After his marriage Muir rented from his father-in-law a part of the Strentzel ranch, and then proceeded with great thoroughness to master the art of horticulture, for which he possessed natural and perhaps inherited aptitude. But when July came, the homing instinct for the wilderness again grew strong within him. He doubtless had an understanding with his wife that he was to continue during the next summer the unfinished explorations of 1879. The lure of “something lost behind the ranges” was in his case a glacier, as Mr. Young reports in his “Alaska Days with John Muir.” The more immediate occasion of his departure was a letter from his friend Thomas Magee, of San Francisco, urging him to join him on a trip to southeastern Alaska. The two had traveled together before, and he acted at once upon the suggestion, leaving for the North on July 30th.
To Mrs. MuirOff Cape FlatteryMy Dear Wife:
Monday, August 2d, 1880 10 A.M.
All goes well. In a few hours we will be in Victoria. The voyage thus far has been singularly calm and uneventful. Leaving you is the only event that has marred the trip and it is marred sorely, but I shall make haste to you and reach you ere you have the time to grieve and weary. If you will only be calm and cheery all will be better for my short spell of ice-work.
The sea has been very smooth, nevertheless Mr. Magee has been very sick. Now he is better. As for me I have made no sign, though I have had some headache and heartache. We are now past the Flattery Rocks, where we were so roughly storm-tossed last winter, and Neah Bay, where we remained thirty-six hours. How placid it seems now—the water black and gray with reflections from the cloudy sky, fur seals popping their heads up here and there, ducks and gulls dotting the small waves, and Indian fishing-boats towards the shore, each with a small glaring red flag flying from the masthead.
Behind the group of white houses nestled in the deepest bend of the bay rise rounded, ice-swept hills, with mountains beyond them folding in and in, in beautiful braids, and all densely forested. We are so near the shore that with the mate’s glasses I can readily make out some of the species of the trees. The forest is in the main scarce at all different from those of the Alaskan coast. Now the Cape Lighthouse is out of sight and we are fairly into the strait. Vancouver Island is on [the] left in fine clear view, with forests densely packed in every hollow and over every hill and mountain. How beautiful it is! How deep and shadowy its cañons, how eloquently it tells the story of its sculpture during the Age of Ice! How perfectly virgin it is! Ships loaded with Nanaimo coal and Puget Sound coal and lumber, a half-dozen of them, are about us, beating their way down the strait, and here and there a pilot boat to represent civilization, but not one sear on the virgin shore, nor the smoke of a hut or camp.
I have just been speaking with a man who has spent a good deal of time on the island. He says that so impenetrable is the underbrush, his party could seldom make more than two miles a day though assisted by eight Indians. Only the shores are known.
Now the wind is beginning to freshen and the small waves are tipped with white, milk-white, caps, almost the only ones we have seen since leaving San Francisco. The Captain and first officer have been very attentive to us, giving us the use of their rooms and books, etc., besides answering all our questions anent the sea and ships.
We shall reach Victoria about two or three o’clock. The California will not sail before tomorrow sometime, so that we shall have plenty [of] time to get the charts and odds and ends we need before leaving. Mr. Magee will undoubtedly go on to Wrangell, but will not be likely to stop over.
Ten minutes past two by your clock
We are just rounding the Esquimalt Lighthouse, and in a few minutes more will be tied up at the wharf. Quite a lively breeze is blowing from the island, and the strait is ruffled with small shining wavelets glowing in the distance like silver. Hereabouts many lofty moutonnéed rock-bosses rise above the forests, bare of trees, but brown looking from the mosses that cover them. Since entering the strait, the heavy swell up and down, up and down, has vanished and all the sick have got well and are out in full force, gazing at the harbor with the excitement one always feels after a voyage, whether the future offers much brightness or not.
The new Captain of the California is said to be good and careful, and the pilot and purser I know well, so that we will feel at home during the rest of our trip as we have thus far; and as for the main objects, all Nature is unchangeable, loves us all, and grants gracious welcome to every honest votary.
I hope you do not feel that I am away at all. Any real separation is not possible. I have been alone, as far as [concerns] the isolation that distance makes, so much of my lifetime that separation seems more natural than absolute contact, which seems too good and indulgent to be true.
Her Majesty’s ironclad Triumph is lying close alongside. How huge she seems and impertinently strong and defiant, with a background of honest green woods! Jagged-toothed wolves and wildcats harmonize smoothly enough, but engines for the destruction of human beings are only devilish, though they carry preachers and prayers and open up views of sad, scant tears. Now we are making fast. “Make fast that line there, make fast,” “let go there,” “give way.”
We will go on to Victoria this afternoon, taking our baggage with us, and stay there until setting out on the California. The ride of three miles through the woods and round the glacial bosses is very fine. This you would enjoy. I shall look for the roses. Will mail this at once, and write again before leaving this grand old ice-ribbed island.
And now, my dear Louie, keep a good heart and do the bits of work I requested you to do, and the days in Alaska will go away fast enough and I will be with you again as if I had been gone but one day.Ever your affectionate husband
John MuirTo Mrs. MuirVictoria, B.C.Dear Louie:
August 3, 1880, 3.45 P.M.
The Vancouver roses are out of bloom hereabouts but I may possibly find some near Nanaimo. I mailed you a letter yesterday which you will probably receive with this.
Arriving at Esquimalt we hired a carriage driven by a sad-eyed and sad-lipped negro to take us with all our baggage to Victoria, some three miles distant. The horses were also of melancholic aspect, lean and clipper-built in general, but the way they made the fire fly from the glacial gravel would have made Saint Jose and his jet beef-sides hide in the dust. By dint of much blunt praise of his team he put them 142 to their wiry spring-steel metal and we passed everything on the road with a whirr—cab, cart, carriage, and carryall. We put up at the Driard House and had a square, or cubical, meal. Put on a metallic countenance to the landlord on account of the money and experience we carried, nearly seared him out of his dignity and made him give us good rooms.
At 6.45 P.M. the California arrived, and we went aboard and had a chat with Hughes, the purser. He at once inquired whether I had any one with me, meaning you, as Vanderbilt had given our news. Learned that the California would not sail until this evening and made up our minds to take a drive out in the highways and byways adjacent to the town. While strolling about the streets last evening I felt a singular interest in the Thlinkit Indians I met and something like a missionary spirit came over me. Poor fellows, I wish I could serve them.
There is good eating, but poor sleeping here. My bed was but little like our own at home. Met Major Morris, the Treasury agent, this morning. He is going up with us. He is, you remember, the writer of that book on Alaska that I brought with me.
