The Progression of Transportation in the Wood River Valley

By January 13, 2021Featured, Transportation

From Stagecoaches to Flying Coach

From the invention of the wheel (and sometime later aviation wings), people have found ways to travel and transport themselves and goods as quickly as technology will allow. As we look back on the modes of transportation that first came to the Wood River Valley, it’s the stagecoach or “stage” as it was commonly referred, which holds a remarkable time in transportation history for this area.

Before the arrival of the stagecoach, settlers to this area only had a few methods for getting around- walk, or ride a horse or a mule. That was pretty much it. A stark and primitive comparison to today’s standards of first-class international travel. 

The stagecoach was invented in 1827 but didn’t arrive in Idaho until 1864. While a little late to the game, the stagecoach would stay in Idaho until the early 1900s.

With its first arrival to the state, the main stagecoach line ran from Salt Lake City to Boise and then on to Portland, OR. 

In 1878 a well-known businessman, politician, and owner of the UI&O (Utah, Idaho & Oregon) Stage Line, John Hailey (yes, the gentleman for whom the town of Hailey is named after), improved the southern Idaho stage route. It was soon after this improvement that loads of silver were discovered in the Wood River Valley, bringing droves of get-rich-quick hopefuls to the area. 

By 1881 a stage line to Wood River was established and by 1882, Mr. Hailey was the superintendent for all of the stage lines running into the valley, as well as for all of the home stations. Much like modern-day gas stations, home station stops kept fresh horses, lodging, food, and other supplies and were located roughly 50 miles apart. Whereas swing stations just had a fresh horse or two and were about every 12 miles or so. These stops along the Wood River line and branches to other smaller towns had UI&O crews to keep them stocked with supplies and other necessities.

While Mr. Hailey’s UI&O business was one of the more prominent ones, it wasn’t too long after the roads were established that other companies came on board. Nearly 10 stagecoach lines operated between communities within the valley and to Boise and Salt Lake City.

And what the drivers wouldn’t have given for a good travel app!  Along with exhausted horses and travelers, passengers and drivers had to also face travel dangers such as poor weather, bandits, and Native Americans who felt trespassed against.  Passengers were warned of dangers, the need to possibly push a stage if necessary, and the very uncomfortable and boring nature of sitting inside a coach for many hours if not days. A driver got better reviews if he was a good storyteller. Perhaps one of the earliest travel reviews!

In 1882 the town of Shoshone came to be and the Oregon Short Line (OSL) Railroad was laying tracks west of Pocatello and would reach Shoshone in 1883. Three months later, the OSL completed a branch line from Shoshone into Hailey. By then, long haul traffic – passengers and freight – had stopped using the Kelton stage (north of Salt Lake City)  and its branches.

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, stage-coaching had mostly come to an end. While it continued to be utilized where there was no rail service, it would actually be the automobile that finally led to its end in the early 1900s -although more remote locations would continue its use until the 1930s. 

Next month we’ll take a look at the incredible economic impact the railroad had on the Wood River Valley.