“The last rays of the setting sun are shining into our window at the Palace Hotel and perhaps it is the last sunset we shall ever see in this city of the Golden Gate. I could not think of leaving the Pacific Coast without saying good-bye to you who so much love all the world about here. California, you may say, has made you, and you in return have made California, and you are both richer for having made each other.” The concluding sentence of this parting message of former travel companions, sent to John Muir in 1879 when he was exploring the glaciers of Alaska, has grown truer each Succeeding decade since then.
Intimately as his name was already identified with the natural beauty of California in 1879, the service which Muir was ultimately to render to the nation was only beginning at that time. Then there was only one national park, that of the Yellowstone, and no national forest reserves at all. Amid such a wealth of beautiful forests and wildernesses as our nation then possessed it required a very uncommon lover of nature and of humanity to advocate provision against a day of need. But that friend of generations unborn arose in the person of John Muir. Before he or any one had ever heard of national parks the idea of preserving some sections of our natural flora in their unspoiled wildness arose spontaneously in his mind,
It was a lovely carex meadow beside Fountain Lake, on his father’s first Wisconsin farm, that gave him the germinal idea, of a park in which plant societies were to be protected in their natural state. During the middle sixties, as he was about to leave his boyhood home forever, he found unbearable the thought of leaving this precious meadow unprotected, and offered to purchase it from his brother-in-law on condition that cattle and hogs be kept securely fenced out. Early correspondence shows that he pressed the matter repeatedly, but his relative treated the request as a sentimental dream, and ultimately the meadow was trampled out of existence. More than thirty years later, at a notable meeting of the Sierra Club in 1895, he for the first time made public this natural park dream of his boyhood. It was the national park idea in miniature, and the proposal was made before even the Yellowstone National Park had been established.
This was the type of man who during the decade between 1879 and 1889 wrote for “Scribner’s Monthly” and the “Century Magazine” a series of articles the like of which had never been written on American forests and scenery. Such were Muir’s articles entitled “In the Heart of the California Alps,” “Wild Sheep of the Sierra,” “Coniferous Forests of the Sierra Nevada,” and “Bee-Pastures of California.” There was also the volume, edited by him, entitled “Picturesque California,” with numerous articles by himself. The remarkably large correspondence which came to him as a result of this literary activity shows how deep was its educative effect upon the public mind.
Then came the eventful summer of 1889, during which he took Robert Underwood Johnson, one of the editors of the “Century,” camping about Yosemite and on the Tuolumne Meadows, where, as Muir says, he showed him how uncountable sheep had eaten and trampled out of existence the wonderful flower gardens of the seventies. We have elsewhere shown how the two then and there determined to make a move for the establishment of what is now the Yosemite National Park, and to make its area sufficiently comprehensive to include all the headwaters of the Merced and the Tuolumne. This was during President Harrison’s administration, and, fortunately for the project, John W. Noble, a faithful and far-sighted servant of the American people, was then Secretary of the Interior.
One may imagine with what fervor Muir threw himself into that campaign. The series of articles on the Yosemite region which he now wrote for the “Century” are among the best things he has ever done. Public-spirited men all over the country rallied to the support of the National Park movement, and on the first of October, 1890, the Yosemite National Park bill went through Congress, though bitterly contested by all kinds of selfishness and pettifoggery. A troop of cavalry immediately came to guard the new park; the “hoofed locusts” were expelled, and the flowers and undergrowth gradually returned to the meadows and forests.
The following year (1891) Congress passed an act empowering the President to create forest reserves. This was the initial step toward a rational forest conservation policy, and President Harrison was the first to establish forest reserves—to the extent of somewhat more than thirteen million acres. We cannot stop to go into the opening phases of this new movement, but the measure in which the country is indebted to John Muir also for this public benefit may be gathered from letters of introduction to scientists abroad which influential friends gave to Muir in 1893 when he was contemplating extensive travels in Europe. “It gives me great pleasure,” wrote one of them, “to introduce to you Mr. John Muir, whose successful struggle for the reservation of about one-half of the western side of the Sierra Nevada has made him so well known to the friends of the forest in this country.”
