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Americans Who Tell the Truth :: John Muir

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Robert Shetterly's portrait of John Muir
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“The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it … So we must count on watching and striving for these trees, and should always be glad to find anything so surely good and noble to strive for.”
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John Muir
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64 of 100
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Conservationist, naturalist, explorer (1838—1914)

Born in Scotland, John Muir came to the United States at age 11, where he grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. Life on the farm was difficult, but the surrounding woods and fields provided Muir with an escape. He was an inventor who won prizes at the state fair, and earned good grades at the University of Wisconsin. In 1867, however, following an industrial accident that left him temporarily blind in one eye, Muir decided to leave the world of mechanized society.

As later described in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, the 10th of Muir's dozen books, he began this new life in nature by walking from Indiana to Florida. From there he traveled to Cuba, and Panama, then crossed the Isthmus and sailed north to California. In 1868, when he entered the Sierra Mountains and what would become Yosemite National Park, Muir found the region of his dreams.

Extolling the natural beauty of this area, Muir became America's most famous and influential conservationist. In 1892 he and his supporters founded the Sierra Club, which he served as president for the rest of his life, “to do something for wildness.” His books like The Mountains of California (1894) and Our National Parks (1901) attracted the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, among others, who after meeting Muir was inspired to promote a wide range of innovative conservation programs for America.

Other books like The Yosemite (1912) and Travels in Alaska (1915), plus hundreds of magazine articles, continued to describe the importance of what was then a unique idea, that of experiencing and protecting our natural resources. Muir—personally involved in the creation of Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks—became known as ‘the Father of our National Parks,' and the ‘wilderness prophet.' He called himself ‘a Citizen of the Universe,' and urged people to “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.”

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See the full set of Robert Shetterly's portraits at www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Tools for Teaching: see the acompanying curriculum materials with suggestions on how to use the portraits and biographies of these American truth-tellers in your classroom.
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