Shan Sutton inspects the lettersby Randall Gee

Shan Sutton, associate dean of the library and head of Special Collections, carefully inspects 10 letters that were recently added to the John Muir Papers in the University Library. The letters were previously unknown to historians until they showed up on the auction block.

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Pacific’s University Library Celebrates John Muir’s 174th Birthday With Significant Addition to John Muir Collection

Letters formerly in private collection now available for public view
by Patrick GiblinApr 19, 2012

On Saturday, April 21st, historians, scholars, and students of the life and work of environmentalist John Muir are being given a special birthday gift.  To honor Muir's 174th birthday, The John Muir Papers at University of the Pacific Library, which holds 70 percent of the world's known materials written by the famed environmentalist,  announced the acquisition of a new collection of Muir's private correspondence. The collection recently added 10 historic letters penned by Muir to Mary Frances Kellogg during the last two years of his life.

Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and was instrumental in the development of Yosemite National Park, died on Dec. 24, 1914, soon after the last of the letters was written. For nearly a century, the letters were kept hidden from public view until a relative of Kellogg's put them up for auction in New York City earlier this year.

"These letters offer scholars important insights into John Muir's world during the last two years of his life," said Shan Sutton, associate dean of the library and head of Special Collections. "They contain Muir's words on issues of national importance such as the battle for Hetch Hetchy, as well as more personal reflections."    

Kellogg was a family friend whose parents were early members of the Sierra Club with Muir. She is not new to Muir historians, as several letters from her to Muir currently are in the John Muir Papers at Pacific. But missing from that narrative were the letters that Muir wrote back, a gap that has now been at least partially closed.

The newly acquired letters were written between 1912 and 1914, and had been in private hands since then. As a result, researchers were unaware of their existence until they came up for auction by Sotheby's earlier this year. Pacific purchased the lot to add more depth to its Muir Papers.

The letters cover a broad range of topics, including Muir's return from a trip to South America and Africa, his work on a book about his travels in Alaska, and the fight to prevent the Hetch Hetchy Valley from being dammed, which Muir refers to as "this long drawn out battle for our national parks."

The John Muir Papers at Pacific accounts for 70 percent of all known Muir documents, including several diaries that he used to describe his discoveries in Yosemite National Park. This collection is heavily used by scholars and authors, and was featured in the recent Ken Burns film "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

Shan Sutton carefully inspects the Muir letters while wearing white gloves

"These letters are a major acquisition that will add to the depth and breadth of the Muir collection and the understanding of John Muir,  especially his last days," said C. Brigid Welch, dean of Pacific's university library. "By adding them to the collection, we will make sure they are preserved and also accessible to scholars and historians who are working to gain a better understanding of Muir and his impact on America."

For more information about the Muir Collection, visit


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