About nine o’clock we got a horse and buggy at the livery stable and began our devious drive by going back to the Dakota to call on First Officer Griffith and give him a box of weeds for his kind deeds. Then took any road that offered out into the green leafy country. How beautiful it is, every road banked high and embowered in dense, fresh, green, tall ferns six to eight feet high close to the wheels, then spiraea, two or three species, wild rose bushes, madroño, hazel, hawthorn, then a host of young Douglas spruces and silver firs with here and there a yew with its red berries and dark foliage, and a maple or two, then the tall firs and spruces forming the forest primeval. We came to a good many fields of grain, but all of them small as compared with the number of the houses. The oats and barley are just about ripe. We saw little orchards, too; a good many pears, little red-brown fellows, six hatfuls per tree, and the queerest little sprinkling of little red and yellow cherries just beginning to ripen. Many of the cottage homes about town are as lovely as a cottage may be, embowered in honeysuckle and green gardens and bits of lawn and orchard and grand oaks with lovely outlooks. The day has been delightful. How you would have enjoyed it—all three of you.
Our baggage is already aboard and the hour draws nigh. I must go. I shall write you again from Nanaimo.
Good-bye again, my love. Keep a strong heart and speedily will fly the hours that bring me back to thee. Love to mother and father. Farewell.Ever your affectionate husband
To Mrs. MuirOn board the CaliforniaDear Louie:
10 A.M., August 4th, 1880
We are still lying alongside the wharf at Victoria. It seems a leak was discovered in one of the watertanks that had to be mended, and the result was that we could not get off on the seven o’clock tide last night.
Victoria seems a dry, dignified, half-idle town, supported in great part by government fees. Every erect, or more than erect, backleaning, man has an office, and carries himself with that peculiar aplomb that all the Hail Britannia people are so noted for. The wharf and harbor stir is very mild. The steamer Princess Louise lies alongside ours, getting ready for the trip to New Westminster on [the] Fraser River. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s steamer Otter, a queer old tubby craft, left for the North last night. A few sloops, plungers, and boats are crawling about the harbor or lying at anchor, doing or dreaming a business nobody knows. Yonder comes an Indian canoe with its one unique sail calling up memories, many, of my last winter’s rambles among the icebergs. The water is ruffled with a slight breeze, scarce enough for small white-caps. Though clearer than the waters of most harbors, it is not without the ordinary drift of old bottles, straw, and defunct domestic animals. How rotten the piles of the wharf are, and how they smell, even in this cool climate!
They are taking hundreds of barrels of molasses aboard—for what purpose? To delight the Alaska younglings with ‘lasses bread and smear their happy chubby cheeks, or to make cookies and gingerbread? No, whiskey, Indian whiskey! It will be bought by Indians, nine tenths of it and more; they will give their hard-earned money for it, and their hard-caught furs, and take it far away along many a glacial channel and inlet, and make it into crazing poison. Onions, too, many a ton, are coming aboard to boil and fry and raise a watery cry.
Alone on the wharf, I see a lone stranger dressed in shabby black. He has a kind of unnerved, drooping look, his shoulders coming together and his toes and his knees and the two ends of his vertebral column, something like a withering leaf in hot sunshine. Poor fellow, he looks at our ship as if he wanted to go again to the mines to try his luck. And here come two Indian women and a little girl trotting after them. They seem as if they were coming aboard, but turn aside at the edge of the wharf and descend rickety stairs to their canoe, tied to a pile beneath the wharf. Now they reappear with change of toilet, and the little girl is carrying a bundle, something to eat or sell or sit on.
Yonder comes a typical John Bull, grand in size and style, carmine in countenance, abdominous and showing a fine tight curve from chin to knee, when seen in profile, yet benevolent withal and reliable, confidence-begetting. And here just landed opposite our ship is a pile of hundreds of bears’ skins, black and brown, from Alaska, brought here by the Otter, a few deer skins too, and wildcat and wolverine. The Hudson’s Bay Company men are about them, showing their ownership.Ten minutes to twelve o’clock
"Let go that line there,” etc., tells that we are about to move. Our steamer swings slowly round and heads for Nanaimo. How beautiful the shores are! How glacial, yet how leafy! The day becomes calmer, and brighter, and everybody seems happy. Our fellow passengers are Major Morris and wife, whom I met last year, Judge Deady, a young Englishman, and [a] dreamy, silent old gray man like a minister.8 P.M.
We are entering Nanaimo Harbor.
To Mrs. Muir
A Few Miles from Nanaimo
9 A.M., August 5th, 1880
We are coaling here, and what a rumble they are making! The shores here are very imposing, a beveled bluff, topped with giant cedar, spruce, and fir and maple with varying green; here and there a small madroño too, which here is near its northern limit.
We went ashore last eve at Nanaimo for a stroll, Magee and I, and we happened to meet Mr. Morrison, a man that I knew at Fort Wrangell, who told me particulars of the sad Indian war in which Toyatte was killed. He was present and gave very graphic descriptions.
We sailed hither at daylight this morning, and will probably get away, the Captain tells me, about eleven o’clock, and then no halt until we reach Wrangell, which is distant from here about sixty hours.
I hardly know, my lassie, what I’ve been writing, nothing, I fear, but very small odds and ends, and yet these may at least keep you from wearying for an hour, and the letters, poor though they be, shall yet tell my love, and that will redeem them. I mail this here, the other two were mailed in Victoria, my next from Wrangell.
Heaven bless you, my love, and mother and father. I trust that you are caring for yourself and us all by keeping cheery and strong, and avoiding the bad practice of the stair-dance. Once more, my love, farewell, I must close in haste. Farewell.Ever your affectionate husband
Missionary S. Hall Young was standing on the wharf at Fort Wrangell on the 8th of August, watching the California coming in, when to his great joy he spied John Muir standing on the deck and waving his greetings. Springing nimbly ashore, Muir at once fired at him the question, “When can you be ready?” In response to Young’s expostulations over his haste, and his failure to bring his wife, he exclaimed: “Man, have you forgotten? Don’t you know we lost a glacier last fall? Do you think I could sleep soundly in my bed this winter with that hanging on my conscience? My wife could not come, so I have come alone and you’ve got to go with me to find the lost. Get your canoe and crew and let us be off.”
To Mrs. MuirMy Own Dear Louie:
Sitka on board the California
August 10th, 1880
10.30 P.M. of your time
I’m now about as far from you as I will be this year—only this wee sail to the North and then to thee, my lassie. And I’m not away at all, you know, for only they who do not love may ever be apart. There is no true separation for those whose hearts and souls are together. So much for love and philosophy. And now I must trace you my way since leaving Nanaimo.
We sailed smoothly through the thousand evergreen isles, and arrived at Fort Wrangell at 4.30 A.M. on the 8th. Left Wrangell at noon of the same day and arrived here on the 9th at 6 A.M. Spent the day in friendly greetings and saunterings. Found Mr. Vanderbilt and his wife and Johnnie and not every way least, though last, little Annie, who is grown in stature and grace and beauty since last I kissed her.
To-day Mr. Vanderbilt kindly took myself and Mr. Magee and three other fellow passengers on an excursion on his steamer up Peril Strait, about fifty miles. (You can find it on one of the charts that I forgot to bring.) We returned to the California about half-past nine, completing my way thus far.
