before modern bridges were built to span rivers in East
Texas, ferries were maintained at places where roads crossed streams
that were not fordable.
Many of East Texas’ earliest
immigrants entered Texas at James Gaines’ Ferry on the Old
San Antonio Road crossing of the Sabine
River east of Milam
in Sabine County. The ferry was originally known as Chabanan Ferry.
Gaines’ Ferry is notable in East
Texas because it was operated continuously for more than 150 years--from
1785 to 1937. Pendleton Bridge now crosses the river and Toledo
Ferries often had different styles of construction, but the most common
ferry was a flat, raft-like barge which could carry wagons, people
As a part of their charter, ferrymen had to keep the river banks graded
so that access to the ferry was not impeded.
Many ferrymen also stretched bank-to-bank cables as a guide for the
ferry crossing. Several old ferry cables can still be seen at Burr’s
Ferry, which also crossed the Sabine between Wiergate,
TX and Leesville, LA.
Ferrymen were allowed to charge for the ferry’s use and were required
to post their fares, which averaged one or two dollars for light and
heavy wagons, twenty-five cents for one man and his horse, six to
12 cents for a man on foot, four to six cents a head for cattle, and
lesser prices for smaller animals.
Ferry owners were allowed to raise their fares for crossings at night
or during inclement weather.
Among the earliest ferrymen in Texas was John McFarland who was issued
a license by Stephen
F. Austin and Baron de Bastrop in July of 1824 to cross the river
Felipe de Austin.
By 1836, the Republic
of Texas was regulating ferries, spelling out their responsibilities
to the public, and requiring them to be chartered by the county in
which they operated. In 1850 and 1854 the Texas Legislature passed
new laws related to ferries.
have found their way into East
Texas history on several occasions.
In 1849, Watt Moorman, a central figure in the Regulator-Moderator
War in East Texas,
was shot to death by Dr. Robert Burns of Logansport at a ferry crossing
on the Sabine
As Moorman and several accomplices crossed the ferry with the intention
to kill Burns, the doctor stepped from the corner of a building and
fired two shotgun blasts into Moorman’s chest. Moorman staggered a
few feet, uttered a curse in Burns’ direction, and fell face-forward
into the dirt.
Burns was tried “for making an assault with a certain dangerous weapon
called a shotgun with a value of five dollars,” but was found not