Idaho History

In 1860s Idaho, steamboats and stagecoaches were your travel companions

Young John Hailey was especially proud of his fleet of Concord stagecoaches, the best of their time.
Young John Hailey was especially proud of his fleet of Concord stagecoaches, the best of their time. Idaho State Historical Society

In May 1866, the big news in southern Idaho was the building of a paddlewheel steamboat at the mouth of the Boise River, not far from the spot where Fort Boise and its fur trading had stood in 1834.

When James Reynolds, editor of the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman, and some of his friends went to see the new boat for themselves, it gave his staff a chance to have some fun. (When the cat’s away, the mice will play.) On May 17, 1866, the paper noted: “Gone from our Gaze – The editor of this institution and several other bon tons have gone to see the Snake River steamboat. We will venture to say they have had a good time, the engine performing admirably; the boat rode high and dry over the rapids, and is a success beyond all question … the steamboat puffs them down the river and the editor will puff the steamboat up. We .propose to run on an even keel during the old man’s absence, and wouldn’t stop much to run on both sides of any question. If the paper should prove to be more interesting than usual our readers will please excuse us, for there is no harm intended.”

Two days later the paper quoted a letter from the Steamer Shoshone: “The first link in the chain of steam communication to be made continuous at no distant day between Salt Lake and the Columbia River was welded today. The new steamer Shoshone of the O.S.N. Company put on steam yesterday and ran from this place to the Owyhee Ferry, distance forty-five miles.

“The boat has been built under disadvantages, particularly in getting her machinery in order, every piece of which had to be brought from the shops on the Columbia.” In fact, building a steamboat above Hells Canyon would cost twice as much as building one below.

In June 1866, stagecoach king John Hailey, later first head of the Idaho State Historical Society and author of a 1910 history of Idaho, placed this ad in the Statesman: “John Hailey & Co.’s pioneer line of Concord Coaches! Carrying the U.S. Mails and Wells, Fargo & Co’s Express, Leaving Umatilla every morning at 5 o’clock for Boise, La Grande, Union, Baker, Idaho City, Centreville, Placerville and Pioneer Cities, direct, connecting at Olds’ Ferry with the STEAMER SHOSHONE, for Owyhee, Ruby, and Silver Cities.”

Next week: The Shoshone takes its wildest ride.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email