Seventeen Years – 04

Seventeen Years to Success: John Muir, William Gladstone Steel, and the Creation of Yosemite and Crater Lake National Parks


1. This growth has occurred in spite of some government officials expressing the view that this category was “rounded out” in 1940 by the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park in California. Over 40 sites are currently targeted by the National Parks and Conservation Association (a group that has lobbied Congress since 1919 to defend, promote, and improve the National Park System) as potential additions to the natural area branch of the System. Over half are in the western United States.

2. It took Ralph Starr Waite 25 years to see the Great Basin proposal accepted. In Idaho, Paul Fritz took considerably less time because there was less perceived conflict among other groups.

3. Edith J. Hadley in her PhD. dissertation, “John Muir’s Views of Nature and their Consequences” (Univ. of Wisconsin, 1956), states that Muir toyed with the idea of a national park at Yosemite as early as 1872. There is some indication that Muir was willing to take steps publicly to further the cause of forest conservation before he met with Johnson; J.D. Hooker to Muir, March 19, 1886, microfilm reel 19, Microfilm edition of the John Muir Papers, R.H. Limbaugh and K.E. Lewis eds. (Stockton, CA; University of Pacific, 1986).

4. R.U. Johnson, “Personal Impressions of John Muir,” Outlook 80 (June 3, 1905), 303-304.

5. Ibid., p. 304. The articles were: “The Treasures of Yosemite”, Century 40 (August 1890), 483-500; “Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park,” Century 40 (September 1890), 656-667. Several open letters that Muir sent to Johnson may have also been a factor in the passage of legislation creating a Yosemite National Park; see the Sierra Club Bulletin 29 (October 1944), 45-49.

6. Muir quoted in “Proceedings of the Meeting of the Sierra Club,” November 23, 1895, in Sierra Club Bulletin 1:6 (May 1896), 271-284.

7. San Francisco Examiner, January 15, 1895, p. 9; also cited in William F. and Mamie B. Kimes’ John Muir: A Reading Bibliography, (Fresno, CA: Panorama West Books, 1986), 150.

8. The “stump forest” is referred to in “The Treasures of the Yosemite”, but the water supply argument is more fully developed in Muir’s “Hunting Big Redwoods”, Atlantic Monthly 88 (September 1901), 304-320. This is a point upon which Muir agreed with the utilitarians in the forestry movement; see Gifford Pinchot, A Primer of Forestry, Part II-Practical Forestry, USDA-Bureau of Forestry Bulletin No. 24, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1900), 87. The degree to which forests affect water supply was an important part of subsequent U.S. Forest Service research; see Raphael Zon,Forests and Water in the Light of Scientific Investigation (Washington: GPO, 1927).

9. Quoted in Harlan D. Unrau, Administrative History Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USDI-National Park Service, (Denver: NPS, 1988), 27-28. Steel has a different account in “Crater Lake and How to See It”, The West Shore 12:3 (March 1886), 104-106; also “Crater Lake Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Steel Points Junior 1:2 (August 1925), n.p.

10. Special Session, Oregon Legislature, “S.J.M. No. 5”, adopted November 18, 1885, Steel Letters, Box 1, Item 211, Museum Collection, Crater Lake National Park. Executive Order, February 1, 1886, Record Group 49 [General Land Office], Division R, Box 125, Rogue River file, National Archives, and “The President’s Order”, Steel Points, 1:2 (January 1907), 73.

11. LeConte to Steel, January 5, 1886, Steel Letters, Box 1, Item 210, Museum Collection, Crater Lake National Park. Dutton expressed similar thoughts upon going back to Washington, D.C.; Dutton to Steel, February 27, 1886, SL, Box 1, Item 195.

12. Unrau, op. cit. 37.

13. LeConte noted the effects of large fires on his 1885 trip to Crater Lake; Sierra Club Bulletin 1:6 (May 1895), 269-270. Muir mentioned fire’s effect on the Crater Lake area in his journal entry of August 31, 1896; Linnie Marsh Wolfe, John and the Mountains: the Unpublished Journals of John Muir (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1938), 357.

14. The Cascade Forest Reserve consisted of 4,883,588 acres when it was proclaimed on September 28, 1893. Next in size was the Sierra FR which was established on February 14, 1893, and had 4,096,000 acres.

15. An 18 page letter that Waldo wrote to the President on April 28, 1896, was probably the most eloquent defense of the reserve; a typescript copy of it is in the Oregon Historical Society Library, Portland. Steel also saw the Cascade Reserve as giving Crater Lake another layer of protection. Without its creation, he feared the possibility of the Crater Lake townships reserved in 1886 being restored to entry. An order by the Secretary of Interior was revoked for a brief time in 1890 at Sequoia before park proponents succeeded in getting national park designation for the Giant Forest and other groves; George W. Stewart to Col. John R. White, June 8, 1929, in Fry and White’s Big Trees (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1930), 26-27.

16. Their first meeting was in 1888 when Muir climbed Mount Rainier. Both of them attended the National Park Conference of 1912, held at Yosemite; see Proceedings(Washington: GPO, 1913).

17. Muir began giving public lectures in 1876 and throughout the next decade went to west coast cities to speak about glaciers, botany, and his travels. By the time he became an activist, he was a popular speaker whose income from other sources allowed him to be very selective. Steel’s career as a speaker began when he returned from Crater Lake in 1885 and broadened over time to include several lecturing trips across the country.

18. Although Muir began his literary career by mostly writing for newspapers, he found the national literary magazines not only paid better but were a more effective way of promoting his proposals; see Stephen Fox, John Muir and his Legacy: the American Conservation Movement (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1981). Steel’s writings, by contrast, were generally newspaper articles whose distribution was limited to the Pacific Northwest.

