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The Washoe area is located west and south of the present town of Payette and is where the first settlers to the area made their homes.

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Book Title:    WASHOE FERRY   

When gold was first discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862 and hoards of fortune seekers poured into that section from all sides, dependable means of crossing the rivers became imperative. Very soon the Washoe Ferry was established on the Old Oregon Trail, crossing the Snake River a short distance below the mouth of the Malheur River, where it served as an important link in transportation for over forty years.  


The first reference to this ferry which I have found is in McConnell’s “Early History of Idaho” where he says, “A company of volunteers under the leadership of Jeff Standifer, during the early months of 1863, crossed the Snake river at Washoe Ferry to levy reprisals on a band of Piute Indians, who, having raided the lower Boise and Payette Valleys, had returned with their plunder to the Malheur Valley.”   

The original owners and operators of the ferry were the young Stewart brothers, who had come from Canada.  Because of exposure to attack from Indians, the isolated ferry-house, located on the Oregon side of the river, was really a fort, constructed and equipped to resist assault or withstand a siege, should occasion arise.     

But the hostile Indians were not the only danger the early settlers had to face.  Lawlessness among the whites was an even greater menace, the sheriff himself often being in league with the bandits.  Not until the local Vigilantes were organized under the leadership of Col. McConnell, was law and order established.  One of the boldest gangs of bandits won the friendship of the lonely boys at the ferry and, making the impregnable ferry-house their headquarters, issued proclamations of defiance to the Vigilantes.  The account of the ruse by which their captures was effected by three men without loss of life is a thrilling story well worth reading.     

The bandits were hanged, but though the personal intercession of McConnell, the Stewart boys were allowed to escape with their lives.  This was in 1865, and once safe in the Powder River section of Oregon, they sold their interest in the ferry to William Packard who operated it until 1872 when he sold it to William Emerson, who later sold it to George Brinnon.  When the railroad bridge was built in 1884, Captain Payne, from Illinois, who bought the ferry from Brinnon at that time, moved it six miles up the river to a point just north of Ontario, Oregon, where it continued to serve the public until the building of the first wagon bridge in 1906 brought its usefulness to an end.     

There were a number of owners after the ferry was moved, among them being Ted Butler, Lew Morton, Frank Draper, William Mink, and John Bivens.  The late N. A. Jacobsen, pioneer and prominent citizen of Payette, who ran the ferry a short time while the owner went away to be married, told of the interest the Indians showed in the boat.  Once two of them swam across with a heard of horses, then swam back again in order to ride across on the ferry.   Traces of the original location of the ferry can still be seen, according to reports, and Dorian Chapter hopes to mark the spot.   

Emily K. Thurston 

Past Regent Dorian Chapter 

February 22, 1939    

File at: http://files.usgwarchives.net/id/payette/history/letters/washoefe12gms.txt   This file has been created by a form at http://www.genrecords.org/idfiles/   File size: 3.8 Kb   

February 22, 2003
This transcription is of a manuscript, obtained from the Reference Library of Idaho State University, written in May 1937 by Mrs. Alta Coughanour.  Please note that the story is transcribed as it was written, grammatical errors included.

An interesting narrative of the adventures and experiences of the early homesteaders in the Washoe  Valley.  Mrs. Stroup, the first white woman to settle in Washoe, on the Snake river, coming from Missouri with her husband in 1873 as a bride of eighteen, found “the country desolate, uninhabited, wild and terrifying”.  While the loneliness and isolation were hard to endure, this was as nothing compared to the torture she suffered from the terror of the Indians in paint and feathers that roamed thereabout.  Great herds of wild cattle, occupied the valley, and in fear of these, she dared not venture beyond her door.  With time and the arrival of other settlers, conditions improved.  A step in this direction was the establishment of a school in Washoe, with an enrollment of fourteen pupils, and under the direction of three trustees, only one of whom, however, could read and write.

Mrs. Alta Coughanour relates here in an appealing manner these, and may other, significant circumstances in the lives of these Washoe pioneers. 

MAY 1937

Both pioneers and “Johnny-come-Latelys” will enjoy these leaves from the early diary experiences of Mr. & Mrs. Jacob Stroup, Idaho Pioneers, who settled in the Washoe Valley on Snake River 52 years ago.  (1925)  They still have the old home on the land the took up as a homestead a half century ago.  They were married at Alba, Jasper County, Missouri, in 1873.  They left there to go to Walla Walla, Washington, a much talked of place at that time.

Mr. Stroup had crossed the plains with a team of Colorado and Montana, where he had worked in the mines and gone back to Kansas fives times previous to this date.  The story of the sixth trip follows:  “Going by Omaha we went West on the Union Pacific RR., which was new at that time, to Ogden, Utah.  Stopping there we stayed for 11 days, having rooms in a house occupied by a Mormon named Leavitt and his two wives. 

Here we bought a team of mules, wagon and camping outfit and drove through from Ogden to the Washoe ferry on Snake River in Idaho, at that time Ada County.  We traveled through on the old Kelton to Boise stage road, taking about three weeks.  Mrs. Stroup, just eighteen years old says:  “The county looked desolate, uninhabited, and go my mind was wild and terrifying.”

The Goose Creek Mountains we had to cross were deep in snow and slush; the road was almost impassable.  A stage station at intervals, a freight team here and there on the road, were the only breaks in the monotony of miles and miles of sage brush plains or rough hills.

“We crossed the Snake river at Glenns Ferry and stayed over one day and night at the ferry watching the Indians fish for salmon.  We were most cordially invited by Mr. Glen and his young wife to eat our meals with them.  Mrs. Glen lovely and was glad to meet us and hear from the outside world.  They treated us like old friends with true western hospitality.  When we were leaving, Mrs. Glen came out to the wagon, said she hated to see us go so badly that she wanted to say good-bye like the fellow in the story did, “Good-bye Bill, God damnit”.

Driving off the main road one day, at noon , for dinner into a grassy valley the men, Wright Shafer, a young man traveling with us, and Mr. Stroup, had unhitched the team and was fixing for lunch, when a band of 18 or 20 Indians on horse back came along the road.  They were carrying guns.  Their faces painted like true savages, feathers sticking in their long black hair.  They left the road and came out to our camp.  I pulled my sun-bonnet down over my face and sat perfectly still on the wagon tongue, fearing to move or look at them.  The men tried to talk to them, but they were surly and unfriendly, talking among themselves and looking us over, but no “How” or friendly greeting sign was made to us.  At last, after an eternity to me, they  turned back to the road and went their way.  This being the year of the Modoc Indian war in the lava beds in California it was reported that the Idaho Indians were cross and ready for depredations.

Arriving in Boise we stopped near the old Overland Hotel, did some trading at Falk Brothers store, drove on down the Boise Valley and camped.  The greater part of the Boise Valley lands were still open to settlement at that time, but we were headed for Walla Walla and kept on West. 

In the Payette Valley the first house we came to was the Sims home.  Farther down the valley was Falks Store, kept at that time by Ed Shainwald.  About three or four miles farther down the Valley was another store kept by A. J. McFarland who also kept the post office.  Mrs. McFarland talked to us about  the county and the chances to get land, telling us of some land in the Snake river valley near Washoe Ferry.  We were just now beginning to take an interest in locations, having met a load of apples before we got to the Payette Valley, and were told they were grown near Walla Walla.  This did not sound like Walla Walla was the new country we were looking for.  A few miles west of the store we left the stage road and drove to the Washoe Ferry on Snake river and camped for the night.

Mr. John Emison was running the ferry at that time. His brother, Will Emison and wife also lived at the ferry house.  Jim Henoty and Mr. Donohue, two bachelors, lived on the Idaho side of the river at the ferry, each in his own cabin on the opposite side of the road.

