Idaho History Nov 24, 2019

Back County Mail Carriers

Valley (formerly Idaho) County, Idaho

This post will highlight some of the mail carriers, the difficulty of transporting mail in the back country from McCall (Lardo) to Burgdorf (Resort) to Warren (Washington) across the South Fork of the Salmon River (Comfort) over Elk Summit to Edwardsburg (Logan) down Big Creek and beyond to Thunder Mountain (Roosevelt).

1909 Map Central Idaho

Showing Lardo, Resort, Warrens, Comfort, Yellow Pine, Logan and Roosevelt

1909-Idaho-MailRoutes-a
(click map for larger size)
source to full sized 1909 Idaho Map (17megs): American Geographical Society Library Digital Map Collection
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Early Post Offices

Washington (later Warren)

Established January 28, 1868 James Cronan
Discontinued April 28, 1868
Re-established July 27, 1870 C. Sears
December 6, 1870 Benjamin Morris
December 19, 1873 Aaron Friedmincke
August 19, 1880 Herman Segall
March 28, 1881 Victor Hexter
August 14, 1885 Renamed Warren

source: © Idaho County IDGenWeb Project
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Warren (was Washington first)

Established January 28, 1868
August 14, 1885 Victor Hexter Renamed Warren
December 6, 1888 Edwin Robinson
October 10, 1889 Walter Brown
November 1890 Bailey Chamberlain (this from a note in the Lewiston Teller)
April 28, 1893 Fred Morris
November 28, 1893 George Patterson
August 5, 1916 Marjorie Wood
September 15, 1917 Walter Martin
July 29, 1920 Jesse Root
April 6, 1926 Otis Morris
45 miles N.E. of McCall

source: © Idaho County IDGenWeb Project
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1897 Warren

1897Warren-a
Warren, Idaho Territory 1897 (courtesy McCall Public Library)

source: Visit McCall
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1897 (Warren to Thunder Mountain)

Bill Borden

Mail Warren to Thunder Mtn Skis and Skiing, Warrens, Idaho

William Borden “Sheepherder Bill” carried mail from Warrens to Thunder Mountain. Bill Patterson storekeeper & postmaster at right, 1897.

Publisher Idaho State Historical Society

“[He] could pack more on his back than anybody. More than limber Carl Brown. Once he carried a cookstove over the summits to Big Creek for Mrs. Edwards.”

quote from: “The King’s Pines of Idaho; a story of the Browns of McCall” by Grace Edgington Jordan 1961 (21 megs)

Link to: “Sheepherder” Bill Borden story
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Warrens, Idaho

WarrensIdaho-a
Photographer J. A. Hanson

A group of men and women can be seen in the foreground of this view down Main Street in Warrens, Idaho. The stores and structures are constructed of logs. The street is rough and muddy.

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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1901 (Warrens to Thunder Mountain)

Curley Brewer


Idaho Historical Society Photo

“(FP December 26, 1901) Curley Brewer, of Warrens, is packing the mail into Thunder Mountain this winter, the miners paying him each two dollars per month for semi-monthly trips, and the Dewey company contributing enough to pay [him] $100 per month for the arduous task. He takes the old Elk Creek trail by way of Logan creek.”

Link to: Curley Brewer story
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Roosevelt (Thunder Mountain)


Two log cabin structures at Thunder Mountain, Idaho. One is being used as a saloon and the other as a post office. The post office has a canvas roof.

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Extinct Post Offices

Roosevelt

Established February 19, 1902 William L. Cuddy
September 6, 1902 Joseph B. Randall
June 9, 1905 Warren M. Dutton
December 15, 1906 Harry Austin
March 20, 1907 Benjamin Frances (declined)
September 27, 1907 Gertrude Wayland
July 1, 1908 Tirza Wayland
December 21, 1911 Esther Busby
Discontinued September 30, 1915
Mail to Yellow Pine
23 miles N.E. of Yellow Pine

source: © Idaho County IDGenWeb Project
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Comfort

Established October 7, 1903 Lawrence Phelan
June 15, 1904 Ernest Heath
March 22, 1906 Charles Smith
Discontinued June 29, 1907
Mail to Warren
8 miles S.E. of Warren

source: © Idaho County IDGenWeb Project
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1907 (Warren to Edwardsburg)

Chester Stephens

by Ida Brown

Chester had lost his mother when he was small, and when his father remarried he seemed to have no home. Taking over his own life, he became a kind of child bum. At 22 he was tending bar in Council. Two years later, in 1907, he came to McCall and for three years freighted into Edwardsburg. There he would often hear William Edwards say bitterly, “You Northerners ruined my father!” Figuring there was nothing much he could do about this, and being by nature gentle and unargumentative, Chester let it ride.

He did more freighting with wagons than with sleds; most of the freight could wait for wagon weather anyhow. He used two wagons and if the going got too tough, he put all the horses on one wagon and came back later for the other. Six horses could move 7000 pounds over most any kind of road. He carried grain for his horses, always wiring some in a tree to pick up on the return trip. With a grub box and a bed¬ roll he slept out in all weathers.

