Ferries in Kansas, Part VIII -- Neosho River

by George A. Root

August 1935 (Vol. 4, No. 3), pages 268 to 282
Transcribed by Gardner Smith; digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets are links to footnotes for this text.


The Neosho was first known to the white man as Le Grande, this name having been bestowed by the French.[1] The year it received this title is a matter of conjecture. Pike, in the account of his journey to the Pawnee village in 1806, mentions the stream as a "grand fork of the White river,"[2] and so far as we have been able to discover, this is the first mention of the name as applied to this stream. M. Carey & Son, in their General Atlas, published in 1817, call the stream the Grand. Stephen H. Long, in the account of his expedition of 1819-1820, adds other names to the list. He says: "A short ride brought us to the Neosho or Grand river, better known to the hunters by the singular designation of the Six Bulls"[3] This is believed to be the first printed mention of the stream as the "Neosho," while the name "Grand" river appears in an atlas as late as 1840.[4] South of the confluence of the Verdigris with the Neosho, to where it joins the Arkansas, the name "Grand" attached for nearly a quarter of a century later. Maps of 1825 and later spell the name "Neozho." Joseph C. Brown's survey of the Santa Fe trail, 1825-1827, gives the same spelling. That Neosho is an Osage word various authorities agree, but there appears to be some question as to the real meaning of the word. One authority gives the meaning as "water that has been made muddy."[5] The late James R. Mead, of Wichita, who spent a number of years on the border and trafficked with Osages and other tribes along the southern border of Kansas, says that "Neosho is an Osage word, meaning 'Ne,' water; 'osho,' clear. Neosho -- clear water. In the Indian languages the adjective comes after the noun."[6]

     The Neosho is the largest tributary of the Arkansas river on the north, and under federal law is considered a navigable stream.[7]

     The Neosho is famed for its beauty, running through some of the choicest agricultural lands within the state, while its banks are lined with a wealth of native timber. The stream is formed by an east and west branch, the first named having its source in the southwest corner of Wabaunsee county, while the west branch starts at a point about fourteen or fifteen miles west of Council Grove, in Morris county. These two branches unite a little north-west of Council Grove, and flow in a general southeast direction through the counties of Morris, Lyon, Coffey, Woodson, Allen, Neosho, Labette and Cherokee, entering Oklahoma at a point a little southwest of the village of Mill Rose, Cherokee county, and emptying into the Arkansas near Fort Gibson. The Neosho is 404 miles long, of which about 300 miles are within Kansas,[8] and has a drainage area variously given as 5,090 and 5,106 square miles within the state. Before the settlement of the state the river had a sufficient flow of water to warrant an early-day assertion that the river was navigable to a point above Parsons.[9] However, the present-day status of the river precludes the possibility of commercial traffic on the stream except in times of high water or flood. The river drains the section of the state between the Kaw and Marais des Cygnes on the north and the Verdigris on the south.

     Disastrous floods have occurred in the stream, its tortuous channel being responsible in a great measure for the destruction that followed. The following years have been recorded as flood years: 1844, 1885, 1896, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1911, and 1915, and, in passing, it might be added that the year 1935 should be added to the above list. Of those floods occurring before 1935, those for 1885 and 1904 were the most disastrous.[10] In order to obtain reliable data regarding the amount of water carried by the river, a gauge station was established at Iola in July, 1895, and, following the devastating flood of 1904, stations were also established at Oswego, Labette county; at Humboldt, Allen county; at Le Roy, Coffey county; and at Neosho Rapids, Lyon county. From records obtained at these stations some interesting facts regarding the river were brought out. For instance, at Oswego, the Neosho at average low water was found to be 220 feet wide. At Humboldt, "the channel is permanent -- having a sandstone bottom. The current is sluggish at low water and fairly swift at high stages of flow. The gauge is at the highway bridge about one-half mile west of Humboldt. A masonry dam is about 100 yards below the bridge and is used to develop power for a grist-mill nearby." This station was abandoned in about a year. The highest water recorded there was on July 10, 1904, when the river reached a stage of 30.50 feet.[11] At Iola, at average low water, the river is 208 feet wide. At this point flood waters once reached a height of 17.03 feet, date unknown, while the lowest stage recorded was 2.8 feet on October 19, 20, 1908, flood stage being at ten feet.[12] On May 26, 1902, at a height of twelve feet, the river discharged 15,216 cubic feet of water a second. On August 25, same year, at a height of 16.50 feet, the flow was 25,246 cubic feet a second.[13] At Le Roy the highest stage of water recorded was 28 feet, on June 5, 1904; lowest stage 0.0 on various dates. Flood stage occurred at 24 feet.[14] At Neosho Rapids, 324 miles above the mouth, the width at average low water is 142 feet. Drainage area above this station is 2,511 square miles. The highest stage of water recorded here was 29.5 feet; lowest 0.0 on November 7, 8, 1904, flood stage being at 22 feet.[15] During August, 1934, the Neosho reached a new low level in Labette county. Mr. T.A. Sprague, of Oswego, who has lived in that vicinity for many years, said that the Neosho stopped running at three points in that locality during the month of August. Mr. Sprague has lived along the Neosho for the past sixty-eight years, has kept a diary for many years, and included in his notations are many facts about the river.[16]