And now for my future plans. The California sails to-morrow afternoon some time for Fort Wrangell, and I mean to return on her and from there set out on my canoe trip. I do not expect to be detained at Wrangell, inasmuch as I saw Mr. [S. Hall] Young, who promised to have a canoe and crew ready. I mean to keep close along the mainland, exploring the deep inlets in turn, at least as far north as the Taku, then push across to Cross Sound and follow the northern shore, examining the glaciers that crowd into the deep inlet that puts back northward from near the south extremity of the Sound, where I was last year. Thence I mean to return eastward along the southern shore of the Sound to Chatham Strait, turn southward down the west shore of the Strait to Peril Strait, and follow this strait to Sitka, where I shall take the California. Possibly, however, I may, should I not be pushed for time return to Wrangell. Mr. Magee will, I think, go with me, though very unwilling to do so. . . .
August 11th, at noon
I have just returned from a visit to the Jamestown. The Commander, Beardslee, paid me a visit here last evening, and invited me aboard his ship. Had a pleasant chat, and an invitation to make the Jamestown my home while here.
I also found my friend Koshoto, the Chief of the Hoonas, the man who, I told you, had entertained Mr. Young and me so well last year on Cross Sound, and who made so good a speech. He is here trading, and seemed greatly pleased to learn that I was going to pay him another visit; said that meeting me was like meeting his own brother who was dead, his heart felt good, etc. . . .
I have been learning all about the death of the brave and good old Toyatte. I think that Dr. Corliss, one of the Wrangell missionaries., made a mistake in reference to the seizure of some whiskey, which caused the beginning of the trouble.
This is a bright, soft, balmy day. How you would enjoy it! You must come here some day when you are strong enough. . . . Everybody inquires first on seeing me, “Have you brought your wife?” and then “Have you a photograph?” and then pass condemnation for coming alone!. . .
The mail is about to close, and I must write to mother.Affectionately your husband
How eagerly I shall look for news when I reach Fort Wrangell next month!
To Mrs. MuirResidence of Mr. Young, Fort WrangellDear Louie:
11.45 A.M., August 14th, 1880
I am back in my old quarters, and how familiar it all seems!—the lovely water, the islands, the Indians with their baskets and blankets and berries, the jet ravens prying and flying here and there, and the bland, dreamy, hushed air drooping and brooding kindly over all. I miss Toyatte so much. I have just been over the battleground with Mr. Young, and have seen the spot where he fell.
Instead of coming here direct from Sitka we called at Klawak on Prince of Wales Island for freight,—canned salmon, oil, furs, etc.,—which detained us a day. We arrived here last evening at half-past ten, Klawak is a fishing and trading station located in a most charmingly beautiful bay, and while lying there, the evening before last, we witnessed a glorious auroral display which lasted more than three hours. First we noticed long white lance shaped streamers shooting up from a dark cloud-like mass near the horizon, then a well-defined arch, the corona, almost black, with a luminous edge appeared, and from it, radiating like spokes from a hub, the streamers kept shooting with a quick glancing motion, and remaining drawn on the dark sky, distinct, and white, as fine lines drawn on a blackboard. And when half the horizon was adorned with these silky fibrous lances of light reaching to and converging at the zenith, broad flapping folds and waves of the same white auroral light came surging on from the corona with astonishing energy and quickness, the folds and waves spending themselves near the zenith like waves on a smooth sloping sand-beach. But throughout the greater portion of their courses the motion was more like that of sheet lightning, or waves made in broad folds of muslin when rapidly shaken; then in a few minutes those delicate billows of light rolled up among the silken streamers, would vanish, leaving the more lasting streamers with the stars shining through them; then some of the seemingly permanent streamers would vanish also, and appear again in vivid white, like rockets shooting with widening base, their glowing shafts reflected in the calm water of the bay among the stars.
It was all so rare and so beautiful and exciting to us that we gazed and shouted like children at a show, and in the middle of it all, after I was left alone on deck at about half-past eleven, the whole sky was suddenly illumined by the largest meteor I ever saw. I remained on deck until after midnight, watching. The corona became crimson and slightly flushed the bases of the streamers, then one by one the shining pillars of the glorious structure were taken down, the foundation arch became irregular and broke up, and all that was left was only a faint structureless glow along the northern horizon, like the beginning of the dawn of a clear frosty day. The only sounds were the occasional shouts of the Indians, and the impressive roar of a waterfall.
Mr. Young and I have just concluded a bargain with the Indians, Lot and his friend, to take us in his canoe for a month or six weeks, at the rate of sixty dollars per month. Our company will be those two Indians, and Mr. Young and myself, also an Indian boy that Mr. Young is to take to his parents at Chilkat, and possibly Colonel Crittenden as far as Holkham Bay. . . .
You will notice, dear, that I have changed the plan I formerly sent you in this, that I go on to the Chilkat for Mr. Young’s sake, and farther; now that Mr. Magee is out of the trip, I shall not feel the necessity I previously felt of getting back to Sitka or Wrangell in time for the next steamer, though it is barely possible that I shall. Do not look for me, however, as it is likely I shall have my hands full for two months. To-morrow is Sunday, so we shall not get away before Monday, the 16th. How hard it is to wait so long for a letter from you! I shall not get a word until I return. I am trying to trust that you will be patient and happy, and have that work done that we talked of.
Every one of my old acquaintances seems cordially glad to see me. I have not yet seen Shakes, the Chief, though I shall ere we leave. He is now one of the principal church members, while Kadachan has been getting drunk in the old style, and is likely, Mr. Young tells me, to be turned out of the church altogether. John, our last year’s interpreter, is up in the Cassiar mines. Mrs. McFarlane, Miss Dunbar, and the Youngs are all uncommonly anxious to know you, and are greatly disappointed in not seeing you here, or at least getting a peep at your picture. “Why could she not have come up and stayed with us while you were about your ice business?” they ask in disappointed tone of voice.
Now, my dear wife, the California will soon be sailing southward, and I must again bid you good-bye. I must go, but you, pay dear, will go with me all the way, How gladly when my work is done will I go back to thee! With love to mother and father, and hoping that God will bless and keep you all, I am ever in heart and soul the same,John Muir
6 P.M. I have just dashed off a short “Bulletin” letter.
The events that followed are graphically narrated in Part II of “Travels in Alaska.” Eight days after his arrival at Fort Wrangell, Muir and Mr. Young got started with their party, which consisted of the two Stickeen Indians—Lot Tyeen and Hunter Joe—a half-breed named Smart Billy. There was also Mr. Young’s dog Stickeen, whom. Mr. Muir at first accepted rather grudgingly as a super-charge of the already crowded canoe, but who later won his admiration and became the subject of one of the noblest dog stories in English literature.
