San Francisco was set to welcome the new president, William Howard Taft, on his western tour, but its leaders and newspapers were aghast when they found out that naturalist John Muir would be the president's constant companion on the visit to the Yosemite Valley region.

It was all about water. San Francisco needed it and proposed getting it by damming the Tuolumne River and creating a reservoir out of the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Muir vehemently opposed the idea and was working hard to gain supporters.

"If while (the president is) in the Yosemite region, the question of the right use for the Hetch Hetchy really should come under consideration, as is more than likely, it is unfortunate that a hearing should not be accorded to both sides of the controversy.

"It is understood that Mr. Taft while in the valley will have John Muir for (a) guide. No more competent conductor of a scenic expedition in that region could be had, but Mr. Muir is hopelessly wrong on this most important question. He represents a group of noisy sentimentalists, who would let the valuable resources of the valley lie fallow forever rather than an unimportant modification of its natural features should be made for the good of a population of a million people. In that view Mr. Muir's close attendance on the president is regarded with suspicion," read the editorial in the San Francisco Call on Oct. 8, 1909.

Muir did have the president's ear for three days, and they enjoyed each other's company. Muir called Taft "the merriest man" he'd ever met.


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The president and Muir traveled to Yosemite by coach. At one point Taft got down from the stage and walked a mile or so up the mountain road.

"It gave him a splendid appetite for the picnic luncheon of fried chicken, potatoes, pie, fruit and jelly," the Call reported.

The coach took the presidential party to Inspiration Point. And Taft walked down the four-mile trail from Glacier Point to the Yosemite floor.

The paper reported that when he got back to the Sentinel Hotel at El Portal that evening, his clothes were wringing wet. He had to wait in his room while the only suit he'd brought was hung out to dry.

Taft called those days with Muir in the Yosemite region the most enjoyable times of his life. Muir did have an ally in Taft. But it wasn't enough. Supporters of the Hetch Hetchy project went to Congress, which passed the Raker Act in 1913 giving San Francisco the right with many regulations to build the dam and develop hydroelectric power in the valley.

By then, Taft had lost the election to Woodrow Wilson, who didn't hesitate to sign the bill. He said he found the opponents' arguments "not well-founded."

But that didn't mean the reservoir was around the corner. There were many hurdles, and the project costs became overwhelming for the city. The dam wasn't completed until 1934. By that time, Muir had been dead for 20 years.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.