Offensive word removed, Truckee trail gets new name
TRUCKEE, Calif. — The U.S. Geological Survey announced the official name change of a popular Truckee trail to Johnson Canyon, after the Truckee Donner Land Trust petitioned to rename the trail from its offensive former name.
The Land Trust acquired Johnson Canyon in 2006. It was formerly called Negro Canyon and has even been referred to by a different “n” word but the Land Trust immediately started referring to it as Johnson Canyon in all of their literature.
“With our signage and our kiosks at the trailhead, based on some recommendations we were given when we were acquiring the property, we started referring to it as Johnson Canyon,” said Greyson Howard, communications director for Truckee Donner Land Trust.
With the help of Rich Spradling at the U.S. Forest Service, the Land Trust started a years-long process to get the name officially changed.
The canyon was named after Albert Johnson, who was a well-known figure in the Donner Lake area. The canyon’s original name was derived from the color of Johnson’s skin.
According to research done by Chaun Mortier with the Truckee Donner Historical Society, Johnson likely first arrived in Truckee in 1871.
A letter written by a William Kennedy found by the Historical Society said when Johnson arrived in Donner, he intended to build himself a home but instead found a cabin already built for the taking.
“And there he has remained ever since, enjoying to the fullest what he rightly believes to be God’s richest blessings – health, freedom, contentment, an abundance of fresh fish and wild fowl,” the letter stated.
Johnson loved fishing and worked at several hotels, leading guests on fishing exhibitions.
He died in 1911, after a particularly difficult winter prevented him from getting food or wood. He was taken to the county hospital where he passed away.
An article in the Truckee Republican said several men came to his cabin and helped him to the hospital.
“Several men went to the head of Donner Lake Thursday for the purpose of bringing ‘old Albert’, colored [sic], from his cabin, where the old argonaut, aged 93 years, was without food or wood for almost a week,” the article states. “For the past twenty years Albert and his cabin have been a landmark there.”
The Historical Society found article after article about Johnson and his fishing ability over his lifetime. He appeared to be a well-known and well-liked figure in Truckee.
When it comes to why the Land Trust pursued the name change, Howard said, “it was a no-brainer in that it is recognizing the person, not the skin color.”
“Albert Johnson did contribute a lot to early Truckee… he was a pillar in the community so to make it about the man and not the race is an important thing to do,” Howard said.
Johnson Canyon is accessed from the Donner Lake exit on Interstate 80 and the Wendin Way Trail, which runs through the canyon, can be used to connect to the Donner Lake Rim trail.
To learn more about Johnson Canyon, visit http://www.truckeedonnerlandtrust.org.
For more information about Albert Johnson, visit https://www.truckeehistory.org/uploads/5/1/9/2/51923135/african_american_demographics_truckee_area-1.pdf.
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