When I think of my dad telling me he had to walk to school up hill, both ways, in the snow,
it didn’t really mean that. It was a silly saying that meant the going was tough. But when I learned about Snowshoe Thompson trudging through deep snow over the Sierra Mountains of California, I had to stop and consider.
You see, this guy was really doing a service for the mountain communities that were cut off from mail, and supplies, and any other services during the winter months.
At first Snowshoe just did it when requested. Then he did the treks for the U.S. Postal Delivery service. The railroads hadn’t been built yet, and he was more capable being that he was Norwegian and used to deep snow all of his life.
The legendary “Mailman of the Sierra”, John A. “Snowshoe” Thompson, carried mail from Placerville, California, to Ge
noa, Nevada (Utah Territory) for 20 years, twice a month during the winter.
I don’t remember this man and his daring adventures trekking over the Sierras as part of my grade school learning. I loved History in school and I’m sure he was one of those unsung heroes. If you want to learn more about his life of service, there’s an historic group online that has a great resource dedicated to him.
Thompson was born Jon Torsteinson–Rue on April 20, 1827, on a farm called Luraas–Rue gård in Tinn, Telemark, Norway. Jon was the fourteenth and youngest child of Torstein Olson-Rue and the sixth and youngest child of Gro Jonsdatter Einungbrekke.
He was known for carving his own snowshoes in a design from his Norwegian heritage. They were ten feet long. He didn’t use ski poles like most skiers would, but crafted a balancing pole that he would lay across his lap as he cruised. His squatting stance and balance pole allowed him to maintain faster and longer distances with less energy.
Snowshoe traveled light, often with only a small backpack to carry the mail — depending on what he needed to deliver. Otherwise, he didn’t carry a rifle or much else to survive with. I’ve done some cross country skiing and it can be brutal if you wear too much clothing and get soaked in the rain or snowfall. I could have used some of his knowledge.
Thanx for reading my blog. Reprint permission was granted by the historic society that knows everything about the man and have books about his life available as well.