navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies California Studies
Primary Sources logo Primary Sources

Letter from John Muir to a Friend—Historical Letter

We can learn how people lived and thought in the past by reading historical letters. Sometimes such letters also provide information about the physical environment at the time. The letter below was written by John Muir. Muir was an important conservationist, or someone who works to protect the land. In this letter to a friend, he describes what Yosemite Valley looked like more than a hundred years ago.

Primary Source

Yosemite Valley Jan. 29th [18]70

Dear Friend Emily,

. . . I think, surely I wrote to you about my summer among the high summits. I had long lived in flowery summer and I longed to see the snow and ice . . . once more, and the thin azure of a cold sky, and I longed too to hear the deep harmonies of the storm wind, and the torrents—and I knew that I should find all of these pleasures . . . in this far-famed Yosemite. I have been here since November and will remain all winter—perhaps longer for I can hardly tear myself away.

I celebrated New Years by thinking of my friends and climbing a mile upwards . . . . The valley . . . was sublimely at my feet, . . . and . . . upon the rim of the sky loomed the blue flowing mountains of the coast . . . .

I sat gazing for an hour or two giving myself ample time for mind and body to sponge themselves full of beauty . . . .

Excerpted from a letter written by John Muir to Emily Pelton on January 29, 1870, as reproduced on the “Turning Points in Wisconsin History” Web site.


In 1868, the conservationist John Muir moved to California. He spent six years living in Yosemite Valley. He saw that ranchers were destroying the area by letting sheep and cattle eat too much grass from Yosemite's meadows. Muir fought to protect the land and turn it into the country's first national park. This led to the creation of other national parks throughout the country.

Research Links:

Turning Points in Wisconsin History
This Web site includes a collection of letters from John Muir to his friends, Emily and Frances Pelton. An image of each handwritten letter is shown, along with a typed version of the text.