|Cattle after they reach Wyoming, 1880s.|
Wyoming Tales and Trails, online.
The Statesman writer said, “The transit of these immense herds across the stock ranges of central Idaho is an evil of the first magnitude to our farmers and small stock growers.”
Some commentators suggested that stockmen in northern Oregon and in Washington route their herds across the Idaho Panhandle. They claimed the distance to Cheyenne via the northern route was actually less, when the diversions required to avoid major mountain ranges were taken into account. The forage was also supposed to be better.
Whatever the accuracy of these statements, few drovers followed the suggestion, staying with the route through southern Idaho. Thus, in the Statesman’s opinion, “If the same number of cattle should be driven for two or three years more they will consume all the grass in the Snake river valley.”
A related but growing problem was the tendency of some stockmen to over-graze their own range. The presence of trail herds only aggravated that situation. This kind of competition raised the potential for clashes among cattlemen, even without the increasing presence of sheep bands.
The Statesman concluded, “The only practicable remedy for this, and the only hope of the afflicted is in the advent of the railroad, which will take the cattle at or near the points where they are purchased and collected.”
|Laying track in the West. National Archives.|
Fortunately, that remedy was not too much longer in coming. Less than three months after the newspaper articles, investors organized the Oregon Short Line Railroad. They planned to run the "shortest possible rail line" to connect Granger, Wyoming, to Huntington, Oregon.
OSL tracks reached the Idaho border during the summer of 1882 and were halfway across the state by the end of the year. Towns like Shoshone, Gooding (then called Toponis Station), and Bliss soon became gathering points for cattle and sheep to be shipped east out of Idaho.
The line had almost made it to the Oregon border by the end of the following year. Stockmen in western Idaho began to plan for shipments on the new line. Herds that might have gone to Winnemucca, or other points in Nevada, could now be shipped locally.
The coming of the railroad did not, however, totally end long drives within or across the Territory. As late as 1889-1890, some stockmen found it more economical to drive herds deep into Wyoming before consigning them to rail cars.
|J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).|