Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation & John Muir

Instructor: Judith Schultz

Judy has been teaching college History for 17 years and holds both a Master's and a PhD in History. She grew up in suburban Chicago & now lives in Tucson AZ

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt and Sierra Club founder John Muir went camping together in Yosemite National Park for three days. This lesson explains how their simple camping trip helped to shape the conservation movement in the United States.

Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was born in 1858 in New York City. His parents, Theodore Sr. and Martha, were financially successful and well known for their philanthropy and public service. Theodore struggled with asthma and other health problems. Despite the health issues, his father encouraged Theodore to take up boxing, lifting weights, and all kinds of outdoor pursuits. By his teens, Teddy Roosevelt possessed a fierce drive to be healthy and physically fit. This personal commitment to exercise and fitness stayed with Roosevelt his entire life.


After attending college at Harvard, Teddy headed west to the Dakota territories and bought a ranch. He became a prolific writer on many kinds of topics. He not only wrote a History of the Naval War of 1812, but he also penned biographies of Western pioneers and wrote a four-volume Winning of the West. Roosevelt spent the next fourteen years going back and forth between his home in Sagamore Hill in New York and the Dakota Badlands that he had come to love. Politics also became a major part of his life. Beginning as a New York Police Commissioner in 1895, Roosevelt quickly rose to an appointment as the Secretary of the Navy and by 1898, he was deeply involved in the Spanish American War that had erupted with Spain. Going back to his love of horses and the American West, Roosevelt formed a unit called the Rough Riders, and their successful military actions brought Roosevelt worldwide fame.

John Muir

Born in 1838 in Scotland, John Muir and his family moved to Wisconsin when Muir was just 11 years old. Muir was a creative child who spent much of his time trying to improve on farm tools and designing new tools as well. He often showed his inventions at fairs around the state. Eventually he entered the University of Wisconsin and discovered that he loved botany and the natural sciences. He also studied the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Muir found that their deeply philosophical reflections on nature profoundly inspired his scientific study of plants and of the outdoors.

Muir 1902

After Muir was injured while working in a factory in 1867, he decided to give his life to working outdoors and studying nature and plants. He traveled extensively and ultimately settled in northern California near Yosemite. Muir published dozens of essays and articles over the next ten years and established his reputation as a strong voice for the preservation of land. At that time there was only one national park in the United States, Yellowstone National Park, created in 1872. Muir was determined that Yosemite would one day be similarly protected, but there was not even a National Park Service yet.

In 1892, Muir created an organization that he believed could document the land, gather solid scientific research, and build wide public interest and support for places like Yosemite. He called his organization the Sierra Club . Soon after he became President in 1901, Muir's work and the Sierra Club caught the interest of Teddy Roosevelt. The two men, similar in passion for wilderness and wild places, were about to finally meet.

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir Go Camping

In March 1903, President Roosevelt wrote to Muir and asked that the two of them take a camping trip because Roosevelt wanted to see Yosemite. Just two months later, the two men met up in the Yosemite Valley, and the two of them set off into the wilderness of Yosemite for the next four days. Roosevelt dismissed his security detail so that only he and Muir would have the next four days alone and undisturbed to explore, to talk, and to exchange ideas about conservation and protecting the land.

Muir and TR

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