“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Placerville in El Dorado County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)

Snowshoe Thompson

Snowshoe Thompson Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Syd Whittle, October 18, 2008
1. Snowshoe Thompson Marker
Inscription.  A Viking Son of Norway who fulfilled California’s motto:

“Bring Me Men To Match My Mountains”

For twenty winters from 1858 to 1878 he was the lifeline between Utah Territory across the Sierras, and the new state of California. On skies he carried mail, medicine, supplies and information between Placerville, California and Genoa, Nevada, and mining camps of the Mother Lode and Washoe areas. He was a true pioneer of early California.... A legend in his own time.
1827 – 1879

Erected by Snowshoe Thompson Lodge No.78, Sons of Norway, Yuba City California in Memory of Olga M. Davidson.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: CommunicationsScience & MedicineSettlements & Settlers. A significant historical year for this entry is 1858.
Location. 38° 43.673′ N, 120° 48.197′ W. Marker is in Placerville, California, in El Dorado County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street and Sacramento Street, on the right when traveling east on Main Street. Marker
Snowshoe Thompson Marker, Sculpture and Placerville Pony Express Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Syd Whittle, October 18, 2008
2. Snowshoe Thompson Marker, Sculpture and Placerville Pony Express Marker
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is to the left of the Placerville Pony Express marker. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Placerville CA 95667, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Placerville Pony Express (here, next to this marker); John A. "Snowshoe" Thompson (a few steps from this marker); Bayles Building (1853) (within shouting distance of this marker); Hangmans Tree (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Three Unfortunates Hanged (about 300 feet away); The Forum Café / Union Hotel / United States Trio Hall / The Forum Café / The Blue Bell Café (about 400 feet away); Sgt. J. Scott Lindsay (about 400 feet away); Branch Saloon/Bingham's Jewelrey/Seligman Building/Ewing Building (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Placerville.
Also see . . .  John A. Snowshoe Thompson – Mail Carrier on Skies. (Submitted on October 20, 2008, by Syd Whittle of Mesa, Arizona.)
Additional commentary.
1. Snowshoe Thompson
In 1851, a 24-year-old Norwegian man named John Thompson* headed for fortune in California. He prospected around Placerville at Coon Hollow and Kelsey's Diggings, then tried ranching in the Sacramento Valley. In 1856, he read about the mail delivery struggle over the Sierra Nevada mountains. He made snowshoes, but not like the flat, heavy ones used by Indians
Snowshoe Thompson Sculpture image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Syd Whittle, October 18, 2008
3. Snowshoe Thompson Sculpture
and trappers of the West and Canada. They resembled skis, but were heavier and clumsier. The first skis he made were 10 feet long and weighed 25 pounds. (Subsequent skis were recorded at 9 feet long, then seven.) Folks in Placerville laughed when they first saw him and his long skis, but they soon came to admire and encourage him when they realized he might get the mail through. He started his twenty-year career delivering the mail over the mountains in 1856. He became a necessity and a fixed institution in the mountains, providing the only land communication between the Atlantic states and California.
Thompson's first trip from Placerville to Carson Valley was made in January of 1856. It was a 90-mile trip in which he often glided over snow drifts 30 to 50 feet deep. The mail packs he carried were 60 to 80 pounds, and sometimes over 100 pounds. It took three days uphill to get to Carson Valley, and two days to return to Placerville, 45 miles a day through complete wilderness. He carried little food, used snow for water, dressed lightly, and carried no blanket, due to his mail load. When he had to sleep, or when the night prevented his traveling, he tried to find a stump of a dead pine to make camp. He set the stump on fire, collected spruce and fir boughs to sleep on, rested his head on the mail pouch and put his feet at the fire. There he slept, with 10 to 30 feet of snow
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beneath him.
In his travels he helped many a stranded traveler in the wilderness. He made his home in Diamond Valley on the eastern side of the Sierras. "Snowshoe" Thompson died at 49 years old on May 15, 1876, and was buried at Genoa. His only son Arthur, who died June 22, 1878 at 11 years 4 months old, was buried by his side.
*It is thought that his Norwegian name was Tostensen and the proper English translation Thomson, instead of Thompson
Source: Gold Rush Chronicles (
    — Submitted November 1, 2008, by Syd Whittle of Mesa, Arizona.
Credits. This page was last revised on November 3, 2019. It was originally submitted on October 20, 2008, by Syd Whittle of Mesa, Arizona. This page has been viewed 2,843 times since then and 81 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on October 20, 2008, by Syd Whittle of Mesa, Arizona.

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Dec. 6, 2022