The course of the expedition led through Wrangell Narrows between Mitkoff and Kupreanof Islands, up Frederick Sound past Cape Fanshaw and across Port Houghton, and then up Stephens Passage to the entrance of Holkham Bay, also called Sumdum. Fourteen and a half hours up the Endicott Ann of this bay, which Muir was the first white man to explore, he found the glacier he had suspected there—a stream of ice three quarters of a mile wide and eight or nine hundred feet deep, discharging bergs with sounds of thunder. He had scarcely finished a sketch of it when he observed another glacial cañon on the west side of the fiord and, directing his crew to pull around a glaciated promontory, they came into full view of a second glacier, still pouring its ice into a branch of the fiord. Muir gave the first of these glaciers the name Young in honor of his companion, who complains that some later chart-maker substituted the name Dawes, thus committing the larceny of stealing his glacier.
In retracing their course, after some days spent in exploring the head of the fiord, they struck a side-arm through which the water was rushing with great force. Threading the narrow entrance, they found themselves in what Muir described as a new Yosemite in the making. He called it Yosemite Bay, and has fur. nished a charming description of its flora, fauna, and physical characteristics in his “Travels in Alaska.”
On August 21st, Young being detained by missionary duties, Muir set out alone with the Indians to explore what is now known as the Tracy Arm of Holkham Bay. The second day he found another kingly glacier hidden within the benmost bore of the fiord. “There is your lost friend,” said the Indians, laughing, and as the thunder of its detaching bergs reached their ears, they added, “He says, Sagh-a-ya?” (How do you do?)
After leaving Taku Inlet, Muir laid his course north through Stephens Passage and around the end of Admiralty Island, where a camp was made only with difficulty. The next morning he crossed the Lynn Canal with his boat and crew and pitched camp, after a voyage of twenty miles, on the west end of Farewell Island, now Pyramid Island. Early the following day they turned Point Wimbledon, crept along the lofty north wall of Cross Sound, and entered Taylor Bay. During a part of this trip, the canoe was exposed to a storm and swells rolling in past Cape Spencer from the open ocean. It was an undertaking that called for courage, skill, and hardihood of no mean order.
At the head of Taylor Bay, Muir found a great glacier consisting of three branches whose combined fronts had an extent of about eight miles. Camp was made near one of these fronts in the evening of August 29th. Early the following morning, Muir became aware that “a wild storm was blowing and calling,” and before any one was astir he was off—too eager to stop for breakfast—into the rain-laden gale, and out upon the glacier. It was one of the great, inspired days of his life, immortalized in the story of “Stickeen,” the brave little dog [Mr. Muir received so many letters inquiring about the dog’s antecedents that he asked Mr. Young in 1897 to tell him what he knew of Stickeen’s earlier history. Some readers may be interested in his reply, which was as follows: “Mrs. Young got him as a present from Mr. H——, that Irish sinner who lived in a cottage up the beach towards the Presbyterian Mission in Sitka."] that had become his inseparable companion.
Muir’s time was growing short, so he hastened on with his party the next day into Glacier Bay, where among other great glaciers he had discovered the previous autumn the one that now bears his name. Several days were spent there most happily, exploring and observing glacial action, and then the canoe was turned Sitka-ward by way of Icy, Chatham, and Peril Straits, arriving in time to enable him to catch there the monthly mail steamer to Portland. Thus ended the Alaska trip of 1880.
“After all, have you not found there is some happiness in this world outside of glaciers, and other glories of nature?” The friend who put this question to John Muir, in a letter full of pleasantries and congratulations, had just received from him a jubilant note announcing the arrival of a baby daughter on March 27th. His fondness of children now had scope for indulgence at home, and he became a most devoted husband and father.
But for the time being he was to be deprived of this new domestic joy. For when he received an invitation to accompany the United States Revenue steamer Corwin on an Arctic relief expedition in search of DeLong and the Jeannette, it was decided in family council that so unusual an opportunity to explore the northern parts of Alaska and Siberia must not be neglected. His preparations had to be made in great haste while the citizens of Oakland were giving a banquet in honor of Captain C. L. Hooper and the officers of the Corwin at the Galinda Hotel in Oakland on April 29th. Fortunately, the Captain was an old friend whom he had known in Alaska and to whom 161 he could entrust the purchase of the necessary polar garments from the natives in Bering Straits.
The Corwin sailed from San Francisco on May 4, 1881, and the following series of letters was written to his wife during the cruise. They supplement at many points the more formal account of his experiences published in “The Cruise of the Corwin.” One of the objectives of the expedition was Wrangell Land in the Arctic Ocean, north of the Siberian coast, because it had been the expressed intention of Commander DeLong to reach the North Pole by traveling along its eastern coast, leaving cairns at intervals of twenty-five miles. It was not known at this time that Wrangell Land did not extend toward the Pole, but was an island of comparatively small extent. It was found later, by the log of the Jeannette, that the vessel had drifted, within sight of the island, directly across the meridians between which it lies. While the Corwin was still searching for her and her crew, the Jeannette was crushed in the ice and sank on June 12, 1881, in the Arctic Ocean, one hundred and fifty miles north of the New Siberian Islands.
Meanwhile Captain Hooper succeeded in penetrating, with the Corwin, the ice barrier that surrounded Wrangell Land. So far as known, the first human beings that ever stood upon the shores of this mysterious island were in Captain Hooper’s landing party, August 12, 1881, and John Muir was of the number. The earliest news of the event, and of the fact that DeLong had not succeeded in touching either Herald Island or Wrangell Land, reached the world at large in a letter from Muir published in the “San Francisco Evening Bulletin,” September 29, 1881.
Since the greater part of the first two letters, written to his wife
at sea and while approaching Unalaska, was quoted in the writer’s introduction
to “The Cruise of the Corwin,” they are omitted here for the sake of brevity.
To Mrs. MuirMonday, 4 P.M., May 16, Dear Louie:
Since writing this forenoon, we reached the mouth of the strait that separates Unalaska Island from the next to the eastward, against a strong headwind and through rough snow squalls, when the Captain told me that he thought he would not venture through the Strait to-day, because the swift floodtide setting through the Strait against the wind was surely raising a dangerously rough sea, but rather seek an anchorage somewhere in the lee of the bluffs, and wait the fall of the wind. As he approached the mouth of the Strait, however, he changed his mind and determined to try it.
When the vessel began to pitch heavily and the hatches and skylights were closed, I knew that we were in the Strait, and made haste to get on my overcoat and get up into the pilot-house to enjoy the view of the waves. The view proved to be far wilder and more exciting than I expected. Indeed, I never before saw water in so hearty a storm of hissing, blinding foam. It was all one leaping, clashing, roaring mass of white, mingling with the air by means of the long hissing streamers dragged from the wavetops, and the biting scud. Our little vessel, swept onward by the flood pouring into Bering’s Sea and by her machinery, was being buffeted by the head-gale and the huge, white, overcombing waves that made her reel and tremble, though she stood it bravely and obeyed the helm as if in calm water. After proceeding about five or six miles into the heart of this grand uproar, it seemed to grow yet wilder and began to bid defiance to any farther headway against it. At length, when we had nearly lost our boats and [were] in danger of having our decks swept, we turned and fled for refuge before the gale. The giant waves, exulting in their 164 strength, seemed to be chasing us and threatening to swallow us at a gulp, but we finally made our escape, and were perhaps in no great danger farther than the risk of losing our boats and having the decks swept.
