Quick, which is easier to build, a boat or a bridge? If you were in Idaho Territory in the early 1860s the answer was usually a boat. If the boat regularly crossed from one side of a river and back again, you’d call it a ferry. There were many such ferries in early Idaho, and they’ve left their mark in enduring place names: Bonners Ferry, Glenns Ferry, Walters Ferry, Smiths Ferry, Ferry Butte, Ferry Creek. Just kidding about that last one. It was named after Rudolph Ferry who had a homestead there.
Perhaps a good measure of the importance of something is how quickly government jumps in to regulate it. Idaho Territory was created in 1863 and by 1864 there was a statute on the books regulating ferries and toll bridges. You couldn’t operate one without a license and you were told how much you could charge.
According to Idaho Session Laws, 1864, the folks operating, say, the Eagle Rock Ferry above what would become Idaho Falls could charge the following:
For a man and a horse, .50
For a horse and a carriage, $3.00
For a wagon and two horses, or two oxen, $4.00
For each additional pair of horses or cattle, $1.00
For each animal with a pack, .50
For loose animals, other than sheep or hogs, .25
For sheep and hogs, each, .15
Saying that it cost 50 cents for a man and a horse to cross doesn’t tell the whole story. A dollar then would buy a lot more than a dollar now. A dollar in 1865 would be worth the equivalent of $14.65 in today’s buying power.
Ferries in early Idaho were often tethered to a cable that stretched across the river from bank to bank. Maintenance on ferries was a headache, and they sometimes broke loose, or got rammed by floating logs. In the long run, a bridge is better, so ferries were often replaced by bridges either at the same site or at a better bridge site.
Ferries always belonged to someone, and often were named after that person. That’s obvious. What isn’t so easy to understand is why the town names linked to ferries don’t have possessive apostrophes. Much to the chagrin of English students everywhere the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, the authority on naming conventions, rarely allows apostrophes. Here’s how they explain that in their Principles, Policies, and Procedures manual.
“Apostrophes suggesting possession or association are discouraged within the body of a proper geographic name (Henrys Fork: not Henry’s Fork). The word or words that form a geographic name change their connotative function and together become a single denotative unit. They change from words having specific dictionary meaning to fixed labels used to refer to geographic entities. The need to imply possession or association no longer exists. Thus, we write “Jamestown” instead of “James’town” or even “Richardsons Creek” instead of “Richard’s son’s creek.” The whole name can be made possessive or associative with an apostrophe at the end as in “Rogers Point’s rocky shore.” Apostrophes may be used within the body of a geographic name to denote a missing letter (Lake O’ the Woods) or when they normally exist in a surname used as part of a geographic name (O’Malley Draw).”
Dandy. But back in the days when ferries were operating references to them usually used apostrophes, so writing today about Glenn’s Ferry or Glenns Ferry can be a judgment call. And you thought writing this blog was easy.
Courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society digital collection, this photo is at Campbell’s Ferry, 12 miles from Dixie on the Salmon River, date unknown. There were rowboats on both sides of the platform to provide propulsion. It could carry three or four horses per trip.