During the 1860s there was a gold rush in Idaho, and Nez Perce Chief and other steamboats of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company were key links in the transportation of miners and equipment upriver to the gold fields, and in transporting gold mined from the fields out. On one trip downriver at the height of the gold rush Nez Perce Chief carried $382,000 worth of gold dust and bars locked in the captain's safe.
Transfer to other parts of the Columbia River
In 1870, Nez Perce Chief was brought down through Celilo Falls to The Dalles, where she operated on the middle river, that is, the stretch between The Dalles and the rapids downriver known as the Cascades of the Columbia, that began near where the modern town of Cascade Locks is located. On July 6, 1871, with Capt. John C. Ainsworth in personal command, she was brought down through the Cascades to the lower Columbia River.