In Warren it took quite a lot of whiskey to assuage public thirst. Once Chester took in a load of 54-gallon barrels that six horses could barely pull. A load meant as many as eight such barrels, with case goods and bottled beer besides.

The wood barrels permitted a good trick. With a chisel one raised the metal hoop, then drove a nail through where the hoop had been. With one man to blow through the bung at the top and another to hold coffeepot or waterbucket at the nail hole, good results could be obtained. Then the nailhole was plugged and the hoop replaced.

Once when he was using sleds, Stephens was snowed in at the Halfway house, one of his stops. He probably had shelter for his 16 horses, but the storm kept on, and after playing poker until nearly morning Chester went out to find his sleds just high places in the cold white.

Sometimes it took two tries, one on foot, to get even himself through. Once he was from seven in the morning until three the next morning making 15 miles. Then he gave up, put the locked mail sack in a tree and walked the rest of the way to Burgdorf. Here the mineral pools were always hot and a man could thaw out his stiffness. By this time there was a woman at the place. Fred Burgdorf, now past middle age, had married. His place, still the only stop-over on the only route to Warrens and the country beyond, probably netted him and big Jeannette an exceedingly good income from its various services.

Though Chester Stephens often saw bear and elk, he never carried a gun. Young elk wasn’t bad eating, but bear steak was not his choice. Once he took refuge from the storm in a cabin where no one seemed to be at home. Half starved, he found a kettle of stew still warm on the stove. He was eating stew with relish when the owner returned.

“What d’ye think you’re eating there?” the man asked.

Chester tasted slowly, pleasurably again. It still seemed mighty good. “It must be elk,” he said.

“Nope. It’s bear.”

To Chester it still tasted good but not quite so much so.

source: (pgs 54-56) “The King’s Pines of Idaho; a story of the Browns of McCall” by Grace Edgington Jordan 1961 (21 megs)
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Discontinued Post Offices

Logan

established August 17, 1904, William E. Edwards
renamed Edwardsburg February 25, 1909
6 miles SW of Big Springs
NW Sec. 9, T20N, R9E

source: Valley County GenWeb Copyright © 2009
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Edwardsburg

established August 17, 1904, as Logan, William F. Edwards
renamed Edwardsburg February 25, 1909
discontinued January 14, 1918, mail to Warren.

source: Valley County GenWeb Copyright © 2009
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Postcard from Edwardsburg, Idaho, March 26, 1912


Contributed by Marvin Housworth

Letter on the back:

“A picture of the cabin as it was in the early days when Napier was a little boy – I suppose you met him when he was South – Father wrote me of your sorrow and I have thought of you but as my days are full of work at night I have so much writing for Mr. Edwards I don’t have much time for myself – The (ore ?) at (ditch?)* is fine & at last things are coming our way. Write when you feel inclined- give my Love to the girls – especially Elizabeth.”
– Annie Napier Edwards

photo source: Valley County GenWeb
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Edwardsburg

The Routsons, “Boston” Brown and Dan McRae were some of the mail carriers from 1900 to 1918. Mail came into the area, every year by a different contract and mail carrier. Elliots, Wallaces and many others carried it to Werdenhoff, down to Clover, and Cabin Creek, most going down Big Creek via horses or back pack.

Edwardsburg lost the post office in 1918 and the post office at Warren hired Joe Davis to pack it out. The mail route from Warren went over Elk Summit then down Smith Creek to Cowman’s Lodge at Big Creek. If mail went to Cowman’s, then Edwards got it there. Mail also came from Crawford, later Cascade, to Yellow Pine and to Profile to Sam Wilson’s. Then Edwards went to Profile for their mail.

The first and only road into the Big Creek area went over Elk Summit, splitting at the top, one fork going down to the Edwards and Moscow Mine on Logan Creek and the second fork went down Smith Creek to the mines. There was only a trail from Smith Creek up to Big Creek. In the 1930’s, the CCC built the road from Yellow Pine past Edwardsburg to Big Creek and on down to Smith Creek, connecting all of these places, and the mail then was hauled in by vehicle and flown into the airport when the road was closed. Carl Whitmore and Johnson’s Flying Service had these early contracts.
(personal correspondence)
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Helmers included the following account:

Joe Davis has contracted to pack the post office at Edwardsburg out to Warren. He had the horses tailed together, no halters, just ropes around their necks. When he was coming around the grade from Elk Creek, high on the hillside, one horse pulled back. That started the whole string to pull back and the third horse from the rear broke loose and went over the bank end over end, all three rolling until they came to a tree and wrapped around that. Joe went to Tom Carrey’s place on the river for help. One horse was dead, choked, and U. S. Post Office was scattered all over the hillside. They gathered what they could and Joe said the Department in Washington could come get the rest.

source: Valley County GenWeb Copyright © 2009
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1909 (Warren to Edwardsburg)

Carl Brown

by Ida Brown

Carl Brown was convinced that mining was not his future. And he was resolved not to go back to New Hampshire and the store. He pondered this ranch, where they were spending the night, not alone for what it produced, but as a base. He was sure he could get the mail contract from Warren to Edwardsburg, and it could be run from here. The government paid $75 a month for one weekly round trip, in the summer $150 for two such trips. He could also pack freight for miners at three cents a pound. It would mean dog- sleds in winter, the rest of the year packhorses. The 80-mile round trip took four days now, three in summer. The summits went up to 9000 feet; the snows got 22 feet deep. But he already knew these heights and depths.

