The History of Snowshoe Thompson

The legendary “Mailman of the Sierra”, John A. “Snowshoe” Thompson, carried mail from Placerville, California, to Genoa, Nevada (Utah Territory) for 20 years, twice a month during the winter.

Disillusioned with gold prospecting, he responded to an article in the “Sacramento Union”, asking for a mail carrier since “people living east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain and west of Salt Lake lose contact with the outside world as winter snows cut off all communications.”

While “Snowshoe” contemplated this challenge he carved 10 feet long wooden skis (long boards) and practiced with a long balance pole. When he felt competent he “decided to offer his services to Uncle Sam as a mail carrier”, in spite of warnings about men before him who had tried and not made it. When he left Placerville on the first trip in January 1856, someone yelled after him, “Good luck ‘Snowshoe’ Thompson,” hence the name that stuck with 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. Gro was Torstein’s second wife.” “Torstein was 68 years old when Jon was born but died just two years later in 1829. Gro’s life was very difficult after Torstein died.”

In 1837 Gro had an opportunity to emigrate to America. She and Jon, along with many others from the Telemark region, left Norway on May 30, 1837, on the ship Niord, arriving in New York on August 15, 1837.

After a short life of adventures and service to others, John “Snowshoe” Thompson died on May 15, 1876. He is buried in the Genoa Cemetery. His wife, Agnes, and son, Arthur, are buried alongside.

Information is taken from “Snowshoe Thompson: His Life and Adventures”, published by the Carson Valley Historical Society in 1991.


  1. October 9, my wife and I, will try to make short visit to Genoa, focusing on the history (story) of Snowshoe Thompson.
    We arre guiding a bus load og Norwegian Seniors (The Ystebo Tour)(totally 44 people). We plan to visit the SnowshoeThompson Museum, the cemetary where Thompson was buried, and look up his monuments. Is there any contact person and a telephone number I can reach you on?
    Best regards
    Ella & Asbjørn Ystebø

  2. I Googled the name “Snowshoe Thompson” to see what I could find. “Snowshoe Thompson” was a song a camp counselor used to sing to us over 55 years ago when I was a boy, along with a lot of other Johnny Horton songs. I remembered only parts of the song, so I Googled it:

    In 1855 in old Californ-i-a a man was a looking in the paper one day
    Uncle Sam needs a postman to carry the mail
    Through the High Sierra Mountains over God forsaken trails
    Snow Shoe Thompson told ’em he knew he was their man
    I’ll get through them mountains if anybody can
    He took a pair of snowshoes he took a pair of skis
    And led out through that mountains where the normal man would freeze
    He was cautious as a mountain cat fleet as a deer
    Tough as a grizzly bear he knew no fear
    He lived a life of danger bringin’ mountain people the news
    Cause Snow Shoe Thompson packed the mail on through
    [ banjo ]
    In the High Sierra Mountains it was 32 below
    Blue blizzard fairly whistled bringin’ 40 feet of snow
    No one dared to venture on a slippery mountain trails
    But Snow Shoe kept a comin’ he was packin’ US mail
    His face was weather beaten from his many rugged miles
    But he knew it was worth it when he’d see the people smile
    His deeds are not forgotten they stay in the Hall of Fame
    They stay in old Squaw Valley to Snow Shoe Thompson’s name
    He was cautious as a mountain cat…

    The song is on a UTube Video:

    I think the song and lyrics and other links would make good additions to your site.

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