Both The Dalles to Walla Walla and The Dalles to Salt Lake Stage Lines as well as The Dalles toUmatilla, used the Old Oregon Trail which followed up the Brewery grade and out to Cherry Park Grange,on the east 9 street section of the Old Durfer road where it branched to the left across the BettenginFlat connecting with what is now highway 23 at the old M.M. Cushing place (now occupied by Joe Re); following up 15 miles to Kuykendahl hill where it branched at the top and went down to Fairbanks; fromthere to Siles-on-the Deschutes (Dechutesville or Miller); to Biggs; Price's Station (just north of Wasco) on Spanish Hollow; Leonard's Bridge, 18 miles south of the Columbia on the John Day river at thefoot of Cottonwood grade and also known as Scotts Ferry; thence to Rock creek about 7 miles south ofArlington; to Willow creek at Cecil; Wells Springs; Frank Ewing's station on Butter creek; Umatilla orto Echo (Brassfield's ferry) and on to Walla Walla or to Salt Lake City.

Sometimes these three stages were one and the same, in so far as passengers were conserned. Passengersto any one of the above 3 places took the same stage. The Walla Walla stage and most of the others,when they ran as independent units generally stopped at Umatilla as that was an important boat landingand source of passengers, mail, express and such business. From there they followed the Umatilla riverto Echo (12 Mile house); Wells Stage Gulch; Swifts; Pendelton (branch for Walla Walla); Cayuse, Meacham;LaGrande' Sulphur Springs; 49 Ranch; Boise; Ft. Hall; Kelton and Salt Lake City.


Henry Ward advertised in the Times-Mountaineer (1867) that he operated his stage line between The Dallesand Umatilla in less time than the boats could make the run and called his service "the air line routeof 80 miles," and solicited business from the Oregon Steam Navagation Co. and extended his servicesto Walla Walla, 125 miles east of The Dalles.


Another of those forgotton 1866 stage lines was the Oregon-Montana which made connections with theOregon Steam Nav. Co. boats at White Bluffs, Wash. for services to Helena, Montana over the wellknown Lt. John Mullen pass, now used by highway 10 and the Northern Pacific railroad across theRockies. This line served the northern Idaho mines and it was 624 miles over this route to VirginiaCity, Mont. Capt. John Mullen was sent to Walla Walla in 1853 with military orders to bulild a road(which he previously surveyed as a Leutenant) from that place to Fort Benton on the Missouri riverapproximately 700 miles for use of emigrants in place of the 2000 mile Old Oregon Trail. He builtthis road as directed and Bancroft's history of Oregon says, "next to the Old Oregon Trail theMullen road was the greatest factor in the development of the Pacific northwest." Many hundredsof emigrants used this road in the settlement of Idaho, eastern Wash. over this old stage and mailroute run from Walla Walla to Virginia City and other Montana and northern Idaho points.


The John Turner obituary in the Mountaineer of Oct. 23, 1868 said, "John Turner driver on The Dallesto Walla Walla stage, whose outfit upset going down John Day hill (Cottonwood Canyon) died of injuriesreceived last week." This is mute testimony of how tough that job was 84 years ago.

Bill Nixon, operator of the Nixon ferry across the Deschutes 3 miles above Millers; according toCarson C. Masiker, drove a sulky with the mail and few winter passengers on the Nixon Ferry to Leonard's Ferry across the John Day, section of The Dalles to Walla Walla run. (This shows how servicewas maintained when regular equipment could not be operated due to weather and road conditions.)


In passing we want to add a paragraph on the old Camel Express, forgotten by all but historians. Itoperated in various sections of Idaho and Montana; but the run we are interest in was from Walla Walla to Virginia City over the Mullen Trail (1859) a long 700 mile pack. Another operated betweenUmatilla and Boise and the Bannock mines. Camels for these pack trains were imported from Asia andsold for $1200 each. They could carry larger loads than horses and over longer distances withoutfeed or water; but when they did eat they consumed more food than a horse which was bad when it hadto be bought at high prices in the winter; but their worst disadvantage was that they frightenedthe horses and mules of other pack trains, causing stampedes and run-a-ways. (Wash. Hist. Quarterly)Wagons replaced the camel in a year or so and their history was brief and labelled "unsuccessful".


