The Human Spirit in Nature

Situated on the Murie Ranch Historic District within Grand Teton National Park, the Murie Family Collection contains original artwork, writings, photographs, books and other items documenting the remarkable history of the Muries. Constant advocates for wild places, the Muries brought a scientific and philosophical approach to their work emphasizing not only the intangible value of the wild areas they studied, but also the inspirational, restorative qualities of nature and the power of human connections to foster change. Note, if you are able to visit us at The Murie Center, one can see these exhibits in-person on display in the Muries' home.

Exhibit #1: Nature and Diversity Reflected by the work and words of Olaus J. Murie

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“Perhaps it is not even proper to speak of ‘elk management’ by itself. It needs to be integrated with management of other species, for the elk is only one member of the fauna.”

Olaus J. Murie was at once a naturalist, scientist, artist, author and leader in the conservation movement. Olaus’ early studies in zoology and wildlife biology informed his later political influence and philosophical approach to nature, characterized by an experiential emphasis on the intangible value of wilderness. Diversity in the natural world shaped Olaus’ thinking during a time period when ecology was a fledgling field of study in the United States and the interrelationships within wild habitats were not realized by the larger scientific community. In his landmark 1951 publication, The Elk of North America, Olaus frames his ideas by exploring notions of interdependence and balance within ecosystems.


“I think we should go beyond proving the rights of animals to live in utilitarian terms. Why don’t we just admit we like having them around? Isn’t that answer enough? Don’t we realize that something exciting and satisfying will be gone from the world if we no longer hear coyotes howling? And surely some of the meaning and mystery of the night will be destroyed if we kill all the great horned owls.”*

Olaus’ writings reflect an awareness of his readership: fellow naturalists, sportsmen, dude ranchers, and photographers, among others who viewed the natural world in terms of its myriad potential uses. However, his philosophy reveals a deeper truth, that the brilliant diversity of nature has intrinsic value completely separate from its tangible, quantifiable output or ability to be used.

*Note: The owl in this print is a Great Grey Owl, not a Great Horned Owl.

Bluebell for Exhibit1

“Whether it be a wide unspoiled landscape that inspires us, or the beauty of the humble little wildflower at our feet, the fact remains that we need inspiration to go forward.”

By recognizing the interconnections within wild habitats, Olaus revealed the significance of variety in nature. This small selection of paintings reflects Olaus’ representations of diversity and his ability to construct a grand vision of the natural world while remaining attentive to the small details of the wildlife, plants and birds he devoted his life to studying. Perhaps most striking about Olaus’ work is that throughout his scientific endeavors, his speeches, publications and leadership roles, in the midst of his vibrant family life and avid conservation work, he remained an artist, eager to pause and contemplate the splendor of his surroundings, allowing nature’s diversity to serve as a grounding and motivating force.

Exhibit 1 Resources and Notes:

Murie, Olaus J. The Elk of North America. Jackson, Wyoming: Teton Bookshop, 1979. The first edition was published by the Stackpole Company and the Wildlife Management Institute in 1951. The quotation is from pages 289-290.

Quoted within Curry, Peggy Simpson. “Portrait of a Naturalist.” Audubon Magazine, Nov./Dec. 1963: 358-363. The quotation is from page 362. The Murie Family Collection. Murie materials from the Izaak Walton League Folder.

Murie, Olaus J. “A Good Life” [Speech delivered at the Annual Convention of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation]. Missoula, Montana. 30 April 1963. The Murie Family Collection, 2004.17.033.

Exhibit #2: Nature, Individuality and the Public Good: The 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act

Wilderness Act Pen

1964 Wilderness Act Pen

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964. Both practical and philosophical in its message, the Act was largely conceived here on the Murie Ranch by Howard Zahniser, a friend and colleague of the Muries who managed The Wilderness Society’s Washington, D.C. Headquarters 1945-1964, while Olaus J. Murie directed The Society 1945-1962 from Western Headquarters on the Murie Ranch in Moose, Wyoming. The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System, adding a layer of protection to wild areas within federal, public lands to prevent “permanent improvements or human habitation.” At the time of its passage, the law created 54 federal Wilderness Areas in 13 states, totaling 9.1 million acres. Since passage of the Act, roughly 100 million acres have been added, and today, the national wilderness system includes more than 106 million acres. Every president has signed legislation adding land to the National Wilderness Preservation System; so far, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation designating the most Wilderness areas.

