctor any pleasure I am well paid. Very few friends besides will care for
understand my reference to Ruskin's "moderation." Don't you remember that he
speaks in some of his books about the attributes of Nature, "Repose,"
Moderation," etc.? He says many true and beautiful things of Repose, but
weak and uninspired things concerning Moderation, telling us most solemnly
that Nature is never immoderate! and that if he had the power and the paint
he would have "Moderation" brushed in big capitals upon all the doors and
lintels of art factories and manufactories of the whole world!! etc., etc.,
as near as I can recollect. The heavy masonry of the Sierra seems immoderate
astonished at your copying those dry tattered notes. People speak of writing
with one foot in the grave. I wrote most of those winter notes with one foot
in bed while stupid with the weariness of Hutchings' logs. I'm not going to
die until done with my glaciers. As for that glacier which you propose to
construct out of your letter and LeConte's, I cannot see how a balanced unit
can be made from such material.
I had a letter from Emerson the other day of
which I told you in another letter. He prophesies, in the same dialect that
you are accustomed to use, that I shall one day go to the Atlantic Coast. He
knows nothing of my present ice work.
I read your Hindu extracts
with much interest. I am glad to know, by you and Emerson and others living
and dead, that my unconditional surrender to Nature has produced exactly
what you have foreseen - that drifting without human charts through light
and dark, calm and storm, I have come to so glorious an ocean. But more of
this by and by.
that idea of Mountain Models, I told Runkle last fall that a model, in
plaster of Paris, of a section of the Sierra reaching to the summits,
including Yosemite, would do more to convince people of the truth of our
glacial theory of the formation of the Valley and of caflons in general than
volumes of rocky argument; because magnitudes are so great only very partial
views are obtained. He agreed with me and promised to send me a box with
plaster for a model three or four feet long, and instruments, barometer,
level, etc., but it has not come.
I have material for some outline glacier maps,
but as I had no barometer last fall I have no definite depths of canons or
heights. If you think they would be worth presenting to the wise Congress of
next summer, I will send them. Emerson told me, hurry done with the
mountains. I don't see bow he knows I am meddling with them. Have you told
him? He says I may go East with Agassiz. I will not be done here for several
I am in no
hurry. I want to see all the world. I am going to be down about the Golden
Gate looking for a mouth to a portion of my ice. I answered two others of
yours dated 4th and 8th of February, but the letter is still here. I will
risk only this with Lo.
month of February he had got in touch again with his friend Emily Pelton, of
Prairie du Chien days. In 1864, on the way back from his botanical ramble
down the Wisconsin River, he had made a detour to pay her a visit, but her
uncle, for reasons of his own, had contrived to prevent a meeting by telling
him that she was not at home. Years had passed since then, and now her
coming to California opened the prospect of a visit to Yosemite. "You will
require no photographs to know me," he writes. "The most sun-tanned and
round-shouldered and bashful man of the crowd - if you catch me in a crowd -
that's me! . . . In all these years since I saw you I have been isolated;
somehow I don't mould in with the rest of mankind and have become far more
confusedly bashful than when I lived in the Mondell."
He recalls with amusement his odd appearance
when he came to Prairie du Chien, and how he rebuked various members of the
Mon- dell circle for irreverence and sins of one kind or another. And then
shines forth a characteristic Muir trait - undying loyalty and devotion to
his friends. For he adds: "something else I remember, Emily, - your kind
words to me the first time I saw you. Kind words are likely to live in any
human soil, but planted in the heart of a Scotchman they are absolutely
immortal, and whatever Heaven may have in store for you in after years you
have at least one friend while John Muir lives."
The subjoined letter to her, though apparently
written hurriedly, is significant for its clear-cut and pungent defense of
his mode of life and the effect which he believed it to have upon his
character. Miss Pelton did not visit the Valley until June, 1873. In her
party, which camped in Tenaya Cañon for nine days, were Mrs. Carr, A.
Kellogg, botanist of the California Academy of Sciences, William Keith, the
artist, and several others. Muir's acquaintanceship with Keith, begun on a
previous visit to the Valley, speedily ripened into a devoted and lasting
projected excursion with Professor Le- Conte, mentioned in the same letter,
acquires significance in connection with the latter's publication of a paper
on "Some Ancient Glaciers of the Sierra," read in September, 1872, before
the California Academy of Sciences. In this paper Professor LeConte made the
first published announcement of Muir's discovery of living glaciers in the
Sierra Nevada. LeConte gave Muir full credit for this discovery, but the
freedom with which the latter, in conversation as well as in his letters,
poured out the results of his exploratory work before his scientific friends
gave point to Mrs. Carr's fear that others, less scrupulous, might obtain
the credit and reap the advantage of his glacial discoveries. She therefore
urged him, as will appear later, to do his own publishing of his
April 2, 1872
DEAR FRIEND EMILY:
Your broad pages are received. You must never
waste letter time in apologies for size. The more vast and prairie-like the
better. But now for the business part of your coming. Be sure you let me
know within a few days the time of your setting out so that I may be able to
keep myself in a findable, discoverable place. I am, as perhaps I told you,
engaged in the study of glaciers and mountain structure, etc., and I am
often out alone for weeks where you couldn't find me. Moreover, I have a
good many friends of every grade who will be here, all of whom have greater
or lesser claims on my attention. With Professor LeConte I have made
arrangements for a long scientific ramble back in the summits; also with
Mrs. Carr. You will readily understand from these engagements and numerous
other probabilities of visits, especially from scientific friends who almost
always take me out of Yosemite, how important it is that I should know very
nearly the time of your coming. I would like to have a week of naked,
unoccupied time to spend with you and nothing but unavoidable, unescapable
engagements will prevent me from having such a week.
