By Ron Marlow
South of Payette, across the river, is Washoe. It is a body of land almost entirely bounded by the left bank of the Payette River and the right bank of the Snake River. It contains almost 26,000 acres, four-fifths of which was converted to an island when A. Rossi built a head gate on the Payette River and made a ditch from an existing slough. This was made to float logs to his sawmill next to the railroad tracks. Through this ditch much of the bottom land received irrigation water.
Prior to 1880, Washoe had a few wild hay ranches along the rivers and sloughs. They were owned by such men as Jacob Stroup, J. S. Thorp, Capt. Payne, J. T. Clemments, Jim Henoty and Donohue.
During 1883 the railroad selected a Washoe town site south of Payette. A town site committee was formed by local residents who sold lots where the old box factory was located. A siding was built an excavation for a depot was started. A disagreement developed and the railroad backed out.
Rossi enlarged his mill in 1885. It employed many workers. He also enlarged his slough to accommodate more logs, but the river broke his head gate and flooded most of Washoe. The only way to go to Payette was by boat. Some of the railroad track was flooded for a time.
Rossi's mill operated for a number of years but closed down because of competition and use of brick, starting in 1890.
The hard winter months of 1879-1880 forced many stockmen to feed their cattle the stored up hay they had stacked. Cattle loss was great. Ice build up in the Payette River backed the water up, flooding the Irvin Ranch and the lowlands near Falk's Store. The Snake River left its channel and flooded much of the land near Ontario.
A deep snow fell the winter of 1879-1880 followed by rain and sleet which formed a thick crust on the snow so that the livestock were unable to break through to their feed. When they could, the sharp crust of ice cut their legs. The Snake River froze solid and was so thick you could cross it with a team and wagon. In the spring the ice broke up in huge chunks in the Payette and Snake Rivers, creating more problems.
A significant structure near Washoe was the Washoe Ferry, located on the Oregon side of the Snake River near the mouth of the Malheur River. Historians note that it was in use in 1863 when travelers were enroute to the gold fields of the Boise Basin. The first ferry was operated by a band of outlaws with connections to those at Pickett's Corral near Emmett. The Vigilantes routed them out in 1865. The ferry was purchased by William Packwood who operated it until 1876. Others owned it until 1884 when its owner Capt. Payne moved it six miles. The last owner, John Bivens, abandoned it in 1906 when the wagon bridge was built linking Ontario and Fruitland.
The Payette River bridge was built in 1885 by Charles Hinze. Previously, the river had to be forded. During periods of high water it was difficult.
Eastern settlers at Washoe were not accustomed to seeing Indians. Some of the more friendly Indians were hired to work on ranches. Payette Valley settlers anticipated losing few cattle each year to the Indians who were hungry but they realized the impact of their intrusion on Indian Territory and the loss of wild game. Several hundred Umatillas passed through the region, as they had for decades, pausing a few weeks near Washoe to catch salmon. The fish were smoked and dried for winter use. Curious local children would stand on the river's banks watching the proceedings.
At times, the Indians would wander around the settlers homes looking in the windows, unnerving the wives and children. A woman would hang out her wash on the line to dry and Indians would try to trade for the clothes, especially if they were colorful. Some settlers could not stand the stress and returned to eastern relatives.