During his struggle for the forest reservations and for the establishment of the Yosemite National Park Muir had the effective cooperation of a considerable body of public-spirited citizens of California, who in 1892 were organized into the Sierra Club, in part, at least, for the purpose of assisting in creating public sentiment and in making it effective. During its long and distinguished public service this organization never swerved from one of its main purposes, to enlist the support and cooperation of the people and the government in preserving the forests and other features of the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” and when that thrilling volume of Muir’s, “My First Summer in the Sierra,” appeared in 1911, it was found to be dedicated “ To the Sierra Club of California, Faithful Defender of the People’s Playgrounds.”
The assistance of this Club proved invaluable when Muir’s greatest opportunity for public service came in 1896. It was then that our Federal Government began to realize at last the imperative necessity of doing something at once to check the appalling waste of our forest resources. Among the causes which led up to this development of conscience was the report of Edward A. Bowers, Inspector of the Public Land Service. He estimated the value of timber stolen from the public lands during six years in the eighties at thirty-seven million dollars. To this had to be added the vastly greater loss annually inflicted upon the public domain by sheepmen and prospectors, who regularly set fire to the forests in autumn, the former to secure open pasturage for their flocks, the latter to lay bare the outcrops of mineral-bearing rocks. But the most coinsequential. awakening of the public mind followed the appearance of Muir’s “Mountains of California” in 1894. All readers of it knew immediately that the trees had found a defender whose knowledge, enthusiasm, and pngt of expression made his pen more powerful than a regiment of swords. Here at last was a man who had no axes to grind by the measures he advocated and thousands of new conservation recruits heard the call and enlisted under his leadership. One remarkable thing about the numerous appreciative letters he received is the variety of persons, high and low, from whom they came.
The reader will recall that, as early as 1876, Muir had proposed the appointment of a national commission to inquire into the fearful wastage of forests, to take a survey of existing forest lands in public ownership, and to recommend measures for their conservation. Twenty years later, in June, 1896, Congress at last took the required action by appropriating twenty-five thousand dollars “to enable the Secretary of the Interior to meet the expenses of an investigation and report by the National Academy of Sciences on the inauguration of a national forestry policy for the forested lands of the United States.” In pursuance of this act Wolcott Gibbs, President of the National Academy of Sciences, appointed as members of this Commission Charles S. Sargent, Director of the Arnold Arboretum; General Henry L. Abbot, of the United States Engineer Corps; Professor, William H. Brewer of Yale University; Alexander Aggasiz, Arnold Hague of the United States Geological Survey; and Gifford Pinchot, practical forester. It should be said to the credit of these men that they all accepted this appointment on the understanding that they were to serve without pay.
It is not surprising, in view of the circumstances, that Charles S. Sargent, the Chairman of the newly appointed Commission, immediately invited John Muir to accompany the party on a tour of investigation, and it was fortunate, as it turned out afterwards, that he went as an member of the party. During the summer of 1896, this Commission visited nearly all of the great forest areas of the West and the Northwest, and letters written to him later by individual members testify to the invaluable character of Muir’s personal contribution to its work.
A report, made early in 1897, embodied the preliminary findings and recommendations of the Commission, and on Washington’s Birthday of that year President Cleveland created thirteen forest reservations, comprising more than twenty-one million acres. This action of the President created a rogues’ panic among the mining, stock, and lumber companies of the Northwest, who were fattening on the public domain. Through their subservient representatives in Congress they moved unitedly and with great alacrity against the reservations. In less than a week after the President’s proclamation they had secured in the United States Senate, without opposition, the passage of an amendment to the Sundry Civil Bill whereby “all the lands set apart and reserved by Executive orders of February 22, 1897,” were “restored to the public domain. . . the same as if said Executive orders and proclamations had not been made.” To the lasting credit of California let it be said that the California reservations were expressly exempted from the provsions of this nullifying amendment at the request of the California Senators, Perkins and White, behind whom was the public sentiment of the State, enlightened by John Muir and many like-minded friends.
