Snowshoe Thompson

“Snow-shoe Thompson” . . . was a Norwegian by birth, and the first to introduce a Norwegian pattern of snow-shoe. . . . The most wonderful stories are related of this man and his exploits on snow-shoes.

This noted mountaineer was born at Upper Tins, Prestjrjold, Norway, in 1827. He came with his father to the United States in 1837, and settled in Illinois. In 1851 he crossed the plains to California, where he worked in different places for several years, sometimes mining, sometimes farming. Hearing of the difficulties attending the transportation of mail across the Sierra on account of the great depth of snow, he determined one day to make a pair of snowshoes such as he remembered to have seen when a boy in Norway. Having made the shoes, he went to Placerville, near which place he could practice using them and test their utility. Finding that they worked to his entire satisfaction, he undertook to carry the mail across the Sierra on them, making his first trip in January, 1856. The distance, ninety miles from Placerville to Carson Valley, was passed over in three days, the return taking one less because of the down grade.

Having made the experimental journey successfully, Thompson continued to carry the mail between the two points all that winter. The weight of the mail bags was often from sixty to eighty pounds. When traveling across the mountains he never carried blankets or wore an overcoat. He traveled by night as well as by day when necessary. If he camped for the night, he hunted the stump of a dead pine tree and having set fire to it, he built him a bed of spruce boughs, on the snow, and lying down with his feet to the fire rested and slept soundly.