Genoans celebrate hero and mail carrier, Snowshoe Thompson |

Genoans celebrate hero and mail carrier, Snowshoe Thompson

by Maggie O'Neill, Appeal staff writer
Orlin Stearns throms two axes at a tree stump at Mormon Station State Park during the Snowshoe Thompson Festival Saturday. Staerns along with other rendesvousers gave demostrations on different Western Frontier trades and skills and sometimes let spectators learn by doing it themselves. Photo by Brian Corley

GENOA — At this weekend’s Showshoe Thompson festival at Mormon Station Historic State Monument, several hundred people, Genoans and out-of-towners alike, gathered to learn more about the “Viking of the Sierra.”

Most people know Thompson delivered mail between 1856 to 1876 from Genoa to Placerville, Calif., but many admire him for his effort, and don’t really know why he was never paid for his work.

Park Ranger Donna Long said Thompson was officially hired by the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail. Several others applied but were unable to complete the strenuous trek.

Nina MacLeod, an organizer for the festival and Norweigan herself, said Thompson was the man for the job.

“They had to traverse mountains in Norway,” she said. “He was the person. He had the special mentality.”

A 12-foot bronze sculpture dedicated June 23, 2001, shows his strength. Sculpted by Don Budy, who describes Thompson as “a regular guy, but incredible character,” it is surrounded by small American and Norweigan flags. At the dedication last year, relatives and friends from Norway flew in for the dedication, according to MacLeod. The sculpture, which cost around $52,000, has been paid for through donations and purchases of bricks at the base.

Henry Nuki of Nu-Wuk Village California, who was operating a booth at the fair with his wife, said the most fascinating thing about Thompson was his stamina for the 20 years he delivered mail, and that Thompson did it for free.

“I would never do it for free,” he said.

Thompson answered an ad in the Sacramento Union and was hired by the U.S. Postal Service. But Park Ranger Donna Long said John Thompson’s dedication to delivering mail may have come from slow news that four months earlier his mother had passed away in Wisconsin.

Using 12-foot skis, Thompson navigated through snow depths 20 to 50 feet, carrying mailbags weighing 50 to 100 pounds. Snow was his water. And when he made it back to Genoa, he was greeted as the town hero, according to Park Ranger Lynne Frost.

“I read somewhere that the whole town just kind of shut down when he got here,” she said. “Snowshoe’s here!”

Thompson went to Congress to seek pay for his work. A bill was in session when Thompson died. The bill died with him.

Many believe a Snowshoe Thompson stamp is in order. Response locally has been favorable to a U.S. postage stamp, but nationally people may not know who Thompson is.

As Frost pointed out, “Here’s a person they owe money to.”

He was the local hero, often rescuing others lost or stuck in the snow.

Thompson is buried in the Genoa cemetery, although he lived on a Diamond Valley ranch in Alpine County.

A hay wagon tour of the town and the cemetery, including Thompson’s grave, was full of straw and kids.

“I think he made a lot of sacrifices to deliver a lot of mail,” said Correy Woodcock, 13, of Genoa. “It’s a long hike.”

“I like him because he did a lot of stuff by himself,” said Michael Ortiz, 10, of Gardnerville, who said he was enjoying looking at some of the “neat stuff” at the festival, including the sandstones.

Closer to the Thompson statue, Chief Many Hawks, 55, also known as Orlin Stearns, threw axes into a stump. An Apache from Colorado, and resident of Browns Valley, Calif., Stearns teaches children and adults to throw axes and says the best thing to do is to “concentrate on the block.” He throws axes right-handed, left-handed, sideways, and three at a time. One of his students uses axe-throwing as a stress reliever. A little bit more serious than the phone or eggs.

If you ask Stearns how long he has been practicing his axe-throwing, he’ll say, “Oh, about 20 minutes.”

The celebration continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


What: Snowshoe Thompson FestivalE

Where: Mormon Station State Park, Genoa

Date: Today

Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Price: Free

Contact: 782-2555