The great battle between the public interest and selfish special interests, or between “landscape righteousness and the devil,” as Muir used to say, was now joined for a fight to the finish. The general public as yet knew little about the value of forests as conservers and regulators of water-flow in streams. They knew even less about their effect upon rainfall, climate, and public welfare, and the day when forest reserves would be needed to meet the failing timber supply seemed far, far off.
But there is nothing like a great conflict between public and private interests to create an atmosphere in which enlightening discussion can do its work, and no one knew this better, than John Muir. “This forest battle,” he wrote, “is part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong. . . . sooner it is stirred up and debated before the people the better, for thus the light will be let into it.” When traveling with the Forestry Commission he had on one occasion seen an apparently well-behaved horse suddenly take a fit of bucking, kicking, and biting that made every one run for safety. Its strange actions were a mystery until a yellow jacket emerged from its ear!
Muir seized the occurrence for an explanation of the sudden and insanely violent outcry against forest reservations. “One man,” he said, “with a thousand-dollar yellow jacket in his ear will make more bewildering noise and do more effective kicking and fighting on certain public measures than a million working men minding their own business, and whose cash interests are not visibly involved. But as soon as the light comes the awakened million creates a public opinion that overcomes wrong however cunningly veiled.”
He was not mistaken, as we shall see, though for a time wrong seemed triumphant. The amendment nullifying the forest reservations died through lack of President Cleveland’s signature. But in the extra session, which followed the inauguration of President McKinley, a bill was passed in June, 1897, that restored to the public domain, until March 1, 1898, all the forest reservations created by Cleveland, excepting those of California. This interval, of course, was used shamelessly by all greedy forest-grabbers, while Congress was holding the door open! Emboldened by success, certain lumbermen even tried to secure Congressional authority to cut the wonderful sequoia grove in the General Grant National Park.
But John Muir’s Scotch fighting blood was up now. Besides, his friends, East and West, were calling for the aid of his eagle’s quill to enlighten the citizens of our country on the issues involved in the conflict. “No man in the world can place the forests’ claim before them so clearly and forcibly as your own dear self,” wrote his friend Charles Sprague Sargent, Chairman of the Commission now under fire. “No one knows so well as you the value of our forests—that their use for lumber is but a small part of the value.” He proposed that Muir write syndicate letters for the public press. “There is no one in the United States,” he wrote, “who can do this in such a telling way as you can, and in writing these letters you will perform a patriotic service.”
Meanwhile the public press was becoming interested in the issue. To a request from the editor of “Harper’s Weekly” Muir responded with an article entitled “Forest Reservations and National Parks,” which appeared opportunely in June, 1897. The late Walter Hines Page, then editor of the “Atlantic Monthly,” opened to him its pages for the telling contribution entitled “The American Forests.” In both these articles Muir’s style rose to impassioned oratory of a Hebrew prophet arraigning wickedness in high places, and preaching the sacred duty of so using the country we live in that we may not leave it ravished by greed and ruined by ignorance, but may pass it on to future generations undiminished in richness and beauty.
Unsparingly he exposed to public scorn the methods by which the government was being defrauded. One typical illustration must suffice. “It was the practice of one lumber company,” be writes, “too hire the entire crew of every vessel which might happen to touch at any port in the redwood belt, to enter one hundred and sixty acres each and immediately deed the land to the company, in consideration of the company’s paying all expenses and giving the jolly sailors fifty dollars apiece for their trouble.”
This was the type of undesirable citizens who, through their representatives in Congress, raised the hue and cry that poor settlers, looking for homesteads, were being driven into more hopeless poverty by the forest reservations—a piece of sophistry through which Muir’s trenchant language cut like a Damascus blade.