… When they bought the horses and equipment Carl would need, they were in business, Carl as postman and freighter, Ida as innkeeper, gardener and cook. To be ready for emergencies in the house or out, Ida shortened her dresses and braided her hair down her back. Wayfaring strangers would assume that she was somebody’s young daughter, unless they saw Betty, who now ran about as free as the dogs and kittens, not in dresses but in rompers.

… Ida Brown’s life was full of hard work, she could take it. The high cold of the Crown cabin had actually brought her to a peak of health that stayed with her now when she went from dawn to dark with little time to rest. However, Carl’s life was more than hard. It was grinding, with no respite at all. Except in mid¬ summer his day began in the dark and ended that way. He always had to hurry with the mail, especially on the Big Creek end, and he strove to make the forks of Elk creek by two in the afternoon so as to feed his dogs, cook a camp meal, and be in bed by six or seven. If he did this and got an early start the next morning for Edwardsburg, he could deliver his mail on time and Mrs. Edwards would not be sharp. As postmistress she insisted on to-the-minute deliveries.

The first winter brought the problem of snowshoes for horses. A horse had to be taught to wear them, and since the horse must not interfere and must also set his feet wide apart, it was better to start the training on a young, gentle animal. At first Carl used wood shoes, later a malleable cast-iron shoe introduced from Minnesota. The wood shoe was made of two 1 inch slabs bolted together with the grain opposed. A clamp around the horse’s pastern held the shoe on, and if he was sharp-shod, his calks sat in holes bored in the wood and gave further leverage. Horses not only learned to walk fast in their snowshoes, they learned to trot.

SnowshoeHorse-a
A metal horse-showshoe like Carl Brown used on his winter mail run.

When the snow piled too deep for horses, Carl turned to dogs. His first were a Dane and a mastiff, but most of the time he drove four. A dog needed to weigh between 100 and 140 pounds. The harness was simple, a collar with traces that attached to a singletree. As the snow pack increased, Carl went ahead of the team, breaking the trail. They didn’t need to be led, they followed. Only when the 10-foot steel-shod sled was empty did Carl ride. Standing at the back he could reach a step-on brake that kept the sled off the dogs if they struck a steep down-pitch. He used no whip, guided by Gee, Haw and Whoa. At night he shut the dogs in or tied them, to discourage secret excursions abroad. On hard-packed snow his dogs pulled from 300 to 400 pounds and kept this up for miles. Deep soft snow cut the payload in half, and twenty miles a day was a good pull.

One thing people along the mail route soon saw was that if horses couldn’t make it through, and if dogs wore their hearts or their feet out, still the mail went on. It went on Carl’s back. Second class mail he might have to tie high in a tree until he could pick it up again, but all he could load on himself went.

It was merely chill here on the South Fork, but before he saw his wife again he would spend a good many hours in below-zero cold, the cold that is treacherous because it is so quiet. It is a time when things seem to hang suspended in the crystaline air, waiting, waiting for the tiny shock, the muted vibration that triggers the roar. He might breast howling summits. Certainly all day he would be subject to the myriad mischances a man faces when he travels alone through empty reaches of ice and snow, where Nature’s cynicism can wipe out a man quite casually.

He wore his usual wool outfit, coat, mittens, cap and outerclothing. His underclothes were wool and his socks. His high boots were rubber and canvas. He wore nothing bulky for he must be able to move instantly, unhampered, and to keep warm by keeping active.

He carried no gun on this day or any other, for he never shot deer and didn’t count on having to defend himself from men. He carried matches and a pocket knife, little else. On this trip he didn’t anticipate any gold bricks in the registered mail. One brick was more than a man cared to drop on his foot, three or four of them making a hefty lift. As usual the first class mail sacks were locked, only the postal people having keys. All his sacks were of waterproof canvas, yet they would sink if he toppled his load into a stream.
(pgs 30-32)

1910 (McCall to Warren)

… When the mail contract expired, Carl confidently submitted his bid for a new one. He had figured very closely.

But the contract went to another bidder.

When Carl and Ida got the word, they were dumb-founded. Without the mail job they would have to leave the ranch – it would never by itself provide for their needs and hopes. They must move again.

… While they pondered, there came a chance to sell the ranch, and Carl jumped at it. Also, another mail contract was being awarded, the McCall-Warren, and if he lost no time he might be able to tie this one up. In haste he completed the ranch deal, trading the place and everything on it for a two-room house and six lots in McCall, with $500 cash to boot. Then he hurried off his careful bid.