If Mr. Knox would bring his team you could camp
out, and the expense would be nothing, hardly, and you could make your
headquarters at a cabin I am building. This would be much the best mode of
traveling and of seeing the Valley. Independence is nowhere sweeter than in
Yosemite. People who come here ought to abandon and forget all that is
called business and duty, etc.; they should forget their individual
existences, should forget they are born. They should as nearly as possible
live the life of a particle of dust in the wind, or of a withered leaf in a
whirlpool. They should come like thirsty sponges to imbibe without rule. It
is blessed to lean fully and trustingly on Nature, to experience, by taking
to her a pure heart and unartificial mind, the infinite tenderness and power
of her love.
mention the refining influences of society. Compared with the intense purity
and cordiality and beauty of Nature, the most delicate refinements and
cultures of civilization are gross barbarisms.
As for the rough vertical animals called men,
who occur in and on these mountains like sticks of condensed filth, I am not
in contact with them; I do not live with them. I live alone, or, rather,
with the rocks and flowers and snows and blessed storms; I live in blessed
mountain light, and love nothing less pure. You'll find me rough as the
rocks and about the same color - granite. But as for loss of pure-
mindedness that you seem to fear, come and see my teachers; come, see my
Mountain Mother, and you will be at rest on that point.
We have had a glorious storm of the kind called
earthquake. I've just been writing an account of it for the New York
"Tribune." [Issue of May 7, 1872.] It would seem strange that any portion of
our perpendicular walls are left unshattered. It is delightful to be trotted
and dumpled on our Mother's mountain knee. I hope we will be blessed with
some more. The first shock of the morning of [March] 26th, at half-past two
o'clock, was the most sublime storm I ever experienced.
Most cordially yours
The above-mentioned earthquake was one of great
intensity and made one of the memorable experiences of his life. He sent a
description of it to the Boston Society of Natural History and to several
Though I had
never enjoyed a storm of this sort [he wrote], the thrilling motion could
not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, both glad and frightened,
shouting, "A noble earthquake!" feeling sure I was going to learn something.
The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely,
that I had to balance myself carefully in walking as if on the deck of a
ship among waves, and it seemed impossible that the high cliffs of the
valley could escape being shattered. In particular, I feared that the
sheer-fronted Sentinel Rock, towering above my cabin, would be shaken down,
and I took shelter back of a large yellow pine hoping that it might protect
me from at least the smaller outbounding boulders. For a minute or two the
shocks became more and more violent - flashing horizontal thrusts mixed with
a few twists and battering, explosive, upheaving jolts - as if Nature were
wrecking her Yosemite temple, and getting ready to build a better one.
It was on this occasion that he saw Eagle Rock
on the south wall give way and fall into the Valley with a tremendous roar.
I saw it falling [writes Muir] in thousands of
the great boulders I had so long been studying, pouring to the Valley floor
in a free curve luminous with friction, making a terribly sublime spectacle
- an are of glowing passionate fire, fifteen hundred feet span, as true in
form and as serene in beauty as a rainbow in the midst of the stupendous
was thrilled by the phenomenon, for he realized that by a fortunate chance
he was enabled to witness the formation of a mountain talus, a process about
which he had long been speculating.
Before the great boulders had fairly come to
rest he was upon the new-born talus, listening to the grating, groaning
noises with which the rocks were gradually settling into their places. His
scientific interest in the phenomenon made him so attentive to even its
slightest effects that all fear was banished, and he astounded his terrified
fellow residents of Yosemite with his enthusiastic recital of his
observations. They were ready to flee to the lowlands, leaving the keys of
their premises in his hands, while be prepared to resume his glacial
studies, armed with fresh clues to the origin of cañon taluses.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
NEW SENTINEL HOTEL
YOSEMITE VALLEY, [April, 1872]
Sunday night I was up in the moon among the
lumined spray of the upper Falls. The lunar bows were glorious and the music
Godful as ever. You will yet mingle amid the forms and voices of this
to have you spend two or three nights up there in full moon, and planned a
small hut for you, but since the boisterous waving of the rocks, the danger
seems forbidding, at least for you. We can go up there in the afternoon,
spend an hour or two, and return.
I had a grand ramble in the deep snow outside
the Valley, and discovered one beautiful truth concerning snow structure,
and three concerning the forms of forest trees.
These earthquakes have made me immensely rich. I
had long been aware of the life and gentle tenderness of the rocks, and
instead of walking upon them as unfeeling surfaces, began to regard them as
a transparent sky. Now they have spoken with audible voice and pulsed with
common motion. This very instant, just as my pen reached "and" on the third
line above, my cabin creaked with a sharp shock and the oil waved in my
We had several
shocks last night. I would like to go somewhere on the west South American
coast to study earthquakes. I think I could invent some experimental..
[Rest of letter lost.]
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
NEW SENTINEL HOTEL
YOSEMITE VALLEY, April 23d, 1872
DEAR MRS. CARR:
Yours of April 9th and 15th, containing Ned's
canoe and colonization adventures came tonight. I feel that you are coming,
and I will not hear any words preparatory of consolation for the
unsupposable case of your non-appearance.
Come by way of Clark's, and spend a whole day or
two in the Sequoias. Thence to Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point. From thence
swoop to our meadows and groves direct by a trail now in course of
construction which will be completed by the time the snow melts. This new
trail will be the best in scenery and safety of five which enter the Valley.
It leads from Glacier Point down the face of the mountain by an easy grade
to a point back of Leidig's hotel, and has over half a dozen Inspiration
I hear that Mr.
Paregoy intends building a hotel at Glacier Point. If he does you should
halt there for the night after leaving Clark's. If not, then stop at the
present "Paregoy's" five or six miles south of the Valley at the West fall
Meadows -built since your visit. You might easily ride from Clark's to the
Valley in a day, but a day among the silver firs and another about the
glories of the Valley rim and settings is a "sma' request."
The snow is deep this year, and the regular
Mariposa trail leading to Glacier Point, etc., will not be open before June.
The Mariposa travel of May, and perhaps a week or so of June, will enter the
Valley from Clark's by a sort of sneaking trail along the river cañon below
the snow, but you must not come that way.
You may also enter the Valley via Little
Yosemite and Nevada and Vernal Falls, by a trail constructed last season;
also by Indian Cañon on the north side of the Valley by a trail now nearly
completed. This last is a noble entrance, but perhaps not equal to the
first. Whatever way you come we will travel all of these, up or down, and
bear in mind that you must go among the summits in July or August. Bring no
friends that will not go to these fountains beyond, or are uncastoffable.
Calm thinkers like your Doctor, who first fed me with science, and LeConte
are the kind of souls 'v fit for the formation of human clouds adapted to
this mountain sky. Nevertheless, I will rejoice beyond measure, though you
come as a comet tailed with a whole misty town. Ned is a brave fellow. God
bless him unspeakably and feed him with his own South American self.
I shall be most happy to know your Daggetts or
anything that you call dear. I havenot seen any of my "Tribune" letters,
though I have written five or six. Send copy if you can. Good-night and love
To Miss Catharine Merrill
NEW SENTINEL HOTEL
YOSEMITE VALLEY, June 9th, 1872
CATHARINE MERRILL, MY DEAR FRIEND:
I am very happy to hear your hand language once
more, but in some places I am black and blue with your hurricane of
I [am] glad
you so much enjoy your work (not scolding), but am sorry to hear of the
languor which clearly speaks of struggles and long- continued toil of
nerve-exhausting kind. I hope you will not persist in self-sacrifice of so
destructive a species. The sea will do you good; bathe in it and bask in
sunshine and allow the pure and generous currents of universal uncolleged
beauty to blow about your bones and about all the overworked wheels of your
mind. I know very well how you toil and toil, striving against lassitude and
the cloudy weather of discouraging cares with a brave heart, your efforts
toned by the blessedness of doing good; but do not, I pray you, destroy your
health. The Lord understands his business and has plenty of tools, and does
not require over-exertion of any kind.
I wish you could come here and rest a year in
the simple unmingled Love fountains of God. You would then return to your
scholars with fresh truth gathered and absorbed from pines and waters and
deep singing winds, and you would find that they all sang of fountain Love
just as did Jesus Christ and all of pure God manifest in whatever form. You
say that good men are "nearer to the heart of God than are woods and fields,
rocks and waters." Such distinctions and measurements seem strange to me.
Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are men. We all flow from
one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. God does not appear, and
flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in
favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents,
shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations
and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.
You say some other things that I don't believe
at all, but I have no room to say them nay; further - I don't stab the old
grannies where I wasted so much time, the colleges of all kinds, "Christian"
and common, West and Northwest, with their long tails of pretensions. I only
said a few words of free sunshine, using the dim old clouds of learning for
to Mina and Mrs. Moores and the dear younglings. The falls are in song gush
and the light is balmed with summer love. Would I could send some. I shall
be sure to keep you an open letter-road so that you can see your Merrill
whom you all commit so confidingly to my care. Hoping that you will get
strength by the sea and enjoy all the spiritual happiness you deserve, I am
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
NEW SENTINEL HOTEL
YOSEMITE VALLEY, July 6th, 187
DEAR MRS. CARR:
Yours of Tuesday eve, telling me of our Daggetts
and Ned and Merrill Moores, has come. So has the lamp and the book. I have
not yet tried the lamp, but it is splendid in shape and shines grand as
The Lyell is just
what I wanted. I think that your measure of the Daggetts is exactly right.
As good as civilized people can be, they have grown to the top of town
culture and have sent out some shoots half-gropingly into the spirit sky.
I am very glad to know that Ned is growing
strong. Perhaps we may [see] South America together yet. I hope to see you
come to your own of mountain fountains soon. Perhaps Mrs. Hutchings may go
with us. You live so fully in my own life that I cannot realize that I have
not yet seen you here. A year or two of waiting seems nothing.
Possibly I may be down on your coast this fall
or next, for I want to see what relations the coast and coast mountains have
to the Sierras. Also I want to go north and south along this range, and then
among the basins and ranges eastward. My subject is expanding at a most
unfollowable pace. I could write something with data already harvested, but
I am not satisfied.
have just returned from Hetch Hetchy with Mrs. [J. P.] Moore. Of course we
had a glory and a fun - the two articles in about parallel columns of equal
size. Meadows grassed and lillied head-high, spangled river reaches, and
currentless pools, cascades countless and unpaintable in form and whiteness,
groves that heaven all the Valley! You were with us in all our joy, and you
will come again.
I am a
little weary and half incline to truantism from mobs, however blessed, in
some unfindable grove. I start in a few minutes for Clouds' Rest with Mr.
and Mrs. Moore.
ever your friend
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
NEW SENTINEL HOTEL
YOSEMITE VALLEY, July 14th, 1872
DEAR MRS. CARR:
Yours announcing Dr. [Asa] Gray is received. I
have great longing for Gray whom I feel to be a great, progressive,
unlimited man like Darwin and Huxley and Tyndall. I will be most glad to
meet him. You are unweariable in your kindness to me, and you helm my fate
more than all the world beside.
