Oregon Trails: Mail By Boat

By Ron Brown

GOLD BEACH, Ore. — One of the biggest challenges for early settlers in our area was figuring out how to get the mail delivered to remote towns and mining camps and now with the debate on how to keep the post service afloat, one mail delivery system is not only getting mail delivered on time, but giving thousand in Southern Oregon history.

It’s a daily ritual in Gold Beach. About 8:30 or 9 every weekday morning, the U.S. Mail is brought down from the Gold Beach Post Office to the Rogue Mail Boats and Jerry’s Jet Boat docks in a waterproof bag, and loaded on one of these boats for the 64 mile round trip to Agness. It’s been like this since 1895, long before there were powerboats of any kind to battle the rapids and swift water.

They carried everything they could, even wrestling a new ’28 Chevy roadster to Agness, though there were no roads up there then! Eventually, the boats would also stop at the various homesteads and lodges along the way, picking up and dropping off mail and other parcels.

It wasn’t long before there were folks who wanted to go along, many just for the ride. And so people began to be the big freight payers that led others to get into the business. But today, it’s Jerry’s and the mail boats merged into one operation that keeps the tradition alive. Without that daily contact, the remote community of Agness would seem even more isolated than it is now.

It’s the beauty of the river canyon, and the wildlife and solitude, that draws the rafts and other floating down from above, and the jet boaters and fishermen heading upstream. In 1958, Laird’s grandfather and uncles helped develop the first water jet boats. Before that, it was propeller-powered boats, which were limited when the water got shallow. Now they can go as far as Mule Creek Canyon with these large boats. Dropping off the mail at Agness, where it will be delivered to area residents, the boat continues on with its passengers for a whitewater experience. Coming back a couple hours later, the return mail has been picked up and is ready to go back downriver to gold beach where it will take the evening truck to Eugene for processing.

For more than a hundred years now, the mail boats have run on the lower Rogue River, delivering mail to homesteads and remote families who live down in the Rogue River canyon and so the tradition continues. One of just a handful such mail delivery operations in the U.S. today. Saturday, June 16th, marks the 116th anniversary of the first mail contract to deliver mail by boat on the Rogue River. The next year, in 1897, a post office was established at Agness, which continues to serve the surrounding area.

For more information on Rogue Mail Jetboat trips, consult the contact information below:

Jerry’s Rogue Jets