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Lives Across The Pond: John Muir

Each month we feature a person included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography who was either born in the United States, and made their name in the UK, or came to the US from the British Isles.This month we feature the naturalist—John Muir (1838-1914)—who was born in East Lothian, Scotland, on 21 April 1838, emigrated to the United States as child, and later became a champion and conservationist of California’s Yosemite Valley.

John Muir (1838–1914), naturalist and conservationist, was born in Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland, on 21 April 1838, the son of Daniel Muir (1804–1885) and his second wife, Anne Gilrye Muir (1813–1896). John was the third child (of eight) and first son of this deeply religious, poorly educated shopkeeper and grain dealer of longtime Scottish descent.

… Attempting in 1867 to emulate Alexander von Humboldt (whose comprehensive writings about natural history had become a major influence), Muir walked 1000 miles through the woods from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, keeping a journal in the manner of Emerson and Thoreau. He had hoped to go to South America, like Humboldt, but got no closer than Cuba. Instead, Muir crossed Panama and went on by ship to San Francisco. He then found employment in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada for a time, working as a shepherd.

… In 1903 he camped out in Yosemite with Theodore Roosevelt, during the latter’s presidency of the United States. A well-known photograph shows them together atop Glacier Point. In 1909, still thin, tangle-bearded, and scruffy, Muir served as Yosemite guide to William Howard Taft, also during the latter’s presidency. More national parks came into being as a result. During the 1980s Muir was voted the most important person in the history of California.

Continue reading the Oxford DNB biography of John Muir;

In addition to this biography, the Oxford DNB also offers a free ‘Life of the Day‘ sent daily to your in-box, plus topical lives in our free monthly Reading Room and favourite people available in a free biography podcast.

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