     The site of the first ferry north of the Oklahoma-Kansas boundary has not been definitely located. Probably it was somewhere to the southeast of Chetopa, and within Cherokee county. In the Chetopa Advance, January 20, 1869, appeared the following advertisement:

     ROGERS NEW FERRY NEAR THE KANSAS AND CHEROKEE LINE AT THE OLD CROSSING. The proprietor has located and put in a ferry and a number one boat for the accommodation of the traveling public. It is in thorough repair and the public will find it to their advantage to cross at this point. The roads leading to it and from it are in fine condition and persons approaching Baxter from the west will find it a saving in distance to cross at this ferry. Also, the best way from the east to Chetopa.

     A week later, the Advance of January 27, printed the following item:

     NEW FERRY. Arrangements have been made to put in a new ferry across the Neosho, just this side of the residence of Mr. Hard. Unless the proprietors of the old ferry put their boat and the approaches to the ferry in better condition, they must expect to lose all their custom. When not crossing teams, the hands ought to be kept busy with the shovel.

     No further mention of the Rogers ferry has been located.

     By early 1871 W.H. Barker and F.C. Lowrey applied to the county board for a license to run a ferry on the Neosho near the city of Chetopa, at the crossing of the Baxter Springs and Chetopa road. Their application was granted upon their filing a satisfactory bond and payment of a $10 fee into the county treasury. The board fixed their ferriage rates the same as those allowed other ferries within the county.[17] No further mention of this enterprise has been located.

     Chetopa was the next ferry location upstream. On September 14, 1868, Messrs. C.W. Isbell and J.H. Frey petitioned the county commissioners for a license to operate a ferry at Chetopa, and the board, believing that such a ferry was much needed and would be of great utility to the traveling public, granted their petition. The county clerk was instructed to issue them a license upon payment of $20 into the county treasury of Labette county, and otherwise complying with the law. The board also fixed the following rates of ferriage. For one 4-horse, mule or ox team, 75 cents; one 2-horse, mule or ox team, 50 cents; one 2-horse buggy, 50 cents; one single horse and buggy, 40 cents; cattle, per head, 10 cents; mules, horses and asses, 10 cents each; hogs and sheep, 5 cents each; man on horse-back, 25 cents; footmen, 10 cents each. This license was for the duration of one year from the date of issue.[18] At a meeting of the board of county commissioners on November 26, following, the $20 license fee charged this ferry was reduced to $10. Mr. Frank Frey, of Parsons, is a brother of the J.H. Frey who was connected with this ferry, and worked for his brother during his spare time.[19] No further record of this ferry has been found.