This time he was low man. Immediately he went to Ross Krigbaum, a long-time freighter and mail carrier living near Old Meadows. From Krigbaum he arranged to buy an outfit. Ross took his note for most of the debt, and Carl got the Halfway House, 12 miles north of McCall around the lake, saddle and pack horses, unbroken stock, pack gear, harness, a stout wagon, and whatever else the good-natured Krigbaum thought to throw in.
(pgs 37-38)

… Again Carl Brown was a carrier of the United States mails, and again a freighter. Up the west side of the lake ran the road he would use, a road that dodged and sometimes climbed. At Lightning point, where a blasted snag stood, it swung high and overhung the water. When alternate thaws and freezes made this piece of road a glass slide, it was no joke. At times the whole road became impassable, and then Carl rowed a boat up the lake. In time he would secure a 20-foot steel boat with a “kicker,” with which he could carry passengers and also pull a freight barge. His passengers would often include prospectors, who always seemed to be broke after a holiday in McCall. However, most of them paid later. At the head of the lake his station could offer overnight shelter and there was a Forest phone. Here he also stored grain for his horses.

Such roads as he had were pretty much his to maintain, except during fire season. If storms uprooted trees or piled slides in his way, that was his problem. Through Secesh Meadows lay a stretch of corduroy, for which he was thankful. It was bumpy, but it kept him out of the swamp.

The heavy freighting was a blessing, although it meant hiring extra help. Many different men would work for him, for long or short periods, and in most cases this founded enduring friendships. They had to be pretty young, tough and determined to keep up with Carl.
(pgs 41-42)

c. 1912

On a cold, gray afternoon while Warren was still small, this calmness got a stiff jolt. From the station at the head of the lake came a phone call.

“Where’s Carl? His team ran in just now. They’re still hitched to the sled, but there’s no load on, and we can’t see Carl anywhere.”

Ida said in a tight voice that she didn’t know. Carl had left several hours earlier, intending to follow the road along the west side . . .

Suddenly she realized she was talking into emptiness – the line had gone dead.

Through the cold, whipping breeze Carl drove two horses, with Roy Stover’s wagon box fastened to the sled, and over him Roy’s wagon sheet to keep out some of the wind. In addition he wore a long, old fur coat. Nobody else had cared to undertake the trip; he was quite alone.

Almost from the start the road had been glassy. Freezes, light thaws, another freeze had made the layer of ice ever thicker and smoother. For the first few miles the sled kept upright, but Carl, perched on the load, rode tense and alert. Now the horses approached the lake face where the road climbed to go around Lightning point, the jutting shoulder that dropped straight into the water. The horses themselves appeared nervous, but they kept going and they neared the top. Here the sheet ice sloped out suddenly. The sled began to skid, Carl sticking to the load, the load swaying. The horses skidded too, everything heading for the edge.

The load teetered, Carl felt himself going.

The sled caught, and with the weight gone, the horses clawed their way around the turn and shot down the other side. Still frightened they began to run, gradually calming, but keeping on toward the place where shelter and grain always rewarded them. When they stopped, two men ran out. Then one ran back to the telephone.

The men started out through the sunless afternoon, down the road between high snowbanks. Presently against the confusing all-white they spied an apparition. It staggered toward them, Carl Brown in his frozen fur sheath.

They got him to the station and warmed up with everything they had, liquid and solid.

The wagon sheet and the old coat had probably cushioned his fall and actually helped keep him afloat amid the lake ice. Anyhow he had scrambled ashore, and kept on around the road. It was a matter of keeping on the move or freezing.

Somebody was sent to McCall to tell Ida. By the next morning Carl was nearly as good as ever, but Roy Stover never forgot his lost wagon sheet.

It was simpler when the lake froze solid and Carl could drive a loaded toboggan across, avoiding the road. Toward spring a long used lane of lake ice would compress under hoofs and runners until it was stronger than the ice on either side. One morning Carl drove along this thicker lane, when a sudden wind, an almost balmy wind, snatched his hat away. He stopped the team, got off the load and started after the hat. An ominous crack! It came from all directions, seemed to focus right under him. Carl changed his mind about needing his hat.

On a wintry late afternoon he was approaching one of his camps on the shallow North Payette on snow- shoes, leading a packhorse that carried lock sacks. To let the horse go to the ice-filled stream for a drink, he looped up the rope and gave it a slap on the rump. The horse went down to the water, but it didn’t stop to drink – it plunged in.

The mail, the holy mail! Carl Brown dropped everything and plunged in after the horse, but it kept just too far ahead to seize, and when it climbed out on the opposite side it kept going. Down through frozen brush and timber, Carl running after, the horse running faster. Then some obstacle stopped it.

Jerking angrily at the rope, Carl hurried back, fought his way across the stream. On the other side, just for an instant, he dropped the rope. The horse took off again, this time along the bank. Though his clothes were freezing, Carl pursued. Again he caught the horse, didn’t drop the rope for anything.

Somehow he got to shelter, built a fire and dried out. If he said anything to the horse, it was probably his one supreme epithet, in clipped New England English, you bastahd!

