John Muir (April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914) was an environmentalist,naturalist, traveler, writer, and scientist. He is, however, probably best remembered as one of the greatest champions of the Yosemite area’s natural wonders. He thought that nature was a primary source revealing the character of God and that the Sierra Nevada was sacred ground, even calling it the “Range of Light.” Anticipating the animal rights movement, Muir argued with vigor about what he considered the questionable ethics of hunting (calling it the “murder business”). He also anticipated modern conservation biologists by recognizing that everything in nature is connected and that the preservation of large tracts of unfragmented wilderness was the only real way to ensure a healthy ecosystem. Because of this, he argued for the protection of entire river drainages, instead of isolated valleys.
Muir was born in the historic burgh of Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland to Daniel Muir and Ann Gilrye. He had two brothers, Daniel and David, and, after 1850, five sisters, Margaret, Sarah, Mary, Anna, and Joanna.
Muir immigrated to the United States in 1849, when his family started a farm in Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin for several years, but instead of graduating from a school built by the hand of man, Muir opted to enroll in the “university of the wilderness” and thus walked a thousand miles from Indiana to Florida. He had planned to continue on to South America, but was stricken by malaria and went to California instead.
Arriving in San Francisco in March 1868, Muir immediately left for a place he had only read about called Yosemite. After seeing Yosemite Valley for the first time he was captivated, and wrote, “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite,” and “[Yosemite is] the grandest of all special temples of Nature.”
After his initial eight-day visit, he returned to the Sierra foothills and became a ferry operator, sheepherder and bronco buster. In May 1869 a rancher named Pat Delaney offered Muir a summer job in the mountains to accompany and watch over Delaney’s sheep and sheepherder. Muir enthusiastically accepted the offer and spent that summer with the sheep in the Yosemite area. That summer Muir climbed Cathedral Peak, Mount Dana and hiked the old Indian trail down Bloody Canyon to Mono Lake.
During this time he started to develop his theories about how the area developed and how its ecosystem functioned.
Now more enthusiastic about the area than before, Muir secured a joboperating a sawmill in the Yosemite Valley under the supervision of innkeeper James Hutchings. A natural born inventor, Muir designed a water-powered mill to cut wind-felled trees and he built a small cabin for himself along Yosemite Creek.