I am approaching a kind of fruiting time in this
mountain work, and I want very much to see you. All say "Write," but I don't
know how or what; and, besides, I want to see North and South, and the
inland basins and the seacoast, and all the lake basins and the canons, also
the Alps of every country and the continental glaciers of Greenland, before
I write the book we have been speaking of. All this will require a dozen
years or twenty, and money. The question is, what will I write now, etc.? I
have learned the alphabet of ice and mountain structure here, and I think I
can read fast in other countries. I would let others write what I have read
here, but that they make so damnable a hash of it and ruin so glorious a
I miss the [J.
P.] Moores because they were so cordial and kind to me. Mrs. Moore believes
in ice and can preach it too. I wish you could bring Whitney and her
together and tell me the fight. Mrs. Moore made the most sensible visit to
our mountains of all corners I have known. Mr. Moore is a man who thinks and
he took to this mountain structure like a pointer to partridges. . . . Talk
to Mrs. Moore about Hetch Hetchy, etc. She knows it all from Hog Ranch to
highest sea wave cascades, and higher, yet higher.
I ought not to fun away letter space in speaking
to you. Yet I am weary and impractical and fit for nothing serious until I
am tuned and toned by a few weeks of calm.
Farewell. I will see you and we will plan work
and ease and days of holy mountain rest. . .
Remember me to Ned and all the boys, and to the
Doctor, who ought to come hither with you.
To Sarah Muir Galloway
YOSEMITE VALLEY, July 16th, 1872
DEAR SISTER SARAH:
Your bundle composed of socks and letters has
arrived, for which I am much indebted. I had not seen the [New York]
"Tribune" letter you sent. I want you to see all I write, good or bad. I may
some time write regularly for some journal or other. My scientific friends
are clamorous for glaciers, etc.
I have had a great day in meeting Dr. Asa Gray,
the first botanist in the world. My Boston friends made him know me before
he came, and I expect a grand time with him. While waiting for Gray this
afternoon on the mountain-side I climbed the Sentinel Rock, three thousand
feet high. Here is an oak sprig from the top.
Merrill Moores came a couple of days ago to
spend a few months with me. I am very happy, but have to see too many people
for the successful prosecution of my studies.
Full moon lights all the groves and rocks and
casts splendid masses of shade on meadow and wall. Visitors jar and noise,
but Nature goes grandly and calmly over all confusion like winds over our
I hope to see
Agassiz this summer, and if I can get him away into the outside mountains
among the old glacier wombs alone, I shall have a glorious time.
During the latter part of July, Mrs. Carr, in
one of her letters, suggested a way in which he might study the Coast Range
with her Oakland home as a base.
This is what you are going to do [she writes].
After the harvest time is over, and the last bird plucked (I wish I could
see some of your game birds; all that I see are sacred storks and ibises),
you will pack up all your duds, ready to leave [Yosemite] two or more years,
take your best horse and ride forth some clear September morning. You will
live with us, and your horse at Moores near by, whenever you are not
exploring the Coast Range. We will have some choice side trips . . . You
will pass the winter here, and meanwhile ways will open for you to go to
South America. You will write up all your settled convictions, and put your
cruder reflections in the form of notes and queries, not without scientific
worth, and securing to yourself any advantage there may be in priority of
observation. So writing, and studying, and visiting, the months will pass
swiftly until your Valley home is filled again with color and song. God will
teach you, as He has taught me, that the dear places and the dearer souls
are but tents of a night; we must move on and leave them, though it cost
heart-breaks. Not those who cling to you, but those who walk apart, yet ever
with you, are your true companions.
The proposed plan had for him one fatal defect.
It revealed too patent a design to separate him from Yosemite and for this
he was not ready. Here follows his reply:
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE VALLEY, August 5th, 1872
DEAR MRS. CARR:
Your letter telling me to catch my best glacier
birds and come to you and the Coast mountains only makes me the more anxious
to see you, and if you cannot come up I will have to come down, if only for
a talk. My birds are flying everywhere, into all mountains and plains of all
climes and times, and some are ducks in the sea, and I scarce know what to
do about it. I must see the Coast Ranges and the coast, but I was thinking
that a month or so might answer for the present, and then, instead of
spending the winter in town, I would hide in Yosemite and write, or I
thought I would pack up some meal and dried plums to some deep wind-
sheltered cañon back among the glaciers of the summits and write there and
be ready to catch any whisper of ice and snow in these highest storms.
You anticipate all the bends and falls and
rapids and cascades of my mountain life and I know that you say truly about
my companions being those who live with me in the same sky, whether in reach
of hand or only of spiritual contact, which is the most real contact of all.
I am learning to live close to the lives of my friends without ever seeing
them. No miles of any measurement can separate your soul from mine.
[Part of the letter missing.]
The Valley is full of sun, but glorious Sierras
are piled above the South Dome and Starr Icing. i mean the bossy cumuli that
are daily upheaved at this season, making a cloud period yet grander than
the rock-sculpturing, Yosemite-making, forest-planting glacial period.
Yesterday we had our first
midday shower; the pines waved gloriously at its approach, the woodpeckers
beat about as if alarmed, but the humming-bird moths thought the cloud
shadows belonged to evening and came down to eat among the mints. All the
firs and rocks of Starr King were bathily dripped before the Valley was
vouchsafed a single drop. After the splendid blessing the afternoon was
veiled in calm clouds, and one of intensely beautiful pattern and gorgeously
irised was stationed over Eagle Rock at the sunset. Farewell.
Instead of coming down to Oakland he writes to
her three weeks later, "My horse and bread, etc., are ready for upward. I
returned three days ago from Mounts Lyell, McClure, and Hoffman. I spent
three days on a glacier up there planting stakes, etc. This time I go to the
Merced group, one of whose mountains shelters a glacier. . . . Ink cannot
tell the glow that lights me at this moment in turning to the mountains. I
feel strong to leap Yosemite walls at a bound. Hotels and human impurity
will be far below. I will fuse in spirit skies."
