Snowshoe Thompson effort continues Sunday

Efforts to forever immortalize John "Snowshoe" Thompson are alive and kicking.

If the Greater Genoa Business Association has its way, the die-hard, Norwegian adventurer will be seen again. Thompson carried the mail twice a month on 10-foot skis, called snowshoes, in treacherous conditions between Carson Valley and Placerville from 1856 to 1876.

The association is holding fund-raisers to pay for a life-size, bronze statue of Thompson due to go up in Genoa's Mormon Station State Park in time for a dedication during Snowshoe Thompson Days June 23-24, 2001.

The first fund-raiser is slated from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday during the Holiday Home Tour of Genoa homes. Another has been planned for March 18 at the Hope Valley Resort during a Snowshoe Thompson ski and snowshoe tour led by Nina Eggen.

Monument organizers want to surround the statue with a brick wall that contributors can buy into brick by brick. Those who are interested may have their names engraved on a brick for $100 each. The goal is to raise $50,000. The association has taken $28,000 in donations for a man known for his courage and tenacity.

Thompson was never compensated by the U.S. Postal Service for his 90-mile route, but those who revere him are still recognizing his role in Sierra Nevada history.

A current drive is also under way to make a commemorative stamp of Thompson.

"There's a lot of interest in doing that. He'd certainly be worthy of it," Twin Bridges postal worker Alison Leonesio said.

She assembled a display about Thompson at the Postal Service booth for last summer's California State Fair in Sacramento. It received much fanfare, she said.

Thompson, whose original name was Jon Torsteinson-Rue, was born in 1827 in Norway. After stays in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin, he migrated west with the gold rush.

At 24, he drove a herd of cows to California and settled in Placerville.

The rugged terrain hindered all attempts by mail carriers to cross the Sierra on woven Canadian and Native American snowshoes until Thompson responded to an ad in the Sacramento Union that read, "People lost to the world; Uncle Sam needs a mail carrier."

Thompson assumed he could meet the challenge given his past. As a child in the Telemark region of Norway, the ski-shaped snowshoes were as common as ordinary shoes. A crowd formed in Placerville for his first mail run in January 1856, but few believed he would overcome the 7,500-foot passes on his homemade, 25-pound oak skis with a 60- to 120-pound mail sack on his back.

The legend succeeded many times over.


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