Queho Posse Chapter
E Clampus Vitus
Laughlin , NV
Ferries on the River
June 8, 2013
Under the benevolent leadership of
NGH Vern "Big Elvis" Brooks
The assembled redshirts in solemn conclave will review the history of
Ferries on the Colorado
Keepsake written, researched, amended, presented, orated, manipulated, and
By Clamphistorian and well-known Porn Star
Mark "The Expert" Hall-Patton
XNGH, DS-3, Scribe of St Vitus and Grand Clamp-plaquero
6018 ecv (2013 pbc)
The Colorado River is one of the most important bodies of water in the desolate and desiccated Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. It has influenced development in the Southwest from the coming of the first men. It has served as a source of life-giving water, a route for travel and shipping, a source of energy for industry, a source of great devastation during floods, and a seemingly impenetrable barrier at times. It is in this latter role that we will be reviewing the history of the Colorado in southern Nevada on this sailing of the Queho Posse's well-known and always awaited Queho'st Gaurd.
The area from Black Canyon to Fort Mojave has been one where, in the nineteenth century, travel was often difficult over the river. Through this land, the Colorado was fast and dangerous, with fords few and far between, and no bridges. It was an area which required men to come up with alternative ways of crossing the river, and some men found there was money to be made in doing so. These men created ferries, on which, for a small fee, travelers could (hopefully) safely cross the river and continue their journeys from East to West, or vice verse.
This area was also widely prospected and mined. The Mohave Indians were known for their unwillingness to allow for outsiders to settle in their land, and in the late 1850s attacked many prospectors and miners, causing a United States military reaction. Waiting for or traveling miles out of your way for a ford, or low water place on the river, was not often in the cards for men who needed to traverse the river. Between travelers to California over the Mohave Road, and miners in the area, crossings were necessary over the Colorado.
Most of the ferries operating during the nineteenth and early twentieth century relied on the power provided by the ferryman to operate. A line would be stretched across the river, and a flat-bottom boat or barge hauled across hand over hand with travelers aboard. Some ferries also used human power, but through the use of a long pole which was thrust into the river sediment and pushed the boat across. These ferrymen were a hardy lot, and it was not an easy process.
By the twentieth century, gasoline engines were used to push the ferries across. Sometimes it was a powered boat, and sometimes a powered line, but in either case, they was significantly easier to operate. Ferries would appear whenever they were needed, and then often go away as fast, as in the ferry operations related to the Tristate Settlement in the 1920s, or the building of Davis Dam.
We will be looking at the history of the ferries which have served the area from Fort Mohave north to Eldorado Canyon. While today there are bridges across the river, as well as dams to hold back some of the power of the water, this was not always the case. Before the dams, before the bridges, there were some men who have found needed crossing sites, and decided to make a few dollars by creating and operating these necessary river crossings. Their individual efforts are our focus for today.
The earliest ferry ties into the location known as Beale's Crossing, within today's Fort Mohave Reservation. It was initially an accidental ferry, as Lt. Beale with his camels and horses happened to arrive at the crossing location at the same time that the General Jessup flat bottom steam ship under Captain Johnson arrived at the site. The General Jessup, on January 23, 1858, acted as a make-shift ferry, taking the men and their gear across the river, with the mules swimming over on their own
A later report by Lt. Beale noted
"In a few minutes after our arrival, the steamer came alongside the bank, and our party was transported at once, with all our baggage to the other side. We then swam the mules over, and bidding Captain Johnson good-bye, he was soon steaming down the river towards Fort Yuma, three hundred and fifty miles below. I must confess I felt jealous of his achievement, and it is to be hoped the government will substantially reward the enterprising spirit which prompted a citizen at his own risk and great hazard, to undertake so perilous and uncertain an expedition."
There was at this time an existing ferry across the river at Ft. Yuma, but the difficulty of making the journey from Beale's Crossing to Ft. Yuma, and the delays involved, did not make it a viable alternative.
Soon after this, however, a private ferry was developed at Mohave City, next to Ft. Mohave. Fort Mohave itself was created in 1859 as a military reaction to the Mohave War, a series of attacks by Mohave Indians on Americans coming through their land. The fort was garrisoned by 600 troops from Ft. Tejon in California. Originally named Camp Colorado, within a couple of months it was renamed Fort Mohave. Soon after the fort's creation, the ferry began operations in late 1859, continuing even after troops left the fort at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. At this time it was operated by John Brown, a resident of San Bernardino, California, with Mohave Indians as his helpers.
The fort was regarrisoned in 1863. Sam Todd bought the ferry in 1864. Sam had built, with his partner Mr. Fagin, a community called Mohave City next to the fort. By 1866 Mohave City was the county seat for Mohave County, but the army base expanded and took over the land the community was on by 1869. Mohave City and the ferry ceased to exist.
A few years earlier, in 1865, William Harrison Hardy decided to start his own ferry line at a community he laid out on the Arizona side of the river where Bullhead City is today. Hardy was an early western pioneer, having been born in Allegheny County, New York, in 1823, and coming to California during the gold rush in 1849.