A short distance above the ferry the Malheur River empties into the Snake from the Oregon side.  Geo. Brinnon, wife, and four children lived near the mouth of the Malheur.  Above them on the river, near the Butte (Oregon), Macomb Smith, wife and three children were running a milk ranch.  The next day after wer got to the ferry was Sunday, and the Smith and Brennon families were at the ferry visiting.  Seeing a woman in camp they came across the river to see us, pleased as Mrs. Glen, to see people from “back home.”  The Smiths took us home with them and prevailed upon us to stay a few days and look at the land.  This we did and Mr. Stroup going back to the ferry decided to take up land on the Idaho side of the river and make us a home.”

Mr. Stroup says:  “I took up land under the preemption right and in August 1873 built a small house on the land, hauling the lumber from Emmettsville, paying $40 per thousand for rough lumber and hauling it thirty miles.  I built one room 12 x 14 feet, we went to Boise and bought a small cook stove costing $60 (green backs were then discounted ten dollars on the $100), set our stove up in the new room, and here we began life in the west.  Mrs. Stroup was the first white woman to settle in Washoe on the Snake river.  Our chairs and tables were home made; bed-stead was built against the wall and had one leg.  The underneath space was boarded up and used the first winter to hold some wheat I had bought to sow in the spring.”

The Indians then roamed through the county without hindrance.  Mrs. Stroup, who had just passed her eighteenth birthday, was much in dread of them and the outlook for her was not very encouraging. 

She says:  “The loneliness and isolation was hard to endure, but the fear of Indians was something more terrible.  The would come to the home in such a quiet and stealthy way and be peeping in at the window or around the door gazing at me before I knew it.  To look up and see their beady black eyes staring, their half-naked bodies often stained in crude colors, unnerved me so that I could hardly talk to them.  Then to have some hideous old Indians say, “Squaw ‘fraid”, tended to rouse my courage and my temper too.  I finally learned to stand in the door of my little house and keep them on the outside, if I saw them in time.  They begged for flour, for clothing, or anything in sight that they could carry.  An old buck reaching  out a stealthy paw touched the finger on which I wore my wedding ring, making signed that he wanted the ring. I drew back feeling almost literally robbed of the ring.  They were a sore trial to me.” 

"Malcomb Smith, at whose place we had stayed on the Malheur, gave us a dog whose bark at an Indian was so peculiar that I could tell at once when Indians were in sight.  We prized him highly.  At one time I was sick in bed and not able to get up.  Mr. Stroup had gone to the ferry a mile and a half away on an errand, leaving me entirely alone.  The door was shut and after a while “Hank” the dog gave that peculiar bark of his that told me instantly Indians were near.  Soon I could hear a murmur of voices and gradually they got Hank quieted, then stole up on the door step quietly and rattled the knob of the door, but did not  open it as I expected every minute they would.  For over an hour I suffered a torture of fear and dread.  When Mr. Stroup came he found the Indians around the door and I having a nervous chill, hardly able to talk.  He worked with me until I began to recover, then said he would give them something to eat then tell them to leave.  He told them to go and not come back as his squaw was sick.  They left but I was sick for a week from the effects of their call.

Many were the frights I got from Indians until I grew to hate the sight of them.  Different times I was awakened by weird howling and screeching mingled with the noises of horses feet and rattling of trumpery made by bands of Indians going through the country with their squaws, pappooses, ponies, wicki-ups and luggage in general, tied on their ponies or on poles (travois) dragged by the ponies; everything flapping and rattling as they went.  (We lived on  the road leading to the ferry.)  The first time I heard this noise I really thought our time had come, and when they passed our place and went on toward the ferry, Mr. Stroup was relieved also. 