     In the spring of 1870 F.W. Maxon appeared to be in charge of the ferry at Chetopa, located at the foot of Maple street. He probably took charge sometime during 1869, for on April 6, the following year, he made a request to the county board through the county clerk for a renewal of his license to operate at that point. The clerk was ordered to renew his license for one year upon the filing of a proper bond and the payment of $20 to the county treasurer.[20]

     Following high water in the year 1878, when bridges were put out of commission, a ferry was constructed the latter part of May, by J.M. Bauman, under contract with the city of Chetopa, and operated during the flood period.[21]

     Chetopa was an important trading point during the late 1860s, and for a time during the period of the Texas cattle trade was a shipping point for the "long horns" to northern markets. Thousands of head of Texas cattle were daily being driven through the south-east corner of the state, headed for the packing houses east of the Mississippi river. After the building of the railroads there was occasional trouble over the accidental killing of livestock by the railroad. William Higgins, an early-day politician, editor and later secretary of state, was appointed claim agent for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, and the greater part of his duty was adjusting claims of farmers and cattlemen for loss of livestock killed by his road. This job earned for Mr. Higgins the honorary sobriquet of "Bull Coroner."[22]

     In 1866 the legislature established a road from Humboldt to Chetopa, George Lisle, Henry Jackson, and William Simmons being appointed commissioners to lay it out. This road followed a trail already in use, which followed up the west side of the Neosho to Oswego and farther north.[23] In 1869 another road was established by the legislature, running from Baxter Springs to Chetopa, along the south line of the Cherokee neutral lands. J.W. Miller was the surveyor in charge of running this road, and his plat and notes are on file in the archives division of the Kansas State Historical Society.[24]

     Agitation for bridges within the county began early in the 1870s, but the sparsely settled condition of the country found the settlers rather loath to incur the necessary expense in the way of taxes for these much-needed improvements. During the early summer of 1871 another move for bridges was started, and on August 21 a special election on the proposition of voting Neosho river bridge bonds to the amount of $105,000 was held. The settlers evidently had not changed their minds, for the vote stood, for bonds, 165; against the bonds, 1,295. However, a later effort was more successful, and a bridge was built at Chetopa in 1872. This was a wooden structure and cost the city $10,000 in bonds. It served the community for several years, but during high water in the river on May 21, 1878, the abutment on the east bank gave way and the eastern span went down "with all on board," the crew consisting of Messrs. L.M. Bedell, O.A. Sarber, J. Ritter and a Mr. Day. The latter two were somewhat injured by the fall of the bridge, but Mr. Bedell, so the Advance stated at the time, "did not even get his pants wet." Following this catastrophe, a ferry boat was put into operation, and until the bridge was repaired was the only means of crossing.

     The next structure built was truly a "bridge of sighs," and was constructed under great difficulties and with many discouragements. It was begun in the spring of 1879, and was a combination bridge, erected by the same company that built a later one. On July 23, when nearly completed, the props having been taken out for fear of high water, a wind storm swept up the river, tearing down the east span and breaking up the frame work and twisting the iron rods so badly that it required several weeks of labor to remedy the damage. The storm that caused all this trouble was not felt anywhere else in the vicinity. By the middle of August the bridge was again upon the trestle work and ready to be braced together, when high waters swept the bridge and trestle work down the river, leaving not a stick of timber behind. It was carried from twelve to fifteen miles downstream and had to be hauled back by team. This required much time and it was not until November following that it was ready for use. The third bridge -- an iron one -- was built during 1888 and completed early in December.[25]

     Labette creek is the principal tributary of the Neosho in Labette county, and consequently second in importance. The stream is close to fifty miles in length, has its source in the southwestern part of Neosho county, slightly south of the town of Thayer, and joins the Neosho at a point a mile or so north and east of Chetopa. This stream was named for Pierre Labette, an early-day Frenchman who lived on the creek a little southwest of where Oswego was built later. He is said to have once lived opposite the mouth of the creek.[26] There is good water power on this stream, and close to its mouth was located an ancient Indian village site. As Labette creek joins the Neosho in the immediate vicinity of Chetopa, the history of its ferry is given herewith.[27]

     On September 14, 1868, Hugh Moore, by his agent J.D. McCue, presented a petition to the county board for a license to keep a ferry on the Labette "river" at or near the Rocky Ford. His petition was granted and the following rates of ferriage were established: For one 4-horse, mule or ox team, 75 cents; one 2-horse, mule or ox team, 50 cents; one 2-horse buggy, 50 cents; one-horse buggy, 40 cents; man and horse, 25 cents; cattle, per head, 10 cents; hogs and sheep, per head, 5 cents; footmen, 10 cents. He was required to file a good and sufficient bond, whereupon the county clerk issued him a license good for one year from the date of issue.[28]