The outcries we hear against forest reservations [he wrote] come mostly from thieves who are wealthy and steal timber by wholesale. They have so long been allowed to steal and destroy in peace that any impediment to forest robbery is denounced as a cruel and irreligious interference with “vested rights,” likely to endanger the repose of all ungodly welfare. Gold, gold, gold! How strong a voice that metal has!. . . Even in Congress, a sizable chunk of gold, carefully concealed will outtalk and outfight all the nation on a subject like forestry. . . in which the money interests of only a few are conspicuously involved. Under these circumstances the bawling, blethering oratorical stuff drowns the voice of $od himself. . . Honest citizens see that only the rights of the government are being trampled, not those of the settlers. Merely what belongs to all alike is reserved, and every acre that is left should be held together under the federal government as a basis for a general policy of administration for the public good. The people will not always be deceived by selfish opposition, whether from lumber and mining corporations or from sheepmen and prospectors, however cunningly brought forward underneath fables of gold.He concluded this article with a remarkable peroration which no tree-lover could read without feeling, like the audiences that heard the philippies of Demosthenes, that something must be done immediately.
Any fool [he wrote] can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed—chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. During a man’s life only saplings can be grown, in the place of the old trees—tens of centuries old—that have been destroyed. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ’s time—and long before that—God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but He cannot save them from fools—only Uncle Sam can do that.The period of nine months during which the Cleveland reservations had been suspended came to an end on the first of March, 1898. Enemies of the reservation policy again started a move in the Senate to annul them all. “In the excitement and din of this confounded [Spanish-American] War, the silent trees stand a poor show for justice,” wrote Muir to his friend C. S. Sargent, who was sounding the alarm. Meanwhile Muir was conducting a surprisingly active campaign by post and telegraph, and through the Sierra Club. At last his efforts began to take effect and his confidence in the power of light to conquer darkness was justified. “You have evidently put in some good work,” wrote Sargent, who was keeping closely in touch with the situation. “On Saturday all the members of the Public Lands Committee of the House agreed to oppose the Senate amendment wiping out the reservations.” A large surviving correspondence shows how he continued to keep a strong hand on the helm. On the eighth of July the same friend, who was more than doing his own part, wrote, “Thank Heaven! the forest reservations are safe. . . for another year.” As subsequent events have shown, they have been safe ever since. One gets directly at the cause of this gratifying result in a sentence from a letter of John F. Lacey, who was then Chairman of the Public Lands Committee of the House. In discussing the conflicting testimony of those who were urging various policies of concession toward cattle and sheep men in the administration of the reserves he said, “Mr. Muir’s judgment will probably be better than that of any one of them.”
We have been able to indicate only in the briefest possible manner the decisive part that Muir played in the establishment and defence of the thirty-nine million acres of forest reserves made during the Harrison and Cleveland administrations. But even this bare glimpse of the inside history of that great struggle reveals the magnitude of the service John Muir rendered the nation in those critical times.
There were not lacking those who charged him with being an advocate of conservatism without use. But this criticism came from interested persons—abusers, not legitimate users—and is wholly false.