Two years after the Browns’ destiny was altered by the loss of the Warren-Edwardsburg contract, this was readvertised by the government. The man who had underbid Carl had drawn harsh winters and was unused to a job with such desperate demands. From his bondsmen Carl bought his outfit and assumed the con¬ tract. To carry it out meant more of everything, including more help. It would mean depending on more men and further developing a gift he had already demonstrated of securing loyalty and cooperation in tough times as well as good.
(pgs 57-60)

1914

… It was now April 1914, and with Carl’s mail contracts to be completed in a few months, a new chapter in the lives of the Browns was preparing to unfold. Carl was ready for it because he had waited so long.
(pg 63)

source: “The King’s Pines of Idaho; a story of the Browns of McCall” by Grace Edgington Jordan 1961 (21 megs)
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Lardo (McCall)

Lardo-Boydstun-Store-a
In 1886, Lardo sprang up as a small gold mining town that boasted two blacksmiths, a stable, a meat market, a restaurant, a harness maker, two hotels and a post office and general store. In addition, the first newspaper in the area, the “Long Valley Advocate,” was located in Lardo. Daily stage service ran between Lardo and Meadows for a fare of $1.75.

source: Visit McCall
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c. 1920 (McCall to Warren)

Jack Fernan

John (Jack) and Ethel Fernan came to the Secesh Meadows area in 1920 with daughters Pearl, Amie and Irene. Twin boys were born to them in 1920 in Secesh Meadows but one died at birth and the other 2 years later. Their first cabin was a 2 story structure built just across from what is now known as the Secesh Stage Stop. Jack and his brother Frank Fernan built the cabin. Jack drove the stage between McCall, Burgdorf, Secesh and Warrens. The stage would stop there to change horses on their way in to Warrens.

1920 Fernan House
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The original cabin burned in November of 1931. They think it started upstairs by the stove pipe. Nothing was saved.

Fernan Team
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Jack was a teamster and hauled freight, mail, ore and passengers with 4, 6 and 8 horse teams. He graded the road during the summer months and plowed it during the winter.

FernanStuck1-a
FernanStuck2-a

In 1930 John Fernan filed mining claims on the 4th of July No. 1 Placer Claim and Balsam Placer Claim. At least 6 buildings were located on the Fernan Ranch. They raised chickens sheep and cows and sold milk and eggs. The walls were covered with newspapers for insulation. Water and outhouse were outside. John would take his dog Spot to the bar in Warrens. Both would drink a little beer and sing the night away.

1933 Fernan built a bridge over the Secesh River for the Forest Service.

1940 Fernan Cabins
1940Fernancabins-a

Many thanks to Janice Chapman for providing the information used to put together this piece of Secesh history.

excerpted from: Secesh History compiled by Becky Johnstone
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Past and Present Post Offices

Lardo

established November 30, 1889, John R. Lane
July 2, 1890, George F. T(?)rouch
Thomas McCall, September 19, 1894
William B. Boydstrum, January 12, 1903
Edward W. Cole, March 8, 1912
Sophia M. Cole, May 5, 1915
discontinued October 15, 1917, mail to McCall
on Payette Lake, 1 m. W. of McCall
NW SW Sec. 8, T18N, R3E

source: Valley County GenWeb Copyright © 2009
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McCall – present day zip code 83638

established March 31, 1905 as Elo
moved about a mile N. & renamed McCall
July 13, 1909, Jacob Kaanta
Helga M. Cook, April 1, 1914
S. end of Payette Lake, 27 m. N. of Cascade, 13 m. SE of Meadows, on UP Ry., W Sec. 9, T18N, R3E.

Nellie Ireton Mills writes:

The Thomas McCall family, like others bound for Long Valley, in April 1890, followed those well-worn wagon tracks that Cal Baird had made to Ola so many years before, and then climbed the five-mile hill beyond, to camp in the snow. Near the top they found ten other families there ahead of them, waiting for the snow to melt enough for them to go on into Long Valley. . . . The sawmill Thomas McCall built, eventually was sold to Hoff and Brown interests, the hotel materialized and the town that Tom McCall, Newt Williams, and others, helped to build was given the family name.”

source: Valley County GenWeb Copyright © 2009
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Resort

Established June 1, 1898 Fred Burgdorf
November 5, 1914 Jeannette Burgdorf
November 16, 1915 Renamed Burgdorf

This was also called Fred’s Warm Springs Resort

source: © Idaho County IDGenWeb Project
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Burgdorf

Established June 1, 1898 Fred Burgdorf (first est. as Resort)
November 5, 1914 Jeanette Burgdorf
November 16, 1915 Jeanette Burgdorf (renamed Burgdorf)
March 6, 1917 Grace Exum
January 7, 1920 Helen Luzaden
Closed September 20, 1922
Mail to McCall
Reopened November 6, 1925 Oliver Manis
November 18, 1927 Andrew Craig
October 3, 1930 J. Harris
Discontinued July 31, 1945
Mail to McCall
32 miles N.E. of McCall

source: © Idaho County IDGenWeb Project
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Dog team hauling mail to the Big Creek country in 1929


Photo courtesy of Margaret and Ken Twiliger in “The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War” by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley – copyright 1977
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Skis and Skiers (Carrying the Mail)

by Harry Whithers

In the mining boom days, skiing as a sport in this part of the country wasn’t considered at all. … Skiing was only a very necessary mode of travel. Some of those old timers were the real experts when it came to making arduous trips such as getting mail into the back country…

They all carried mail from Long Valley to Roosevelt, a distance of almost a hundred miles. They generally traveled alone and had to take into consideration the possibility of an accident that might end in a broken bone or bad sprain that would put a man in bad trouble.

