Old West Lifestyle & Stories

John Thompson – Old West Mail Delivery

John Thompson - Old West Mail DeliveryJon Torsteinson was born in Norway in 1827. At the age of ten he and his family came to the United States. Americanizing his name, he became John Thompson, and at the age of 29 moved to California, and became a rancher near Sacramento. He would probably have lived and died in obscurity had he not read an employment ad in the local newspaper. The advertisement was for a mail carrier to traverse the route between Hangtown, later to be known as Placerville, California and Carson City, Nevada… during the winter. So John entered into the history of Old West mail delivery.  
The route was 90 miles one way. But the main obstacle was the Sierra Mountains where it didn’t snow in inches, but feet. John made a pair of skies 10 feet long and 4 ½ inches wide. For balance, he carried a 12’ pole. The mail was carried in a backpack that weighed, depending on the amount of mail, from 60 to 100 pounds. It took three days to make the trip one way.      
John Thompson - Old West Mail DeliveryEven though he was traveling through blizzards and snowdrifts in subzero temperatures, because of weight and time considerations, John didn’t wear a jacket and didn’t pack a blanket. He didn’t even take a weapon, and took food that didn’t require cooking.        
It didn’t take long for him to pick up the nickname “Snowshoe” Thompson. Snowshoe did more than just carry the mail. He rescued people, and made emergency trips for medications. For recreation Snowshoe would ski-jump. Supposedly he could fly through the air over 185 feet.  
For twenty years of Old West mail delivery, Snowshoe faced the worst nature could throw at him and was victorious. But, on May 15, 1876, after four days of illness, this 49 year old man of steel died quietly in bed. 

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