His employers were aware of Muir’s attraction to the outdoors; he had even revealed to them his desire to wander away to South America in the tracks of the famed explorer Alexander von Humboldt. His purpose in working was simply to pocket enough money to pay for the trip. The company valued his services, however, and did its best to chain him to the job with increasing responsibility and generous compensation, eventually even offering him a partnership. Their efforts seem to be paying off, and by the spring of 1867, he appeared to be firmly entrenched in the work of the factory, his dreams of traveling to the jungles of the Southern Hemisphere a distant hope, and even his wanderings in the Indiana woods were infrequent and unfulfilling. However, all that changed late in the night of March 6, 1867. While tightening heavy leather belts that carried power to the factory machines, a sharp tool Muir employed in the task slipped; it’s point embedding in his right eye. Not only did he lose sight in the injured eye, but in the left eye as well would recover in time if given plenty of rest, but that he would remain blind in the other.
In a letter to his mother a few days later he wrote, “I am completely prostrated, and the eye is lost. I have been confined to bed since the accident and for the first two or three days could not eat or drink a mouthful, but I am a little better today and hope to be at work again in a month or two.”
Upon learning of his accident and condition, Muir’s friends in Madison, Wisconsin arranged for an eye specialist to see the patient and that doctor had better news: the injured right eye, too would partially recover, even though Muir would never see perfectly through it.
While following the prescribed treatment of lying for weeks in a dark room as his vision slowly returned and cleared, Muir took a hard look at this life and future. He feared he was becoming a slave to machines of his own devising and determined to invent a better life for himself. As he later explained it, “I could have become a millionaire, but I chose to become a tramp.”
From the book, “John Muir - Magnificent Tramp” by Rod Miller