The Treasures of the Yosemite

John Muir, The Treasures of the Yosemite. Century, August 1890. From Tony Perrottet, John Muir’s Yosemite, Smithsonian, July 2008: “In 1889, in his early 50s, Muir camped with Robert Underwood Johnson, an editor of Century magazine, in Tuolumne Meadows, where he had worked as a shepherd in 1869. Together they devised a plan to create a 1,200-square-mile Yosemite National Park, a proposal Congress passed the following year. In 1903, the 65-year-old Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt were able to give Secret Service agents the slip and disappear for three days, camping in the wild. It was during this excursion, historians believe, that Muir persuaded the president to expand the national park system and to combine, under federal authority, both Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, which had remained under California jurisdiction as authorized by Lincoln decades before. Unification of the park came in 1906.”

Excerpt from John Muir’s The Treasures of the Yosemite:

These king trees, all that there are of their kind in the world, are surely worth saving, whether for beauty, science, or bald use. But as yet only the isolated Mariposa Grove has been reserved as a park for public use and pleasure. Were the importance of our forests at all understood by the people in general, even from an economic standpoint their preservation would call forth the most watchful attention of the Government. At present, however, every kind of destruction is moving on with accelerated speed. Fifteen years ago I found five mills located on or near the lower margin of the main sequoia belt, all of which were cutting big-tree lumber. How many more have been built since that time I am unable to say, but most of the Fresno group are doomed to feed the large mills established near them, and a company with ample means is about ready for work on the magnificent forests of King’s River. In these mill operations waste far exceeds use. For after the young, manageable trees have been cut, blasted, and sawed, the woods are fired to clear the ground of limbs and refuse, and of course the seedlings and saplings, and many of the unmanageable giants, are destroyed, leaving but little more than black, charred monuments. These mill ravages, however, are small as yet compared with the comprehensive destruction caused by “sheepmen.” Incredible numbers of sheep are driven to the mountain pastures every summer, and desolation follows them. Every garden within reach is trampled, the shrubs are stripped of leaves as if devoured by locusts, and the woods are burned to improve the pasturage. The entire belt of forests is thus swept by fire, from one end of the range to the other; and, with the exception of the resinous Pinus contorta, the sequoia suffers most of all. Steps are now being taken towards the creation of a national park about the Yosemite, and great is the need, not only for the sake of the adjacent forests, but for the valley itself. For the branching cañons and valleys of the basins of the streams that pour into Yosemite are as closely related to it as are the fingers to the palm of the hand–as the branches, foliage, and flowers of a tree to the trunk.