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Prairie Pulse

The lure of a stagecoach route

Prior to moving to Idaho, I lived in southwest Kansas, Garden City to be exact. If you care to take a gander at a map, you will find the location of Garden City to be about 58 miles northwest of Dodge City, Kansas.

Anyone who watched television between 1955 and 1975 may remember the old series “Gunsmoke.” The show revolves around lawman Marshall Matt Dillon keeping the wild western streets of, you guessed it, Dodge City safe.

I do remember watching a couple of episodes with my father. But I have fonder memories of visiting Boot Hill as I child. So it was with great excitement that I introduced my children to Boot Hill in Dodge City.

Why do I mention this to Idahoans? My research this week had me studying the history of stage coaches in Idaho County. This reminded me of the stagecoach at Boot Hill visitors can ride briefly.

It was very slow going and extremely bumpy, and that was traveling across flat land. I can’t imagine riding the coach from Lewiston to Grangeville across the mountainous terrain!

According to the Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series No. 814:

“Mining excitements at Florence, Elk city and other interior locations bordering the Salmon River created a need for adequate transportation routes. Lewiston became the supply headquarters for the new mines and Mount Idaho the dispersal point. Suitable wagon and stage roads soon developed between those two points, but beyond Mount Idaho pack trains remained the standard for supplying the mines until the emergence of wagon roads in the 1890's.”

The Idaho County Free Press reported on July 27, 1888, Francis and Company opened a stage line during the summer of 1862 between Lewiston and Mount Idaho with way stations at Sweetwater, Mason Prairie and Cottonwood. James Donnelly ran the Sweetwater station, C. W. Durkee and George Crampton owned the Mason Prairie station and a Mr. Allen at Cottonwood. The Mount Idaho stop was owned by Mose Milner and his partner Francois.

The ISHS Reference Series also make note of the dangers of winter travel by stage coach:

“Winter travel was often hazardous for stage drivers, and in January 1879 the upward-bound stage became lost in a snowstorm between Cottonwood and Grangeville. The driver wandered around all night on the prairie and did not arrive at Mount Idaho until after dawn.”

And if you wanted to travel, be prepared to leave in the wee hours of the morning. The coach left Lewiston at 3 a.m. and Mount Idaho at 5 a.m.

The beginning of the end of the line for stagecoaches in Idaho County came in the early 1900s. W. E. Travis announced in February 1900, he would move his equipment to Grangeville once the Clearwater Short Line reached Kooskia, which at that time was known as Stuart, according the ISHS.

The following was announced in the May 11 Free Press:

“In a short time the stage company will discontinue hauling passengers over the Craig’s mountain route and will devote its energies to the line between Grangeville and Stuart.”

The railway reportedly reached Stites in September of that same year.

If you are interested in more history of the stage lines in Idaho, visit https://history.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/reference-series/0814.pdf. There are tales of robberies and legends of treasure hidden between Lewiston and Boise if you run a Google search for Idaho stagecoach routes. Billy Jim Wilson also has an interest write up on the Old Stites Stage Road at his website, https://www.idahomagazine.com/article/the-freighter/.

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