24th December 1914

Death of naturalist John Muir

John Muir was born in Dunbar in 1838 and spent many childhood hours walking in the surrounding countryside with his grandfather. This would instil in him a life-long love of the natural world.

“No punishment, however sure and severe, was of any avail against the attraction of [straying to] the fields and woods,” he wrote in his biography, The Story of my Boyhood and Youth. “Wildness was ever sounding in our ears, and Nature saw to it that besides school lessons and church lessons some of her own lessons should be learned, perhaps with a view to the time when we should be called to wander in wildness to our heart’s content… How our young wondering eyes revelled in the sunny, breezy glory of the hills and the sky, every particle of us thrilling and tingling with the bees and glad birds and glad streams! Kings may be blessed; we were glorious, we were free,—school cares and scoldings, heart thrashings and flesh thrashings alike, were forgotten in the fullness of Nature’s glad wildness. These were my first excursions,—the beginnings of lifelong wanderings.”

Muir family emigrates

Life’s wanderings would soon take him to America, on a sea crossing that lasted six weeks and three days. The family emigrated to the United States when Muir was 11 and settled in Wisconsin. Several years later, Muir attended university there, then spent three years in Canada. When he returned to the US and found work in a factory, an industrial accident almost blinded him, and his recuperation gave him time to think about what was really important in life. He settled upon botany, and in subsequent years travelled widely around the United States, and wrote books about his experiences.

He built a small home in Yosemite and lived there for a while, and later campaigned for it to be designated a National Park, which it was, in 1890.

John Muir’s death

Muir died of pneumonia in a Los Angeles hospital, at the age of 76. Announcing his death four days later, the Dundee Courier noted that “he made long journeys, afoot mostly and alone, to Canada, Eastern, Western, and Southern United States, California and Alaska. He also made long canoe voyages to South-Eastern Alaska. In 1903 – 4 he travelled in Europe, Russia, Caucasus, Manchuria, Siberia, Japan, China, India, Egypt, Australia. It was ten years later ere he took his next long travel, and this time it was to South America and Africa… he laboured for many years in the cause of forest preservation.”

“When John Muir, naturalist, philosopher, and patriot, died in Los Angeles on the day before Christmas, America lost one of the last of her pioneers,” reported The Scotsman on 12 January the following year, quoting the Boston Transcript. “He did not search for arable lands to be the homes of future settlers, but rather shunned all settlements. He did not prospect for gold, but seems to have been greatly concerned with devices for remaining poor and getting along without money. He did not attempt to subdue the wilderness, but, on the contrary, did as much as any man of his time to preserve some corners of our country in their pristine condition.”

John Muir remembered

The John Muir Way, a long-distance walking route covering 130 miles across southern Scotland, was opened on John Muir’s birthday, and takes in Loch Lomond, the Forth and Clyde Canal. The John Muir Trust was founded in his memory 1983 and works to conserve and protect wild places and their associated flora and fauna.



Other events that occured in December

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