Nellie Ireton Mills. All Along the River/Territorial and Pioneer Days on the Payette. Privately printed for Payette Radio Limited, 1963.1

The Lumber Industry

In the beginning, sagebrush and cottonwood logs, with an occasional driftwood tree, were the only available building materials on the lower Payette. When John Walker and John Franklin Bayse built their sawmill just below the Smith-Martin Ferry in 1869 or 1870, they started one of the valley's most important industries, second only to ranch and stock businesses. Saws have hummed always at Emmett, and if you will listen, you may still hear them. Then, as now, the largest mills were at the upper end of the valley, but others were soon built near the mouth of the river.

Logging in the mountains in the winter, and the spring log drives, gave much needed employment to the valley boys, together with much excitement. The Reed family, with a background of experience in Wisconsin and Oregon timber, were particularly fearless loggers and Jim Wardwell's son, Park, with peavey to balance him, could ride a rolling log ten miles from the Marsh and Ireton ranch (at Montour) to Emmett, with never a fall. Posts and lumber were the crying need of homesteaders and town builders. But for the river to float the logs, what could the pioneers have done? Soon logs, branded like cattle, were sorted at Emmett and those for the mills of Alexander Rossi and the Coughanours sent on to Payette. In fact, the immense booms built there to catch the ties for the Short Line railroad, (also floated down the stream), gave the village near the mouth of the river its first name - that of Boomerang, with the lumber industry its principal payroll. The more dignified name of Payette was rightly adopted a little later, in honor of Francois and Louis Payette. The sawmill and lumber business developed rapidly and soon became, next to ranching, the leading industry of the valley. The Idaho Statesman of February 24, 1877, carries advertisement of a thriving sawmill business in Emmett, as follows:

"Cold Springs Lumber Mills Payette Valley
The undersigned and Constantly on hand
A complete and Large Assortment
of Seasoned Pine and Fir Lumber
We would call attention to our fencing, as we make a specialty of this kind of lumber and furnish a good quality." "Warriner and Downs, Emmettsville (June 15, 1876)"

A reporter from the Owyhee Avalanche, making a trip to the Payette from Silver City, said on February 12, 1881:

"From Boise, Emmettsville, Falk's Store and Payetteville were on the road to Washoe Ferry. Emmett, the only town of importance, had large lumbering interests. There is a bridge here and two irrigating ditches watering 60 sections of land."

Jim Wardwell2 may have had his mill running at that time, and a little later, Joe Reed3 entered the business. Lumber for building and fencing was in great demand.


Timber from the slopes and hills of Garden Valley kept the saw mills of Emmett and Payette humming for many a day and added an interesting chapter to Valley life. The mill owners, among them Jim Wardwell and Joe Reed of Emmett, moved in by way of Placerville in the fall with ox teams and logging equipment, including river boats, and kept the crews cutting and banking logs all winter to be ready for the spring floods to start the drive down the river. Some of the employees were experienced loggers form Michigan and other timbered sections, but many were sons of farmers and stockmen of the lower valleys - glad for lucrative winter work. Others were local boys.

Friendships made in the woods endured throughout their lives, as any became leaders in their respective river communities. The old-time logger and river-driver was a big-hearted, daring character whose utter abandon and fearlessness have seldom been equalled. Every year the roaring Payette, in a terrible mood, claimed one or more victims, but always there was another ready to shoot the foaming rapids in a skiff or ride a whirling log, balancing with his peavey and singing as he went.

Though shocked by drownings on the drive - six at one time way up the South Fork Canyon and three below at The Stairs - the work had to go on. Each driver felt it could not happen to him. Among well-remembered loggers or "river hogs" were Jim Wardwell and his son, Park; Joe, Charley, and Bud Reed; Ed Allan, Ed Stanley, George Boon, who had a way with oxen; William McMaster, Sadie (L.G.) Say, Jim Dempsey, Pete Rooney, Paddy Robison, Billy McFarland and Andrew McPherson.


1 Internet Archive, retrieved 3-23-23
2 James Wardwell bio
3 Joseph L. Reed bio (Reed was a brother of Mrs. Wardwell's)

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