Mosquitoes at this time were a terrible pest.  The valley was full of wild cattle stat stamped and pawed of evenings, raising clouds of dust to rid themselves of the mosquitoes that literally covered their hides.  I dared not venture out among the cattle, used only to seeing a man on horseback.  I stayed close to my little house.  In my lonesome hours I often longed to have something growing about the yard.  I loved flowers, and for the change from the look of the grey sage brush around the place I got the top of a willow that had been cut and brought up for wood, set it out on my yard, and tied on artificial flowers that I happened to have to make blooms on the little tree.  Never a stockman passing by but stopped to admire and comment on the little bush.

Late in the fall another family settled in the valley and I did not feel so entirely alone as before.  Our first Christmas eve we celebrated by going across Snake River on the icy ferry boat and up to Macomb Smith’s to a dance (near Butte at Vale).  Hitching the mules to a sled Mr. Stroup had contrived out of left-over pieces of lumber, we took Mr. Womack and wife, who had come to the valley that fall, stopped on Malheur for Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Brinnon and one or two children.  There was a deep snow on the ground and very cold.  From Brinnon’s place the road was unbroken and our sled being of limited dimensions the men, Brinnon and Womack, proposed to walk.  They went on ahead while we were stowed away in the sled our babies and wraps to be as comfortable as possible.  We followed cattle trails wherever possible, one mule in the trail and one in the snow.  The snow was crusted and our traveling soon became a serious matter.  The mules legs were cut and bleeding.

While we were delaying, considering conditions, the rest of our party arrived at their destination, and, as we did not appear in due time, they became anxious for our safety and returned to meet us.  A council was held and Mrs. Brennon, more resourceful than the rest, tore a blanket into strips with which the men wrapped the mules legs, then the men walked ahead to break trails for the mules.  We resumed our journey full of joyous anticipation of meeting our few but greatly prized and widely scattered neighbors at the dance, an event we were anxious for as the isolation was beginning to tell on us. 

Arriving we were hailed with genuine delight by those who had arrived.  They knew the trip we had to make  and the difficulties that had almost forced us to give up.  The women at the party were the married women who lived near enough to make the trip with their husbands in the snow.  There was only one young girl of 15 years.  Some came with oxen hitched to a wagon or sled.  Many of the bachelors had walked in their gum boots.  Our music was a violin and an accordion.  The people visited and danced and enjoyed themselves, had lunch at midnight and breakfast at daylight.  Still loath to go we stayed until the warmest part of the afternoon to make the trip home.

The next spring, (1874) the two men cut willows and fenced the ranch on two sides, making two miles of woven willow fence, the river forming the line on the other side.  Gradually in the next two or three years settlers came to the valley. 

Our first school was taught by J. I. Sturgill from Grande Ronde Valley, Oregon.  School was held in the house of Geo. Goodman, widower with four boys and one girl of school age.  The school district was a very large one and there were 14 scholars enrolled, two of them living so far away they could not attend school.  Of the three trusties Mr. Stroup was the only one who could read and write.  The teacher at that time received $60 per month.

Sometimes Mr. Stroup made a trip to Kelton, Utah, after a load of freight, and I would be left alone day and night with my small children, no telephone, no automobile those days; no doctor closer than sixty miles from us.  I have wondered what we would have done in case of an emergency illness or accident.  At night the coyotes howled a lullaby to put me to sleep but the stillness was often so oppressive that it made even this a welcome sound.  Nearly a month went by before I could begin to look for the team and wagon to show up on the hill above the house, coming home.  Long, weary, lonesome days and nights, but all things pass by in time.

“After we had begun raising crops, grasshoppers came in clouds one year and ate up everything green, cutting the heads off the wheat in bloom.  We had a patch of tobacco growing and they ate it to the ground.  This was the only time in 52 years in Idaho that they have appeared.  Another year flood waters in the Payette and Snake Rivers ruined all our crops.

In the spring of 1877 came the Nez Perce Indian War.  We were in the corral one evening milking the cow when Hank Cole, a neighbor bachelor who lived on the bank of the Payette, came up to us and said, “Have you heard the news?  Injuns! Injuns on the warpath, you want to brighten up your old gun.”  He then told us that the Spoor family from Indians Valley up in the Weiser country had come down to Mr. Thorp’s place that evening on their way to Boise; that the Indians were massacreing settlers on White Bird; and said their next battle would be on the Weiser. 

