by Marcia Martinek Herald Editor Emerita
Feb 22, 2023 Updated Feb 22, 2023
The Independence Pass John Doe has been identified. His name is Gardner Paul Smith.
Although the identification has answered a lot of questions about the man whose body was found on Independence Pass in 1970, other questions remain. Some may never be answered.
It’s been thought in recent years that DNA would be the only way this man would be identified, and indeed that turned out to be the case.
For Jeanne Smith Gaida, a Realtor in Austin, Texas, the news came via a phone call from a cousin who carefully told Gaida that her father had been identified. As far as Gaida knew, her father had deserted the family shortly after her birth and had never been heard from again.
Gaida was then contacted by Melissa Kramer, a forensic genealogy analyst for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, who provided her with a 2016 Herald Democrat article describing the story of the Independence Pass John Doe.
Gaida said she has spent 60 years wondering why her father disappeared “and being pissed off and on.” Her mother and other family members were reluctant to discuss her father with her. Yet the cartons of newspaper clippings that she acquired do tell a portion of the story.
Gardner Smith was born Sept. 22, 1930, the older son of Paul and Bernita Smith, and attended Modesto High School in California. The Smith family, which included Gardner Smith’s younger brother Armour, was a skiing family.
The skiing industry, especially in the West, was just getting started after World War II. Paul Smith’s obituary in The Modesto Bee credits him with creating the ski resort Boreal Mountain California as well as being associated with several other businesses. It said he discovered skiing in 1936 during a trip to the Midwest and returned to Modesto to help charter the Modesto Ski Club.
His obituary notes that he continued to ski throughout most of his life. A broken leg at age 74 during a 1973 ski trip to Vail only slowed him down briefly. He continued skiing 25 days a year. His wife was also a skier, and it was natural that the sport was introduced to their sons. Paul Smith lived to be 93 and his wife 88. Since the whereabouts of Gardner Smith were still a mystery when they died, both of their obituaries list him as a survivor.
For Gardner Smith, skiing became his life. He attended the University of Nevada in Reno, skiing for the college team with some documented success. His daughter has one undated clipping that describes a win by the Nevada ski team at Edelweiss and says her father took first in the jumping, cross-country and downhill events.
In June 1951, Gardner Smith joined the Army, serving two years of active duty and then transferring to the reserves where he served four more years. He was honorably discharged in June 1957.
Read More: htmlwww.themountainmail.com/free_content/article_65dd0816-b252-11ed-b641-5fa0bbcacb2b.html
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