Hardy was described by a friend as being,
"...in stature a large man, big boned, angular, broad, square built, about six foot two inches in height and 200 pounds in weight; auburn hair, sandy beard, gray eyes, and heavy eyebrows. An educated man, whose life habit was cultural, genteel, moral, and well-bred. He neither drank, gambled, nor caroused in any manner. His language was without any taint of slang or profanity. For honesty, veracity, charity and general squareness, he had few peers ..."
After having run a successful store in Forest Hill, he moved to the Arizona Territory in 1864, creating the community of Hardyville on the Colorado River. The next year, in partnership with Sam Todd who had the ferry in Mohave City, he built a ferry to cross the Colorado River, and operated successfully for many years. He also built a well-known and widely used toll road from Hardyville to Prescott.
He charged based on the size of the groups using his ferry and/or toll road. His was the most used ferry on the river in the mid-nineteenth century, providing travelers making their way to area mines or to California a safe passage over the river.
Hardy did charge, of course, for the use of his ferry. By 1872, it cost the following for the ferry ride.
Wagon and two animals $3.50 Carriage with one animal $2.75 Beast of burden (per animal) $.75 Horse or mule with rider $1.00 Person on foot $.37 1/2 Indian alone Free
Hardy became well known for his road to Prescott and his ferry. In 1864 Hardy was the richest man in Mohave County. He served on the Territorial Council of the Territorial Legislature in 1866 and 1867, and later in the Territorial House of Representatives in 1889. He continued his ferry service until the railroad reached Needles about 1883. Hardy eventually moved back to California in 1905 and died in Whittier in 1906.
South of Hardyville and Fort Mohave, just past the Nevada border today was the Sweeney ferry. William Sweeney started the ferry operation in the late 1890s, and a small community grew up around it. It was on the Arizona side of the river. By 1905, Sweeney was operating a 32 foot boat powered by an automobile engine and with a triple screw. It was known as the Water Pearl. This operation did not survive long into the twentieth century, but was in operation at least as late as 1917.
North of Hardy's ferry was an operation at Cottonwood Island. This island, in the middle of the Colorado River, was a well-known location for steamboats to refuel with dry wood from the island. On the Arizona side of the river, a road from mines in the Black Mountains ran to the Colorado and across to Nevada. This was approximately where today's Cottonwood Cove is on the river, and the original road ran to Searchlight as it does today. It was in operation on and off as late as 1920.
At the mouth of Eldorado Canyon another ferry was built in the second decade of the twentieth century to provide a shorter route between Kingman and Las Vegas. An earlier ferry had operated here in the mid-1860s for a short time, but it was long gone by the early twentieth century. Begun in 1915 by E. F. Addis of Bakersfield, California, this new ferry did not open until 1917. It was a flat barge which was powered by an overhead cable which pulled it back and forth across the river. The cable was 700 feet high, and the barge was set at an angle to the river, using the motion of the water flow to push the barge across. It was touted as saving twenty-four hours in travel time. However, it was not in business for long, going out of business by 1920.
Later ferries existed in the area well into the twentieth century. When Tristate on the Nevada side of the river and the Katherine Mine on the Arizona side of the river were operating in the 1920s, a ferry was operated between the two. A pontoon boat was used for this early twentieth century operation. When the townsite of Tristate opened in 1921, one of the events was a race between two ferries in operation at the site, one called the Robert E. Lee, and the other the Natchez. The winner was not noted.
Later, Murl Emery would operate another ferry in the vicinity of Bullhead City, the original Hardyville site. Murl, whose father also operated ferries on the Colorado at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon and in Black Canyon, later the home of Hoover Dam, did not stay in Mohave County for long, but does have the distinction of being the first resident of what became Bullhead City.
Murl eventually moved back to Eldorado Canyon, and operated ferries and boats on the Colorado for the rest of his life.
Eventually, Davis Dam superseded the need for ferries across the Colorado. Its completion in 1951 spelled the eventual end for river ferries. The road between Nevada and Arizona was rerouted over the top of the dam, and was in use until 2004. Don Laughlin built the current Laughlin Bridge in 1987. He paid $3.5 million for the construction, which has been a good investment for his eponymous community. Residents of Laughlin have voted to build a second bridge over the river, but it is a future project still.
For further reading:
Goff, John S., Arizona Territorial Officials VI; Members of the Legislature A-L, 1996, Black Mountain Press
Las Vegas Age newspaper, various articles
Lingenfelter, Richard E., Steamboats on the Colorado River, 1852-1916, 1978, University of Arizona Press
Malach, Roman, Bullhead City; Land of Early Gold Mining, 1975, Mohave Valley Bicentennial Committee
Malach, Roman, Early Days in Mohave County, 1979, Mohave County Board of Supervisors
Malach, Roman, Mohave County; Sketches of Early Days, 1974, Arizona Bicentennial Commission
Malach, Roman, Mohave County Place Names, 1976, Mohave Valley Bicentennial Committee
Messersmith, Dan W., The History of Mohave County to 1912, 1991, Mohave County Historical Society
Murbarger, Nell, Ghosts of the Adobe Walls, 1964, Westernlore Press
Taylor, Paul, Stories From The Arizona Coast, 2005, Route 66 Magazine
Woodward, Arthur, Feud on the Colorado, 1955, Westernlore Press
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