Most all skiers used a single pole of red fir about 2 inches in diameter at the big end, 8 or 10 feet in length, with a flexible wheel a few inches from the big end. It was used as a sort of balance, but mostly as a brake on the steep downgrades. It was also a great help in climbing upgrade. Their skis were usually made of native timber, lodge pole or black pine, but sometimes of red fir or tamarack. They were from 9 to 12 feet in length and from 4 1/2 to 5 inches in width. They weren’t as maneuverable as present-day skis, but they would keep a man on top of deep and powdery snow, which was important. The harness was sometimes a canvas boot.

… The skiers usually carried a can of ski dope that they would heat and apply to their skis to keep them from sticking. They also carried a pair of boots made of deer hide that could be slipped over the back end of their skis and tied to the harness to keep the skis from sliding back when climbing steep grades.

… Some trailmen preferred snowshoes. The type used were called “herring” because of their fish shape. They were narrow compared to the bear-paw type, running from 6 inches to as much as 12 inches. The length varied from about 4 feet to as long as 6 feet, although I found the longer variety more difficult to manage.

Once the catgut webbing in mine broke and I had to manage in soft snow falling through the one snowshoe. The next days the cramps in that leg muscle were as hard as wood.

excerpted from page 42-43 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy G. Sumner
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(Meadows to Warren)

Enos Smith

by Harry Whithers

One man I knew, Enos Smith, who pioneered the Warren country and carried mail from Meadows (known now as Old Meadows) to Warren. I heard it from others as well as from him that he made trips quite frequently from Warren to Meadows, a distance of 60 miles in one shift.

excerpted from page 42 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy G. Sumner
— — —

early 1900s (mail to Roosevelt)

Albert S. Hennessey

by Harry Whithers

Al carried mail on skis to Roosevelt and built up quite a “rep” as a fine skier. After Roosevelt’s demise, Hennessey came to the Yellow Pine area. He built a hay press and bailed hay at Hennessey Meadow. … Later (1933) he built a house in Yellow Pine and prospected in the surrounding country.

excerpted from page 18 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy G. Sumner
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1919 (Cascade to Stibnite)

John Croco

by Harry Whithers

Just before Christmas 1919, when John Croco was carrying the mail from Cascade to Stibnite, he had two men with him, Morris Corbet and another man going out. They planned on making it to Knox Lodge, owned and operated by Ben and Ruth Seaweard. Knox Lodge was Located 2 1/2 miles west of Warm Lake a quarter mile off the road to Cascade.

excerpted from page 22 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy G. Sumner
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1920-1921 (Cascade to Yellow Pine)

Henry T. Abstein

by Harry Whithers

In 1920 and 1921 he had the mail contract from Cascade to Yellow Pine via Knox and over Cabin Creek Summit. During the open season he used a buckboard wagon and team; a toboggan drawn by two dogs was used during the snowed-in months.

excerpted from page 13 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy G. Sumner
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Dead Horse Canyon

By Ted Abstein

My brother, Russell, used to carry the mail at times. At one point the old road forded Johnson Creek several times. One place where the water was too deep, the wagon tipped over and one of the horses became tangled in the traces and drowned. The other horse got away. The one that drowned then went on down the river and lodged down in the canyon. They named it Dead Horse Canyon because of that incident.

excerpted from page 100 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy G. Sumner
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1926 (Deadwood Mail Route)

In 1926 I had a cabin on Big Creek fourteen miles east of Cascade at a place that was called Johnson Station in [the] Thunder Mountain days. I was hacking railroad ties for a contractor. The lodge poles being frozen, it was too tough to make any money, so when the Deadwood mail carrier, Johnny Croco, who I have mentioned before, asked me to help him on the mail route with my two potlickers that were broke to harness, I took him up. He promised me $5.00 per day, saying we would take turns breaking trail and driving the dog team.

As it turned out, he took the turns and I the trail breaking.

I can remember a lot of those trips, but one in particular stands out in my memory. We stopped overnight in a cabin 1 1/2 miles east of Warm Lake and were to meet James Gwinn, the mine superintendent, at the tie camp at the western foot of Big Creek Summit and escort him to Deadwood mine.

I broke the trail the 14 miles to the tie camp and back to Warm Lake that day. Gwinn stayed at Warm Lake Lodge while we went on to the cabin. Next day, we went back the 1 1/2 miles, picked up Gwinn and proceeded on our way the 26 miles to Deadwood.

There were three of us to break trail and guide the sled with Gwinn aboard, but it was tough on us and tougher on the dogs. Mr. Gwinn would sit on the sled until he got cramps, then have us stop while he stood up and stretched the cramps out, while we grew a little more disgusted each time. He could have strapped on some snowshoes and followed a mile and got rid of the cramps and helped the dogs tremendously.

I knew of an air hole in the head of Deadwood River, 15 feet deep and told Croco that if I was guiding the sled at this spot I would lose my footing and dump our cargo down this hole. I was only kidding but Croco took me seriously.

When Mr. Gwinn made a slurring remarks about the quality of our dogs is when he really heard from me. That was after 18 hours of the hardest labor for us and our dogs.