The United States Government [he said] has always been proud of the welcome it has extended to good men of every nation seeking freedom and homes and bread. Let them be welcomed still as nature welcomes them, to the woods as well as the prairies and plains. . . . The ground will be glad to feed them, and the pines will come down from the mountains for their homes as willingly as the cedars came from Lebanon for Solomon’s temple. Nor will the woods be the worse for this use, or their benign influences be diminished any more than the sun is diminished by shining. Mere destroyers, however, tree-killers, spreading death and confusion in the fairest groves and gardens ever planted, let the government hasten to cast them out and make an end of them. For it must be told again and again, and be burningly borne in mind, that just now, while protective measures are being deliberated languidly, destruction and use are speeding on faster and, farther everyday. The axe and saw are insanely busy, chips are flying thick as snowflakes, and every summer thousands of acres of priceless forests, with their underbrush, soil, springs, climate, scenery, and religion, are vanishing away in clouds of smoke, while, except in the national parks, not one forest guard is employed.Stripped of metaphor, this moving appeal of John Muir to Uncle Sam was an appeal to the intelligence of the American people, and they did not disappoint his faith in their competence to deal justly and farsightedly with this problem. Great as was the achievement of rescuing in eight years more than thirty-nine million acres of forest from deliberate destruction by sheeping, lumbering, and burning, it was only an earnest of what awakened public opinion was— prepared to do when it should find the right representative to carry it into force. That event occurred when Theodore Roosevelt came to the Presidency of the United States, and it is the writer’s privilege to supply a bit of unwritten history on the manner in which Muir’s informed enthusiasm and Roosevelt’s courage and love of action were brought into coöperation for the country’s good. In March, 1903, Dr. Chester Rowell, a Senator of the California Legislature, wrote to Muir confidentially as follows: “From private advices from Washington I learn that President Roosevelt is desirous of taking a trip into the High Sierra during his visit to California, and has expressed a wish to go with you practically alone. . . . If he attempts anything of the kind, he wishes it to be entirely unknown, carried out with great secrecy so that the crowds will not follow or annoy him, and he suggested that he could foot it and rough it with you or anybody else.”
John Muir had already engaged passage for Europe in order to visit, with Professor Sargent, the forests of Japan, Russia, and Manchuria, and felt constrained to decline. But upon the urgent solicitation of President Benjamin Ide Wheeler, and following the receipt of a friendly letter from President Roosevelt, he postponed his sailing date, writing to Professor Sargent, “An influential man from Washington wants to make a trip into the Sierra with me, and I might be able to do some forest good in freely talking around the camp-fire.”
By arrangement Muir Joined the President at Raymond on Friday, the fifteenth of May, and at the Mariposa Big Trees the two inexorably separated themselves from the company and disappeared in the woods until the following Monday. Needless to say this was not what the disappointed politicians would have chosen, but their chagrin fortunately was as dust in the balance against the good of the forests.
In spite of efforts to keep secret the President’s proposed trip to Yosemite, he had been met at Raymond by a big crowd. Emerging from his car in rough camp costume, he said. “Ladies and Gentlemen: I did not realize that I was to meet you to-day, still less to address an audience like this! I had only come prepared to go into Yosemite with John Muir, so I must ask you to excuse my costume.” This statement was met by the audience with cries of “It is all right!” And it was all right. For three glorious days Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir were off together in Yosemite woods and on Yosemite trails. Just how much was planned by them, in those days together, for the future welfare of this nation we probably never shall fully know. for death has sealed the closed accounts of both. But I am fortunately able to throw some direct light upon the attendant circumstances and results of the trip.
While I was in correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt in 1916 over a book I had published on the Old Testament, he wrote, “Isn’t there some chance of your getting to this side of the continent before you write your book on Muir? Then you’ll come out here to Sagamore Hill; and I’ll tell you all about the trip, and give you one very amusing instance of his quaint and most unworldly forgetfulness.”
In November of the same year it was my privilege to go for a memorable
visit to Sagamore Hill, and while Colonel Roosevelt and I were pacing briskly
back and forth in his library, over lion skins and other trophies, he told
about the trip with John Muir, and the impression which his deep solicitude
over the destruction of our great forests and scenery had made upon his
mind. Roosevelt had shown himself a friend of the forests before this camping
trip with Muir, but he came away with a greatly quickened conviction that
vigorous action must be taken speedily, ere it should be too late. Muir’s
accounts of the wanton forest-destruction he had witnessed, and the frauds
that had been perpetrated against the government in the acquisition of
redwood forests, were not without effect upon Roosevelt’s statesmanship,
as we shall see. Nor must we, in assessing the near and distant public
benefits of this trip, overlook the fact that it was the beginning of a
lifelong friendship between these two men. By a strange fatality Muir’s
own letter accounts of what occurred on the trip went from hand to hand
until they were lost. There survives a passage in a letter to his wife
in which he writes “I had a perfectly glorious time with the President
and the mountains. I never before had a more interesting, hearty, and manly
companion.” To his friend Merriam he wrote: “Camping with the President
was a memorable experience. I fairly fell in love with him.” Roosevelt,
John Muir, the Big Trees, and the lofty summits that make our “Range of
Light"!—who could think of an association of men and objects more elementally
great and more fittingly allied for the public good? In a stenographically
reported address delivered by Roosevelt at Sacramento immediately after
his return from the mountains, we have a hint of what the communion of
these two greatest outdoor men of our time was going to mean for the good
of the country.