Meanwhile Muir was enlarging the circle of his
scientific friends and strengthening the bonds that united him to old ones.
Professor Asa Gray had returned to Cambridge, enthusiastic about his
Yosemite excursions, and sent Muir a list of live plants he wanted for the
Botanic Garden "at the rate of a cigar box full of each." The latter was
still nursing disappointment that Gray had not accompanied him on an
excursion into the high mountains north of Yosemite. "If you and Mrs. Gray,"
he writes, "had only exposed yourselves to the plants and rocks and waters
and glaciers of our glorious High Sierra, I would have been content to have
you return to your Cambridge classes and to all of the just and proper ding
dong of civilization."
Mrs. Carr meanwhile was acting as an intermediary between Muir and Professor
Louis Agassiz who was making a brief sojourn in San Francisco, and was then
regarded as the leading authority on glaciation. "I sent to Agassiz," she
writes, "the [letter] you enclosed. Either that or something from the papers
(New York "Tribune" clippings) excited him to say with great warmth, 'Muir
is studying to greater purpose and with greater results than any one else
has done.' LeConte told me he spoke of your work with enthusiasm."
Among these new friends was also the noted
botanist John Torrey, who, writing in September, 1872, from the home of his
friend Dr. Engelmann in St. Louis, expressed his great satisfaction over the
pleasant and instructive hours he spent with Muir in Yosemite, and gave an
interesting account of his visit with Dr. Parry at Empire. It was, as Muir
noted on the envelope of Torrey's letter, "his last Yosemite trip," for he
died the following March. "That little Botrychium," adds Torrey in reference
to a plant Muir had sent him, "looks peculiar and I will report on it when I
go home." He never did, and twenty-six years elapsed before any one else
found a plant of this genus in the High Sierra.
From the month of October of this same year,
1872, dates the beginning of Muir's devoted friendship with the artist
William Keith, who, with a fellow artist by the name of Irwin, came to
Yosemite with a letter of introduction from Mrs. Carr. "I commission Mr.
Irwin," writes the latter, "to sketch you in your hay-rope suspenders, etc.,
against the day when you are famous and carry all the letters of the
alphabet as a tail to your literary kites. . . . The Agassizes God bless
them, go to-day, taking some of your glacierest letters, and the slip from
the New York 'Tribune' containing 'A Glacier's Death,' for reading on the
And so these
letters were lost to the purposes of this biography. But the following one,
in which he gives the first full account of his discovery of living glaciers
in the Sierra Nevada, has fortunately survived the accidents of time.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE VALLEY, October 8th, 1872
DEAR MRS. CARR:
Here we are again, and here is your letter of
September 24th. I got down last eve, and boo! was I not weary? Besides
pushing through the rough upper half of the great Tuolumne Can-on, have
climbed more than twenty-four thousand feet in these ten days! - three times
to the top of the glacicret of Mount Hoff [man] and once to Mounts Lyell and
Have bagged a
quantity of Tuolumne rocks sufficient to build a dozen Yosemites. Strips of
cascades longer than ever, lacy or smooth, and white as pressed snow. A
glacier basin with ten glassy lakes set all near together like eggs in a
nest. Three El Capitans and a couple of Tissiacks. Canons glorious with
yellows and reds of mountain maple and aspen and honeysuckle and ash, and
new music immeasurable from strange waters and winds, and glaciers, too,
flowing and grinding, alive as any on earth. Shall I pull you out some?
Here is a clean white-skinned
glacier from the back of McClure with glassy emerald flesh and singing
crystal blood, all bright and pure as a sky, yet handling mud and stone like
a navvy, building moraines like a plodding Irishman. Here is a cascade two
hundred feet wide, half a mile long, glancing this way and that, filled with
bounce and dance and joyous hurrah, yet earnest as a tempest, and singing
like angels loose on a frolic from heaven. And here [are] more cascades and
more - broad and flat like clouds, and fringed like flowing hair, and falls
erect as pines, and lakes like glowing eyes. And here are visions, too, and
dreams, and a splendid set of ghosts, too many for ink and narrow paper.
Professor [Samuel] Kneeland, Secretary of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gathered some letters I sent to
Runkle and that "Tribune" letter and hashed them into a compost called a
paper for the Boston Society of Natural History and gave me credit for all
of the smaller sayings and doings, and stole the broadest truth to himself.
I have the proof-sheets of the paper and will show them to you some time. .
As for the living
"Glaciers of the Sierra," here is what I have learned concerning them. You
will have the first chance to steal, for I have just concluded my
experiments on them for the season and have not yet cast them at any of the
great professors or presidents.
One of the yellow days of last October, ,
when I was among the mountains of the Merced group, following the footprints
of the ancient glaciers that once flowed grandly from their ample fountains,
reading what I could of their history as written in moraines and canons and
lakes and carved rocks, I came upon a small stream that was carrying mud of
a kind I had not before seen. In a calm place where the stream widened I
collected some of this mud and observed that it was entirely mineral in
composition and fine as flour - like mud from a fine grit grindstone. Before
I had time to reason I said, "Glacier mud! - mountain meal!"
Then I observed that this muddy stream issued
from a bank of fresh-quarried stones and dirt that was sixty or seventy feet
in height. This I at once took to be a moraine. In climbing to the top of it
I was struck with the steepness of its slope and with its raw, unsettled,
plantless, new-born appearance. The slightest touch started blocks of red
and black slate, followed by a rattling train of smaller stones and sand and
a cloud of the dry dust of mud, the whole moraine being as free from lichens
and weather-stains as if dug from the mountain that very day.
