Early Defenders of Yosemite


Clarinet player and Detroit native Shelton Johnson, whose love of the outdoors carried him from being a ranger at National Capital Parks-East to Yellowstone, Great Basin, and Yosemite National Parks, is telling American-African, Asian and Hispanic young people, among all races and cultures, that the future of the environment depends on them. Johnson, who is one of relatively few African-Americans in the National Park Service working in the wilderness parks, is also spreading the word about plans by Park Rangers to encourage more Americans of diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in the wilderness with the National Park Service.

Awareness that African-Americans as Buffalo Soldiers in the cavalry ran off poachers, meadow destroying sheep herds, locals coming into the park collecting firewood, timber thieves, and explosives-laden miners came to Shelton Johnson in the form of a photo passed down in a file to him. The picture of a Buffalo Soldier in uniform prior to 1914 in Yosemite stirred him in a quest of a whole chapter in the American environmental movement that had been swept aside.

Buffalo Soldiers, with their roots in the Union Army of the Civil War, rode out of the Presidio in San Francisco each year and on a 14-day journey that took them to San Jose and then over Pacheco Pass to Yosemite for seven months or more each year. Until winter snow storms arrived they were the guardians of Yosemite, Sequoia & General Grant (now Kings Canyon) National Parks.

After hundreds of hours of research into the Buffalo Soldiers who guarded the Parks between 1899 (24th Infantry) and 1903 and 1904 (Ninth Cavalry), self-realized ranger Shelton Johnson appears before the Sierra Nevada Natural History classes at Atwater High School , as Sergeant Elizy Boman, wearing full uniform and carrying typical effects of a Buffalo Soldier in 1903.

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