Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

The Yosemite​​

John Muir's Last Book Before His Death

Arthur C. Pillsbury - 1895

My research has led me to thinking this photo of Muir was by  Pillsbury, along with many others which remain 'unattributed'. 

John Muir and Arthur C. Pillsbury were both Preservationists, met in Alaska during the Harriman Expedition in 1899, and were both self-sufficient men who thought nothing of plunging into the wilderness alone to experience the magnitudes of nature.  Camera Craft - 1900 

But Muir was a man who did not understand or anticipate the power of the change coming from the technologies, beginning with photography, which was reshaping the world of humanity.  Pillsbury not only saw this, but he was also a major influence in bringing the change which would take us to a clear, fact-based understanding of what changes were needed.  Pillsbury experienced the frustration of those invested in the previous paradigm; and instead of seeking to persuade them, he found ways to take the awesome wonders of the natural world to people everywhere using inventions that took them beyond our previous limitations.

Muir had viewed the first nature movie Pillsbury made and showed in 1909, but been persuaded it was too radical for use in his campaign to save the Hetch Hetchy.  Pillsbury would later produce a film for David Curry as the founder of Camp Curry was hammered by Stephen Mather in Mather's ongoing attempt to convert America's wilderness into a stream of income fattening his own pocket.  MATHER

From the Sierra Club site "[Except in a few instances, photographs for the above illustrations were furnished by The Pillsbury Picture Co.]"

We scanned all of the photos from our copy of The Yosemite but unfortunately, the original printing did not do justice to the Pillsbury Originals supplied to the printer.  These copies were scanned from the book and so are pixilated.  
      The letter below was written to William Colby, then employed by the Sierra Club in 1898 as Club Representative in Yosemite, who worked closely with John Muir, and also became the Club Secretary, a position he occupied for many years.   Muir was offered the use of Pillsbury's films and was perfectly positioned to influence Muir against their use.  This is the most likely source of the assertion films were not appropriate as a means of preserving the Hetch Hetchy.  Colby would have been in a trusted position to provide this advice, which, today, it is easy to see, was entirely wrong. ,m

       Despite a diligent search, I can find no record of what generous admirer funded Muir's journey, first to South America and up the Amazon and then on to Africa at a time when defending the Hetch Hetchy was critical.  But there is no evidence Colby or others in the founding group of the Sierra Club did anything but wish him a pleasant journey.  Perhaps I am cynical, but this has all the marks of a carefully planned campaign to get rid of Muir, so the deals could be finalized.  Note that Colby's real career was as an attorney with a specialization in Lumbering and Mining.  

             John Muir boarded his ship for South America from New York on August 15, 1911.  The nature of the journey made it impossible for him to keep up with what was going on at home with the Campaign to Save Hetch Hetchy.  Muir was out of the country for eight months.  During his absence, the deals had been finalized and the steps needed had been taken to elect Wilson, who was pledged to support the series of legislative changes that would transform America.  Included in this was the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service. 

        One of the routine practices followed by those in power is the tendency to make awards to paid employees who accomplish their appointed goals.  Colby, an attorney specializing in lumbering and mining, was a paid employee.   In contrast, Pillsbury was eliminated from their records with the one exception of the original edition of The Yosemite .   The organization's growth can actually be attributed to the fact Pillsbury was routinely filming their events and showing these both in California and across the country.  This spells our a curious kind of reaction to free publicity, to say the least.    Ad for FILMS - Pillsbury  

          Effective opposition to the deals then being cut for the 1912 election would have negated the deals then being made. 

Letter from John Muir to William Colby sent June 27, 1911 from New York - Pillsbury Pictures for  Muir's book, The Yosemite are to be used.  


A Closed Meeting Takes Place  - December 16, 1908
San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Hearing held before the committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908, on House Joint Resolution 184 - Part VII.

Read the Record Here

The Story Continues