When I had scrambled to the top of the moraine I
saw what seemed to be a huge snow- bank four or five hundred yards in length
by half a mile in width. Embedded in its stained and furrowed surface were
stones and dirt like that of which the moraine was built. Dirt- stained
lines curved across the snow-bank from side to side, and when I observed
that these curved lines coincided with the curved moraine, and that the
stones and dirt were most abundant near the bottom of the bank, I shouted,
"A living glacier!" These bent dirt lines show that the ice is flowing in
its different parts with unequal velocity, and these embedded stones are
journeying down to be built into the moraine, and they gradually become more
abundant as they approach the moraine because there the motion is slower.
On traversing my new-found glacier I came to a
crevasse down a wide and jagged portion of which I succeeded in making my
way, and discovered that my so-called snow-bank was clear green ice, and
comparing the form of the basin which it occupied with similar adjacent
basins that were empty I was led to the opinion that this glacier was
several hundred feet in depth.
Then I went to the "snow-banks" of Mounts Lyell
and McClure and believed that they also were true glaciers and that a dozen
other snowbanks seen from the summit of Mount Lyell, crouching in shadow,
were glaciers living as any in the world and busily engaged in completing
that vast work of mountain-making accomplished by their giant relatives now
dead, which, united and continuous, covered all the range from summit to sea
like a sky.
although I was myself thus fully satisfied concerning the real nature of
these ice masses, I found that my friends [An undated fragmentary letter of
1872, addressed to Mrs. Carr, contains the following passage: "I had a good
letter from LeConte. He evidently doesn't know what to think of the huge
lumps of ice that I sent him. I don't wonder at his cautious withholding of
judgment. When my Mountain Mother first told me the tale I could hardly dare
to believe either and kept saying, 'What?' like a child half asleep."]
regarded my deductions and statements with distrust. Therefore I determined
to collect proofs of the common measured arithmetical kind.
On the 21st of August last, I planted five
stakes in the glacier of Mount McClure which is situated east of Yosemite
Valley near the summit of the Range. Four of these stakes were extended
across the glacier in a straight line, from the east side to a point near
the middle of the glacier. The first stake was planted about twenty-five
yards from the east bank of the glacier, the second, ninety-four yards, the
third, one hundred and fifty-two, and the fourth, two hundred and
twenty-five yards. The positions of these stakes were determined by sighting
across from bank to bank past a plumb-line made of a stone and a black
my stakes on the 6th of October, or in forty-six days after being planted, I
found that stake No. 1 had been carried downstream eleven inches, No. 2,
eighteen inches, No. 3, thirty-four, No. 4, forty-seven inches. As stake No.
4 was near the middle of the glacier, perhaps it was not far from the point
of maximum velocity - forty-seven inches in forty-six days, or one inch per
day. Stake No. 5 was planted about midway between the head of the glacier
and stake No. 4. Its motion I found to be in forty-six days forty inches.
Thus these ice masses are seen to possess the
true glacial motion. Their surfaces are striped with bent dirt bands. Their
surfaces are bulged and undulated by inequalities in the bottom of their
basins, causing an upward and downward swedging corresponding to the
horizontal swedging as indicated by the curved dirt bands.
The Mount McClure glacier is about one half mile
in length and about the same in width at the broadest place. It is crevassed
on the southeast corner. The crevasse runs about southeast and northeast and
is several hundred yards in length. Its width is nowhere more than one foot.
The Mount LyeIl glacier, separate from that of
McClure by a narrow crest, is about a mile in width by a mile in length.
I have planted stakes in the glacier of Red
Mountain also, but have not yet observed them.
The Sierras adjacent to the Yosemite Valley are
composed of slabs of granite set on edge at right angles to the direction of
the range, or about N. 30º E., S. 30° W. Also lines of cleavage cross these,
running nearly parallel with the main range. Also the granite of this region
has a horizontal cleavage or stratification. The first mentioned of these
lines have the fullest development, and give direction and character to many
valleys and canons and determine the principal features of many rock forms.
No matter how hard and domed and homogeneous the granite may be, it still
possesses these lines of cleavage, which require only simple conditions of
moisture, time, etc., for their development. But I am not ready to discuss
the origin of these planes of cleavage which make this granite so denudable,
nor their full significance with regard to mountain structure in general. I
will only say here that oftentimes the granite contained between two of
these N. 300 E. planes is softer than that outside and has been denuded,
leaving vertical walls as determined by the direction of the cleavage, thus
giving rise to those narrow slotted caflons called "Devil's slides,"
"Devil's lanes," "Devil's gateways," etc.
In many places in the higher portions of the
Sierra these slotted canons are filled with "snow," which I thought might
prove to be ice - might prove to be living glaciers still engaged in cutting
into the mountains like endless saws.
To decide this question on the 23d of August
last, I set two stakes in the narrow slot glacier of Mount Hoffman, marking
their position by sighting across from wall to wall, as I did on the McClure
glacier, but on visiting them a month afterwards I found that they had been
melted out, and I was unable to decide anything with any considerable degree
On the 4th
of October last I stretched a small trout-line across the glacier, fastening
both ends in the solid banks, which at this place were only sixteen feet
apart. I set a short inflexible stake in the ice so as just to touch the
tightly drawn line, by which means I was enabled to measure the flow of the
glacier with great exactness. Examining this stake in twenty-four hours
after setting it, I found that it had been carried down about three
sixteenths of an inch. At the end of four days I again examined it, and
found that the whole downward motion was thirteen sixteenths of an inch,
showing that the flow of this glacieret was perfectly regular.
In accounting for these narrow lane canons so
common here, I had always referred them to ice action in connection with
special conditions of cleavage, and I was gratified to find that their
formation was still going on. This Hoffman glacieret is about one thousand
feet long by fifteen to thirty feet wide, and perhaps about one hundred feet
deep in deepest places.
