John Muir in Indianapolis

The famous naturalist and conservationist John Muir lived in Indianapolis for two years in the 1860’s. In fact, his time in Indianapolis clarified his life’s purpose to preserve and discover nature. After leaving the University of Wisconsin, he traveled south and eventually ended up in Indianapolis. The bustling metropolis seemed to offer him a way to make some money to fund his dream of studying animal and plant life.

Young Muir picture

He soon found a job at the Sinker-Davis Foundry in Indianapolis and began work there. One evening, he accidentally punctured his eye with an awl while working on a piece of leather. He subsequently lost sight in that eye and had to convalesce for some time. While recovering, he met with Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who discovered the ruins of Troy. Schliemann was also staying in Indianapolis at the time in order to finalize his divorce. The two became friends and exchanged plans and ideas. During this time, Muir became more certain of his life’s path than ever before. As soon as he was able, he started his long trek to Florida. He wrote a book about the experience, called A Thousand Miles to the Gulf (1916). From Florida, he sailed to Cuba and eventually ended up in California.
TR and John Muir

John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt

After contracting malaria during his stay in Florida, Muir decided to go to California for the fresh, clean air that would aid him in recovery. He instead became instantly enamored of the landscape, likening it to a religious experience. He felt called to preserve and protect the flora and fauna of Yosemite Valley. Although it was in California where Muir established himself to be the “father” of conservation, he was greatly influenced by his time and experiences here in Indiana.

This blog post was written by Leigh Anne Johnson, Indiana Collection Newspaper Librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana Collection Division at (317) 232-3670 or “Ask-A-Librarian” at