After going back about ten miles, we discovered a good anchorage in fifteen fathoms of water in the lee of a great bluff of lava about two thousand feet high, and here we ride in comfort while the blast drives past overhead. If we do not get off to-morrow, I will go ashore and see what I can learn.
Have learned already since the snow ceased falling that all the region hereabouts has been glaciated just like that thousand miles to the eastward. All the sculpture shows this clearly.
How pleasant it seems to be able to walk once more without holding on and to have your plate lie still on the table!
It is clearing up. The mountains are seen in groups rising back of one another, all pure white. The sailors are catching codfish. There are two waterfalls opposite our harbor.
Good-night to all. Oh, if I could touch my baby and thee!
This has been a very grand day—snow, waves, wind, mountains![John Muir]
To Mrs. MuirUnalaska HarborDear Louie:
Tuesday, May 17,1881
The gale having abated early this morning, we left our anchorage on the south side of the island and steamed round into the Strait to try it again after our last evening’s defeat, and this time we were successful, after a hard contest with the tide, which flows here at a speed of ten miles an hour.
The clouds lifted and the sun shone out early this morning, revealing a host of mountains nobly sculptured and grouped and robed in spotless white. Turn which way you would, the mountains were seen towering into the dark sky, some of them with streamers of mealy snow wavering in the wind, a truly glorious sight. The most interesting feature to me was the fine, clear, telling, glacial advertisement displayed everywhere in the trends of the numerous inlets and bays and valleys and ridges, in the peculiar shell-shaped névé amphitheaters and in the rounded valley bottoms and forms of the peaks and the cliff fronts facing the sea. No clearer glacial inscriptions are to be found in any mountain range, though I had been led to believe that these islands were all volcanic upheavals, scarce at all changed since their emergence from the waves, but on the contrary I have already discovered that the amount of glacial degradation has been so great as to cut the peninsula into islands. I have already been repaid for the pains of the journey.
My health is improving every day in this bracing cold, and you will hardly recognize me when I return. The summer will soon pass, and we hope to be back to our homes by October or November. . . . This is a beautiful harbor, white mountains shutting it in all around—white nearly to the water’s edge. . . .
I will write again ere we leave, and then you will not hear again, probably, until near the middle of June, when we expect to meet the St. Paul belonging to the Alaska Commercial Company at St. Michael. Then I will write and you may receive my letter a month or two later.
Good-bye until to-morrow.[John Muir]
To Mrs. MuirUnalaskaDear Louie:
Wednesday, May 18th, 1881
The Storm-King of the North is again up and doing, rolling white, combing waves through the jagged straits between this marvelous chain of islands, circling them about with beaten, updashing foam, and piling yet more and more snow on the clustering cloud-wrapped peaks. But we are safe and snug in this land-locked haven enjoying the distant storm-roar of wave and wind. I have just been on deck; it is snowing still and the deep bass of the gale is sounding on through the mountains. How weird and wild and fascinating all this hearty work of the storm is to me. I feel a strange love of it all, as I gaze shivering up the dim white slopes as through a veil darkly, becoming fainter and fainter as the flakes thicken and at length hide all the land.
Last evening I went ashore with the Captain, and saw the chief men of the place and the one white woman, and a good many of the Aleuts. We were kindly and cordially entertained by the agent of the Alaska Commercial Company, Mr. Greenbaum, and while seated in his elegant parlor could hardly realize that we were in so remote and cold and silent a wilderness.
As we were seated at our ease discussing Alaskan and Polar affairs, a knock came to the door, and a tall, hoary, majestic old man slowly entered, whom I at once took for the Russian priest, but to whom I was introduced as Dr. Holman. He shook hands with me very heartily and said, “Mr. Muir, I am glad to see you. I had the pleasure of knowing you in San Francisco.” Then I recognized him as the dignified old gentleman that I first met three or four years ago at the home of the Smiths at San Rafael, and we had a pleasant evening together. He has been in the employ of the Alaska Commercial Company here for a year, caring for the health of the Company’s Aleuts. His own health has been suffering the meanwhile, and to-day I sent him half a dozen bottles of the Doctor’s wine to revive him. This notable liberality under the circumstances was caused, first, by his having advised me years ago to take good care of my steps on the mountains; second, to get married; third, for his pictures, drawn for me, of the bliss of having children; fourth, for the sake of our mutual friends; fifth, for his good looks and bad health; and half-dozen, because fifteen or twenty years ago on a dark night, while seeking one of his patients in the Contra Costa hills, he called at the house of Doctor Strentzel for directions and was invited in and got a glass of good wine. A half-dozen bottles for a half-dozen reasons! “That’s consistent, isn’t it?” I mean to give a bottle to a friend of the Captain who is stationed at St. Michael, and save one bottle for our first contact with the polar ice-pack, and one with which to celebrate the hour of our return to home, friends, wives, bairns.
We had fresh-baked stuffed codfish for breakfast, of which I ate heartily, stuffing and all, though the latter was gray and soft and much burdened with minced onions, and then I held out my plate for a spoonful of opaque, oleaginous gravy! This last paragraph is for grandmother as a manifestation of heroic, all-enduring, all-engulfing health.
We have not yet commenced to coal, so that we will not get off for the North before Sunday. There is a schooner here that will sail for Shoalwater Bay, Oregon, in a few days, and by it I will send four or five letters. The three or four more that I intend writing ere we leave this port I will give to the agent of the Company here to be forwarded by the next opportunity in case the first batch should be lost. Then others will be sent from St. Michael by the Company’s steamer, and still others from the Seal Islands and from points where we fall in with any vessel homeward bound.
Good-night to all. I am multiplying letters in case some be lost, A thousand kisses to in child. This is the fifth letter from Unalaska. Will write two more to be sent by other vessels.
To Mrs. MuirSunday afternoon, May 22, 1881Dear Louie:
We left Unalaska this morning at four o’clock and are now in Bering Sea on our way to St. George and St. Paul Islands. . . . Next Tuesday or Wednesday we expect to come in sight of the ice, but hope to find open water, along the west shore, that will enable us to get through the Strait to Cape Serdze or there-abouts. In a month or so we expect to be at St. Michael, where we will have a chance to send more letters and still later by whalers.
You will, therefore, have no very long period of darkness, though on my side I fear I shall have to wait a long time for a single word, and it is only by trusting in you to be cheerful and busy for the sake of your health and for the sake of our little love and all of us that I can have any peace and rest throughout this trip, however long or short. Now you must be sure to sleep early to make up for waking during the night, and occupy all the day with light work and cheerful thoughts, and never brood and dream of trouble, and I will come back with the knowledge that I need and a fresh supply of the wilderness in my health. I am already quite well and eat with savage appetite whatsoever is brought within reach.