Now, then, Mrs. Carr, I must hasten back to the
mountains. I'll go to-morrow.
This letter forms the kernel of an article,
"Living Glaciers of California," which he published in the "Overland
Monthly" of December, 1872. The following January it was reprinted in
Sillixnan's "Journal of Science and Arts," and so was brought to the
attention of a wide circle of scientific men. The blank stubbornness of the
prejudices by which Muir was opposed at this time is revealed in the fact
that ten years after Muir had published his discovery, and the facts had
been confirmed by Professor LeConte and accepted by leading geologists,
Professor Whitney asserted in one of t his papers, "It may be stated that
there are no glaciers at all in the Sierra Nevada. . . . There are certainly
none in the higher portions of the Sierra Nevada or Rocky Mountains, these
most elevated regions having been sufficiently explored to ascertain that
fact." When Israel C. Russell, of the United States Geological Survey, wrote
his treatise on "Glaciers of North America," giving Muir full credit for his
discovery, he called attention to this curiously dogmatic statement, and to
the fact that Clarence King "also rejected Mr. Muir's observations as is
shown by several emphatic passages in his report on the exploration of the
the following letter, of which the first part is missing, Muir records some
observations regarding the amount of erosion accomplished by water, as
compared with ice, since the close of the last glacial epoch. Attention
should be called also to Muir's observation that, viewed from mountain tops,
the outlines of moraines about Yosemite are marked by fir forests.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
The bottom portion of the foregoing section,
with perpendicular sides is here about two feet in depth and was cut by the
water. The Nevada here never was more than four or five feet deep, and all
of the bank records of all the upper streams say the same thing of the
absence of great floods.
The entire region above Yosemite and as far down
as the bottom of Yosemite has scarcely been touched by any other denudation
than that of ice. Perhaps all of the post-glacial denudation of every kind
would not average an inch in depth for the whole region.
Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy are lake basins filled
with sand and the matter of moraines washed from the upper canons. The
Yosemite ice in escaping from the Yosemite basin was compelled to flow
upward a considerable height on both sides of the bottom walls of the
Valley. The cañon below the Valley is very crooked and very narrow, and the
Yosemite glacier flowed across all of its crooks and high above its walls
without paying any compliance to it, thus: [drawing]. The light lines show
the direction of the ice current. [The text of this letter is taken from a
typewritten copy of the original which has been lost. Hence it is not
possible to reproduce the drawing which was a part of the original letter.]
In going up any of the principal Yosemite
streams, lakes in all stages of decay are found in great abundance regularly
becoming younger until we reach the almost countless gems of the summits
with scarce an inch of carex upon their shallow sandy borders, and with
their bottoms still bright with the polish of ice. Upon the Nevada and its
branches there are not fewer than a hundred of these glacial lakes from a
mile to a hundred yards in diameter, with countless glistening pondlets not
much larger than moons.
All of the grand fir forests about the Valley
are planted upon moraines and from any of the mountain tops the shape and
extent of the neighboring moraines may always be surely determined by the
firs growing upon them.
Some pines will grow upon shallow sand and
crumbling granite, but those luxuriant forests of the silver firs are always
upon a generous bed of glacial drift. I discovered a moraine with smooth
pebbles upon a shoulder of the South Dome, and upon every part of the
Yosemite upper and lower walls.
I am surprised to find that water has had so
little to do with mountain structure here. Whitney says that there is no
proof that glaciers ever flowed in this Valley, yet its walls have not been
eroded to the depth of an inch since the ice left it, and glacial action is
glaringly apparent many miles below the Valley.
In concluding this chapter a few comments are in
place on the historical significance of the foregoing series of letters and
published communications from the pen of John Muir. One writer, mistaking
the facts, has claimed for Clarence King the honor of having been "the first
to point out the prominent role which the ice of the glacial epochs must
have played in the elaboration of the Yosemite Valley." For two decisive
reasons this claim is void. In the first place, King believed that the ice
gave nothing to the Valley but a little polishing, and in the next place he
did not himself publish anything upon the subject until after William Phipps
Blake and John Muir were already in print with their observations. Nor am I
able to find that King, when he did publish, added any important scientific
item to what Muir had already said more fully in his "Tribune" article.
Since Blake, as previously noted, attributed the erosion of Yosemite to
water pouring down from glaciers above the Valley, and not to the abrasion
of glaciers themselves, Muir stands out alone as the first one who
demonstrated the part that ice played in the making of Yosemite. He, too,
was the first one to point out how the glacial action was controlled by the
peculiar structure and jointing of the granite. Others who have written upon
this feature have in good part only followed in his footsteps.
It would have been interesting if Clarence King
and John Muir could have been brought together for a discussion of their
theories and observations. But so far as we are able to ascertain they never
met personally. From Whitney's report on "The Geology of the Sierra Nevada,"
Muir knew that King had noted the existence of moraines in Yosemite Valley.
But Whitney, in recording the fact, treated King's observations somewhat
cavalierly, and four years later stigmatized them as erroneous. Thereafter
the decidedly adverse views of his chief probably prevented King from
leaving the question of glacial action and the origin of Yosemite open for
further investigation. At any rate, six years later King, in his article
entitled "The Range," expressly exempts Yosemite from formation by streams
and ice, and classifies it as one of those "most impressive passages of the
Sierra Valleys that are actual ruptures of the rock; either the engulfment
of masse of great size, as Professor Whitney supposes in explanation of the
peculiar form of Yosemite, or a splitting asunder in yawning cracks!" The
latter was apparently King's own view.
Muir regarded his "Tribune" article in 1871 as
only a preliminary statement of his views, continuing meanwhile his study
and exploration of the Sierra Nevada, with Yosemite as his base, until 1874.
