Payette River Road

Abstracted from "Early History of Idaho," by William John McConnell. Published 1913, Caxton Printers, Caldwell. available at

While history was being made in the Basin, and its hitherto silent glades were being transformed into busy hives of industry, each sending forth a glittering stream of gold, the march of progress was no less apparent in the valleys adjacent thereto — both Boise and Payette. The latter awakened into life earlier than the former, because the road leading from Walla Walla and Umatilla landing followed up the Payette river from near its confluence with the Snake to Horseshoe Bend, where it diverged up Shafer Creek, thence to Placerville. Prior to the construction of the Shafer Creek road, the travel continued on up the river to "Jack-ass Gulch" and Porter Creek, up both of which were trails leading to Placerville and the other camps.

It was over these two trails, before the wagon roads were completed, that most of the influx of travel found its way to the mines. And during that time the population almost, if not quite, reached its highest limits. Many thousands of people were added after the roads were built, but it must be conceded that nearly as many took their departure before this time, some of them being satisfied with what they had accumulated, while others, failing to obtain claims, sought different fields. A few left the country for the country's good — and their own safety.

With hundreds of men passing over the Payette Valley road, road-houses were quickly provided. Of these, Shafer's, Horseshoe Bend, Burner's Ranch, now called Marsh, the Black House, Payette Ranch, Thompson's Ranch, and the "Bug Hay Press1," were noted places during the summer of 1863. They all served meals consisting usually of bread and meat, generally bacon, with brown bread and black coffee, all for the nominal sum of one dollar each. These houses were invariably kept by unmarried men, and most of them were orderly and well conducted.

When we consider the difficulty experienced in obtaining even the ordinary necessities of life, it is marvelous how they succeeded as well as they did.

Some stretches of the bottom land which the Payette road traversed was covered with alkali, which, when disturbed by passing horsemen or footmen rose in clouds of dust, filling the eyes, nostrils and ears of the traveler, causing an excessive thirst, which, in many instances, nothing but some kind of alcoholic beverage seemed to assuage, and even that relief was a temporary one, hardly lasting from one house to another. But the proprietors, with few exceptions, were familiar with the malady, and were prepared to promptly relieve the sufferings of all comers. These prescriptions were administered for "two bits," or twenty-five cents each.

Horse Ranches Contiguous to Mining Camps

To accommodate those who rode their own animals to the mines, and who had no place to keep them after their arrival, what were termed horse ranches were established in the valleys. The owners of these so-called ranches had an office and a corral in Placerville, or one of the other towns, where horses were received to be sent out to the ranch, where a pasturage charge of three dollars a month was made, and an agreement entered into that the animal, or animals, would be brought in and delivered to the owner when desired. The horse ranch consisted of a corral and a tent or cabin, to shelter the owner, or herder, to whom no financial responsibility could attach, since the land upon which they were located, and that upon which they ranged the horses and mules, belonged to the public domain, but, in spite of this fact, thousands of animals were delivered into the care of these people. It is needless to say that only a small number of them were ever returned to the lawful owners. It is doubtful if such a harvest was ever reaped by horse thieves since America was discovered, because no such favorable conditions had heretofore existed in any country.

Thousands of of saddle and pack animals, many of them very valuable, were turned loose to range over the hills lying east, north and south of Horseshoe Bend. Thus the stock was entirely removed from their owners, and, for that matter, from anyone else who knew them, as it was impossible for the owners of the horse- ranches to familiarize themselves with such a diversity of brands, and, in fact, many were not branded at all. Horses or mules, reduced in flesh by a long trip made perhaps before feed had started in the spring, will, when turned loose on such bunch-grass as then grew on Payette hills and valleys, change so much in appearance in a short time that the owners frequently failed to recognize their animals. Hence the risk of driving off and appropriating this class of stock was not considered great, owing to the lax methods by which the laws were administered, methods which had a tendency to make the business of stock stealing a favorite vocation among those who had received training along this line in other regions.

Graduated as Stage Kobbers and Horse Thieves

Three former citizens of New Mexico who had graduated in that territory as stage robbers, horse thieves and cattle rustlers, arrived on the river early in the spring of 1863, and after sizing up the situation, established headquarters in the Payette valley, near the entrance of the canyon, above where is now located the prosperous town of Emmett.

They built a strong log house and corral, which was planned for defense, should necessity arise, and named the place "Picket Corral," by which sobriquet it soon gained repute, the residents thereof being known as the 'Picket Corral gang." After getting established, they proceded to organize the business, one of their number locating a ranch and building a cabin and corral across the river from Boise City, on the site of what is now South Boise.


1On page 204, Henry Paddock is identified as being from the "Hay-press Ranch" and chairman of the "Payette Vigilance Committee."

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