Do the skis of Snowshoe Thompson’s at the El Dorado County Museum belong to the museum or are they just on loan?
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That’s what Liz Fairchild, whose family once owned the skis, wants to know.
Last year, Fairchild, whose family lived in Placerville for several generations, contacted Mary Cory, director of the El Dorado County Historical Museum.
In a letter to Cory, Fairchild said, “I have documentation showing that the skis were originally acquired by Will and Frances Fairchild for display in the Fairchild Drug Store, Placerville, before being loaned to the museum for display. Do you have this same documentation and if not can you provide me with what documentation you do have regarding the loan of the skis to the museum.”
Cory’s responded by letter saying, “So far my research has shown that the skis were acquired by the County Museum as part of a larger collection of artifacts in a transfer of Interest from the Chamber of Commerce to the El Dorado County Historical Society in 1971 and then a Transfer of Interest to the County Museum in 1975 handled by Attorney Patrick Riley, now a retired El Dorado County Superior Court Judge.
“The artifact catalog record indicates that Mrs. Corregal gave the skis to Mrs. Frances Fairchild. There is nothing in our records that states when this happened, or that they were for display in the Fairchild Drug Store, or that the skis were loaned to the museum. I would be very interested in seeing the documentation that you mention in your letter,” said Cory.
Riley was asked about his part in the transfer, but said that it happened a long time ago and he has no specific recollection of what was in the Transfer of Interest.
In April of this year, Fairchild wrote for additional documentation asking, “In your research, what documentation do you have indicating when the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce acquired the Snowshoe Thompson skis? What documentation is there to show that the skis were deeded to the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce? … Can you provide me with an inventory of the Fairchild artifacts (including the skis) in that collection? My family history indicates that the skis and other artifacts were loaned for display, but not deeded.”
Fairchild noted in attachments to her letter that after her grandparents passed away, there was a property dispute between her father and his sister over the estate. “While both had knowledge of their grandparents’ historical efforts and artifact collection, (historical letters, Native American artifacts, and ‘the skis’), the larger property items of the estate took precedence in the dispute between them.
“What remains unknown is how and under what specific conditions the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce acquired the skis and other artifacts. What I do know is that my Dad always maintained that the skis (and other artifacts) belonged to the family and were in the museum for display. I do not know if he or my aunt were ever aware of the Transfer of Interest(s). My sense is they weren’t.
“Finally, my Dad told me that the skis, now on display at the El Dorado County Historical Museum have a blue Fairchild Pharmacy label on the back of them. I am familiar with the label, as it was affixed to some of the items auctioned in 2010-11. The label was something William and Frances often used to show copyright and ownership of items in their historical collection in allowing them to be displayed or used for historical purposes.”
Cory said she has provided Fairchild with all the information she has on the skis with most of what they know about them being posted on the sign in the museum. According to Cory, the skis were the first ones used by Thompson when he was hauling the mail between Placerville and Carson City, Nev. When the tip on the right ski broke, he traded it at a bar in Carson City. Later El Dorado County Sheriff Corregal brought them to Placerville. When he died, Mrs. Corregal gave them to her good friend, Mrs. Francis A. Fairchild.
Cory said Fairchild hasn’t written again since April, but she plans to do more research. According to her, the skis were originally part of an early historical display in the Chamber of Commerce building back in the 1930s and ’40s.
There is a second set of Thompson’s skis in the Fountain and Tallman Museum on Main Street, but Cory said those came from a different donor. The sheriff of Alpine County was a relative of Snowshoe Thompson’s wife and he gave them to a store owner in Tahoe. That owner later donated them to the museum.
Cory thinks there are probably many other sets of Thompson’s skis out there. “Over 20 years he probably went through different skis and had skis for different skiing conditions. But these were very primitive skis,” she added.
Liz Fairchild was asked to comment about the reason behind her inquiry but declined to provide any additional information, saying her request to Cory was related to personal research she is doing and not to a book project. Noting that she was taken aback by the interest in what she described as a personal matter, she concluded by saying, “My research is continuing and I have no further comment at this time.”
Fairchild is co-author of the book “Placerville Reflections” and is a former volunteer at the El Dorado County Museum. She has since moved out of the area.
Snowshoe Thompson is an almost mythological character because of his feats as a mail carrier. He crossed the Sierra during the winter on handmade skis, traveling between Placerville and Carson City, Nev., carrying, at times, as much as 100 pounds of mail. Later, he carried mail on the Big Tree Route between Genoa, Nev., and Murphy’s Camp, Calif., as well as transported supplies. Credited with rescuing men who were trapped by the snow, he remains one of El Dorado County’s most revered pioneers.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.