I have just come from a four days’ rest in Yosemite [he said], and I wish to say a word to you here in the capital city of California about certain of your great natural resources, your forests and your water supply coming from the streams that find their sources among the forests of the mountains. . . . No small part of the prosperity of California in the hotter and drier agricultural regions depends upon the preservation of her water supply; and the water supply cannot be preserved unless the forests them preserved because they are the only things of their kind in the world. Lying out at night under those giant sequoias was lying in a temple built by no hand of man, a temple grander than any human architect could by any possibility build, and I hope for the preservation of the groves of giant trees simply because it would be a shame to our civilization to let them disappear. They are monuments in themselves.
I ask for the preservation of other forests on grounds of wise and far-sighted economic policy. I do not ask that lumbering be stopped. . . only that the forests be so used that not only shall we here, this generation, get the benefit for the next few years, but that our children and our children’s children shall get the benefit. In California I am impressed by how great the State is, but I am even more impressed by the immensely greater greatness that lies in the future, and I ask that your marvelous natural resources be handed on unimpaired to your posterity. We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages.
Let us now recall Muir’s modest excuse for postponing a world tour in order to go alone into the mountains with Theodore Roosevelt—that he “might be able to do some forest good in freely talking around the camp-fire.” It was in the glow of those camp-fires that Muir’s enlightened enthusiasm and Roosevelt’s courage were fused into action for the public good. The magnitude of the result was astonishing and one for which this country can never be sufficiently grateful. When Roosevelt came to the White House in 1901, the total National Forest area amounted to 46,153,119 acres, and we have already seen what a battle it cost Muir and his friends to prevent enemies in Congress from securing the annulment of Cleveland’s twenty-five million acres of forest reserves. When he left the White House, in the spring of hundred and forty-eight million acres of additional National Forests—more than three times as much as Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley combined! Similarly the number of National Parks was doubled during his administration.
But the Monuments and Antiquities Act, passed by Congress during Roosevelt’s administration, gave him a new, unique opportunity. During the last three years of his presidency he created by proclamation sixteen National Monuments. Among them was the Grand Cañon of the Colorado with an area of 806,400 acres. Efforts had been made, ever since the days of Benjamin Harrison, to have the Grand Cañon set aside as a national park, but selfish opposition always carried the day. Sargent and Johnson and Page had repeatedly appealed to Muir to write a description of the Cañon. “It is absolutely necessary,” wrote Page in 1898, “that this great region as well as the Yosemite should be described by you, else you will not do the task that God sent you to do.” When in 1902 his masterly description did appear, it led to renewed, but equally futile, efforts to have this wonder of earth sculpture included among our national playgrounds. Then Muir passed on to Roosevelt the suggestion that he proclaim the Cañon a national monument. A monument under ground was a new idea, but there was in it nothing inconsistent with the Monuments and Antiquities Act, and so Roosevelt, with his characteristic dash, in January, 1908, declared the whole eight hundred thousand acres of the Cañon a National Monument and the whole nation smiled and applauded. Subsequently Congress, somewhat grudgingly, changed its status to that of a national park, thus realizing the purpose for which Roosevelt’s proclamation reserved it at the critical time.
