by Shelton Johnson
“A work of extraordinary imagination and sympathy, a journey from slavery to the mountaintop, perfectly realized.” ―Ken Burns, American filmmaker
Born on Emancipation Day, 1863, to a sharecropping family of black and Indian blood, Elijah Yancy never lived as a slave―but his self-image as a free person is at war with his surroundings: Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the Reconstructed South. Exiled for his own survival as a teenager, Elijah walks west to the Nebraska plains―and, like other rootless young African-American men of that era, joins up with the US cavalry.
The trajectory of Elijah’s army career parallels the nation’s imperial adventures in the late 19th century: subduing Native Americans in the West, quelling rebellion in the Philippines. Haunted by the terrors endured by black Americans and by his part in persecuting other people of color, Elijah is sustained only by visions, memories, prayers, and his questing spirit―which ultimately finds a home when his troop is posted to the newly created Yosemite National Park in 1903. Here, living with little beyond mountain light, running water, campfires, and stars, he becomes a man who owns himself completely, while knowing he’s left pieces of himself scattered along his life’s path like pebbles on a creek bed.
“Seen through the fresh eyes of buffalo soldier Elijah Yancy, Yosemite is Gloryland, his true home. Shelton Johnson has written a beautiful novel about Elijah’s journey.” ―Maxine Hong Kingston, author of China Men and The Woman Warrior