John "Snowshoe" Thompson

  Snowshoe Thompson

Snowshoe Thompson

Snowshoe Thompson was a legendary Norweigen-American, often cited as being the father of California skiing. In 1855 he answered an ad in the Sacremento Union “People Lost to the World; Uncle Sam Needs a Mail Carrier” he vonlunteered to carry the mail across the crest of the Sierra between Placerville, California and Genoa, Nevada. During the winter months he was the only link between California and the Atlantic States.

Originally from the Telemark county in Norway he mimicked the Norwegian "ski–skates" crafting 10 foot long, 6 inch wide skis from valley oak. For 2o winters he took to the high passes through Hope Valley, carrying up to 100 pounds of mail on his back. The rountrip was 220 miles and took him 5 days. He always travelled alone and never took a map or compass stating "There is no danger of getting lost in a narrow range of mountains like the Sierra, if a man has his wits about him." Thompson took great pride in his work and never received payment for his service.

Jill Beede has written a fascinating history  well worth checking out. Her summary of his gear is particularly interesting.

Thompson always wore a Mackinaw jacket, a wide rimmed hat, and covered his face in charcoal to prevent snow blindness. He carried no blankets, but he did carry matches to start fires, and his bible. He snacked on dried sausage, jerked beef, crackers, and biscuits. When a storm kept him from proceeding he would find a flat rock, clear it of snow, and dance old Norwegian folk dances until it passed, then he would continue on his way. He rested but briefly, and usually only long enough for a crust to form back over the fresh snow, for easier passage.
— Jill Beede

As with a lot of historic heros it is hard to get hard facts but either way it is a great story, there has been a lot written about the great man the most in depth study I came across was by the Norwegian-American Historical Association which is well worth a look.

Posted on December 8, 2011 and filed under Hero.