Early Freighting in Cache Valley
Some experiences of early freighting through Cache Valley before the advent of the railroad. Taken from the personal notes of Robert Baxter of Wellsville and Hyrum, one of the early freighters.
In the later years between 1865 and 1870 a man by the name of Jerryman from Montana came with his bull train and got loads of flour at Hills Gristmill at Wellsville. He hired Thomas Kerr and Dave Murray of Wellsville to drive for him. They started rather late in the fall for Montana. On their way with their loads of flour their train got snowed in at Virginia City, Montana, a mining town. There was so much snow the train could not go ahead. All the cattle which made up the train starved and froze to death. The boys had to stay with the wagons until spring. They burned the yokes for firewood. They almost perished.
In the spring of 1870 some Wellsville boys and myself loaded a bull train at Ogden for Deer Lodge, Montana, a distance of 470 miles. We came to Brigham City and from there into Cache Valley. Sometimes through the old Wellsville Canyon and sometimes over the low pass west of where Petersboro now is. We hauled the freight for $7.00 per hundred. With our ox teams we made the trip loaded to Deer Lodge in twenty seven days and came back in seventeen days. It was the fastest time ever made over this route with a bull train.
One time coming back we got caught in a heavy snow storm which lasted three days and nights. When coming over the Moose Creek Range the snow was deep and piled so high in the dugway that it reached the front axles of our wagons. This big storm came the last two days in May and the first of June in 1870.
When I got back to Wellsville I traded my oxen for mules and followed freighting for eight years. I was in company with other Cache Valley boys. Nearly every town in Cache Valley had freighters.
When I came back from by first trip the town of Corinne, northwest of Brigham City was laid off. The railroad had been completed through here in 1869 connecting the east with the west. Corinne was a junction for the freight going north to northern Utah, Idaho and Montana. At first Corinne was a town of tents and shacks in the sage brush with no water, only what they hauled in barrels. When a fire broke out they had to beat it out with sticks. There was no water nearer than Bear River. When they dug wells they could hardly drink the water it was so brackish. Bear River was not much better. The people did not need any physic.
Naturally Corinne became the headquarters for fitting out ox and mule trains with freight for Idaho and Montana. The mines in Montana made brisk trading between Utah and there.
About 1873, E. G. McClay and Company established some warehouses at Corinne and were the freight agencies. There were thousands of teams hauling freight between Utah and Montana. McClay and Company tried to monopolize the freight by making a fast freight line. They had a six mule team with two wagons leave Corinne every morning and one arrives in Dillon, Montana every night. This took over six hundred head of mules and one hundred wagons to operate this fast freight line. The standard prices for freight from Corinne was $7.00 per hundred to Helena, Montana. The same rate applied no matter if the freight was hauled only one hundred miles between these two points. The haul from Corinne to Helena was five hundred miles.
The McClay and Company went night and day with their mule trains. The mules went on a steady walk. Headlights were placed on the wagons so they could travel at night. They burned sperm candles the same as the stage coaches. They used the lights so the drivers could see when the mules became unhitched when gong down hill or crossing the streams. Their stations were at the same place as the stage coaches. This fast freight was better known as the “Diamond R” having stamped on every wagon cover, every piece of harness and on the neck of every mule.
I drove team for the Diamond R Company for several months under Tom Damaask, the division agent. My drives were all night drives. One spring when the Cammes was high my lead mules had to swim through running water which was half way in the wagon beds. When the water got through running out of the wagon beds, it was all colors. The dye had run from the cloth goods I had. This caused hundreds of dollars of damage and the Diamond R had to pay it.
In high water the goods were ferried over Snake River. The same with the passengers of the stage coaches. The stage coaches and wagons could not be ferried over so they were unloaded at this point and sent back for more. In this manner we kept the freight lines moving night and day.
I had charge of the safety boxes, which had the gold and silver bars. These boxes were locked under the seat of the driver. Sometimes I had hard work to keep these boxes from falling between the logs of the raft they were so heavy. Several times I had to drive the stage coaches myself as the drivers were so drunk they had to lie down in the bottom of the coach. For this driving I got extra pay from the Overland Stage Company.
Now this fast freight company, the Diamond R, went broke and it broke many of our freighters by cutting the rate. The last freight I hauled I got three cents per pound while the first I hauled I got seven cents per pound.
At one time I believe Corinne handled more money than any town in Utah. But I also believe it was one of the wickedest towns in the Territory.
Notes by the Compiler:
The advent of the railroad into Cache Valley in 1874 and its extension to Butte, Montana in 1879, ended the days of the wagon freighters and stage coach passengers and mail in this section of the country. Until that time much of the produce of Cache Valley was hauled to Corinne where the grower and producer could get cash for their products.
Note: Supplementing what Robert Baxter has to say about early freighting days in Cache Valley and to and from Corinne, Mr. John Johnson of Millville who hauled considerable freight to and from Corinne has the following to add.
As the railroad entered Cache Valley in 1874 and was extended north into Idaho and Montana, freight hauling was continued by ox and mule teams from one point to the next until the railroad bed had settled sufficiently for hauling by train. Freight was hauled by mule teams north of Logan until the railroad had reached Swan Lake in Idaho. Then the freight was hauled by mule and horse teams north of Swan Lake and al points north until the railroad had reached Portneuf, near McCammon, Idaho. And so the freight was hauled by mule and horse teams north from point to point until the railroad reached Butte, and Helena, Montana.
The low pass west of where Petersboro now is was used most for hauling freight in and out of Cache Valley. The Wellsville Canyon was too steep for heavy loads.
Note: The Cammas Creek mentioned by Mr. Baxter is on the route between Idaho and Montana, about ten miles this side of Duboise. At Idaho Falls a man named Taylor operated a ferry to cross the Snake River for Montana. He later built the first toll bridge at this point and made considerable money out of it.