In that year he published, in the "Overland Monthly," his series of articles
under the general title of "Studies in the Sierra." [The following are the
titles of the individual "Studies": I, "Mountain Sculpture," May, 1874; II,
"Origin of Yosemite Valleys," June, 1874; III, "Ancient Glaciers and their
Pathways," July, 1874; IV, "Glacial Denudation," August, 1874; V,
"Post-Glacial Denudation," November, 1874; VI, "Formation of Soils,"
December, 1874; VII, "Mountain-Building," January, 1875. The series has been
reprinted with the inclusion of Muir's typographical corrections, in the
Sierra Club Bulletin, vols. ix—xi (1915-21). For a convenient summary of
Muir's views on the glaciation and origin of Yosemite the reader is referred
to his book, The Yosemite (1912), Chapter XI.] These articles were a
remarkable achievement for the time when they were written and contain the
condensed results of five years of careful and detailed field-work. From
1869 to 1874 he had spent the whole of every summer season in the High
Sierra, reading, as he put it, "the glacial manuscripts of God." Thereafter
these studies were continued intermittently for another five years, so that
in 1879 he could say that he had devoted ten years of his life to the
interpretation of the Sierra Nevada. Numerous notebooks and sketches attest
his industry as well as the minuteness and care with which he went over
every part of the region.
When the Sierra Club began to republish Muir's
"Studies in the Sierra," the noted geologist E. C. Andrews, of the
Geological Survey of Australia, wrote to Secretary William E. Colby:
John Muir's note on glacial action is very fine
indeed. In Muir you had a man in America long ago who explained the action
of ice-rivers, and it was really quite unnecessary to have waited until
Henry Gannett made his great rediscovery or, rather, belated contribution to
glacial studies. John Muir evidently was not understood in his generation,
but he will surely come to his own now, and he will become one of the
"Immortals" - one who illustrated the force of the passages, "Blessed are
the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," and "Blessed are the pure in
heart, for they shall see God."
Had I had access to the treasure house of
knowledge afforded by the Sierra Club's reprint of Muir's notes, I would
have written a much better note on "An Excursion to the Yosemite" in 1910,
as I would have had a much larger number of valuable facts to draw upon than
I had as a result of my limited observations alone.
It is interesting to compare this retrospective
tribute with a forward-looking one in a paper read before the Rhode Island
Historical Society, in 1872. The writer, John Erastus Lester, met Muir in
Yosemite and refers to him as one, "who, Hugh Miller like, is studying the
rocks in and around the Valley. . . . He is by himself pursuing a course of
geological studies, and is making careful drawings of different parts of the
gorge. No doubt he is more thoroughly acquainted with this Valley than any
one else. He has been far up the Sierras where glaciers are now in action,
ploughing deep depressions in the mountains. He has made a critical
examination of the superincumbent rocks, and already has much material upon
which to form a correct theory."
Muir did not take up the question as to what the
physical contours of the Yosemite region were before the last glacial epoch.
In assuming that they were comparatively simple, many competent to form a
judgment think he is more likely to have been right than those who speculate
about a pre-glacial Yosemite. As for the doctrine of two distinct
glaciations of the Sierra Nevada, recently advanced, most students of the
question probably will agree with Professor Lawson that this is a theory
that "must be subjected to much more critical study before it can be
accepted by geologists as an established fact." In evaluating Muir's work it
must be borne in mind that he was contending against a theory which
eliminated glaciers altogether from the causes that led to the formation of
Yosemite. To have injected into his disproof of that theory speculations
about a pre-glacial Yosemite would only have weakened, in his days, the
penetrative power of his argument.
Now that time has mellowed the issues that once
were so hotly debated, and death has removed the actors in the explorers'
drama to that bourn whence no traveler returns, we may attempt the task of
calmly assessing the originality and importance of the work which these
early investigators have severally done. This is not the place to go into
details, although we have looked into the work of each of these men with
care. But even in the light of the facts presented it will, I think, be
conceded without question that Muir was not only the first, but the only one
who has presented a reasoned and systematic account of the glaciation of the
Sierra Nevada, and who recognized the fact that the origin of Yosemite
Valley cannot be separated from the origin of similar Yosemites in the
Sierra Nevada. Indeed, the very use of the word "Yosemite" in the generic
sense was originated by him, and as such contains the essence of his denial
of Whitney's and King's assumption that the Valley was of unique cataclysmic
origin. In his main contention he was right, and the extent to which his
minor conclusions may be modified by advancing geological science is a
question quite apart from the credit that belongs to him as the greatest of
the pioneer students of the Yosemite problem.
To one who now looks back upon Muir's glacial
explorations through his letters, the practical profit of these years of
intense preoccupation and activity may seem disproportionately small. But it
is all a matter of time and scale and the kind of values for which one is
looking. As Sir E. Ray Lankester says in his "Diversions of a Naturalist," a
man's pursuit of science has been sufficiently profitable if "it has given
him a new and unassailable outlook on all things both great and small.
Science commends itself to us as does Honesty and as does great Art and all
fine thought and deed - not as a policy yielding material profits, but
because it satisfies man's soul."
Muir's letters show that these deeper
satisfactions of the soul were his in full measure during these years. There
were those among his friends who again and again in their letters expressed
their longing for his peace of mind. "I can see you sitting, reading this,"
wrote Therese Yelverton in 1872, "in some quiet spot in the evening, with
all nature as calm and still as your own heart. I used to envy you that, for
mine will not be still, but is restless and an- quiet." To all such longings
he could but say in one form or another, "Camp out among the grass and
gentians of glacier meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of Nature's
darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace
will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their
own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop
off like autumn leaves."