Howard Zahniser completed his first draft of the Wilderness Act in 1956. In 1959, Olaus offered his thoughts on the potential of the Bill in a letter to The Wilderness Society Council:

“Let us consider the Wilderness Bill. The very fact that such a bill can gain the support and at least the interest of so much of Congress is an encouraging sign. A number of members have said that they regret that the bill has been so much watered down, that so many concessions have been made to meet objections of certain administrators. But let us feel happy over the fact that in the many hearings we have had the nature of the opposition to the wilderness idea has been brought into the open. The opposition has been largely by organizations, who see in wilderness preservation, or say they do, a threat to the unlimited expansion of their particular commercial desires…   On the other hand, numerous individuals have supported the bill sincerely, and because they sincerely believe in the wilderness philosophy. And many of these individuals are in the occupations represented by organizations which oppose the legislation…   I do not want to rely entirely on federal legislation. We have seen through the years how good legislation, which arose in the minds of high thinking people, has been interpreted to fit the ideas of those who want it to be converted to their own ambitions, and thus trample on the original idealistic impulse. To me, this Congressional attempt to make a long standing worthy human impulse become one of the high minded national aspirations, whether or not it succumbs to the various materialistic pressures, has served as an important way of focusing national attention on this opportunity to enrich the lives of individual people.”*

signing of wilderness act

President Lyndon B. Johnson Signs the 1964 Wilderness Act

Tragically, neither Olaus Murie nor Howard Zahniser lived to witness the Act’s passage; instead, widows Alice Zahniser and Mardy Murie attended the ceremony during which President Johnson signed the Act into law. The 1964 Wilderness Act demonstrates the tremendous power of individuals to influence the public good, the potential of the wilderness philosophy to “enrich the lives of individual people” and the necessity of actions grounded in a long term vision of our relationship with the natural world. The eloquent and philosophical quality of the Act also reflects the inspirational spirit of the Murie Ranch, reminding us that time spent in nature can serve as a wellspring for lasting deeds of altruism.

Please visit the Murie Ranch to see the pen used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1964 Wilderness Act (on display through October 1, 2014).

For a full description and text of the 1964 Wilderness Act, please see

Exhibit 2 Resources and Notes:

[Esterbrook Pen 2668 used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1964 Wilderness Act]. Camden, New Jersey. n.d. Murie Family Collection. Note: Text on the pen states, “The President – The White House.”

Rowe, Abbie.  [Lyndon B. Johnson, Wilderness Act of 1964]. Photograph. Washington, D.C. 3 September 1964. Murie Family Collection, 2009.02.001.

Photo subjects include Margaret Murie, Alice Zahniser, and President Lyndon B. Johnson (front row, L-R). Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall leans toward the President on the right. Back row includes U.S. Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho), U.S. Representative Wayne Aspinall (D-Colorado), U.S. Senator Clinton P. Anderson (D-New Mexico), and U.S. Representative John P. Saylor (R-Pennsylvania), among others. This photo is in the public domain, obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

*Quotation is from: Murie, Olaus J. Typed Letter. To the Members of the Council of The Wilderness Society. Moose, Wyoming. 1 January 1959.  The Murie Family Collection, FKLetter 4.9.4. Note: Typed on The Wilderness Society stationery, indicating the location as Washington, D.C., however, Olaus directed the Society from Western Headquarters in Moose, Wyoming.

Exhibit #3: Nature and Journal Writing George Schaller's 1956 Sheenjek Expedition Journal

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“June 4. What a country – you sweat and pant going up the hills but right at your feet flows ice water to refresh you. Ice water with a slight mossy flavor, you drink and then once again move upward. Nothing can be more delicious than a combination like that.”

On May 30, 1956, young field biologist George Schaller embarked from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Upper Sheenjek River in the Brooks Range. Schaller joined Olaus J. Murie, Margaret (Mardy) Murie, ornithologist Brina Kessel and biologist Bob Krear to explore and survey the pristine Arctic wilderness, much of which was yet unmapped by the United States Geological Survey.  Conducted during the summer of 1956, research from the expedition was pivotal in protecting the area from development. President Dwight Eisenhower initially designated eight million acres of the Brooks Range as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960, and in 1980, the protected land was expanded to 19 million acres through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which re-designated the area as part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Sheenjek Expedition was a feat of determination, collaboration and advocacy. Along with the naturalists and biologists who remained for the entire summer, others including U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas joined the expedition for shorter segments. Douglas’ association with the Muries was vital in the initial designation of the Arctic National Wildlife Range.

