Winnemucca to Silver City Wagon Road

Archaeological site

Adapted from text by Alice Bronsdon

The Winnemucca to Silver City Wagon Road and the stage stations along it were part of the early transportation system in southeast Oregon. The road connected Silver City, Idaho with the West Coast, and was the major highway of its day.

In 1863 gold was discovered near what is now Silver City, Idaho, and miners poured into the area from as far away as California. At first, pack trails served the growing population, bringing in food and equipment and taking out bullion. The trails were steep, narrow, and dangerous. Freight rates were extremely high (hay cost $200 to $300 per ton, delivered). The miners realized they needed an improved stage road to connect them to the West Coast.

At first, the town of Jordan Valley, Oregon was a stopping place along the way to the mines. It became a town as people settled along Jordan Creek to raise produce and livestock to sell to the miners. Several stage roads were constructed through Jordan Valley, but some failed, primarily due to interference by the Indians in the ara. The Skinner Toll Road, which connected with a road to Chico, California, was the most successful of the early roads.

In 1866 Hill Beachy built the Star City Line, also called the Railroad Line, to Star City, Nevada. When the central Pacific Railroad reached Winnemucca, it became the route of choice, and underwent yet another name change: it became the Winnemucca to Silver City Wagon Road.

The stage road was the military's most important transportation route in southeast Oregon. The cavalry used it from the inception of the Indian altercations of the early 1860s - before the road gained the appellation as the Star City Road - through the Bannock War of 1878.

Stage stations were located at "convenient intervals" along the road, in the words of one traveler. Stage stops along the road were of two types, generally known as "home stations" or "swing stations." Home stations provided travelers with a meal and lodging for a night. Swing stations were horse-changing stations. Home stations were roughly 50 miles apart, while the swing stations were spaced every 10 to 15 miles along a stage line.

Hill Beachy made strenuous efforts to maintain the road, and received a contract to carry the mail between California and Idaho, after his line was found to provide the fastest and most dependable service (Nielsen 1987). During its construction, and after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the Silver City to Winnemucca Road gave southeast Oregon Settlers access to the railroad at Winnemucca, connecting them to the rest of the nation.

Mining declined in importance as a result of the national depression of 1875, but the road continued to serve sheep and cattle ranches, which were initially established to provide food to the miners. Cattle ranching was not affected by mine closures and grew in importance (Hanley 1988). In addition, wild horses were trapped and taken along the wagon road to the railhead in Winnemucca.

Ft. McDermitt was important both as a military camp and a stage stop along the route from Nevada to Idaho. The Silver City to Winnemucca road was the military's most important transportation route in southeast Oregon. The cavalry used it from the inception of the Indian troubles in the early 1860s - before it was even the Star City Road - and during the Bannock War.

In 1874, in response to continuing Indian-Anglo altercations, the government constructed a telegraph line paralleling the Winnemucca to Silver City Road. It proved vital for quick military responses during the Bannock War, and played a significant role in keeping Chief Winnemucca's Paiute band from joining the Bannocks. The Chief's daughter, Sarah Winnemucca, who was interpreter for General O.O. Howard, telegraphed the general, asking permission to go to her father and keep him from joining the Bannocks. By telegraph, Howard agreed, and Winnemucca's band was convinced to stay out of the fight.

After the Bannock War, the government did not maintain the telegraph line, and the poles and wire soon disappeared.