Can you imagine doing this twice a month during the winter? Travel 90 miles from Placerville, California to Genoa, Nevada; crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains carrying a bag between 50 to 100 pounds in weight strapped to your back. And you would make this trip no matter the depth of snow or how bad the weather. That was the job that John A. Thompson, better known as Snowshoe Thompson, undertook to deliver the mail every winter from 1856 to 1876.
Here is the wording from his monument in Mormon Station State Park in Genoa, Nevada.
John A. “Snowshoe” Thompson
(Jon A. Torsteinson–Rue)
Mailman of the Sierra
Born: April 30, 1827, Tinn, Telemark, Norway
Emigrated to America from Norway; May 30 1837
Carried the mail; January 1856 – May 1876
Twice a month during the winter for 20 years
Distance: 90 miles between Placerville, CA and Genoa, NV
Buried: Genoa cemetery, the grave site headstone carving depicts a pair of crossed skis.
Transversing the mighty sierra mountain ridges on a pair of homemade “long” skis and using his single pole for balance: “Snowshoe” braved 20 – 50 foot snow depths, snowdrifts and blizzards. The mail must reach its destination. “Snowshoe” carried a mail bag weighing 50 to 100 pounds strapped to his back. He carried crackers and dried beef for food, drank melted snow from his hand and rested only when necessary during the three day trek from Placerville to Genoa. The mail was Genoa’s only contact with the outside world during the long winter months.
“Snowshoe” Thompson - a true hero of the west
Thompson answered an ad in the Sacramento Union in 1855, "People Lost to the World; Uncle Sam Needs a Mail Carrier.” He got the job and set to work making his 9 foot long wooden skis. These ski shaped snow-shoes were common in his home country of Norway. On his run he wore a Mackinaw jacket and a wide brimmed hat. His face was rubbed with charcoal to prevent snow blindness. He carried matches to start fires, a bible, crackers, biscuits and dried meat for food. He had no blanket, compass, or gun. His physical stamina and courage must have been extraordinary.
In an October 1886 Overland Monthly article about Thompson, Dan De Quille wrote: "He was the father of all the race of snow-shoers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains; … On the Pacific Coast his equal in his peculiar line will probably never be seen again -- it would be hard to find another man combining his courage, physique and powers of endurance -- a man with such thaws and sinews, controlled by such a will."
You would think the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service was written about him, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” And, this is hard to believe, he was never paid by the U.S. Government for his services because he never signed a formal contract!
Snowshoe Thompson website: http://snowshoethompson.org
The Soaring Eagle of the Sierras: http://www.ronwatters.com/SnowShoe.htm
Snowshoe Thompson: Fact and Legend: http://www.naha.stolaf.edu/pubs/nas/volume19/vol19_4.htm
Longboard ski races are held every winter by the Plumas Ski Club: http://www.plumasskiclub.org