James Whitehead


James Whitehead


John Muir


Jan. 30. 1913.

Mr. John Muir.

My dear Sir:

Last evening I road your Lessons of the Wilderness In the January number of the "Atlantic Monthly".
As there was but one "Blacksmith Preacher" in that community and he had a dominate brother named Charlie. I perceive At once that the man so mercilessly pilloried by your pen was none other "than my father. Instead of the restful sleep I might have otherwise enjoyed I spent my might in retrospect. Beginning with myearliest recollection the period embraced in my homelife was reviewed and dwelt, upon. Every act, word, incident that, would shed light upon the subject you have committed to, history was pressed into service in mysearch for light and truth. My father, the pro[?], priestand, king of that household stood before me. No weakness,faults or failinge Were omitted. His prevailing characteristics were examined and, reviewed. The motives that underlay his acts and dominated his life were analyzed and critically examined. As I have read and re-read your two col-


umn article devoted to him, will you kindly bear with mO while I submit the results of my mights meditation?
First my father was a strict disciplinarian; so deeply moued with the wisdom of Solomemn's Conclusions as to the training of a child that he spared not the rod when in his opinion the exigencies of the case required its application. While as children we differed with him as to the Need. I am unable from the standpoint of the present to recall a singel instance in which,(so far as I am concerned) he erred in judgment. So imperative were his needs that he was compelled from childhood to the most arduous toil. To him life had ever been a battle. Rough, tolling uncultured men had been his associates. He had never crossed the threshold of a school room, knew nothing of children, their natures and their needs and was seemingly Incapable entering into our thoughts and feeling and adapting himself to the requirement a and cravings of our childish natures. As a result we did not cherish for him that affection children should bestow upon a parent. To us, however, it was apparent( and tended to mitigate and soften his asperity) that he was the incarnation of truthfulness. We never know him to misrepre-


sent, equivocate or valsify. Once his word was givenit became binding as the commands of his master. Ihave known him frequently to discommode himself to help. and assist a neighbor, and he never failed in the presence of suffering to perform the office of a good Samaritan. He hated shaws and everything that savored of pretense. A man of prayer, a family altar was erected in his home and daily he resorted to his closet. Frequently have I known him when we labored together in the field to drop his hoe and retire to the protecting bushes to hold communion with his. Master. He was not an enthusiast whose fires burned brightly for a time to intensefy the darkness that followed, but a steady glow whose fuel was unwavering faith in the Master and whose, hope admitted nothing less than eternity in his presence. Those who knew him recognized these trails and qualities made prominent at his death. Editorially the Portage Democrat bore testimony to his life and character saying," He has at last gained entrance to that land. the grandeur of which for over fifty years he eloquently portrayed". In the Montello Express, David Taylor, not given to gush or full [?]laudition,



said"" This man was a christianin the fullest sense of the term,""
I confess to you, Mr. Muir that because of myfailure while he lived to recognize the qualtimies ofheart and mind that over balanced by far the ones towhich as a perverse and will ful boy I took exception,I have carried a burden that becomes heavier in the passwyyears,
As to my Uncle Charlie, I cannot recall a single act of undue severity or cruel treatment to which he was subjected. While he passed his spare time , mostly evening and Sabbath days with the Mc Reaths, no stepswere ever taken to prevent his going there. My parentsrejoiced rather at the pleasure he derived from theassociation. My Uncle possessed a certain ready wit,was deemed by many a good singer, was acquainted witha number of old country songe and ballads, was gifted as a rhymer and to the Mc Reaths was not all together the Simple minded person he appeared to others.
His first experience in chopping was on our removal to Buffalo, during the latter years of his life he became

" #5.

a [?] what proficient in the usd of the axe and found immeasurable delight in piling the stove wood into oval shaped piles that would shed rain like an umbrella. He was never driven or forced to work by my father.
For sometime proceeding his death he became week and poorely, the trouble being "Bright's Disease". The doctor, was consulted was unable to. help or relieve him and though able to be about he did no chopping, did not take an axe in his hand or perform any work for four months proceeding his death.
My Mother was a tender hearted, sympathetic woman and spared no effort to make it as comfortable for him as our limited means and acomodations would permit. In this she was assisted by us children. In the month of August 1858, while sitting in his chair, breathed his 1st, my brother Ben being with him at the time. The doctor had told us we might expect his death at any time, this condition was known to the immediate neighbors, to the Mc Reaths and Walter Sanderson (your "Anderson" I doubt not,)especially.
The direct and abrupt manner in which my father


( if correctly given)asked Mr. Sanderson to make a coffin was simply chararactistic of the man and his country but in its relation to the Narrative and the setting given it is made the climax to a painful and revolting tradegy. I have no rememberance of his attempted suicide and never heard of it till I read of it in your printed article.
I was 12 years of ago at the time of my Uncles death, was never no sent from home to exceed two days at any one time, and most psstively and emphatically, declare I never heard or know of the "Frequent beatings" mentioned, and am ready in the presence of death to make. solemn oath that I never know my father to strike him or Inflict physical punishment of any kind upon his brother. If during my absence such a thing had been done or attempted my mother whose heart wont out in sympathy and love to the poor. unfortunate, would have interposed and in due time informed me of the fact. My father impressed us children. with the necessity of treating our Uncle kindly and, found occasions to punish me severly for thoughtless pranks I played upon him.


And yet this man, whom I have, faithfully and briefly sought to protray, who held in abhorence the institution of human slavery and had contributed of his means to aid in the escape of Its victims by wayof the "Under Ground Railroad," is made to, appear more brutal and inhuman than the monster [?].
I desire in conclusion to emphasize the respectand admiration I have always entertained for you beginning with the day we meet where the road from your Father's place intersected with what was known as the "River Road," following the holidays of '63 and '64, when in company we walked twelve miles to Portage and I listened to your conversation, year life and experienceat the University to which you were returning. The advice and councel given caused you to enter into and become a patent factor in my life. Though you did not know it and have forgotten the circumstances, with me it remains an abiding memory and in the years thatfollowed proved a stimulus and incentive to untiring effort. I mention this to assure you that my esteem and faith in you remains unchanged, and that you may


also, way know my father was not she blot upon the landscape of that, glorious wilderness you believe and have pictured him to be.
If you witnessed those "beatings" and have personal knowlege of the cruelties mentioned, 1 have nothing further to offer, but against the statements, aservations, and belief of any other person or persons living or dead that may have been the source of your information, I will not subordinate the evidence of my own senses.

Yours very truly.




[Hot Springs, Arkansas]

Date Original

1913 Jan 30


Original letter dimensions unknown.

Resource Identifier


File Identifier

Reel 21, Image 0089

Collection Identifier

Online finding aid for the microform version of the John Muir Correspondence

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Some letters written to John Muir may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

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Wisconsin Historical Society. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.


8 pages


Environmentalist, naturalist, travel, conservation, national parks, John Muir, Yosemite, California, history, correspondence, letters



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