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Get to Know Local Historian Frank Tortorich

01/27/2016 10:18AM ● Published by David Norby

Frank Tortorich took a rather unconventional route to becoming a local historian. He spent decades as a math and science teacher, and later moved on to a career in school administration. Although he’d taken an interest in history during college, it wasn’t until he and his wife began volunteering with the U.S. Forest Service in 1978 that he became curious about the origins of the Mormon Emigrant Trail, an east-west wagon route established in 1848 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his wife started researching the history of the trail, even writing letters to museums and historical archives for more information.

The rest, as they say, was history. Tortorich is now the author of several guidebooks for hiking and visiting the Gold Rush Trail region (available at the El Dorado County Historical Museum), in addition to his recent historical biography, John A. “Snowshoe” Johnson: Pioneer Mail Carrier of the Sierra (available on After retiring as an educator, Tortorich got even more involved in the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA), where he leads tours and gives talks on the history of the region, in addition to volunteering as a seasonal ranger. For all of his activities, he’s received numerous awards and honors, including the Greg Franzwa Meritorious Achievement Award granted by the OCTA. For Tortorich, however, the greatest gift is having the opportunity to help preserve the unique history of the region for future generations to enjoy. “The Gold Rush made California what it is,” he enthuses. “It’s our heritage.” 

— Amber Foster 



Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: Don’t be such a jerk.


Q: What comes to you naturally? 

A: Teaching and asking questions.

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve?

A: Self-serving people. 

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: My sense of humor, being appointed to assistant superintendent of schools, and my skills in teaching and public speaking.

Q: Best words of wisdom you’ve received?

A: Listen to all sides before judging.

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