"My ‘bedroom’ was an old blacksmith shop, believe
it or not, with a dirt floor, and an anvil sitting there. The pack rats
would crawl over the top of me at night, and I’d swat at them. I got used to
it — just made up my mind that it was so nice to be able to breathe that I
was going to stay. The old shop didn’t have batts on it; it had large cracks
and once in a while the rain would come in and I’d put a canvas over the top
of my head."
Tom and Ella Jones had a little
store at Beasore Meadows. Johnny, being a youngster who didn’t like to see
cans and papers strewn on the ground, spent time helping to keep the area
clean around their store. After a couple of years, Johnny moved in with the
Joneses. People would say, "Is that your boy?" and Ella would reply, "Yeah,
that’s my boy." Thus, Johnny grew up as Johnny Jones and made his original
last name his middle name: Johnny Alberta Jones. He joked about having this
He lived on the Tom Jones Ranch,
about four miles north of Coarsegold, west of Highway 41. He spent the
winters there and followed the snow up into the Sierra as it melted in the
summer. Tom Jones was a cattleman and one of the old-time packers who
conducted pack trips into the high country. As Johnny grew older he began to
take over the packing trips. Thus began his career as a leading guide. He
learned "search and rescue" from the Indians and the "old-timer" mountain
men in the area. He had many occasions to use those skills in the rugged
In the old days, to get ready for
a pack trip, groups usually had their food, bedrolls and tents with them.
That was before the time of sleeping bags; "I didn’t know what one was. I
slept in some blankets and I’d get back in the high country and it would get
cold! I’d use the horse blanket — saddle blankets — to make a pad." Some of
the parties departed from Beasore Meadows or farther up near the backpacking
trail. They used both horses and mules.
"At Beasore Meadows, there was a
little old store and a campground. A lot of families stayed there and we
had, in the meadow, two or three milk cows. Around the Fourth of July we’d
have to round those up, put the calves in the corral overnight, and in the
morning steal the milk from the cows for the campers. I’d walk that hundred
acres for hours in the evening bringing those cows and calves in, like a
sheepherder with a stick; it was cold and the grass was wet! I put the
calves in the corral where they wouldn’t suck their mamas at night, so that
the cows would have milk in the morning. We’d strain the milk and bottle it.
Some people, with their children, stayed at Beasore for months.
"We even packed refrigerated
hamper stuff. Some of the trips were first-class: we’d pack cots and beds;
we packed portable toilets — you name it! Anything they’d want, we’d take it
if it were possible. But it was an interesting life.
"You never knew who you were going
to meet . . . . One day there was a couple, a man and wife, and come to find
out, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of Tarzan. I took them in for
about a week . . . . I had ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’ for years [Marian and
Jim Jordan]. The first year they came out, they didn’t want people to know
who they were, so they just called themselves the Jordans."
Johnny was asked to lead a special
pack trip, but he declined, saying he couldn’t make it; but the pressure was
put on him by some people with "clout" saying, "no matter what the cost is,
we have to have you."
"It was sort of a ‘hush-hush’
thing; we didn’t know who it was. Gee, it was spooky. I wasn’t feeling good
about it, but I said, ‘Well, I’ll do it.’ We were going to have 11 people,
so we brought 22 head of Curry Company horses and mules to Mugler’s Meadow
and kept them in the corrals two days ahead of time.
"Then all the provisions came in —
the food, the beds — oh man! This was pretty special. I saw the special
hampers, and I said, ‘Oh, oh!’ So we took all the saddle horses ’way in, in
the early morning, and left them. Then we came back and got the mules, 11
mules for 11 riders, a pack per person. We left the tops off the packs for
personal belongings they would be bringing with them.
"I’ll never forget what happened
as long as I live. We took off with the mules. All of a sudden I heard a
noise and I looked back and there were two great big black limousines! It
was kind of spooky as they were coming by. They had dark windows and I could
see some hands waving as we pulled off the side of the road with the mule
"I thought, ‘Oh my Gawd, is it the
Mafia or something?’ I was scared! They went on and were all unloaded by the
time we got there with the mules. Everybody was walking around — four
security guards — armed men.
"Then I recognized Governor Reagan
by his little old cowboy hat he wears all the time. Two security guards went
with us on the tour. Two drove the limousines back to Yosemite Valley and
waited there for us until we went cross-country to Yosemite National Park.
We went to a part of Sierra Forest near Chiquito. We were gone about five
days and, sure enough, when we got down the trail to the Valley, here came
the security guards out of the bushes, right on the job.
"Nancy Reagan was along; it was
neat. The first day was a little hard on her . . . . We got to playing the
harmonica and singing together at the bonfire, and Governor Reagan told me,
‘Well, Johnny Jones, you’re well known. I got to tell you something. You
remember years ago, when you were probably just a kid, and you took eight
young ministers-to-be . . . and stayed with them back in the park?’
"I said, ‘Oh, yes, Governor
Reagan, I do, yes. Don Moomaw was one and Louis Evens was one.’
"‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Don Moomaw was a
big football star, but they were all going to that same seminary and Don was
my minister when I was in Hollywood. Don told me about the trip and said if
I ever went in those mountains I’d find Johnny Jones.’ That’s why they kept
In 1983 Johnny was in a bad
automobile wreck. "I was opening my mail...you know how you just tear
envelopes open with your fingers. All of a sudden I got this — it was a
beautiful letter from President Reagan and Nancy. Boy, my eyes opened up and
I sent for some Scotch Tape and I taped the envelope up real nice. I felt
bad about the envelope. The letter was something special and it made me feel
good. I think he’s a beautiful man; he really is, and I was so impressed. I
have a picture of President Reagan which says, ‘To Johnny, with best
regards, from Ronald Reagan.’ I had previously received a letter from then
Governor Reagan dated July 16, 1973 [about the pack trip into the Sierra]."
Johnny was born on October 30,
1918 and died on July 25, 1993.