     Mr. J.O. Wiley, of Bartlett, Labette county, says the "Rocky Ford" on Labette creek was just a mile west and one half a mile north of where the main highway from Chetopa to Oswego crosses Labette creek. It was his recollection that there was a ferry which operated across the creek where the highway is now located. He was but a small boy at the time and cannot remember who operated it. He also recalls a ferry across the Neosho right at the line between Kansas and the Cherokee territory, but does not remember who ran it.[29]

     Apparently a ferry was contemplated for Hackberry creek, a tributary of Labette creek, for on July 2, 1867, the following item is recorded in the "Commissioners' Journal" of that date, but through some neglect or other cause, the name of the party applying for the license does not appear:

     Ordered that ferry License be granted to ......... at the mouth Hackberry creek in Labette county, Kansas, from the date of issuing said license by the county clerk the rate of ferriage as follows for wagon & two Horses 50 cents and wagon and 4 horses 75 cents. Buggy and two horses 50 cents. Buggy and 1 horse 40 cents. For man and single horse 25 cents. Every additional horse 10 cents. Loose stock cattle 8 cents per head to am't of 100 head; over 100 head 5 cents. Footmen crossing 10 cents not connected with wagon & team. For sheep and hog 4 cents.

     Hackberry creek flows into Labette creek in Richland township, S. 7, T. 34, R. 21E.

     Oswego was the next ferry location upstream on the Neosho, and this early-day crossing was located at or near the residence of D.M. Clover. On July 1, 1867, Thomas Richard was granted ferry privileges at this place, paying $10 for the privilege for the period of one year, and being required to file a bond of $500 with the county to keep up the ferry as required by law. Ferriage rates were established as follows: For wagon and 2 horses, 50 cents; wagon and 4 horses, 75 cents; buggy and 2 horses, 50 cents; buggy and 1 horse, 45 cents; man and single horse, 25 cents; every additional horse 10 cents; loose cattle, 8 cents per head to the amount of 100; over 100 5 cents each; footmen crossing not connected with wagon, 10 cents; sheep and hogs, 4 cents per head.[30] Richards apparently retired from the business within a year, for the following year contains no mention of his having applied for a renewal of his license.

     In January, 1868, Messrs. Barner & Clover petitioned the board of county commissioners as follows:

OSWEGO, KANSAS, Jan. 11, 1868.

     Now comes Barner & Clover with petition asking the board to grant to the said Barner & Clover the right to build & maintain a ferry across the Neosho river in or near the North line of Sec. 16 Town. 33S Range 21 East of the 6th principal Meridian And the Board having been fully advised in the premises and believing that such ferry is necessary for the accommodation of the public & that the petitioners are suitable persons to keep the same do & it is hereby ordered that the Clerk upon the production of a receipt from the county showing that the said Barner & Clover have paid into the co. Treasury the sum of Twenty five Dollars as tax for said ferry issue to License to said Barner & Clover granting them the right to build & maintain a ferry as above described.

And it is further ordered that the rates of ferriage shall be as follows for wagon and two horses (40) forty cents; for wagon & 4 horses sixty-five cents; buggy & 2 horses 40 cents; Buggy & one horse 35 cents; one man & horse 20 cts. & for each additional footman 10 cts. Loose cattle per head 8 cts; hogs & sheep 5 cts per head and the same rates are allowed for oxen as for horse teams."[31]

     Mr. Barner apparently retired from the ferry by early fall, for a little over eight months later, on September 15, 1868, D.M. Clover, by his attorney N.L. Hibbard, presented a petition to the county board asking permission to start a ferry on the Neosho at a point one half mile from his residence. This license was granted and the following rates of ferriage prescribed: Four-horse, mule or ox team and wagon, 75 cents. Two-horse, mule or ox team, 50 cents. Two-horse, buggy or carriage, 50 cents. One horse and buggy, 40 cents. Man on horseback, 25 cents. Loose cattle, mules, horses and asses, 10 cents per head. Hogs and sheep, 5 cents each. Footmen, 10 cents. Mr. Clover was required to pay $20 for his ferry license.[32]

     From old files of the Oswego Independent it is learned that that city secured a ferry when an Oswego merchant, R.W. Wright, purchased for $300 a boat loaded with potatoes, oats, etc., which came down the river from Erie, during the drought of 1869. The boat became stranded because of low water. The potatoes, etc., were sold and the boat pressed into service as a ferry at the crossing east of Oswego.

