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June 18, 2015


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Snowshoe Thompson
"Snowshoe" Thompson

On April 30, 1827, Jon Torstein-Rue, otherwise known as John Albert Thomson and "Snowshoe Thompson", was born on a mountainside farm in Lurass-Rue Gard in Tinn, Telemark County, Norway. John's father died when he was 10 which made him grow up fast. Soon after his death, John and his family sailed to America and settled to a farm in Illinois on May 30, 1837. The family moved on to Missouri, then Iowa, and eventually Thompson went to stay with his brother in Wisconsin.

In 1851, John drove a herd of milk cows to California and settled in Placerville. Thompson got "Gold Fever"!!! He started mining in Kelsey Diggins, Coon Hollow, and Georgetown areas. With the money he saved, he bought a small ranch in Putah Creek, in the Sacramento Valley. Later John purchased a ranch in Diamond Valley too.

Between 1856 to 1876, when John was not mining for gold, he was delivering the mail between Placerville, California and Genoa, Nevada and to Virginia City. John got his nickname, "Snowshoe", because he was constantly braving the elements while delivering the mail through the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. Despite his nickname, John did not use snowshoes. Instead, he constructed 10 foot skis, with poles in each hand, while carrying the mail on his back. Sometime he would pull additional items on a small sled behind him. John was one of the first settlers to travel by cross-country skis. He not only constructed the skis, but also taught others to navigate them too. Thompson delivered the first silver ore that was mined from the Comstock Lode. Despite his 20 years of delivering mail, Thompson was never paid a dime. Ever since his days in Norway, John loved cross-country skiing.

Thompson typically would travel East for 3 days, and return in 2 days. He usually traveled the route known as "Johnson's Cutoff", a pathway first marked by "John Calhoun Johnson", an early explorer, and first man to deliver mail over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is the same route used today on US Hwy 50 as it winds from Placerville, California to South Lake Tahoe.

Thompson carried no blankets nor guns. He never got lost, even in the worst blizzards. One time he came across a man snowbound in a cabin. The man's legs were so damaged from frostbite, he new that his death was eminent. Thompson skied out to get chloroform, skied back and delivered the medicine in time to save his life. This event spread quickly which made Snowshoe Thompson quite famous.

In 1866, John married Agnes Singleton, who had come to America from England. On February 11, 1867, his son Arthur Thomas was born.

From 1818 to 1872, Thompson served on the "Board of Supervisors of Alpine County", and was a delegate to the Republican State Convention in Sacramento in 1871. In spite of a resolution sent to Washington DC, by the Nevada Legislature, and the many political friendships he had made, including a trip to Washington DC in 1873, Snowshoe Thompson was never paid for his services delivering the United States Mail.

Snowshoe Thompson died of an appendicitis which developed into pneumonia on May 15, 1876. He was buried in Genoa, Nevada. A monument was constructed at his grave site which can be seen from both Genoa and Carson City, Nevada. His son Arthur died of diphtheria 2 years later and was buried next to his father in the Genoa cemetery.


John "Snowshoe" Thompson was an amazing individual. On his homemade 10 foot skis, John carried the mail and supplies over the snowy Sierras for 20 winters. Legend has it, that he saved the lives of 7 people that were snowbound in cabins.

In 1866, after becoming an American citizen, he built a 160 acre ranch in Diamond Valley. Being highly respected, John was elected to the Alpine county Board of Supervisors.

We salute our clamper brother-John "Snowshoe" Thompson, the father of California skiing.

Report presented by Gary "Col. Klink" Klinke
John A Sutter Historian