Again I felt we were doomed without hope.  But the men assured me that we would get the news from the stage driver, up from Baker, and that we could drive to Boise any night.  We talked and talked.  Mr. Cole went home and night was upon us. 

I lay awake all night never feeling the need of sleep.  Every sound of the night meant Indians to me.  Early the next morning we went to the Thorp’s to hear what Spoors knew and to decide what we would do.  Cole went across the river in a skiff and out to the stage station to get the news. 

The word was that the Indians were still in North Idaho, headed it was thought, into Montana.  We were still to watch for the stage and keep posted.  Next day Mr. Stroup took me and our three small children up to  McFarland’s store on the stage road, where we stopped with John Neal’s family.  Next day Mr. Stroup returned to the ranch, as the news was still favorable. 

“Mr. and Mrs. Neal insisted that he leave us there a few days longer until we were sure about the way the Indians had gone.  The Indians went into Montana, General Howard after them.  We returned home to spend an uneasy summer, and that fall, early in November, Mr. Stroup took us to Kelton, Utah, with a team, and I with three children, the youngest just a year old, went back to Alba, Mo., where I remained about eighteen months. 

In 1878 came the Bannock War, I being in Missouri Mr. Stroup carried his needle gun with him, and when at home on the ranch often slept out in the willows.  Some of the Indians went through our valley, the people there took their families to a kind of fort upon the Payette to stay while most of the men went back and forth to the ranches to look after things.  The spring of 1879 I came back to Idaho again over the stage road with team from Kelton.

The Indians were not put on the reservations, and we felt at last that we could build us a home in peace.  Mr. Stroup had paid out on the preemption claim and taken a homestead.  He bought more land from the settlers until at one time he owned about 700 acres in one body on Snake River.  Much of the land was seeded to blue grass, red top, and timothy hay, and later on to alfalfa, giving it the name of “Blue-grass Meadows Ranch.”  Mr. Stroup was a farmer and stock raiser for many years. 

He built a two story house of nine rooms, which the family called “Pioneer Hall”, in honor of the 12 x 14 room that was their first home in the west.

Seven children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Stroup, four boys and three girls.  All grew to manhood and womanhood; all are living but two sons Jake and Alonza.  Daughters are:  Mrs. Majors of Ontario, Mrs. Frankie Russell (Widow) Ontario, Mrs. Alta Coughanour Payette.  Sons:  Stretter Stroup, living on the old homestead in Washoe and Guy, living near the home place.

“I think this is the place to tell some of the history of these pioneers.  G. W. Brinnon was born in West Virginia.  When a small boy his parents moved to Ohio and then to Missouri.  At the age of seventeen he drove a team in a supply wagon train for the government from Missouri points to the Rockies, and continued in the service until 1861; the last two years he was assistant wagon master.  At the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted in the Confederate army and was in several battles, being taken prisoner in 1863.  He was paroled and the same year came West, arriving in Boise in the Fall. Boise then was only a little burg of two or three houses and some tents.  Later he took charge of the old ferry on the emigrant road near the Boise River.  He was compelled at times to defend his property against Indians. 

The next year he went to Emmett and married Nancy Smith, who came from Missouri and crossed the plains in the same wagon train in which Mr. Brinnon came West.  He went to Malheur City Oregon in 1867 where he engaged in mining.  In 1871 they settled at the mouth of the Malheur River where they secured 400 acres of land and engaged in stock raising.  He also operated the Washoe Ferry which he secured from Mr. Emison.  Mrs. Brinnon died in 1887. 

After his wife’s death Mr. Brinnon sold his place to his son-in-law, Thomas J. Brosnan.  Part of this place is known as the Thayer ranch.  Mr. and Mrs. Brinnon both rest in the Ontario cemetery.  Mr. Brinnon died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Brosnan almost on the exact spot where he erected his first permanent home.  It is the first house we have any record of being built in this part of the country.  (1871)

Mr. Stroup died, 1925 at Ontario, Oregon, Mrs. Stroup, 1935.