     During the summer of 1868 the streets of Oswego were congested with homeseekers looking for claims in the Neosho valley. In Columbus, a few miles to the east, a similar condition prevailed the following year. The Workingman's Journal, of that place, in issue of November 12, 1869, said: "Our town presented a lively appearance during the past week. The hotels are crowded with persons who are looking at our beautiful country, many of whom are settling here, and going into business."

     Reeves' ford on the Neosho was the location of another ferry. Under date of July 11, 1867, the "Commissioners' Journal," Labette county, recites that it was ordered that G.P. Reeves be granted a license for a ferry at what was called Reeves' ford on the Neosho river, to take effect upon his paying a $10 license fee to the county treasurer. This ferry probably functioned during the ferrying season of 1868. On January 4, 1869, the county board was petitioned by R.W. Bagby to grant Simon Holbrook and R.W. Bagby a license to keep a ferry on the Neosho at a point where the Reeves ferry and west line county road crossed the river. Their petition was granted upon their paying into the county treasury the sum of $10 as tax, the board also ordering that the rates of ferriage be the same as those established for the Chetopa ferry.[33] This ferry probably lasted until a bridge spanned the river.

     Another ferry in this vicinity was that of S.M. Sovereen. We haven't discovered the exact location of this crossing; however, it was the starting point of a road which ran to Columbus and on to Broylis' ferry on Spring river.[34] Aside from the following item headed "A Villainous Act," we have discovered no further mention of this ferry:

     We are informed by S. M. Sovereen, Esq., that on last Sunday night some rascal went to his ferry on the Neosho river and cut the large rope that spans the river, almost in two. The cut was near the center and was not observed by Mr. Patoush, who runs the ferry, until the boat was being crossed on Monday morning when it gave way. The boat was heavily loaded at the time and the river up, and only by merest chance was it saved from going down stream and perhaps doing great damage. Mr. Sovereen feels confident he knows the perpetrator, but has no evidence sufficient to convict him. He and Mr. Patoush offer a reward of $100 for arrest and conviction of the scoundrel. The boat will not run again until they can send East and procure a wire cable. -- Oswego Independent, July 8, 1872.

     The next ferry location was between Oswego and Montana, about four miles north of Oswego. This ferry was started by Abner Ferguson. In a letter to the author, Mr. T.A. Sprague, of Route 1, Oswego, states: "The first boat on the river here was owned by Abner Ferguson. It was made by Andy Boyd and ironed by Jim Lindsay, a blacksmith who came to this country in the fall of 1866. The ferry was put in operation in the summer of 1867. In the absence of the father, it was run by the son, T.B. Ferguson, later governor of Oklahoma. The elder Ferguson sold out here in 1870 and went to Chautauqua county." The ferry was owned and operated by different parties until a bridge was built across the river. The last boat at this location -- about four miles up the river from Oswego -- upset while crossing a party, and four people were drowned. That ended the ferry business in this part of the county, according to Mr. Sprague. This ferry was granted a license without cost, on July 11, 1867, and was the first ferry operated within the county. The following rates of ferriage were prescribed:

     For wagon and 2 horses, 50 cents; buggy and 2 horses, 50 cents; wagon and 4 horses, 75 cents; one horse buggy, 40 cents; horse and rider, 25 cents; every additional horse 10 cents; loose cattle, 8 cents per head to amount of 100 head; 5 cents per head for all over that amount; footmen, 10 cents each not connected with wagon and team; sheep and hogs, 4 cents each.

     The location given for the ferry was rather indefinite; it was described as being on the Neosho river in Labette county, on or near the section line in Township 32. This would be between Oswego and Montana.[35] Case's History of Labette County, p. 125, states that Mr. Ferguson, in connection with Jonah Wilcox, commenced operation of the ferry near where the river is spanned by the iron bridge.[36]

     Sometime during 1868, Mr. Ferguson acquired a partner in the ferry, the "Commissioners' Journal" that year containing the following entry:

Clerks office, Oswego, Labette County Kansas, Oct. 5th, 1868.