I got a pair of skis, two Irish setter pups, and a lot of experience for my winter’s work. One of the pups followed Croco off while I was away one day after they were grown. Oh well!

excerpted from pages 44-45 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy G. Sumner
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Harry Whithers and John Croco c 1929

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(click image for larger size)

(back of photo) Harry Whithers w/ pole, John Croco, about 1929, lead dog named Streak

photo from Sandy McRae
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1942 Mail Run down Big Creek

by Emma Cox


Hopeless point – the mail run up Big Creek

Photo from “Idaho Mountains Our Home” by Lafe and Emma Cox – Copyright 1997 by V.O. Ranch Books

That spring [1942] Lafe subcontracted a mail contract. The mail was to be delivered from Yellow Pine to the Big Creek post office, then on down Big Creek to the Snowshoe Mine and on down a trail from there to Cabin Creek. The contract was for 45 miles, to be traveled by auto when accessible, in summer and early fall. In the winter mail was flown in by Penn Stohr from the airfield at Cascade to Big Creek, to be taken the rest of the way by horseback, dog team or team and sleigh.

We purchased a pickup to deliver from Yellow Pine to the Snowshoe Mine. The baby and I rode along with Lafe so I could learn the route, as he had to deliver up a few side roads to places I had never seen. We knew I would have to be the substitute driver when hunting season opened.

When Lafe was hunting, I drove to Yellow Pine to pick up the mail, … I delivered mail and freight from the Yellow Pine post office to the Big Creek post office, where it was sorted and put in mail sacks for each of the individuals along the way, and for the 12 to 18 employees at the Snowshoe Mine.

The road was narrow. At one point, above the transfer camp, was an incline where you could not see over the hood of your pickup. You had to know which way the road turned. I also had to drive across two bridges, that I often think about today. The bridges had very little railing and the logs were laid crosswise. When the first frost came, this was dangerous. It was always bumpy — rough driving over. About the only time the baby was disturbed was when we crossed these two bridges, due to the roughness and noise. The stream at Big Creek was almost the size of some rivers. I always breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the other side.

The miners always knew when I was coming. If their trucks were coming out with loads, they always waited at a turnout for me.

The caretaker at Mile High met me at the mine to pick up the ongoing mail down Big Creek, which was only accessible by horses. He delivered to the Phil Beal ranch, Cabin Creek and Mile High, which at one time was a designated post office called Clover. In early days settlers came there for their mail. When we sold the ranch many years later, the post office pigeonhole cabinet was still hanging on the wall.

In the summer we delivered the mail every Tuesday and Friday; the rest of the time it was just once a week.

In November the snow on the summit got too deep for the pickup. Even though we had a compound gear, it was too hard on the vehicle.

Johnson’s Flying Service based in Cascade had the contract to fly the mail directly to Big Creek airfield. Penn Stohr did the flying. He was not only a great pilot, he was a wonderful person.

Before the snow got too deep …, Lafe picked up the mail by auto. On the way to the mine he had to make a stop at Copper Camp and Little Ramey cabin. The others who lived along the route had gone out for the winter.

It was typical snow country and each day we watched it pile up. Some days a real blizzard would blow. As the snow accumulated, we knew it was set in for the winter.

The next trip, Lafe got as far as Little Ramey, where he had to leave the sleigh. It would stay where he left it until spring, as there was too much snow. He loaded the outgoing mail onto one of the work horses and rode the other, continuing his trip to the Big Creek Post Office.

Soon it was time for Lafe to make another mail run. He started out by riding one of the work horses and packing the other, but after several tries, he could see he couldn’t make it. So he took the horses back to the mouth of Crooked Creek and started them back up the road to our cabin at the mine. He left the riding and pack saddles at the Little Ramey cabin to be picked up later. He put a pack sack with the outgoing mail on his back and webbed up to Big Creek. The trip took him two days. It was real arduous going with snow falling hard. In places the drifted snow was three to four feet deep.

From Copper Camp, Lafe phoned to tell me the team would be coming in sometime that night. I put hay and grain in their feed boxes in the barn, thinking they would go right in to the hay.

For Lafe’s next return trip back, he had rented three dogs and their harness from an old timer living near Big Creek. With so much snow, he needed a dog team to travel. He also called his dad, asking Clark to try to locate some good dogs with harness and have them flown in with the coming mail plane.

Clark sent a good lead dog and two others. With the dogs the old timer had given him, and his own dog, that gave Lafe seven dogs, which were what he needed for some of the loads that went to the mine.

On the crank Forest Service phone in our cabin, I could talk to Lafe in Big Creek. He called real often to check on the baby and me.

With lots of snow, Lafe made weekly trips by dog team. Sometimes the weather would warm up and cause snow slides. You had to keep an eye on the mountain above the trail in case a slide came in. That year there were several small slides and two or three large ones. The dogs all worked well together, and each knew their duty.

excerpted from: “Idaho Mountains, Our Home: The Life Story of Lafe and Emma Cox” – Copyright 1997 by V.O. Ranch Books pgs. 99-108
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The mail had to be delivered, no matter what

January 27, 2013 By Arthur Hart — Special to the Statesman

Delivering the mail to Idaho’s mountain mining camps in the 1860s was lonesome work, often dangerous, and sometimes deadly. In winter, when snow could be as much as 10 feet deep, men carried the mail on snowshoes. If caught in a blizzard they sometimes died.