The share of John Muir in the splendid achievements of these Rooseveltian years would be difficult to determine precisely, for his part was that of inspiration and advice—elements as imponderable as sunlight, but as all-pervasively powerful between friends as the pull of gravity across stellar spaces. And fast friends they remained to the end, as is shown by the letters that passed between them. Neither of them could feel or act again as if they had not talked “forest good” together beside Yosemite camp-fires. “I wish I could see you in person,” wrote Roosevelt in 1907 at the end of a letter about national park matters. “I wish I could see you in person; and how I do wish I were again with you camping out under those great sequoias, or in the snow under the silver firs!”
In 1908 occurred an event that threw a deep shadow of care and worry and heart-breaking work across the last six years of Muir’s life—years that otherwise would have gone into books which perforce have been left forever unwritten. We refer to the granting of a permit by James R. Garfield, then Secretary of the Interior, to the city of San Francisco to invade the Yosemite National Park in order to convert the beautiful Hetch-Hetchy Valley into a reservoir. In Muir’s opinion it was the greatest breach of sound conservation principles in a whole century of improvidence, and in the dark and devious manner of its final accomplishment a good many things still wait to be brought to light. The following letter to Theodore Roosevelt, then serving his second term in the White House, is a frank presentation of the issues involved.
To Theodore Roosevelt[Martinez, CaliforniaDear Mr. President:
April 21, 1908]
I am anxious that the Yosemite National Park may be saved from all sorts of commercialism and marks of man’s work other than the roads, hotels, etc., required to make its wonders and blessings available. For as far as I have seen there is not in all the wonderful Sierra, or indeed in the world, another so grand and wonderful and useful a block of Nature’s mountain handiwork.
There is now under consideration, as doubtless you well know, an application of San Francisco supervisors for the use of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley and Lake Eleanor as storage reservoirs for a city water supply. This application should, I think, be denied, especially the Hetch-Hetchy part, for this Valley, as you will see by the inclosed description, is a counter-part of Yosemite, and one of the most sublime and beautiful and important features of the Park, and to dam and submerge it would be hardly less destructive and deplorable in its effect on the Park in general than would be the damming of Yosemite itself. For its falls and groves and delightful camp-grounds are surpassed or equaled only in Yosemite, and furthermore it is the hall of entrance to the grand Tuolumne Cañon, which opens a wonderful way to the magnificent Tuolumne-Meadows, the focus of pleasure travel in the Park and the grand central camp-ground. If Hetch-Hetchy should be submerged, as proposed, to a depth of one hundred and seventy-five feet, not only would the Meadows be made utterly inaccessible along the Tuolumne, but this glorious cañon way to the High Sierra would be blocked.
I am heartily in favor of a Sierra or even a Tuolumne water supply for San Francisco, but all the water required can be obtained from sources outside the Park, leaving the twin valleys, Hetch-Hetchy and Yosemite, to the use they were intended for when the Park was established. For every argument advanced for making one into a reservoir would apply with equal force to the other, excepting the cost of the required dam.
The few promoters of the present scheme are not unknown around the boundaries of the Park, for some of them have been trying to break through for years. However able they may be as capitalists, engineers, lawyers, or even philanthropists, none of the statements they have made descriptive of Hetch-Hetchy dammed or undammed is true. but they all show forth the proud sort of confidence that comes of a good, sound, substantial, irrefragable ignorance.
For example, the capitalist Mr. James D. Phelan says, “There are a thousand places in the Sierra equally as beautiful as Hetch-Hetchy: it is inaccessible nine months of the year, and is an unlivable place the other three months because of mosquitoes.” On the contrary, there is not another of its kind in all the Park excepting Yosemite. It is accessible all the year, and is not more mosquitoful than Yosemite. “The conversion of Hetch-Hetchy into a reservoir will simply mean a lake instead of a meadow.” But Hetch-Hetchy is not a meadow: it is a Yosemite Valley. . . . These sacred mountain temples are the holiest ground that the heart of man has consecrated, and it behooves us all faithfully to do our part in seeing that our wild mountain parks are passed on unspoiled to those who come after us, for they are national properties in which every man has a right and interest.
