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Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson was named an Honorary Kentucky Colonel, an honor bestowed upon him by Ernie Fletcher, the Governor of Kentucky. Shelton was nominated for this honor by Derrick W. Graham, a Kentucky State Representative.
Johnson, an 18-year veteran of the National Park Service, presents a variety of interpretive programs for park visitors. However, he is most passionate about his work with the Buffalo Soldiers. These soldiers, of African-American descent, were stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. They were sent, by horseback, to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in 1899, 1903, and 1904 to protect the parks and enforce park rules. They were, in essence, some of the first park rangers in the newly created national parks.
Through research of historical photographs and documents, Shelton has been telling the story of the Buffalo Soldiers to Yosemite National Park visitors. He presents a first-person account of what is was like to live and work as a soldier in Yosemite in 1903 and 1904.
While looking through muster rolls of some of the soldiers, Johnson noticed a Ninth Cavalry Private named George Metcalf from Frankfort, Kentucky. A co-worker, Ranger Larry Montgomery, happened to be from Kentucky, and coincidentally the same town. By a stroke of fate, Ranger Montgomery not only knew this family, but worked with one of the descendants. The family was eventually contacted and confirmed that Pvt. Metcalf was indeed their ancestor. Ultimately, without Johnson’s efforts, the family would have never known of their connection to the early stewardship of Yosemite National Park.
This sparked additional genealogical research, directed by Johnson, which sought other descendants of these soldiers in order to learn more about their history. Shelton’s work has been funded by a grant from the Yosemite Fund. This has since resulted in more discoveries of families of Yosemite buffalo soldiers living in Maryland and Kansas.
It is because of the discovery of the descendants in Kentucky that State Representative Derrick W. Graham nominated Shelton for this honor. Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher signed the certificate that was presented to Ranger Johnson. The award of a Kentucky Colonel is the highest honor awarded by the state of Kentucky . The commissions are presented for contributions to the community, state, or nation and for special achievements of all kinds. Other well-known Colonels include former President Lyndon Johnson, Senator John Glenn, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, and Whoopi Goldberg.