Muir was a master observer. He published scientific theories supported by a wide range of direct observations that challenged conventional wisdom about the natural world. His work motivated others to join him in visiting and protecting nature. Despite his radical scientific observations, Muir likely held attitudes toward non-white people typical of his time as recorded in his brief, though derogatory writings about Blacks and indigenous people.
In the late summer of 1869, Muir crossed Mono Pass when he came upon a “band of Indians from [the] Mono” Lake area. He described them as “queer, hairy, muffled creatures,” and noted how they formed a “dismal circle” around him before he was able to “get away from the gray, grim crowd.” He felt sad that he had “desperate repulsion” for their “degraded” condition, but also wrote that all “men” shall be brothers and wished them Godspeed.
How does this resonate today? These words reveal that despite his ability to make groundbreaking observations of nature, his observations of peoples sometimes relied upon harmful attitudes about belonging, access, and power.
The University of the Pacific curates and shares the largest collection of Muir's writings in the world and invites you to examine his observations and learn to be a good observer by recognizing cultural biases as well as minimizing judgment based on race, gender, or socio-economic standing.