TMC2004.02.121 Schaller and Squirrel

“July 21. Another beautiful day. All morning I wrote up diary [sic], sitting in the sun. Last night the temperature had dropped to 24°, a low for summer. It must have killed lots of mosquitoes. I too took pictures of ground squirrels. Some are tame enough to approach to within 6 feet, others are somewhat wilder. But it took 2 weeks of just living here before they even would come out when we were around. The day slipped by swiftly without I having [sic] accomplished much it seemed. Seven days away from camp and there sure are a lot of notes to be caught up.”

George Schaller’s journal offers a vibrant account of daily life during the 1956 Sheenjek Expedition. The details he records contribute to our scientific understanding of the natural world, offer concrete justification for wilderness advocacy and provide a foundation for the grander philosophical threads of  a wilderness ethic that would guide conservation leaders for decades to come. As Schaller noted later in life, on the Sheenjek Expedition, Olaus J. Murie taught him that “the collection of scientific facts is only the first step of a long process to give work meaning and value.”*

2006.04.003 Schaller Journal Cover 2006.04.003 Schaller Journal June 14

“June 18. Do not lose your opportunities and do not allow yourselves to be carried away by the superficial rush and scramble which is modern life. What a glorious world, unnumbered realms ahead of you, hidden behind the mists of the morning. As you move on, new islands appear mountain-summits shoot up through the clearing mists, one behind the other… Sail beyond the sunset and roam the universe. What a joyous thing to see the day dawning and to know that you are bound on a voyage to new realms. You laugh at the risks and smile at the dangers … Rooted deep in the nature of every one of us is the spirit of adventure, the call of the wild – vibrating under all our actions, making life deeper and higher and nobler.”- Schaller’s recalled quotation of Fridtjof Nansen

In each landscape, Schaller illuminates a plethora of flora, fauna and experience, a splendid interconnected ecosystem pulsing with vitality and beauty. He also records the frequent difficulties presented by studying a wild landscape. Monotonous rainy days in the tent, perilous solitary field excursions, wild animal encounters and the tedious necessity of field reports all breathe authenticity into his account. While remaining rich in scientific detail, Schaller’s journal contains meditations on the human condition; a summer exploring the Brooks Range offered the young naturalist profound lessons not only about the natural world, but also about the grand adventure of life.

“July 18. It was another gray day with rain, good for walking. I camped on a willow-covered gravel bar and as I lay there in this unnamed valley, cooking out of an old tin can, lying there scroungy and dirty, yet feeling so complete and happy, I knew that these were the golden days of my life. That never before and never after will I have the opportunity to be so free, so without immediate obligations and responsibilities, as these days up here on the Sheenjek. No worry, except those minor ones which man always makes for himself, nothing but the land and I. It was wonderful.”

Exhibit #3 Resources and Notes

*Quoted within Glover, James M. “Olaus Murie’s Spiritual Connection with Wilderness.” International Journal of Wilderness 9.1 (2003): 4-8. Electronic.

[George Schaller and the squirrel]. Photograph. Alaska. 1956. The Murie Family Collection, 2004.02.121.

Krear, Robert H.  [Sheenjek Expedition Group “L.L. Bean” Photograph]. Photograph. Alaska. 1956. The Murie Family Collection, 2004.02.108/2004.03.001. L-R: Brina Kessel, George Schaller, Dr. Don “Doc” MacLeod, Mardy Murie, Olaus Murie.

Nansen, Fridtjof. Adventure, and Other Papers. L. & Virginia Woolf: London, 1927.

Murie, Margaret E. Two in the Far North. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1962.

Murie, Olaus J. Journeys to the Far North. The Wilderness Society and American West Publishing Company: Palo Alto, California, 1973.

Schaller, George. Sheenjek Expedition Journal. Alaska. 30 May 1956 – 31 July 1956. The Murie Family Collection, 2006.04.003.