     County Commissioners met pursuant to law. Present Wm Logan Chairman, J.F. Molesworth & Isaac Butterworth Commiss. Chas Boggs Deputy Co Clerk.

     And now comes Dempsey Elliott and presents the petition of Elliott and Ferguson for a license to keep a Ferry on the Neosho river at or near Montana and the board having considered the petition do grant said license and establish the following rates of Ferriage to-wit for one Four horse Mule or ox team 75 cents for one two horse mule or ox team 50 cents. Two horse buggy or carriage 50 cents one horse buggy 40 cents. Man on horseback 25 cents loose horses mules asses or cattle 10 cents per head Hogs & Sheep 5 cents per head. And when the said Elliott & Ferguson shall have paid into the treasury of the County the sum of 10 dollars as tax for keeping such ferry he shall be entitled to receive a license for the same under the seal of the county.

     On November 26, 1868, the "Commissioners' Journal" records an entry to the effect that "the ferry license heretofore issued to Isabelle and Fry and Dempsey Elliott at $20 each be and the same is hereby reduced to $10 each." This entry is a bit puzzling inasmuch as the board had already granted to these same ferry operators licenses at a cost of $10 for a year.

     February 12, 1869, Elliott and Ferguson were granted a renewal of their ferry license, presenting a bond to the commissioners with A.C. Bexon and Samuel Wilson as securities.[37] This apparently ended Abner Ferguson's connection with the ferry business in Labette county.

     By 1870 the ferry business on this section of the river appeared to be in the hands of Jonathan Wilcox and John Disner, who on January 8 petitioned the county commissioners for a license to run a ferry at Montana. This Wilcox may have been the same individual who was engaged in the ferry business three years earlier. They filed an approved bond and were granted the necessary license.[38]

     Mrs. Sallie Shaffer of Parsons, who has done much historical research in Labette and adjoining counties, has rendered invaluable assistance to the writer in examining and copying old records of county commissioners, interviewing old-timers, etc. Mrs. Shaffer states that there was a ferry on the Neosho about eight miles east of Parsons and south of the Frisco tracks. This ferry accommodated a summer resort of some importance at this location, known as "Neosho Park."

     The following record is something of a puzzle as to the location described. Under date of September 5, 1871, the county clerk presented the --

     Petition of J.S. Cooper and others praying the board to grant a license to B. McMillen to keep and run a ferry across the Neosho river at or near the mouth of Bachelder creek in Neosho township of _____ county. Whereupon the board grant said petition. Order that a license issue to said B. McMillen to keep and run a ferry at the point designated and at such a time as he shall file a good and sufficient bond as required by law and pay to the county treasurer the sum of ten dollars. Rates of toll to be the same as for other ferries across the river.[39] [Bachellor creek flows into Labette creek southwest of Parsons instead of the Neosho river.]

     No further mention of this ferry has been located.

     The most northern ferry within Labette county was located at a point where the south line of S. 22, T. 31, in Neosho township crossed the river. On March 3, 1871, Edward Spicer and other parties petitioned the county board for a license for Edward Spicer and Isaac A. Jones for a ferry at this point. Their petition was granted, the county board directing the applicants to pay into the county treasury the sum of $10, and also furnish a good and sufficient bond as required by law. Rates of ferriage were to be the same as charged at other ferries on the river within the county.[40]

     In April, 1870, county commissioners of Neosho county (?) granted a license to William Milton to run a ferry on the Neosho river at Vegetarian ford, in Neosho township, license fee being fixed at $12.50.[41] We have not yet located this ford. Neosho county has no Neosho township and Labette county has, but since Labette county had reduced ferry licenses to $10 a year, we are inclined to think this ferry applies to Neosho county.

