Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Writings of John Muir
Volume 9 - Life and Letters of John Muir, Volume 1
Chapter IX. Persons and Problems


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 been made.]

Whitney's "Yosemite 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 Muir's letters.

Mrs. 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 as well!"

The question 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 exclaims:

"Good 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 Valley."

Another, more 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 work.

What concerned 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."

No 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 it."

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, [1871]


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 barbarism.

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 month.

To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

YOSEMITE, August 13th, [1871]


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 beginning."

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 affairs!

Perhaps you 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 you like.

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


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.

I 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 shower
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 above,
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 the Merced.

To Clinton L. Merriam

YOSEMITE 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 history.

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.

I 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 El Capitan.

This Ribbon 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 five inches.

Inasmuch 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 parent ice.

This 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.


Fortunately Muir 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 subsidence theory.

Muir 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 explorations.

Meanwhile 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 Yosemite Valley.

Thus 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 his plans:

To Mrs. Daniel Muir

YOSEMITE VALLEY, November 161h, [1871]


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.

I 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, boulderless bed.

In all 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 happy homes.

Our 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 reaction:

To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

YOSEMITE VALLEY, March 16th, [1872]


Yours of 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 them....

You don't 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 to some.

I am 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.

As for 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 years.

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.


During the 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 friendship.

The 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 discoveries.

To Emily Pelton

YOSEMITE VALLEY, April 2, 1872


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.

You 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 friends.

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 roaring rock-storm.

He 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

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 peerless fall.

I wanted 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 lamp.

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

YOSEMITE VALLEY, April 23d, 1872


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 Points.

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 all,

J. M.

To Miss Catharine Merrill

YOSEMITE VALLEY, June 9th, 1872


I am very happy to hear your hand language once more, but in some places I am black and blue with your hurricane of scolding.

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 a background.

My love 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 ever cordially

Your friend


To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

YOSEMITE VALLEY, July 6th, 187[2]


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 gold.

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.

I 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.

I am ever your friend


To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

YOSEMITE VALLEY, July 14th, 1872


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 unit.

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.

Ever thine


To Sarah Muir Galloway

YOSEMITE VALLEY, July 16th, 1872


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 domes.

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.

J. Muir

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


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.

As ever
Your friend


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 way."

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


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 McClure.

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, [1871], 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.

But, 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 horsehair.

On observing 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 of accuracy.

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 fortieth parallel."

In 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

Autumn, [1872]

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."

Return to Volume 9 Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus