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Roosevelt, Muir, and The Camping Trip

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This guest post was written by Constance Carter the previous head of Science Reference who now volunteers here at the Library.

One of the most delightful children’s books I have read is Barb Rosenstock’s The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks (New York, Dial Books for Young Readers, c2012). She relates the story of how the President of the United States and the naturalist John Muir joined forces to protect America’s wilderness areas.

On March 14, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt wrote a personal letter to Muir asking Muir to take him through the Yosemite. He noted, “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Roosevelt had read some of Muir’s writings in which he explained how the wild forests were vanishing as ranchers and developers destroyed the wilderness for their own uses and for money. While most of Roosevelt’s advisors thought that America’s wilderness was too large to ever be depleted, Roosevelt wondered if this were really so and could the government help?

Photograph of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California, in 1903.

Rosenstock notes that the last thing Muir wanted to do was take another government official camping, but he was convinced that this rough riding, outdoors-man might be able to push for laws to preserve the wilderness. On March 27, 1903, John Muir wrote Roosevelt that a “planned European trip with Professor Sargent at first stood in the way, but a few small changes have brought our trip into harmony with yours and of course I shall go with you gladly.

The President’s men had put down 40 thick wool blankets for Roosevelt to sleep on; John Muir put down some tree boughs and wrapped himself in a large piece of cloth from his knapsack. Roosevelt sent all his men back to town, so that he could enjoy his wilderness adventure with Muir. The next night Muir fixed the President a bed of boughs and he slept soundly. Roosevelt loved Yosemite, the giant sequoias and the ponderosa pine, the forest animals, and especially the horseback ride to Glacier Point, where he woke up covered in snow. During their four days together, John Muir told him many stories about the geology and natural history of California.

Photograph with Yosemite's dome in the background
Yosemite’s Domes, Carleton E. Watkins ca 1865.

Roosevelt returned to Washington refreshed and enthusiastic about conserving America’s forests and its wilderness areas. He pushed Congress to pass laws to protect the wild lands. He also transferred the responsibility of looking after the forest reserves to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1905 by establishing the U.S. Forest Service. Roosevelt created national monuments, parks, and wildlife sanctuaries—saving approximately 230 million acres of public land for all Americans for all time.

The National Parks are celebrating their hundredth anniversary this year. Your local libraries have wonderful stories about each park—so read more about them. Just ask your local librarian for help in finding books on the parks—they are available for every age and taste. Younger readers might enjoy Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West; All Aboard! National Parks: A Wildlife Primer; and Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost his Groceries, Changed his Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service.

Comments (11)

  1. I thought you’d like to know that readers can find a giveaway for Barb’s wonderful picture book on Goodreads this month, as we are celebrating our National Parks Centennial with Page Through The Parks.

  2. National Park S/YSTEM began in 1872 witth the establishment ofYellowstone, the world’s first National Park. This legislation was signed into law by Presidernt Ulysses Grant.

    National Park SERVICE was established in 1916, as an agency responsible for ADMINISTERING national Parks. President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation.

    Theodore Roosevelt was a strong supporter of national parks. He signed the Antiquities Act into law, protecting archeological artifacts, and added some national parks to the already existing system.

  3. This was a great help in explaining the camping trip. i had spent no small amount of time searching for the why and how of it. Both Roosevelts are men I admire for their work toward preserving the the nature of this country.

  4. I am doing John Muir for my wax museum project and this is by far my favorite thing he´s done

  5. or 3 things that Roosevelt and Muir have in common.

  6. what are 3 things that Roosevelt and Muir have in common.

  7. What did Roosevelt and Muir eat during the camping trip in Yosemite?

    • I asked Connie to provide a reply and this is what she wrote:

      Charlie Leidig’s account of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir’s camping trip in Yosemite in May 1903 is the only first-person account of the trip know to exist. The 4-page report is available on the Sierra Club site at Neither Roosevelt nor Muir talked much about the food or the trip, except in broad terms and how much they enjoyed each other’s company and their conversation.

      Liedig was one of the two guides on the trip and known to be a good cook. From his account we know that they ate fried chicken, steak, and strong, black coffee.

      I have never been able to find a list of the food and camping material carried by the four mules, supervised by an Army packer named Jacker Alder. I can only assume what they might have had for breakfast of a cold lunch.

      In his, “An Afternoon with John Muir,” in Happenings: A series of Sketches of the Great California Out-of-Doors, published in 1927, W. P. Bartlett quotes Mr. Muir as saying “Unsaddling and hobbling, we soon had a camp-fire, and inch-thick Porterhouse steaks were sputtering over the coals, hot cornpones were being buttered in the pan, and the fragrance of coffee perfumed the air” (p 122). His afternoon with Muir took place in 1912.

  8. My brother-in-law was give a very large skillet with a letter. It was used by the cook for Roosevelt’s camping trip. The letter from the cook was misplaced, but he still has the skillet. I have been looking for photos of camp sites with this skillet and have not found it. I did see a photo of a pack mule in one photo at appeared to have the large skillet. I wonder if you may know book or archives that may contain the skillet I seek.

  9. This is an excellant article and very accurate. There were two men with Muir a roustabout/jack-of-Was proud to have been with these 2 amazing men.all trades for anything else. His name was Archie Leonard, native to the area. He is my great grandfather, He married a So.Sierra Miwuk native American woman. He was a true cowboy, a quiet man, wasted no time on unnecessary things.

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