Jeff Sheffield's Ferry
by Kenneth Morgan
East Texas Tales
From the Cracker Barrel Journal,
The end of an era occurred in 1959, when the last hand-pulled ferry in Texas, and perhaps the nation, was put out of business by a newly -opened bridge built by the Texas Highway Department. Sheffield's Ferry, located 12 miles west of Kirbyville, was much -used conveyance, and had become a well-known landmark n the t East Texas Area.
The ferry was built by Jeff Sheffield in the early 1900s and run by John I. Jerkins from 1917 to 1942, when the county took over its day to day operations. His son, Fred Jerkins started running the ferry in 1946, with his salary paid jointly by Jasper and Tyler Counties. Not long after Fred Jenkins became ferry captain, he unknowingly carried a kidnapper and his hostage across the Neches. Then, the last year the ferry operated, his boat carried the men who robbed the Chester bank as they made their get-away.
Mr. Jenkins and his wife lived in a house near the river bank, on the Tyler County side. When someone wanted to be carried across the river, he sounded his born, and the ferry pertained raced out of the house and down to the ferry. Once he car was run onto the boat, and its wheels chocked, Mr. Jenkins hand-pulled the vessel, using a cable stretched across the river. A wooden-handled device he called a 'cheater", was connected to the cable by means of a hole drilled into the base, with the cable run through.
In his years on the river, Mr., Jenkins remembered only two accidents. The first happened when a when a car approached the river too quickly and landed n the water the second involved a truck that bad been left out of gear near the river. It also ended up in the drink.
In researching a story about a horseback journey up the Neches, made by Henry J. Luther and G. Bedell Moore in 1877, this writer found that the two timbermen, who later built a large sawmill in Orange, spent the second night of their journey out of Beaumont, at the home of Isham Sheffield and his wife Josephine. They dined that evening on cornbread, bacon, turnips and coffee. The travelers rode on to Town Bluff on the third day, and crossed to the east side of the river to visit Frank Smith, grandfather of Marvin Smith. I do not know wheather Ksham Sheffield was an ancestor of Jeff Sheffield, but feel it s very likely.
As a young man in the 1940s and 50s, I crossed Sheffield's Ferry many times, paying 50 cents a trip. It was a little scary driving a vehicle down the steep embankment and onto the unstable ferry, as it bobbed up and down in the water like a cork
The next time you are driving west on FM 1013, between Kirbyville and Spurger, look in a northerly direction as you cross the Neches River bridge. About 100 yards up river is the spot where Mr. Sheffield's ferry was located. It transported countless oxen, horse, and mule teams across the swift water of the Neches. Wagon, hacks, buggies and surreys were the most common vehicles using the ferry, until the Model T Ford came upon the East Texas scene in the teens and 1920s.
When the old ferry transported lit last vehicle across the Neches, a river which is loosely intertwined with the lives of the early settlers of this area, a chapter closed in the history of our state, and all the remains of our hand drawn ferries is faded photographs, scattered writings here and there, and a few nostalgic memories.
The writer wished to thank Mr. LaRue Adams, whose vintage 1959 article in the Beaumont Journal was also helpful in writing this account. Thanks also to Mr. Robert Yeates of the State Department of Hiways and Public Transportation, who assisted in the research.
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