     The earliest ferrying in Neosho county no doubt was in the immediate vicinity of old Osage Mission -- now called St. Paul, after the noted Catholic missionary Father Paul Ponziglione, who spent the greater part of his life at this post. After the organization of the county the first ferry license was issued to J.P. Williams on April 2, 1867.[42] As no further mention of this ferry has been found and a new man appeared to be in charge the next year, it is likely Mr. Williams did not operate his ferry over a year. A man named Morgan was in charge of the boat on September 3, 1868, the Journal mentioning that his boat was in good running order, and also that the Neosho was "on a rampage"

     "Capt." S.J. Gilmore was another ferry operator in the vicinity of the mission. The Journal of November 26, 1868, recites that he had "purchased Mr. Ashworth's interest in the mission ferry boat." This apparently was what was known as the "lower ferry." The captain operated another crossing known as the "middle ferry," also in the immediate vicinity of the mission. One of the ferryboats owned by Mr. Gilmore was known as the Legal Tender. On the night of June 8, 1869, a great rainstorm visited the locality of the Osage Mission, and as a result the water in the Neosho rose twenty feet in nine hours. Captain Gilmore's new ferry which had just been put in operation a short distance below the Buck & Hutchings mill, was torn loose and swept down stream. The boat was recovered the following week a little north of Montana, Labette county. The Neosho below St. Paul winds back and forth from east to west for a number of miles without getting many miles to the south, and the Journal, in mentioning the recovery of the boat, remarked: "Although it was but nineteen miles by land to the point where the boat stopped, it is fully fifty-seven miles by the channel of the Neosho, which is as crooked as the path of a politician." D.K. Wilson was mentioned as chief engineer and pilot of Capt. Gilmore's ferry.

     Neighbors and Johnson operated what was known as the "upper ferry" near St. Paul. The boat used at this point was also swept away during the freshet of June 8, 9, 1869.[43]

     About the middle of August, 1869, A.J. Saunders purchased the "middle ferry" from Captain Gilmore. In November, following, Mr. Gilmore entered into some business arrangement with the authorities of the town to keep in repair and run what was known as the old "Gilmore ferry" for the ensuing year, free to everybody.[44]

     Another ferry in the vicinity of St. Paul was operated during the early sixties. F.M. Dinsmore, in a paper read before the Neosho County Historical Society, said that when he arrived in St. Paul in 1865, there were but two houses between the Mission and Baxter Springs, and that one of these was at Trotter's ford on the Neosho, where a half-breed had a ferry. Mr. Dinsmore has passed away since the reading of his paper. He gave no names of anyone connected with the ferry.[45]

     Not having opportunity to consult commissioners' records of Neosho county, no doubt considerable data regarding ferry matters for St. Paul will be found lacking in this paper. For what information we have our thanks are extended to W.W. Graves, editor and publisher of the St. Paul Journal.

     With the building of bridges in the county, ferrying practically ended except for a temporary ferry south of Erie, which was operated until a new bridge was built to replace the one washed out by ice during the early 1880s.

     On May 16, 1871, the West Mission Bridge Co. was organized for the purpose of building a bridge across the Neosho on a line between Sections 15, 22, and 16 and 21, T. 29, R. 20. Jas. M. Roycroft, Reuben Lake, Stephen Carr, John Moffett and M.J. Cavanaugh were the incorporators. This company was chartered for fifty years, their charter being filed with the secretary of state May 18, 1871.[46] This bridge, located about two miles west of the town of St. Paul, was the first built in this part of the county, and was a much-traveled structure. Late in May, 1873, the Neosho rose to a higher point than it had reached in several years. A large amount of property along its course was destroyed. The fair grounds were partly inundated, including a portion of the race track, while bottom lands were completely overflowed. In the year 1869 the waters were some two feet higher than at the time of the 1873 freshet, but less property was destroyed owing to the fact that the country was then sparsely settled. The waters, however, rapidly subsided, but the west abutment of the bridge was washed out and that end of the bridge dropped down. This mishap was most inconvenient to the whole community as the nearest bridge across the river was at Parsons, in the county to the south. The factor of expense was another handicap in making necessary repairs, as the county could spend only $200, while the estimated expense in reconditioning the bridge was $2,500. The Journal was up in arms over the situation, and inquired "Are we going to sit still and allow $20,000 worth of township property go to ruin simply because the law does not particularly authorize the trustees to use a sufficient amount of township funds to repair the damage done? The farmers on the west side of the river are now compelled to go to Parsons to do their trading. . ." This evidently aroused the community, for during the latter part of June the town trustees advertised for sealed proposals for raising the end of the bridge, building a "trunk" and doing the work in a satisfactory manner. Seahner & Chesterfield took the contract, and by the end of July had a large force at work on the bridge, which was then almost completed.[47]

     By 1884 a new bridge was in course of construction at Osage Mission. The contractors doing the work were a bit worried about their money, refusing to accept bonds issued by the township in payment, claiming that they were illegal on account of the township voting an excess over the amount authorized by law. The contractors apparently had other troubles, for a local paper at the neighboring town of Erie, the following year records: "The new bridge in process of construction at Osage Mission was swept away by the flood Monday, and as it had not yet been accepted by the commissioners, we suppose the loss will fall upon the bridge company."[48]

(Part VIII-Neosho River Ferries -- to be concluded in the November Quarterly.)


1. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 17, p. 708.Return to reading

2. Pike's Expeditions, p. 135.Return to reading

3. Long's Expedition, v. 2, p. 253.Return to reading

4. Jeremiah Greenleaf, A New Universal Atlas, p. 47.Return to reading

5. Andreas, History of Kansas, p. 826.Return to reading

6. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions, v. 18, p. 216.Return to reading

7. 65th congress, 1st session, House Document, No. 321, pp. 22, 30.Return to reading

8. U.S. Weather Bureau, Daily River Stages, Part XI, p. 111; Blackmar, History of Kansas, v. 2, p. 352.Return to reading

9. 65th congress, 1st session, House Document No. 321, pp. 22, 30.Return to reading

10. Ibid., p. 6.Return to reading

11. Water Supply and Irrigation Paper No. 131, pp. 157, 158.Return to reading

12. Ibid., No. 37, p. 267; Daily River Stages, Part IX, p. 68.Return to reading

13. Water Supply and Irrigation Papers, No. 84, p. 115.Return to reading

14. Daily River Stages, Part IX, p. 76.Return to reading

15. Ibid., p. 92.Return to reading

16. St. Paul Journal, August 16, 1934.Return to reading

17. "Commissioners' Journal," Labette county, 1871.Return to reading

18. Ibid., 1868.Return to reading

19. Statement of Mrs. Sallie Shaffer, Parsons, after interview with Mr. Frey.Return to reading

20. "Commissioners' Journal," Labette county, 1870.Return to reading

21. Chetopa Advance, December 5, 1888.Return to reading

22. Parsons Sun, June 1, 1878.Return to reading

23. Plats of land surveys in office of state auditor, Topeka; Laws, Kansas, 1868, pp. 226, 227.Return to reading

24. Laws, 1868, pp. 31, 83.Return to reading

25. Chetopa Advance, December 6, 1888; Oswego Independent, December 14, 1888.Return to reading

26. Statement of Larkin McGhee, in Case's History of Labette County, p. 24.Return to reading

27. Mills' Weekly World, Altamont, December 30, 1890; Kansas City (Mo.) Times, February 25, 1879.Return to reading

28. "Commissioners' Journal," Labette county, 1868.Return to reading

29. From letter of J.O. Wiley, July 3, 1935, to author.Return to reading

30. "Commissioners' Journal," Labette county, 1867.Return to reading

31. Ibid., 1868.Return to reading

32. Ibid.Return to reading

33. Ibid., 1869.Return to reading

34. Laws, 1871, p. 302.Return to reading

35. "Commissioners' Journal," Labette county, 1867.Return to reading

36. Abner Ferguson died at his home near Emporia, where he had lived for many years, on August 22, 1900. The author is indebted to Mrs. Ruth Childres, daughter of Abner Ferguson, Mr. T.B. Ferguson and T.A. Sprague for data of the Fergusson ferry.Return to reading

37. "Commissioners' Journal," Labette county, 1869.Return to reading

38. Ibid., 1870.Return to reading

39. Ibid., 1871.Return to reading

40. Ibid.Return to reading

41. St. Paul Journal, May 24, 1934, "Annals of Osage Mission."Return to reading

42. St. Paul Journal, March 22, 1934.Return to reading

43. Ibid., April 19, 1934.Return to reading

44. Ibid., August 9, 1869, May 17, 1934.Return to reading

45. Letter of W.W. Graves to author.Return to reading

46. Corporations, v. 3, pp. 309, 310.Return to reading

47. Osage Mission Journal, June 4, 11, 18, July 30, 1873.Return to reading

48. Neosho County Republican, Erie, April 10, July 24, 1884; May 21, 1885.Return to reading

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