On a trip to the library yesterday I was delighted to discover a little volume called Heroes, Villains and Ghosts: Folklore of Old California by Hector Lee (Capra, 1984). The stories in the book have been passed around the state for quite some time and, as Lee writes in the forward: "In their survival, legends tend to drift away from the actual facts in order to convey an "essential truth" which may be more interesting than the historical truth." I'm about halfway through it at present, and have a most interesting cast of characters, who may or may not be entirely historical, running about in my head. One of these, Snowshoe Thompson, proved of particular interest since he was a bit of a local boy. That is to say, he used to take the mail from Placerville over the Sierras to Genoa, Nevada--on homemade skiis. The route he followed, according to Lee was "more or less. . .the old Carson trail," which, these days, makes up part of stunning Highway 88. I had the great luck to ride over 88 back in June, and the view still sticks in my mind as one of widest and most wonderful the state (and possibly the world) has to offer. Then again, with Thompson, it was winter, and he was alone and on skiis. It was a very wide and white view, I've no doubt, and the mountains which fold, one into another off to the horizon might take on a slightly different light from that perspective. All the same, they say he carried the winter mails over the mountains for thirteen years. Though no doubt embellishments have crept into the stories they tell of him, to see those mountains and to think of that record is quite enough to make him a legend.
Here's a little piece from a 1910 book called Heroes of California, complete with a photograph of the man, and one of the terrain he crossed.