Some of the well known drivers on The Dalles to Salt Lake run was our own Justin Chenowith, afterwhom Chenowith creek was named; Barnes & Yates of the Oregon-Idaho stages; Hank Monk most widelyknown driver on all the lines; Baldy Green; Billy Hamilton; Clark Foss; Buck Jones; Chas. McConnell;"Buffalo Jim" Geiser (on the Yellowstone Park run); Bob Hill; Henry Ward; Buck Montgommery; HillBeachy; Bob Geiser (alson on the Yellowstone run); George Quimsby; Dave Horn; Wm. Ellis; C.W. Barger;Tom Vaughn; Wm. Glover; Gus Freeman; Dave Wright; John Leeson; George Richards; Jerry Crowder; JackGillman; Chas. Hines; Wm. Lockwood; Wm. Theelman. James Perkins was the "travelling horseshoer" forBen Holliday and the Wells Fargo lines and he lived wherever they "dropped his anvil off at." BigBill Lockwood was later one of the drivers in the Bannock Indian war campaign of 1878 in southernOregon and the soldiers used to like to tell how Bill raced with the Indians in his mail and expresswagon, and how his long jet black hair would stand up like a pompador until he was safe from thescalping knife.

These stage drivers had no homes, for the most part. It was a cold, rough, hard ride every singletrip when conditions were at their best. They slept out in all kinds of weather, fog, snow, blizzards,summer and winter alike. The roads they drove over were hardly better than cattle trails. It was dirty,dusty rough work in the summer and cold, muddy, numbing work in the fall and winter. All the romance ofstage coach driving is purely fiction of the highest movie and western magazine type.


Dearest and closest to the hearts of the people of The Dalles is The Dalles to Canyon City StageLine. In 1864 when Henry H. Wheeler (after whom Wheeler county is named) started this line. The Dallesand Canyon City were the two largest cities in the Pacific northwest, hither-to-fore served only by pack trains out of The Dalles. Henry Wheeler was a resident of Mitchell, one of the important packtrain stations and stops, where he operated a stock ranch. While there is no written record of howhe became interested in forming the first stage service, it is very apparant that Pony Expressriders and operators obtained riding stock from his ranch as did the Pack Train operators, so he wasnaturally well versed with the volume of business passing through Mitchell; and with the improvementof roads by military authorities to Camp Watson and other points in south-eastern Oregon he decidedto establish twice a week service commencing August 15, 1864.

The stage stations on this run which went out over the Old Dufur road to Eight Mile station; (Wasco)11 Mile house, kept by Pratts just above Boyd; Nansene, up Long Hollow about 7 miles above Boyd;Chicken Springs; Keen; Sherar's Bridge; Flanagan; Bakeoven; Shaniko; Antelope; Burnt Ranch; Mitchell;Camp Watson; Dayville; John Day and Canyon City. The names of the stage stations and their locationschanged from time to time. When Mr. Wheeler first started out in 1864 there was no habitation betweenThe Dalles and Sherars Bridge 30 miles southeast of The Dalles! Then there was no more peopleuntil he got to Antelope where Howard Maupin kept a horst station for him 65 miles SE of The Dalles!James Clark, one of his drivers, kept a station down on the John Day called Burnt Ranch. There werepeople living at Mitchell and there was a military camp at Camp Watson but from there on into JohnDay it was a long lonesome road infested with bandits and unfriendly Indians. It took 2 1/2 days tomake the run and twice a week was the first schedule. The road was one of the worst rocky, roughmountain roads that a man ever tried to put anything with wheels over. In fact it wasn't consideredpossible to successfully do so until the military authorities moved enough rocks to allow a wagon topass and keep right side up.

The History of Central Oregon says that Henry H. Wheeler was born in Penn. (1826) son of James andwent to California gold fields in 1857 by ox-train where he mined and operated a sawmill at Yreka.In 1862 he came to The Dalles and went to the mines of Idaho. He gave up mining for stock raising inthe Mitchell country and established his 180 mile stage, mail and express service in 1864. He drovethe first few trips all the way through himself and return. He had 11 passengers on that first runand 11 on the return trip and his fare was $40. a passenger, one way. He left the Umatilla Houseevery Monday and Wednesdays with his stages. The stock ranches were few and far apart on the routeand operations were under the most trying of pioneer conditions of hardships and dangers with banditsand savage Indians on all sides. Mr. Wheeler was a careful and fearless manager. If a detailedaccount of all his various fights and skirmishes with the Indians were listed they would make a thrillingvolume in themselves. One account was published, "that upon Sept. 7, 1866, with the Wells Fargogold stage and their guard Mr. H.C. Page the only passengers on the gold stage; and with $10,000 ingreenbacks, $300 in coin and other valuables besides the mail, when suddenly 15 or 20 Indians appearedand shot Mr. Wheeler through the face. Despite the shock and pain, he unhitched the leaders, while Mr.Page pumped hot lead into the Indians and kept them back; they mounted the un-ridden horses andescaped, bareback! The Indians cut all the top off the stage, ripped open the mail sacks scatteringtheir contents and throwing aside the greenbacks, not knowing their value; but they cut up the harness.Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Page went on to the Myers ranch for help to recover what they could out of theraid, while Mr. Wheeler came on to The Dalles for medical attention.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

..... Return to Pg. One
Return to Grant County, Oregon Home Page
..... Return to "A Place Called Oregon"