This morning I devoured half of a salmon trout eighteen inches long, a slice of ham, half a plateful of potatoes, two biscuits, and four or five slices of bread, with coffee and something else that I have forgotten, but which was certainly buried in me and lost. For lunch, two platefuls of soup, a heap of fat compound onion hash, two pieces of toast, and three or four slices of bread, with potatoes, and a big sweet cake, and now at three o’clock I am very hungry—a hunger that no amount of wave-tossing will abate. Furthermore, I look forward to fat seals fried and boiled, and to walrus steaks and stews, and doughnuts fried in train oil, and to all kinds of bears and fishy fowls with eager longing. There! Is that enough, grandmother? All my table whims are rapidly passing into the sere and yellow leaf and falling off.
I promise to comfort and sustain you beyond your highest aspirations when I return and fall three times a day on your table like a wolf on the fold. You know those slippery yellow custards—well, I eat those also!
You must not forget Sam Williams [Editor of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin.]. And now, my love, good-night. I hope you are feeling strong-hearted. I wish I could write anything, sense or nonsense, to cheer you up and brighten the outlook into the North. I will try to say one more line or two when we reach the Islands to-morrow.
Love to all. Kiss Annie for me.[John Muir]
To Mrs. MuirPlover Bay, SiberiaMy Beloved Wife:
June 16th, 1881
We leave this harbor to-morrow morning at six o’clock, for St. Michael, and the northward. The Corwin is in perfect condition, and since the season promises to be a favorable one, we hope to find the Jeannette and get home this fall. I have not yet seen the American shore, but hope to see it very thoroughly, as everything seems to work towards my objects. That the Asiatic and American continents were one a very short geological time ago is already clear to me, though I shall probably obtain much more available proof than I now have. This is a grand fact. While the crystal glaciers were creating Yosemite Valley, a thousand were uniting here to make Bering Strait and Bering Sea. The south side of the Aleutian chain of islands was the boundary of the continent and the ocean.
Since the Tom Pope came into the harbor, I have written five “Bulletin” letters, which are for you mostly, and therefore I need the less to write any detailed narrative of the cruise. She will sail at the same hour as we do, and her Captain, Mr. Millard, who has been many times in the Arctic both here and on the Greenland side, has promised to make you a visit, and will be able to give you much information.
If I could only get a line, one word, from you to know that you were all well, I would be content to await the end of the voyage with patience and fortitude. But, my dear, it’s terrible at times to have to endure for so long a dark silence. We will not be likely to get a word before September. No doubt you have already received the six or seven letters that I sent from Unalaska and St. Paul, also the two or three “Bulletin” letters from Unalaska. Write [W.C.] Bartlett or the office for a dozen copies of each, and save them for me.
We are drifting in the harbor among cakes of ice about the size of the orchard, but they can do us no harm. The great mountains forming the walls are covered yet with snow, except on a few bare spots near their bases, and there is not a single tree. Scarce a hint of any spring or summer have I seen since leaving San Francisco and the orchard. I hope you will see Mr. Millard. You must keep Annie Wanda downstairs or she may fall; and now, my wife and child, daughter and mother, I must bid good-bye. Heaven bless you all! Send copies of my “Bulletin” letters to my mother, and put this letter with my papers and notebooks. You will get many other letters now that the whalers are returning.
My heart aches, not to go home ere I have done my work, but just to know that you are well.
Your affectionate husbandJohn Muir
To Mrs. MuirSt. Michael, AlaskaSunshine, dear Louie, sunshine all the day, ripe and mellow sunshine, like that which feeds the fruits and vines! It came to us just [three] days ago when we were approaching this little old-fashioned trading post at the mouth of the Yukon River. . . .
June 21, 1881
On the day of our arrival from Plover Bay, a little steamer came into the harbor from the Upper Yukon, towing three large boats loaded with traders, Indians, and furs—all the furs they had gathered during the winter. We went across to the storeroom of the Company to see them. A queer lot they were, whites and Indians, as they unloaded their furs. It was worth while to look at the furs too—big bundles of bear skins brown and black, wolf, fox, beaver, marten, ermine, moose, wolverine, wildcat—many of them with claws spread and hair on end as if still alive and fighting for their lives. Some of the Indian chiefs, the wildest animals of all, and the more notable of the traders, not at all wild save in dress, but rather gentle and refined in manners, like village parsons. They held us in long interesting talks and gave us some valuable information concerning the broad wilds of the Yukon.
Yesterday I took a long walk of twelve or fourteen miles over the tundra to a volcanic cone and back, leaving the ship about twelve in the forenoon and getting back at half-past eight. I found a great number of flowers in full bloom, and birds of many species building their nests, and a capital view of the surrounding country from the rim of an old crater, altogether making a delightful day, though a very wearisome one on account of the difficult walking.
The ground back of St. Michael stretches away in broad brown levels of boggy tundra promising fine walking, but proving about as tedious and exhausting as possible. The spongy covering [is] roughened with tussocks of grass and sedge and creeping heathworts and willows, among which the foot staggers about and sinks and squints, seeking rest and finding none, until far down between the rocking tussocks. This covering is composed of a plush of mosses, chiefly sphagnum, about eight inches or a foot deep, resting on ice that never melts, while about half of the surface of the moss is covered with white, yellow, red, and gray lichens, and the other half is planted more or less with grasses, sedges, heathworts, and creeping willows, and a flowering plant here and there such as primula and purple-spiked Pedicularis. Out in this grand solitude—solitary as far as man is concerned—we met a great many of the Arctic grouse, ptarmigan, cackling and screaming at our approach like old laying hens; also plovers, snipes, curlews, sandpipers, loons in ponds, and ducks and geese, and finches and wrens about the crater and rocks at its base. . . .
And now good-bye again, and love to all, wife, darling baby Anna, grandmother, and grandfather.[John Muir]
To Mrs. MuirBetween Plover Bay andMy Beloved Wife:
St. Lawrence Island,
July 2d, 1881
After leaving St. Michael, on the twenty-second of June. . . we went again into the Arctic Ocean to Tapkan, twelve miles northwest of Cape Serdze, to seek the search party that we left on the edge of the ice-pack opposite Koliuchin Island, and were so fortunate as to find them there, having gone as far as the condition of the ice seemed to them safe, and after they had reached the fountain-head of all the stories we had heard concerning the lost whaler Vigilance and determined them to be in the main true. At Cape Wankarem they found three Chukchis who said that last year when the ice was just beginning to grow, and when the sun did not rise, they were out seal-hunting three or four miles from shore when they saw a broken ship in the drift ice, which they boarded and found some dead men in the cabin and a good many articles of one sort and another which they took home and which they showed to our party. This evidence reveals the fate of at least one of the ships we are seeking.
