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Shirley Sargent

Shirley Sarent - Photo by Fresno Bee
  • July 12, 1927 - December 3, 2004
  • Shirley Sargent was a historian and author. She was the author of nearly two dozen books on Yosemite and the High Sierra, including John Muir and other mountaineers, and on the history of the Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels.
  • Sargent's best-selling book has been John Muir in Yosemite, first published in 1971. The book is filled with Muir quotes and historic photographs, detailing the significant role of John Muir in exploring, describing, and studying the glacial origin of Yosemite, and efforts leading to its protection. Unlike most of Sargent's books, this one has almost no footnotes nor a bibliography. At 48 pages it is a wonderful introduction to John Muir.
  • Sargent was included as a reader on the John Muir Tribute CD issued by the John Muir Association in 1999. Sargent was honored to read what is perhaps Muir's most famous quote: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you,and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
  • Sargent wrote not only about Muir, but also about less-known park pioneers: Galen Clark, Yosemite's first paid guardian; Theodore Solomons, who mapped most of the John Muir Trail; Theodore Parker Lukens, one of the first foresters; and Granny Meyer, who first saw Yosemite in 1883 and became a valuable source of information for Sargent and a character in her book "Pioneers in Petticoats."
  • She also wrote about many people and places in and around Yosemite, where she lived for many years: "The Ahwahnee: Yosemite's Classic Hotel," "Wawona's Yesterdays," "Yosemite's Historic Wawona," "Yosemite's High Sierra Camp" and "The Yosemite Chapel, 1879-1979," "Yosemite Tomboy" (1967), and "Enchanted Childhoods: Growing Up in Yosemite, 1864-1945" (1993).
  • Sargent said in a 1985 interview: "I don't like just plain history with a lot of facts. I want something that makes the people real to me. ... Say you're a tourist in the valley. You may look up and see a pillar of rock and say, `Wow, look at that,' and then you remember from what you've read that a woman first climbed it in 1875. Wouldn't that make it more singular to you, more exciting?"
  • Sargent had suffered from a rare crippling disease, dystonia musculorum deformans, which had forced her to use a wheelchair from age 14. Dismissive of her physical limitations, Sargent zipped around her property on an adult tricycle, drove her own car and camped in Yosemite's most remote areas. The neurological disorder made her shake and forced her to steady one hand with the other while she typed with one finger. For many years, she lived in her 4,600-foot elevation forest home in Foresta, which she called "Flying Spur," year-round, relishing the quiet, snowbound winters.
    With neighbor and fellow author Hank Johnston, she founded Flying Spur Press to publish many of her books. The company also published calendars and postcards reproducing early Yosemite scenes.
  • Yosemite historian Leroy Radanovich, who worked with Sargent on some of her books, told the Fresno Bee in 2003 that Sargent "has done a very credible job of preserving the history of Yosemite for future generations." "She has compiled what I consider to be a definitive body of work," he said, "which in all likelihood will not be matched by anyone soon." National Park Service historian Jim Snyder stated: "She was spunky and persistent. She had the personality and interest to draw people in."
  • For more information:
    • "Yosemite Author Shirley Sargent Dies: A neurological disorder didn't stop her vivacious spirit" by Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee - December 6, 2004
    • Shirley Sargent: Yosemite Historian by Fernando Penalosa, (Quaking Aspen Books, 2006)
Portrait photo of Shirley Sargent courtesy of Fresno Bee.

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