op-ed

ATTENTION STATUE TOPPLERS: Is It Time To Take John Muir’s Name Off His Trail?

The San Jose, California city council has voted to remove the city’s Christopher Columbus statue, becoming only the latest jurisdiction to join the assault on Columbus, George Washington and Confederate generals. I’m worried the mob will run out of targets, so I offer some more.

What about naturalist John Muir?

Born in Scotland in 1838, Muir founded the Sierra Club and was an early advocate for the preservation of American wilderness. Known as the “Father of the National Parks,” Muir’s legacy and writings continue to inspire modern-day environmentalists and anyone who loves the outdoors.

In 1867, Muir actually walked from his home in Indiana to Florida. He had no real purpose beyond studying the countryside, wildlife and plants. He chronicled this adventure in a fascinating, journal-styled book titled “A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.”

While wandering through the river country of Georgia, Muir notes on September 25, “cotton is the principal crop hereabouts.” He goes on: “The negroes are easy-going and merry, making a great deal of noise and doing little work. One energetic white man, working with a will, would easily pick as much cotton as half a dozen Sambos and Sallies.”

This passage is certainly jarring, but just think of the opportunities. White Supremacist Muir’s name can be yanked off all kinds of public facilities. Most famous is the 211-mile John Muir Trail in California, but there is also Mount Muir, Camp Muir, Muir Glacier, Muir Beach, John Muir College and Muir Woods National Monument. There is even the prospect of international activism, as Scotland has recently named a 130-mile hiking trail “John Muir Way.”

Even more tempting are the numerous Muir statues and busts scattered across the land that can be vandalized and removed. The most famous is in the Yosemite Visitor Center. (RELATED: Now America’s National Parks Are Racist)

Muir is not the only naturalist ripe for posthumous dishonor. The namesake of the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada is Charles Alexander Sheldon, born in 1867. Known as the “Father of Denali National Park,” Sheldon spent entire winters in the Alaskan backcountry, observing and hunting bighorn sheep and other wildlife. His journals created interest in protecting Alaskan wilderness, but they too contain disturbing tidbits. Sheldon referred to swamp-bottom stumps as “nigger heads” and named his black dog “Nigger.”

There is plenty of precedent for Denali-related renaming. Since 1917, the highest mountain in North America, located within Denali National Park, was named Mount McKinley after Republican President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901. Three years ago, then-President Obama renamed the peak “Denali,” a Native American word meaning “tall one.” Poor old McKinley, lacking few contemporary advocates, was apparently not sufficiently politically correct for today.

When the Muir statues are gone, it doesn’t mean the censorship of history must end. Indeed, the original slavers on the North American continent were the indigenous peoples. Native Americans enslaved each other, sold their brethren to Europeans, and enslaved Europeans and Africans captured and kidnapped during raids and warfare. Just think of how many Native American memorials and monuments exist, including the gigantic Crazy Horse statue going up in South Dakota.

Of course, the so-called Five Civilized Tribes — the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole — allied themselves with the Confederacy, disrupting the progressive narrative of American history. But don’t tell today’s statue topplers. Their grievances are contrived or based on ignorance of history. Let’s not spoil it for them.

Peter Flaherty is president of the National Legal and Policy Center, a foundation promoting ethics in public life.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.