Our party, when they saw us, came out to the edge of the ice. which extended about three miles from shore, and after a good deal of difficulty reached the steamer. The north wind was blowing hard, sending huge black swells and combing waves against the jagged, grinding edge of the pack with terrible uproar, making it impossible for us to reach them with a boat. We succeeded, however, in throwing a line to them, which they made fast to a skin boat that they had pushed over the lee from the shore, and, getting into it, they were dragged over the stormy edge of ice waves and water waves and soon got safely aboard, leaving the tent, provisions, dogs, and sleds at the Indian village, to be picked up some other time.
Then we sailed southward again to take our interpreter Chukchi Joe to his home, which we reached two hours ago. Now we are steering for St. Michael again, intending to land for a few hours on the north side of St. Lawrence Island on the way. At St. Michael we shall write our letters, which will be carried to San Francisco by the Alaska Commercial Company’s steamer St. Paul, take on more provisions, and then sail north again along the American shore, spending some time in Kotzebue Sound, perhaps exploring some of the rivers that flow into it, and then push on around Point Barrow and out into the ocean northward as we can, our movements being always determined by the position and movements of the icepack.
Before making a final effort in August or September to reach Wrangell Land in search of traces of the Jeannette, we will return yet once more to St. Michael for coal and provisions which we have stored there in case we should be compelled to pass a winter north of Bering Strait. The season, however, is so favorable that we have sanguine hopes of finding an open way to Wrangell Land and returning to our homes in October. The Jeannette has not been seen, nor any of her crew, on the Asiatic coast as far west as Cape Yaken, and I have no hopes of the vessel ever escaping from the ice; but her crew, in case they saved their provisions, may yet be alive, though it is strange that they did not come over the ice in the spring. Possibly they may have reached the American coast, If so, they will be found this summer. Our vessel is in perfect condition, and our Captain is very cautious and will not take any considerable chances of being caught in the North pack.
How long it seems since I left home, and yet according to the almanac it will not be two months until the day after to-morrow! I have seen so much and gone so far, and the nightless days are so strangely joined, it seems more than a year. And yet how short a time is the busy month at home among the fruit and the work! My wee lass will be big and bright now, and by the time I can get her again in my arms she will be afraid of my beard. I have a great quantity of ivory dolls and toys—ducks, bears, seals, walruses, etc.—for her to play with, and some soft white furs to make a little robe for her carriage. But it is a sore, hard thing to be out of sight of her so long, and of thee, Lassie, but still sore and harder not to hear. Perhaps not one word until I reach San Francisco! You, however, will hear often. . . .
This is a lovely, cool, clear, bright day, and the mountains along the coast of Asia stand in glorious array, telling the grand old story of their birth beneath the sculpturing ice of the glacial period. But the snow still lingers here and there down to the water’s edge, and a little beyond the mouth of Bering Strait the vast, mysterious ice-field of the North stretches of miles. I landed on East Cape yesterday and found unmistakable evidence of the passage over it of a rigid ice-sheet from the North, a fact which is exceedingly telling here. . . .
My health is so good now that I never notice it. I climbed a mountain at East Cape yesterday, about three thousand feet high, a mile through snow knee-deep, and never felt fatigue, my cheeks tingling in the north wind. . . . I have a great quantity of material in my notebooks already, lots of sketches [of] glaciers, mountains, Indians, Indian towns, etc. So you may be sure I have been busy, and if I could only hear a word now and then from that home in the California hills I would be the happiest and patientest man in all Hyperborea.
I am alone in the cabin; the engine is grinding away, making the lamp that is never lighted now rattle, and the joints creak everywhere, and the good Corwin is gliding swiftly over smooth blue water about half way to St. Lawrence Island. And now I must to bed! But before I go I reach my arms towards you, and pray God to keep you all. Good-night.[John Muir]
To Mrs. MuirSt. Michael, July 4th, 1881Dear Louie:
We arrived here this afternoon at three o’clock and intend to stay about three days, taking in coal and provisions, and then to push off to the North. We intend to spend nearly a month along the American shore, perhaps as far north as Point Barrow, before we attempt to go out into the Arctic Ocean among the ice, for it is in August and September that the ice is most open. Then, if, as we hope from the favorableness of the season, we succeed in reaching Wrangell Land to search for traces of the Jeannette, or should find any sure tidings of her, we will be back in sunny, iceless California about the end of October, in grape-time. Otherwise we will probably return to St. Michael and take on a fresh supply of coal and nine months’ provisions, and go north again prepared to winter in case we should get caught in the north of Bering Strait.
A few miles to the north of Plover Bay some thirteen or fourteen canoe-loads of natives came out to trade; more than a hundred of them were aboard at once, making a very lively picture. When we proceeded on our way, they allowed us to tow them for a mile or two in order to take advantage of the northerly current in going back to their village. They were dragged along, five or six canoes on each side, making the Corwin look like a mother field-mouse with a big family hanging to her teats, one of the first country sights that filled me with astonishment when a boy.
In coming here I had very fine views of St. Lawrence Island from the north side, showing the trend of the ice-sheet very plainly, much to my delight. The middle of the island is crowded with volcanic cones, mostly post-glacial, and therefore regular in form and but little wasted, and I counted upwards of fifty from one point of view. Just in front of this volcanic portion on the coast there is a dead Esquimo village where we landed and found that every soul of the population had died two years ago of starvation. More than two hundred skeletons were seen lying about like rubbish, in one hut thirty, most of them in bed. Mr. E. W. Nelson, a zealous collector for the Smithsonian Institution, gathered about one hundred skulls as specimens, throwing them together in heaps to take on board, just as when a boy in Wisconsin I used to gather pumpkins in the fall after the corn was shocked. The boxfuls on deck looked just about as unlike a cargo of cherries as possible, but I will not oppress you with grim details.
Some of the men brought off guns, axes, spears, etc., from the abandoned huts, and I found a little box of child’s playthings which might please Anna Wanda, but which, I suppose, you will not let into the house. Well, I have lots of others that I bought, and when last here I engaged an Indian to make her a little fur suit, which I hope is ready so that I can send it down by the St. Paul. I hope it may fit her. I wish she were old enough to read the stories that I should like to write her.
Love to all. Good-night.Ever yours
To Mrs. MuirSt. Michael, July 9th, 1881My Dear Wife:
We did not get away last evening, as we expected, on account of the change in plans—as to taking all our winter stores on board, instead of leaving them until another visit in September. It is barely possible we might get caught off Point Barrow or on Wrangell [Land] by movements in the ice-pack that never can be anticipated. Therefore we will be more comfortable with abundance of bread about us. In the matter of coal, there is a mine on the north coast where some can be obtained in case of need, and also plenty of driftwood.