Exhibit #4: Nature, Art and Creativity

Olaus Murie - Eiders

“On the [struck: ice] west side of the island is considerable open water with very rough ice all around it. Here we found a large flock of ducks; I believe eiders. Wetunnok called them “Metiuk.” They swam about and sat on the ice, and I heard their droning call, a kind of hum with rising inflection, seemingly answered by another in a descending tone. It was a beautiful scene, the deep blue water encircled by the white rough ice, a few blocks and miniature bergs floating about all casting a glimmering reflection in the water. The eiders perched on the ice, some swimming about, while out in the middle on an ice block, sentinel like, stood the glaucous gulls, a picture to remember.” – Olaus J. Murie, Excerpts from bird notes of Olaus J. Murie

Through close and detailed observation, the Muries drew information and inspiration from nature, and for Olaus J. Murie, scientific study and artistic creativity converged. As Margaret (Mardy) Murie wrote about Olaus in her book Two in the Far North, “As for Olaus, he wore his packsack like a part of his anatomy, for he had to carry his notebook, color pencils for sketching, extra films, and numerous containers and papers for collecting all kinds of scats, or droppings.” Olaus himself articulated the importance of both artistic and scientific pursuits for a well-balanced life; in the foreword of his brother Adolph Murie’s book, A Naturalist in Alaska, Olaus noted, “What is much needed today is more mutual respect among the exponents of science, philosophy, esthetics, and sociology. Although we are beginning to think in terms of human ecology, it is now time that we recognize all elements of the good life and give them the emphasis they deserve.”

Exhibit #4 Resources and Notes

Murie, Adolph. A Naturalist in Alaska. The Natural History Library, Anchor Books: Garden City, New York, 1963. The quotation is from the foreword.

Murie, Margaret E. Two in the Far North. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1962. The quotation is from page 338.

Murie, Olaus J. Typed Document. Excerpts from bird notes of Olaus J. Murie. Nastapoka River Region, Canada. 5 May 1915. The Murie Family Collection, FKLetter 4.12.1.

Murie, Olaus J. Painting. Eiders. S.l., no date. The Murie Family Collection, on display in the Murie home.

Exhibit #5: Nature, Community and Civility The Muries and The Wilderness Society

 TMC2004.01.003.053 Wilderness Society Sign

“Our aim is education of the people to the values in wilderness, so that they will want to preserve what little we have left in our country, for scientific, esthetic, educational, inspirational, reasons … Our concern is Wilderness preservation … Our organizational structure is very simple: Because I could not consider living in a city, I took the position as Director of the Society on a part time salary basis so that I could continue to live in Jackson Hole! Mrs. Murie and I carry on as much work as we can manage from our office here in our home and maintain a sort of western headquarters of the Society. The rest of the staff, under the guidance of Howard Zahniser as Executive Secretary, carry on the routine and other work of the Society in our Washington office.” – Olaus J. Murie to George K. Dern, 5 February 1961

Olaus J. Murie’s leadership of The Wilderness Society was marked by his democratic defense of wild lands. Constantly testifying, speaking and writing to protect areas facing a multitude of threats ranging from development to natural resource extraction, the Muries advocated the idea that “A democratic society … should respect the rights of the few ‘who seek the solitude of primitive forest,’” not necessarily those who most frequently use the wilderness for myriad recreational activities. In this philosophy, we find a counterbalance to the maelstrom of modern life and a sense of inclusion; the efforts of the Muries and The Wilderness Society to protect primitive areas extends the notion of community based on the concept that wild lands are preserved for everyone, remaining intact for the greater good. The Wilderness Society sign marked the entrance to the Murie Ranch during the period when Olaus served as the Society’s Director from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s. Found buried in the ground several years ago on the Murie Ranch and now part of the Murie Family Collection, the sign ties together threads from the past in a tangible way, demonstrating the significance of historical objects and the stories that surround them.

Exhibit #5 Resources and Notes

Kendrick, Gregory D. An Environmental Spokesman: Olaus J. Murie and a Democratic Defense of Wilderness. Thesis submitted to the Department of History and the Graduate School of the University of Wyoming. Laramie, Wyoming, 1977.

Murie, Olaus J. Typed Letter (copy). To George K. Dern. 5 February 1961. The Murie Family Collection, FKLetter 4.9.4.

Murie, Olaus J. “Shall We Cherish San Gorgonio?” The Living Wilderness 12 (September, 1946): 13-14. Quoted within Kendrick, p.125.

Lev, Joseph. Photograph. [Wilderness Society Headquarters Sign]. 1 November 1959. Depicted hanging at the Murie Ranch in Moose, Wyoming.

Supported by:

logo_Jackson-Hole-Community-Foundation     CTFLogoBlack


Wyoming State Historical Records Advisory Board

Curator: Alyson Barrett-Ryan Exhibit 3 Assistant Curator: Madeline Carlman