An unlikely meeting on the Fay-Luther Trail
February 20, 2013
Legendary mail carrier Snowshoe Thompson (Minden resident Steve Hale) was en route to Genoa on Saturday to pick up the mail and deliver it to Placerville, Calif., when he came across a group of about 35 Valley residents out for hike.
As the group walked a one-mile stretch of the Fay-Luther Trail, Thompson recalled stories about himself and his homeland of Tinn, Norway, he talked about his many travels and his friend Henry Van Sickle and his run in with Sam Brown.
“In 1855 there was an advertisement I saw in the Sacramento Bee that said, ‘People lost to the world. Uncle Sam needs a mail carrier.’ I’m not the first person to try and do this, but after they tried it, they decided it wasn’t feasible,” Thompson said of the 90-mile trek from Placerville to Genoa. “I found me some oak trees just the right size, and I carved me some snow skates 10-feet long like my parents wore in Norway. Here in the U.S. they call them snow skis, and that’s what I use to take the mail over.”
Born with the name Jon in 1827, Thompson said he received his nickname, Snowshoe, on Jan. 3, 1856, as he was leaving for his first mail route.
“As I turned to walk away a man standing in the back shouted, ‘Good luck, Snowshoe Thompson,'” he said.
Thompson said it is a two-day journey from Genoa to Placerville, but the return trip takes him three days.
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“It’s uphill on the way back. I do that twice a month,” he said. “I haven’t been paid by the post office to do it, but a man has got to do something to help his fellow neighbors.”
With February’s temperatures warmer than usual, Thompson said the lack of snow on the mountain slowed him down.
“If I have to do this without a horse I’d rather there be snow on the ground,” he said. “It’s faster on skis downhill. I can’t get back and forth in five days without snow.”
Diane and Ken Seitz of Gardnerville enjoyed the Chautauqua presentation.
“The first time I heard of Snowshoe Thompson was in a museum in Markleeville,” Diane said.
“He looks good for being over 100 years old,” Ken responded. “This is wonderful to get the history of the area, and to get the exercise when you’re old like me.”
Although Adele Moore of Carson City knew the history of Snowshoe, she learned a new fact about the mailman of the Sierra.
“I didn’t know he came to the West with a half brother. This was quite an endeavor for any human,” she said. “He hasn’t had enough notoriety around here. Not too many people have heard about him.”
Ceva Anderson was also familiar with Thompson and his stories.
“I loved it. I thought he was terrific,” the Carson City resident said. “I knew a lot about him, but he fills in the little details you’re missing.”
Minden resident Joe Therston and his family attended Saturday’s hike as a fun, family activity.
“We’ve done activities with Carson Valley Trails Association before, and it’s always fun for a family activity,” he said. “And it’s exercise in the great outdoors.”
Therston’s daughter, Amanda, was impressed by Snowshoe’s abilities.
“He works really hard and can go really far,” the 10-year-old said. “I’d maybe be able to snowshoe 90 miles.”
After nearly 20 years of delivering mail, Snowshoe Thompson died of appendicitis in 1876 on his farm in Diamond Valley, Calif.
The Fay-Luther Trail hike and Chautauqua presentation was sponsored by the Carson Valley Trails Association.
Snowshoe Thompson will make another appearance during the annual 10K cross country ski snowshoe tour 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 2 at Hope Valley YURT. For more information, call (530) 573-8940.
For more information on the Carson Valley Trails Association or future events, call 782-6859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.