Mrs. Stroup’s brother, J. A. Draper, came west in 1876 and worked on the Stroup place in Washoe a year, when he took up the occupation of “bull-whacker”, and freighted for sometime for John Hall, a pioneer of Payette Valley, driving an ox team between Kelton, Utah, and Boise, Idaho.  On one of these trips his caravan came upon the smoldering ruins of another wagon train of freighters that had been attacked and destroyed by Bannock Indians, who had scattered the contents of the wagons in all directions, taking what they desired before setting fire to the wagons.  This attack occured near Glenns Ferry.  Luckily for the teamsters they were driving horses instead of oxen and seeing the redskins approaching from a distance, they were able to cut their horses loose from the wagons in time to mount and escape from the bloody savages.  The sight of the destroyed wagon train was enough for Mr. Draper, and he resigned as a bull-whacker upon his arrival in Boise.

Mrs. Brinnon relates some of her experiences in 1877.  Mrs. Brinnon was at the Washoe Ferry through the Nez Perce Indian War of 1877 and the Bannock War of 1878.

The Indians roamed this valley at their will.  There were no towns closer than Baker City, Oregon and Boise, Idaho.  The settlers went to Baker City, over 100 miles, for mail and supplies. 

Just before the Bannock War some chief and Scarface Charlie, an Indian boy whom Mrs. Brinnon had been kind to, told her that in so many moons a great many Indians would cross the river at that point, and for her to leave.  Mr. Brinnon ran the Washoe Ferry at that time but it happened the Indians plans went astray.  They crossed down the river at Samuel Applegate’s place, making a raft of his house.  A great many settlers would have been massacred at that time had the Indians met as they had planned.  By this time the Malheur and Payette bottoms had become quiet settled. 

Mrs. Brinnon said many nights she slept out of doors on the ground, watching for the dreaded forms of the Indians through the darkness while her family slept. 

When Mr. and Mrs. Stroup first settled on the Malheur near Mr. Smith’s milk ranch, Mr. Stroup and Mr. Smith went to the mines at Silver City, Idaho, where Mr. Smith marketed his butter.  Mrs. Smith, her three small children, and I were alone all day.  An old miner, Bill Cole, stayed there nights.  At that time the Modoc Indian war was going on in the lava beds of Southern Oregon.  One Sunday morning two Indians on horse back, with faces hideously painted and with feathers in their hair, carrying guns and tomahawks, stopped at the gate and sat there looking at the house and muttering to one another.  We afterwards learned they were on their way to the lava beds.  Mr. Smith finally mustered up courage and walked out to the gate saying “How! How!”.  The Indians looked sullen and cross and made no reply.  It was my first experience and I watched them from the house, frozen with fright.  She and I both thought they meant mischief.  Finally one said to her “Man! Man!”  She kept saying “Man come soon,” pointing toward the river and looking expectantly, although we were alone and the men were in Silver City, miles away.  They grew uneasy and finally rode on toward the Butte.

A Washoe hay field.  The Washoe area feels like an island as it lies between the Snake River, the Payette River, and several ponds at the foot of a bench where the Payette River makes a wide bend to the north. One of the ponds is shown in the photo below.

See also the Historic Buildings section for the newspaper account of the Washoe ice house burning to the ground.

The historic Washoe Cemetery is on private property. Contact the museum if you need help finding and getting permission to visit the cemetery.  Local scout and 4H groups have been helping maintain the stones and honoring the graves. Anyone visiting historic cemeteries should be aware that these places must be treated carefully to preserve the history for those who come after them.

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All text and photos not otherwise attributed are provided by museum volunteer and web designer Lucinda Sutherland of Payette, Idaho.  E-mail your comments to Sutherland at lucisept61@yahoo.com .