Life-threatening Bureaucracy

Great Canyon of the Sierra Yosemite, by Thomas Hill (1829 – 1908)

Quick Quotes 29.  This month we are looking at some entertaining quotes from A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, by John Muir.  Muir (1838-1914) was a celebrated naturalist known as “John of the Mountains”, a key figure in the push for the establishment of National Parks in the USA.  The following quote is taken from the 1916 edition edited by William Frederic Bade.  Muir was running out of money and eking out the last of his funds living on a starvation diet, while he was awaiting the arrival of some money from his brother.  For several days he was disappointed by the non-arrival of the money package, and things were starting to get desperate:

By this time I was becoming faint, and in making the journey to the town was alarmed to find myself growing staggery and giddy. The ground ahead seemed to be rising up in front of me, and the little streams in the ditches on the sides of the road seemed to be flowing up hill. Then I realized that I was becoming dangerously hungry and became more than ever anxious to receive that money package.

To my delight this fifth or sixth morning, when I inquired if the money package had come, the clerk replied that it had, but that he could not deliver it without my being identified. I said, “Well, here! read my brother’s letter,” handing it to him. “It states the amount in the package, where it came from, the day it was put into the office at Portage City, and I should think that would be enough.” He said, “No, that is not enough. How do I know that this letter is yours? You may have stolen it. How do I know that you are John Muir?”

I said, “Well, don’t you see that this letter indicates that I am a botanist? For in it my brother says, I hope you are having a good time and finding many new plants. Now, you say that I might have stolen this letter from John Muir, and in that way have become aware of there being a money package to arrive from Portage for him. But the letter proves that John Muir must be a botanist, and though, as you say, his letter might have been stolen, it would hardly be likely that the robber would be able to steal John Muir’s knowledge of botany. Now I suppose, of course, that you have been to school and know something of botany. Examine me and see if I know any thing about it.”

At this he laughed good-naturedly, evidently feeling the force of my argument, and, perhaps, pitying me on account of looking pale and hungry, he turned and rapped at the door of a private office probably the Manager’s called him out and said, “Mr. So and So, here is a man who has inquired every day for the last week or so for a money package from Portage, Wisconsin. He is a stranger in the city with no one to identify him. He states correctly the amount and the name of the sender. He has shown me a letter which indicates that Mr. Muir is a botanist, and that although a traveling companion may have stolen Mr. Muir’s letter, he could not have stolen his botany, and requests us to examine him.”

The head official smiled, took a good stare into my face, waved his hand, and said, “Let him have it.”


“Quick Quotes” are some bonus content for the blog. Each time I find an interesting or amusing little quote that does not really need any further explanation or background information, it will appear on Windows into History under this heading. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in 19th Century, History, Memoirs, Nature, People, Quick Quotes, Travel, USA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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