Duncan McDuffie, 1877-1951

Publication Year: 1952.



When Duncan McDuffie was elected to membership in the American Alpine Club in 1927, he had for some time ceased to be an active climber of mountains; but his interest in preserving the scenic features of the West, and particularly those of California, was at its height. Since 1923 he had been chairman of the California State Parks Council, an organization devoted to the enactment of appropriate legislation for the establishment of a state parks system for California. In 1927 this was accomplished, and McDuffie would have been one of the first park commissioners had not his sense of propriety intervened, for the appointing Governor was his partner in business. Instead of accepting an appointment he put himself whole-heartedly behind the commission, of which William E. Colby was chairman, in the highly successful work of building the system and establishing policies for its administration. He had previously been, and continued for the rest of his life to be, one of the prime movers in the Save-the-Redwoods League. In many other ways he lent his influence and gave wise guidance to causes generally classified under the term “conservation.” It was for these activities, as well as for his creative work in residential real estate development, that the University of California conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Born in Iowa, in 1877, Duncan McDuffie came to California as a boy and was graduated from the University of California in 1899. In 1902 he participated in the Sierra Club outing to Kings River Canyon and began his mountain climbing with University Peak and Mount Brewer. In the following years he made other climbs in the Sierra and descended the Tuolumne Canyon, then a difficult feat. His two best climbs, however, were made later. In 1908, with J. N. Le Conte and J. S. Hutchinson, he made the first ascent of Mount Abbot in the course of an exploratory trip to discover a high mountain route the length of the High Sierra. In 1920 he and Hutchinson, with their packer, Onis Brown, made the coveted first ascent of the Black Kaweah.

McDuffie was President of the Sierra Club from 1928 to 1931, and again from 1943 to 1946. The latter term was accepted at a real sacrifice, for his health was impaired; yet he considered it his duty to respond to any call for the cause of conservation. His beautiful home with its terraced gardens, graciously presided over by Mrs. McDuffie, was often the scene of conferences and social gatherings of those interested in mountains, in parks, in forests, in gardens and in other aspects of natural beauty. Beauty and order and the warmth of friendship held Duncan McDuffie’s attention to the day of his departure on 21 April 1951.

Francis P. Farquhar