John Muir (Wisconsin years)

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John Muir was a conservationist who tried to persuade Congress to adopt a forest converstaion policy. He also was the founder of the Sierra Club, and was the driving force behind the creation of Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. John Muir was also a resident of Wisconsin and also considered himself a student of nature in Wisconsin.

Early Life


John was born on April 21, 1838. Johns family included 9 members, not including himself. John was born to Daniel Muir and Anne Gilrye. John also had 6 brothers and sisters. Sarah, Mary, Johanna, Margaret, Ann, and David.[1]

When did he move to Wisconsin?

John, his father, his brother David, and sister Sarah, moved to Wisconsin when Muir was 11 years old. The remaining members of Muirs family remained in Dunbar, Scotland, until they would receive word that their new home was built and ready for them to all move into. The place the family eventually moved into would be later known as Fountain Lake Farm. It was a large piece of a land totaling 160 acres, in what today would be considered Marquette County. Although Muir had moved away from Wisconsin and was traveling about the country, he tried several times to purchase his boyhood home, which was in the possession of his brother-in-law, he never succeeded. This was the first place muir wanted to preserve and ensure that it would be protected. [2]

Muir also moved to a farm called Hickory Hill, near Portage, WI.[3]

Teenage Years

Once in his teenage years, Muir began his studies. When he was 15 years old he began his studies. He studied Algebra, Trigonometry and Geometry. Also at the age of 16 he started inventing different tools and products. The first of his inventions were, the self setting sawmill, clocks, and thermometers. These at the time were astounding accomplishments because Muir hardly had any experience or training in the scientific field. One of Muirs more famous inventions he introduced at the state fair in Madison, Wisconsin. This invention was an alarm clock, that at a specific set time, would engage the bed to raise up and dump its occupant out of the bed, in order for them to wake up. [4]


While John Muir was showing his inventions off at the state fair, many job opportunities were presented to him at once. Instead however, he decided to look into going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison instead. He had spent time studying courses in chemistry, math, physics, Greek, Latin, botany, and geology. It was while studying these courses, John Muir met a group a transcendentalists that allowed John to look at the land with a new sense of "order" and "pattern" that was different from his religion. It was while studying under the lessons from Mrs. Jeanne G. Carr, and Dr. James Davie Butler, that John then was fully able to study the natural world, without conflict from his religion. John left the university after only two and half years, without a degree, and cited that "he was only leaving one university for another, the wilderness". [5]

Wisconsin Impacts


An Organization that has been started in John Muir honor is called the "Wisconsin friends of John Muir". The mission statement of this organization is "Dedicated to preserving the spirit and legacy of John Muir, the landscapes of his boyhood, and the park that is dedicated in his honor. [6]

A second organization dedicated to Muir is the Wisconsin John Muir Chapter which is organized by the Sierra Club. This organization includes 15,000 members. The motto of this organization is "We are Wisconsin's voice for the nation's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization." This club is devoted to following in the footsteps of Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Gaylord Nelson, some of Wisconsin's legendary conservationists. [7]

John Muir memorial Park

This was a state natural area, that was set up to commemorate Muir. The park is located in Marquette county, 11 miles north of Portage, Wi and 8 miles south of Montello, Wi. This area was settled in 1849 by Muirs family. The total acreage of this land area is 150 acres. There is a 30 acre lake that is filled with clear, clean water, and has a maximum depth of 30 ft. The surrounding area is couple with prairies and a northern wet forest. A granite statue of John Muir was erected in 1957 when the park was dedicated to Muir. Also, in 1972 the site was designated as a state natural area. [8]

Places in Wisconsin named After Muir

  • Middleton
    • John Muir Drive
  • Milwaukee
    • John Muir Middle School
  • Portage
    • John Muir Elementary
  • Wausau
    • John Muir Middle School
  • Kettle Moraine State Forest
    • John Muir (mountain biking) trails
  • Green Bay
    • John Muir Park
  • Columbia County
    • John Muir View [9]

Later years

After John left the University of Wisconsin, he then began his travels. Before he recieved his calling to venture and study the woods thoroughly, a disaster had to strike first. John was working for a carriage factory in Indianapolis, Indiana, when a sharp file slipped form his hands and struck him in his right eye. While he was staring out a window, his aqueous humor fell into his cupped hand, soon after he went blind in his left eye due to shock. As he was bed ridden in a darkened room, his slight eventually recovered and John would waste no more time waiting to get to the wilderness. [10]

Muir would then hike about the country all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, he would cross the Isthmus of Panama, and sail back up to California, which even though he would continue to travel, would be called him home. Muir would then fall in love with the Sierra mountain and the Yosemite valley. He would develop his claim that glaciers were the cause for the valley. Many conservationists would then find their way to his cabin to meet and study with Muir. Joseph LaConte, Asa Gray, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were the best known of his visitors. Muir would later go on to become one of the founders of the Sierra Club, in an attempt to protect Yosemite National Park, and one of his most famous campaigns, protecting the Hetch Hetchy Valley from becoming dammed and flooded. Muir would become the president of the Sierra Club until his death in 1914. [11]

Other Wisconsin environmental history ties that Muir is connected with are:


  1. Sierra Club, "John Muir: A Brief Biography," 2017,
  2. Dave Leshuk, "John Muir's Wisconsin Days," 2017,
  3. Sierra Club, "John Muir: A Brief Biography," 2017,
  4. Dave Leshuk, "John Muir's Wisconsin Days," 2017,
  5. Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (London and New Haven, Yale University Press, 2001,) 124.
  6. Wisconsin Friends of John Muir, 2016
  7. Sierra Club, "Wisconsin John Muir Chapter," 2017,
  8. Town of Buffalo, Marquette County, Wi, "John Muir Park" 2017,
  9. Sierra CLub, "Places and schools named after John Muir," May 3, 2008,
  10. Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (London and New Haven, Yale University Press, 2001,) 124.
  11. Sierra Club, "John Muir: A Brief Biography," 2017,

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Additional Published Resources

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  • Merchant, Carolyn. The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 24, 2015).
  • Ostergren, Robert C. and Thomas R. Vale. Wisconsin Land and Life. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 24, 2015).

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