The Idaho World printed this letter from Silver City on May 6, 1865: “Myers Body Found — J.T. Myers, the man who was lost in the snow in December last, while carrying the mail at Reynolds Creek, was found about three fourths of a mile from Boonville. He was in a sitting posture; doubtless he had become fatigued, sat down and froze to death. The mail bag, as yet, has not been found. A dog first discovered his body; persons from Boonville were in search at the time.” (Boonville was on Jordan Creek a few miles below present Silver City. It was later developed into the town of Dewey by Col. William Dewey of Nampa.)

On the lighter side, the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman noted on May 15, 1866, that “There is a letter in the Boise City Post Office directed to ‘Mr. Wm. Johnson, Boyse River, Idaho Oregon, Colorado Territory.’ The letter has evidently had difficulty in finding all those places at once, for it has been since February traveling from Chandlerville, Illinois. Some indignant clerk has endorsed it: ‘If you know where this letter belongs, for God’s sake send it!’ Postal clerks have their own amusement.”

Mail contracts were eagerly sought by stagecoach and express companies, and in 1866 Greathouse & Co. was delivering the mail between Boise and Idaho City. On Dec. 15 the World reported that Greathouse had “furnished gratuitously a daily mail communication between this and Boise City, as their contract provides only for a tri-weekly service. They have got tired of doing extra mail service without pay, and who can blame them? Our people are grateful to them for past favors. It now rests with the Postal Department to give us a daily mail between here and Boise City.”

Also in December 1866, the World reported that a Wells Fargo & Co. messenger had arrived in Idaho City eight days late “by reason of the impassable condition of the roads in the Grande Ronde and Powder River valleys. Good time cannot be made until better roads and better weather.”

In November 1868, the Statesman severely criticized Wells Fargo & Co. “We have always been slow to accuse the stage companies in this territory or on the overland routes of remissness or fault in carrying the mails … but there is a case of complaint now on hand which has every appearance of being genuine.” The editor noted that Wells Fargo had a virtual monopoly and that, “The outrageous manner in which they are performing the service has become notorious.” (On the evidence of a number of witnesses the company was overloading its coaches with mail sacks so severely that there was barely room for passengers. Sacks stowed under the coaches were worn through from rubbing against the wheels and their contents spilled onto the road).

As new discoveries of gold and silver were made and new towns were created, postal service to them was established. The sheer number of such post offices, nearly all later discontinued, is surprising. By Jan. 1, 1901, Idaho had 461 post offices. Here are just a few of them. How many of their names sound familiar? Ako, Alpha, Arbon, Avon, Bannister, Bates, Blackbird, Blanche, Bourne, Brynne, Canfield, Chapin, Chub Springs, Coltman, Crane, Darby, Dent, Dudley, Echo, Emida, Farnum, Forest, Freese, Goff, Grouse, Hart, Hump, Ilo, Kippen, Lodi, Lund. … I’m sure that is enough to make the point that wherever a few people started a town and asked for a post office, they usually got one.
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Snowshoes for Horses

(this bit is not from Idaho, but very informative if you are wondering about equine snowshoes.)

2/13/2018 by Pans4au

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Team of horses on snowshoes leaving Forest City, California

During the winter months of January, February, and March, one of the unique methods used by the stage lines in the Sierras was to place snowshoes on their horses. This practice started in 1865 as a way for the stage to travel the deep winter snows that covered the early California trails from Marysville to Downieville without the need to wait for spring. These early horse snowshoes were invented by a Sam Wollever Who is buried at Cherokee Flat in Butte County.

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Horse snowshoe displayed in Downieville museum.

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Very early wooden horse snowshoe

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Horse snowshoe found at Mountain House, Ca

As described in a New York Times article dated January 12th, 1874, the snowshoes were made of malleable iron squares, nine by nine inches with rubber riveted to the bottom of the plate to prevent snow build up. On the other side of the plate a commonly sized horseshoe with a sharp heel and toe with the corks set through holes in the center of the plate with rivets or screws. The snowshoe is fastened to the horse by a clasp with swivel screw holding the riveted horseshoe tightly under the hoof of the horse. The shoes were custom fit for each sized hoof and a team of four horses would take a man two hours to put the shoes on. Earlier shoes were also made of square wooden plates as shown in the middle photo above but were later abandoned due to the snow build up on the wood.

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It was said that when the plates were first attached some horses cut themselves but soon learned to spread their feet so as not to interfere. Some would become good snow horses at once while others were incapable of learning how to navigate with the plates. The very first photo above is a picture of a snow-shoe team in action pulling a sled out of Forest City, Ca in the winter with a hotel in the background.

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Teamster Pike Solara mounting horse snowshoes in 1937

According to the San Fransisco Call of February 1, 1906, Horses on snowshoes were also used to haul mail in and out of Bodie, Ca. Snowshoes were used at least up to 1937 by the last teamster, Pike Solara, serving the snow Tent to Graniteville run in Nevada County, California.

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source: Back Country Explorers
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Link to: Valley County Back Country Post Offices

Link: Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History index page

updated Dec 21, 2019