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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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The 1899 Expedition
The 1899
Expedition


 

Original Participants
Original
Participants

Brief Chronology
Brief
Chronology

Science Aboard the Elder
Science
Aboard the
Elder

History of Exploration
Exploration &
Settlement

Development Along Alaska's Coast
Growth Along Alaska's Coast

Alaska Native Communities
Alaska
Natives

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John Muir

1838-1914


John Muir

An early photograph of John Muir, taken in Madison, Wisconsin around 1875.
Source: Wisconsin Historical Society.
John Muir was eleven years old when his family emigrated from Scotland to Wisconsin in 1849. For ten years he worked on his parents' farm, backbreaking labor made all the worse by his father's strict Calvinist ways. But John discovered that he had a gift for invention. He tinkered with wood and tools, and made clever and playful machines: a self-regulating study desk, an alarm clock bed, and an automatic cow feeder. When, in his early twenties, he exhibited his inventions at the Wisconsin State Fair, he was recognized as a genius. From that point on, he was able to get good work in machine shops and factories, and would have kept on, had he not temporarily lost his sight in a factory accident. He vowed, when he recovered, to leave the factory, and to devote his life to "the study of the inventions of God." He set off on a thousand-mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico and eventually made his way to the Yosemite Valley.

In California, he worked as a naturalist and a writer, and became famous in both the political and scientific communities for his passionate essays on nature. He was an absorbing and fascinating talker, a self-described "poetico-trampo-geologist- botanist and ornith-natural etc." In 1892, he founded the Sierra Club, and gave over the labors of his life to the protection of wilderness.

Muir had traveled to Alaska on extended expeditions in 1879-1880 and in 1890. He was a recognized authority on glaciers there; in Glacier Bay, one of the largest glaciers was already named for him. It was this expertise in glaciology, along with his broad background in nature study, that prompted Harriman to invite him to join the expedition.

As well as being a knowledgeable naturalist, Muir was a legendary story-teller. He proved congenial company, although he was known to tease Burroughs a little too often. He collected botanical samples with the others, but would not shoot animals. All the specimen collecting, in fact distressed him. "Alaska's dwindling resources and wildlife could not afford many more such attacks in the name of science," he wrote.

After the Harriman Expedition, Muir devoted his life to saving the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park from being flooded to provide for San Francisco's water supply. Although he failed to save the valley, he did convince Theodore Roosevelt to expand the forest reserves and national parks. He continued to write; in fact, he dictated his memoir, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, in 1907 at the Harriman summer retreat in Oregon. He died on Christmas Eve, 1914.

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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