I pray therefore that the people of California be granted time to be heard before this reservoir question is decided, for I believe that as soon as light is cast upon it, nine tenths or more of even the citizens of San Francisco would be opposed to it. And what the public opinion of the world would be may be guessed by the case of the Niagara Falls.
Faithfully and devotedly yoursJohn Muir
O for a tranquil camp hour with you like those beneath the sequoias in memorable 1903!
Muir did not know at the time, and it was a discouraging shock to discover the fact, that Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot had on May 28, 1906, written a letter to a San Francisco city official not only suggesting, but urging, that San Francisco “make provision for a water supply from the Yosemite National Park.” In the work of accomplishing this scheme, he declared, “I will stand ready to render any assistance in my power.” Six months later be wrote again to the same official, saying: “I cannot, of course, attempt to forecast the action of the new Secretary of the Interior [Mr. Garfield] on the San Francisco watershed question, but my advice to you is to assume that his attitude will be favorable, and to make the necessary preparations to set the case before him. I had supposed from an item in the paper that the city had definitely given up the Lake Eleanor plan and had purchased one of the other systems.”
It was not surprising that his forecast of an action, which he already stood pledged to further with any means in his power, although he knew other sources to be available, proved correct. Neither Mr. Pinchot nor Mr. Garfield had so much as seen the Valley, and the language of the latter’s permit shows that his decision was reached on partisan misrepresentations of its character which were later disproved in public hearings when the San Francisco authorities, unable to proceed with the revocable Garfield permit, applied to Congress for a confirmation of it through an exchange of lands. To take one of the two greatest wonders of the Yosemite National Park and hand it over, as the New York “Independent” justly observed, “without even the excuse of a real necessity, to the nearest hungry municipality that asks for it, is nothing less than conservation buried and staked to the ground. Such guardianship of our national resources would make every national park the back-yard annex of a neighboring city.”
Muir’s letter to Roosevelt showed him that his official advisers were thinking more of political favor than of the integrity of the people’s playground; that, in short, a mistake had been made; and he wrote Muir that he would endeavor to have the project confined to Lake Eleanor. But his administration came to an end without definite steps taken in the matter one way or another. President Taft, however, and Secretary Ballinger directed the city and county of San Francisco, in 1910, “to show why the Hetch-Hetchy Valley should not be eliminated from the Garfield permit,” President Taft also directed the War Department to appoint an Advisory Board of Army Engineers to assist the Secretary of the Interior in passing upon the matters submitted to the Interior Department under the order to show cause.
In March, 1911, Secretary Ballinger was succeeded by Walter L. Fisher, during whose official term the city authorities requested and obtained five separate continuances, apparently in the hope that a change of administration would give them the desired political pull at Washington. Meantime the Advisory Board of Army Engineers reported: “The Board is of the opinion that there are several sources of water supply that could be obtained and used by the City of San Francisco and adjacent communities to supplement the near-by supplies as the necessity develops. From any one of these sources the water is sufficient in quantity and is, or can be made suitable in quality, while the engineering difficulties are not insurmountable. The determining factor is principally one of cost.”
Under policies of National Park protection now generally acknowledged to be binding upon those who are charged to administer them for the public good, the finding of the army engineers should have made it impossible to destroy the Hetch-Hetchy Valley for a mere commercial difference in the cost of securing a supply of water from any one of several other adequate sources. But, as Muir states in one of his letters, “the wrong prevailed over the best aroused sentiment of the entire country.”
The compensating good which he felt sure would arise, even out of this tragic sacrifice, must be sought in the consolidation of public sentiment against any possible repetition of such a raid. In this determined public sentiment, aroused by Muir’s leadership in the long fight, his spirit still is watching over the people’s playgrounds.