19. Muir to Steel, October 2, 1892, SL, Box 1, Item 164.v

20. Originally published in Boston by Houghton-Mifflin; a reprint by the University of Wisconsin Press appeared in 1981.

21. Portland Oregonian, December 28, 1892 in Steel Scrapbook 9:1, Mazamas Library, Portland.

22. Medford (Oregon) Mail, September 27, 1895, in Steel Scrapbook 2:2, Museum Collection, Crater Lake National Park. Article II of the Mazamas’ constitution is precise: “The objects of this organization shall be the exploration of snow-peaks and other mountains, especially those of the Pacific Northwest; the collection of scientific knowledge and other data concerning the same; the encouragement of annual expeditions with the above objects in view; the preservation of the forests and other features of mountain scenery as far as possible in their natural beauty and the dissemination of knowledge concerning the beauty and grandeur of the mountain scenery of the Pacific Northwest.”

23. John D. Scott, We Climb High, A Chronology of the Mazamas 1894-1964 (Portland: Mazamas, 1969), 3. In 1895, Muir and LeConte were among the first three honorary members to be elected by the Mazamas.

24. Johnson to Muir, November 21, 1889, microfilm reel 6, Muir Papers, also cited in Fox, p. 106. The second issue of the Sierra Club Bulletin (June 1893, 31-39) showed that the club was interested in more than just California from the beginning. Club member Mark Kerr wrote an article about Crater Lake based on his experiences as topographer on the USGS expedition of 1886.

25. Linda Greene, Historic Resource Study, Yosemite National Park, (Denver: NPS, 1987), 355-356.

26. Elliott McAllister, “Report of the Board of Directors”, Sierra Club Bulletin 1:4 (May 1894).

27. Muir, et. al., “Statement Concerning the Proposed Recession of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove by the State of California to the United States,” Sierra Club Bulletin 5:3 (January 1905), 242-250.

28. “Report of Capt. C.E. Dutton,” Part 1, USGS Eighth Annual Report, 1886-1887, (Washington: GPO, 1887), 156-159; more detail is in his letters and scrapbooks held by Crater Lake National Park.

29. The scientists were J.S. Diller (USGS), Frederick Coville (Bureau of Plant Industry), C. Hart Merriam (Biological Survey), and Barton Evermann (U.S. Fish Commission); their papers were later published in Mazama 1:2 (October 1897), 161-238.

30. Steel later recalled that he had to walk from Crater Lake to Medford (some 85 miles in two days) so he could escort the commission back to the lake. Although the group recommended Mount Rainier and Grand Canyon for national park status, they failed to reach a consensus about whether to include Crater Lake. Its members were: Charles S. Sargent (Harvard University), William H. Brewer (Yale University), Arnold Hague (USGS), Henry S. Abbott (U.S. Engineer Corps), Alexander Agassiz (Coast and Geodetic Survey), Gifford Pinchot, and Muir.

31. Unrau, p. 100; Steel to Roosevelt, May 10, 1902, SL, Box 2, Item 11.

32. Muir, et. al., “Statement Concerning the Proposed Recession”, 245.

33. Harriman’s role in the recession is discussed in Fox, pp. 127-128. See also Richard J. Orsi, “Wilderness Saint and ‘Robber Baron’: The Anomalous Partnership of John Muir and the Southern Pacific Company for Preservation of Yosemite National Park”, Pacific Historian, 29:2/3 (Summer/Fall 1985), 136-156.

34. John Ise, Our National Park Policy, (Washington DC: Resources for the Future, 1961), 74.

35. Muir, et. al., “Statement Concerning the Proposed Recession”, 247.

36. Ise, p. 87.

37. Muir, “The National Parks and Forest Reservations,” Harpers Weekly 16:2111, (June 5, 1897), 566; “Forest Field Studies”, microfilm reel 28, Muir Papers; Wolfe, John of the Mountains, 356-357.

38. Breaking New Ground (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1947), 101.

39. Muir to Steel, February 19, 1902, Steel Scrapbook 22:2, p. 46, Museum Collection, Crater Lake National Park. Another request for a short piece on the lake met with a similar response; Muir to Steel, December 15, 1906, SL, Box 2, Item 22.

40. Pinchot to Steel, February 18, 1902, SL, Box 2, Item 20A.

41. Thomas H. Tongue [Oregon Congressman] to Steel, April 18, 1902, Box 2 Item 21F.

42. Pinchot to Steel, May 15, 1902, SL, Box 2, Item 20D.

43. The Oregon Forestry Association was founded in 1896 as another way to defend the Cascade Reserve. Pinchot made it a point to visit Stehekin that summer after Steel failed to receive a patronage appointment as forest superintendent in Oregon. Steel, however, was more inclined toward forest recreation than was Pinchot; see Steel, “The Valley of the Stehekin”, The State 2:1 (July 20, 1898) in Steel Scrapbook 10:2, Mazamas Library, Portland.

44. Wolfe in John of the Mountains, 379-380, gives Muir’s journal entry for May 29, 1899: “Met Judge George. Had a long talk on forest protection, found him lukewarm. Mr. Steel uncertain on the same subject. Told him forest protection was the right side and he had better get on record on that side as soon as possible. He promised to do what he could against sheep pasture in the Rainier Park and also in the Cascade Reservation”

45. No national parks have been established in Oregon since the Forest Service was created. The Forest Service administered Oregon Caves National Monument from its proclamation in 1909 until 1993, when it was transferred to the National Park Service by executive order. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a former state park.

46. The sugar pines discussed in Ise, pp. 406-407, as is the Hetch Hetchy controversy on pp. 85-96.

47. Quoted September 7, 1930, History Files, Crater Lake National Park.

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