JSNH&B home • Spring 2008 • vol. 1 no. 2

"Show-shoe Thompson" 

by Dan DeQuille

from Overland Monthly, October, 1886

quoteSnow-shoe never stopped for storms. unquote

While traveling in the mountains, Snow-shoe Thompson never carried blankets, nor did he even wear an overcoat. The weight and bulk of such articles would have encumbered and discommoded him. Exercise kept him warm while traveling, and when encamped he always built a fire. He carried as little as possible besides the bags containing the mail. During the first year or two after he went into the business, he carried a revolver. Finding, however, that he had no use for such a weapon, and it being of the first importance to travel as light as possible, he presently concluded to leave his pistol at home.

Snow-shoe Thopson

All that he carried in the way of provisions was a small quantity of jerked beef, or dried sausage, and a few crackers or biscuits. He never carried provisions that required to be cooked. The food that he took into the mountains was all of a kind that could be eaten as he ran. For drink he caught up a handful of snow, or lay down for a moment and quaffed the water of some brook or spring. He never took with him brandy, whisky, or liquor of any kind. He was a man that seldom tasted liquor.

Snow-shoe never stopped for storms. He always set out on the day appointed, without regard to the weather, and he traveled by nights as well as in the daytime. He pursued no regular path—in a trackless waste of snow there was no path to follow—but kept to a general route or course. By day he was guided by the trees and rocks, and by night looked to the stars, as does a mariner to his compass. ...

Night Camps Only When Needed

Snow-shoe's night camps—whenever the night was such as prevented him from pursuing his journey, or when it was necessary for him to obtain sleep—were generally made wherever he happened to be at the moment. He did not push forward to reach particular points, as springs or brooks. He was always able to substitute snow for water, without feeling any bad effect. He always tried, however, to find the stump of a dead pine, at which to make his camp. After setting fire to the dry stump, he collected a quantity of fir or spruce boughs, with which he constructed a sort of rude couch or platform on the snow. Stretched upon his bed of boughs, with his feet to his fire, and his head resting upon one of Uncle Sam's mail bags, he slept as soundly as if occupying the best bed ever made; though, perhaps, beneath his couch there was a depth of from ten to thirty feet of snow. ...

Snowshoe Thompson

As an explorer in Arctic regions he would have achieved world-wide fame. Less courage than he each winter displayed amid the mountains, has secured for hundreds the hero's crown. To ordinary men there is something terrible in the wild winter storms that often sweep through the Sierras; but the louder the howlings of the gale rose, the higher rose the courage of Show-shoe Thompson. He did not fear to beard the Storm King in his own mountain fastnesses and strongholds. Within his breast lived and burned the spirit of the old Vikings. It was this inherited spirit of his daring ancestors that impelled him to embark in difficult and dangerous enterprises-this spirit that incited him to defy even the wildest rage of the elements. In the turmoil of the most fearful tempests that ever beat against the granite walls of the High Sierras he was undismayed. In the midst of the midnight hurricane, he danced on the rocks as though himself one of the genii of the storm.

Snow-shoe Thompson Memorial Monument in Genoa, Nevada

Shoeshoe Thompson statueSnowshoe Thompson statueSnowshoe Thompson memorial in Genoa Nevada

Sculptor: Don Budy. Thompson is buried in the Genoa, Nevada cemetary.