Our cruise, notwithstanding we have already made two trips into a portion of the Arctic usually blocked most of the summer, we consider is just really beginning. For we have not yet made any attempt to get to the packed region about Herald Island and Wrangell Land. Perhaps not once in twenty years would it be possible to get a ship alongside the shores of Wrangell Land, although its southern point is about nine degrees south of points attained on the eastern side of the continent. To find the ocean ice thirty or forty feet thick away from its mysterious shores seems to be about as hopeless as to find a mountain glacier out of its cañon. Still, this has been so remarkably open and mild a winter, and so many north gales have been blowing this spring, [gales] calculated to break up the huge packs and grind the cakes and blocks against one another, that we have sanguine hopes of accomplishing all that we are expected to do and get home by the end of October. If I can see as much of the American coast as I have of the Asiatic, I will be satisfied, and should the weather be as favorable I certainly shall. . . .
We may, possibly, be home ere you receive any more [letters]. If not, think of me, dear, as happily at work with no other pain than the pain of separation from you and my wee lass. I have many times been weighing chances as to whether you have sent letters by the Mary-and-Helen, now called the “Rodgers,” which was to sail about the middle of June. She is a slow sailer, and has to go far out of her course by Petropavlovskii, the capital of Kamchatka, for dogs, and will not be through the Strait before the end of the season nearly. Yet a letter by her is my only hope for hearing from you this season.
How warm and bland the weather is here, 60° in the shade, and how fine a crop of grass and flowers is growing up along the shores and back on the spongy tundra! The Captain says I can have a few hours on shore this afternoon. I mean to go across the bay three miles to a part of the tundra I have not yet seen. I shall at least find a lot of new flowers and see some of the birds. Once more, good-bye. I send Anna’s parka by the St. Paul. Give my love to Sam Williams. You must not forget him.[John Muir]
A month and three days after the date of the preceding letter the Corwin succeeded in making a landing on Wrangell Land. From some unpublished notes of Muir under the heading “Our New Arctic Territory” we excerpt the following account of the event:
Next morning [August 12th] the fog lifted, and we were delighted to see that though there was now about eight miles of ice separating us from the shore, it was less closely packed, and the Corwin made her way through it without great difficulty until within two miles of the shore, where the craggy berg-blocks were found to be extremely hard and wedged closely together. But a patch of open water near the beach, now plainly in sight, encouraged a continuance of the struggle, and with a full head of steam on, the barrier was forced. By 10 o’clock A.M. our little ship was riding at anchor less than a cable’s length from the beach, opposite the mouth of a river.
This landing point proved to be in latitude 71° 4’, longitude 177° 40’ 30” W., near the East Cape. After taking formal possession of the country, one party examined the level beach about the mouth of the river, and the left bank for a mile or two, and a hillside that slopes gently down to the river, while another party of officers, after building a cairn, depositing records in it, and setting the flag on a conspicuous point of the bluff facing the ocean, proceeded northwestward along the brow of the short bluff to a marked headland, a distance of three or four miles, searching attentively for traces of the Jeannette expedition and of any native inhabitants that might chance to be in the country. Then all were hurriedly recalled and a way was forced to open water through ten miles of drift ice which began to close upon us.
Muir’s collection of plants, gathered in the Arctic lands touched by the Corwin, was naturally of uncommon interest to botanists. Asa Gray returned from a European trip in November, and in response to an inquiry from Muir at once wrote him to send on his Arctic plants for determination. Those from Herald Island and Wrangell Land, represented by a duplicate set in the Gray Herbarium at Harvard, are still the only collections known to science from those regions. In determining the plants, Gray found among them a new species of erigeron, and in reporting it to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences named it Erigeron Muirii in honor of its discoverer. Muir found it in July at Cape Thompson on the Arctic shore of Alaska. [A complete list of his various collections and of his glacial observations will be found in the appendix to The Cruise of the Corwin (1917).]To Mrs. MuirPoint Barrow, August 16th, 1881My Beloved Wife:
Heaven only knows my joy this night in hearing that you were well. Old as the letter is and great as the number of days and nights that have passed since your love was written, it yet seems as if I had once more been upstairs and held you and Wanda in my arms. Ah, you little know the long icy days, so strangely nightless, that I have longed and longed for one word from you. The dangers, great as they were, while groping and grinding among the vast immeasurable ice-fields about that mysterious Wrangell Land would have seemed as nothing before I knew you. But most of the special dangers are past, and I have grand news for you, my love, for we have succeeded in landing on that strange ice-girt country and our work is nearly all done and I am coming home by the middle of October. No thought of wintering now and attempting to cross the frozen ocean from Siberia. We will take no more risks. All is well with our stanch little ship. She is scarce at all injured by the pounding and grinding she has undergone, and sailing home seems nothing more than crossing San Francisco Bay. We have added a large territory [Wrangell Land] to the domain of the United States and amassed a grand lot of knowledge of one sort and another.
Now we sail from here to-morrow for Cape Lisburne, or, if stormy, to Plover Bay, to coal and repair our rudder, which is a little weak. Thence we will go again around the margin of the main polar pack about Wrangell Land, but not into it, and possibly discover a clear way to land upon it again and obtain more of its geography; then leave the Arctic about the loth of September, call at St. Michael, at Unalaska, and then straight home.
I shall not write at length now, as this is to go down by the Legal Tender, which sails in a few days and expects to reach San Francisco by the 20th of September, but we may reach home nearly as soon as she. I have to dash off a letter for the “Bulletin” to-night, though I ought to go to bed. Not a word of it is yet written.
We came poking and feeling our way along this icy shore a few hours ago through the fog, little thinking that a letter from you was just ahead. Then the fog lifted, and we saw four whalers at anchor and a strange vessel. When the Captain of the Belvidere shouted, “Letters for you, Captain, by the Legal Tender,” which was the strange vessel, our hearts leaped, and a boat was speedily sent alongside. I got the letter package and handed them round, and yours, love, was the very last in the package, and I dreaded there was none. The Rodgers had not yet been heard from. One of the whale ships was caught here and crushed in the ice and sank in twenty minutes a month ago.
Good-bye, love. I shall soon be home. Love to all. My wee lass-love—she seems already in my arms. Not in dreams this time! From father and husband and lover.John Muir
This cruise in the Arctic Ocean, as it turned out, was to be the last of his big expeditions for some time. Domestic cares and joys, and the development of the fruit ranch, absorbed his attention more and more. The old freedom was gone, but the following paragraph, from a letter written to Mrs. John Bidwell, of Rancho Chico, on January 2nd, 1882, suggests that he had found a satisfying substitute for the independence of earlier years:
I have been anxious to run up to Chico in the old free way to tell you about the majestic icy facts that I found last summer in the Lord’s Arctic palaces, but as you can readily guess, it is not now so easy a matter to wing hither and thither like a bird, for here is a wife and a baby and a home, together with the old press of field studies and literary work, which I by no means intend to lose sight of even in the bright bewitching smiles of my wee bonnie lassie. Speaking of brightness, I have been busy, for a week or two just past letting more light into the house by means of dormer windows, and in making two more open brick fireplaces. Dormer-windows, open wood-fires, and perfectly happy babies make any home glow with warm sunny brightness and bring out the best that there is in us.
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