Idaho History

Between weather and outlaws, mail delivery wasn’t for the faint of heart

Magazines in the Wild West often depicated stagecoach robberies.
Magazines in the Wild West often depicated stagecoach robberies. Idaho State Historical Society

Getting the U.S. mail delivered in winter in early Idaho required a few hardy men ready and willing to face the dangers that came with the job, which included robberies and the weather. A few of them froze to death in the mountain snow and ice.

The Idaho World of Idaho City reported in August 1870 that the Umatilla stage had been attacked by two “road agents” who stole about $10,000 in gold dust: “We hope parties who are on the lookout for them will accommodate them with a little lead instead of gold.”

In February 1872, when deep snow in the Owyhee Mountains made the area impassable by horses, the mail had to be backpacked into Silver City. Later that year the Boise stage was stopped near Raft River station by four men wearing masks.

“After going through W.F. & Co.’s treasure box and finding nothing, they made passenger William H. Louthan come down with his favorite gold watch and shotgun. Louthan hated to give up, but says either of the four gun barrels looked big enough to crawl into.”

“Stage Robbers Arrested,” reported the Statesman in May 1886. On the day of the robbery William Johnson shipped a package, said to contain $12,700, to his brother Nate Johnson’s address in Rawlins, Wyoming. The two were arrested near Albion, Idaho. “The Johnsons are celebrated for having been connected with various deeds of outlawry between Idaho and Texas. They are brothers of the notorious Percy Pleasants who was killed at Albion a year ago by Deputy Sheriff Butterfield of Oxford.”

In February 1890, the mail in Idaho was being carried on foot “due to all the stagecoaches being stranded by floods and snow slides.”

In November 1890, shortly after Idaho became a state, the Statesman noted: “An instance of the splendid mail service we are now enjoying: A letter was mailed at Vale, Oregon, November 18, and did not reach this city until the 26th instant. How’s that for rapid transit.”

On April 4, 1892, two masked men armed with revolvers held the Boise postmaster at gunpoint while they robbed the post office itself.

“Another Daring Robbery,” reported the Statesman on Oct. 30, 1895, when the Silver City stage was held up 8 miles from Nampa by two masked men. “This makes about half a dozen holdups on the Silver City route within the past year,” noted the paper. James Tate and Jack Mulckay were sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary for robbing the Silver City stage, but the paper doesn’t say for which of that year’s half-dozen robberies they were to pay. It is possible that they had committed more than one of the six.

In July 1901, regular mail service between Boise and the boomtown of Thunder Mountain was established as a public service by the city’s Falk-Bloch Mercantile Company. “Sacks have been made and mail is to be carried, free of charge, to and from that great camp and this city… The service is inaugurated for the sole purpose of convenience to the large number of prospectors, mining men and capitalists now in there.” (And, of course, to make friends and expand the business of Falk-Bloch.)

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.

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