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John "Snowshoe" Thompson

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John A. 'Snowshoe' Thompson portrait
John A. "Snowshoe" Thompson portrait. Courtesy of the El Dorado County Historical Museum

“John A. Thompson was the father of all the race of snow-shoers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains; and in those mountains he was the pioneer of the pack train, the stagecoach, and the locomotive.” —Dan de Quille, Overland Monthly, 1886

To get the mail through, “Snowshoe” Thompson weathered huge snowdrifts on 25-pound skis. Thompson first transported mail in 1856 on the 90-mile Old Emigrant Road between Placerville, California, and Carson Valley, Nevada. Later, he carried mail on the Big Tree Route between Genoa, Nevada, and Murphy’s Camp, California. He took the job after seeing an ad in the Sacramento Union, “People Lost to the World; Uncle Sam Needs a Mail Carrier.”

Additional Imagery

  • photo of a contractor on skis
    Contractor on skis. Courtesy of USPS
  • Thompson's red snow skis
    Thompson's snow skis, late 1800s, measuring approximately 120 inches x 3.5 inches wide each, tips curve up 6 inches. Courtesy of the El Dorado County Historical Museum
  • close up of Thompson's skis
    Thompson's skis. Courtesy of the El Dorado County Historical Museum