Ferries Were Essential to the First Settlers
Bonham Daily Favorite, December 20, 1992
It was not by accident that the first settlers of Fannin County claimed their headrights near or adjoining Red River. The sandy loam of the area was probably something of an enticement but the main attraction was the facility of travel offered by the river.
Transportation was important and essential for these immigrants. At about the time that the first arrivals laid claim to their homesteads only two trading posts were reasonably accessible to the area. Abel Warren's post was abandoned by its founder in early 1836 when he relocated some sixty miles up river. The other mercantile establishment was Fulton and Cravens U.S.A. Store near present day Arthur City in Lamar County. There were other similar establishments in Indian Territory but much too difficult to reach on a regular basis.
Until the organization of Fannin County in early 1838 residents also had to journey to the closest seat of government at Jonesborough in Red River County. The easiest overland travel was via the military road running from Fort Washita to Fort Towson and then south to Jonesborough. But the problem was access to the road by crossing Red River. River travel was, for part of the year, the most feasible, but also the most limited since large amount! of stores required a complex method of barges or rafts.
Recognizing the need for a ferry across Red River Thomas Jouett petitioned the Fannin County Court for a license to operate a ferry across the river near the mouth of Blue River. In his petition Jouett stated that the National Road intersected at this point.
Jouett's reference was in error. The Central National Road, created by the Texas Congress, crossed Fannin County at the southeast corner and did not terminate at Red River until it reached a point, opposite the mouth of the Kiamichi, in Red River County. Jouett was probably referring to the twenty year old military highway which paralleled Red River along its northern banks.
Whatever reasons advanced by Jouett convinced the Fannin County Justices and on April 4, 1841 the license was issued. Tolls set by the court were $2.00 for a four horse or oxen team; $1.50 for a 2 horse team; 37 1/2 cents for a man and horse; loose horses and cattle 12 1/2 cents each and loose sheep and goats 6 1/2 cents each.
Other than the Blue River reference the exact location of Jouett's ferry is unknown. A check of current maps show that Blue River empties into Red almost directly opposite the mouth of Bois d'Arc Creek.
There are no records showing that Jouett ever sold his ferry but a year after the initial licensing a license was issued to Hillary Bush for operation of a ferry and a road from the town of Bois d'Arc to Bush's Ferry was ordered. Bush's headright survey is in the northeast corner of the county at the point where Bois d'Arc empties into the river.
Jouett's enterprise spawned a succession of similar license applications. On the same date of Jouett's application Dr. Daniel Rowlett also petitioned and received a license, with the same tolls established, for a ferry at the village of Lexington.
Less than a year later John D. Fitzgerald put into operation a ferry at his homestead four or five miles down river from Lexington. Fitzgerald's tolls were somewhat lower. Wagons with four horses were $1.00; Two horse wagons, carriages, or small carts were 50 cents; man on a horse 25 cents; footman 10 cents; loose horses and cattle 5 cents per head; and loose sheeps, hogs, etc. 2 1/2 cents per head.
A number of other nineteenth century ferries are mentioned in the county records but no specific licenses are recorded. These were evidently recorded elsewhere in records that are no longer extant. Some historians have mentioned an early day ferry at Fort Warren but nothing in the records indicate this until much later. It is very possible that Abel Warren had some sort of system to enable him to transport goods from the military highway.
Several times in the later 1840's there are references, in county records, to Beall's (Beal's) Ferry. So fragmentary is the evidence that nothing specific as to location is possible. It is very likely that such an enterprise was operated by Richard Beal from his homestead on the river in the northeast part of the county. There are also some references to Beal's "cotton warehouses on Red River" indicating some type of river traffic endeavor.
Joseph Mitchell's Ferry is first mentioned in 1845 and 1846. The county court ordered construction of a road from this ferry to "the divide between Choctaw and Mineral Waters." These points place the ferry in present day Grayson, then part of the larger Fannin County.
Also in 1846 another road was ordered from Tibbel's Ferry on Red River to Bonham. Other references to this ferry also mention Brushy Creek which places the location in the northwest section of the county.
In 1850 an overseer was appointed for the Ward's Ferry road from Bonham to the divide between Timber Creek and Red River. This may be a later ferry called Kempes (Kemper) Ferry mentioned in road specifications in 1854.
A road from Parrish's Ferry to the Grayson County line was of concern to the court in 1853. This may have been the Warren Ferry operated by long time county clerk Jefferson Parrish who was in business at Fort Warren until his death in 1860.
The same year of 1853 also saw application for a ferry license by an A. Hamel. No other information is available.
Between the 1830's until about the time of the Civil War ferries were common sights along the stretches of Red River that bordered Texas from its northeast corner to the edge of the frontier in Montague County. Persons desiring to cross the river hardly had more than a few miles to go in either direction to find a ferry.
Some were profitable; some were not. Some existed for only the convenience of a specific operation. Some transported thousands of settlers into Texas before the Civil War, and some transported thousands more fleeing the aftermath of the war.
The most famous of these ferries were the Jonesborough Ferry where many of the first settlers before Texas independence crossed and Colbert's Ferry north of Denison. Both these operations played a major role in the settling of the Red River Valley.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas