|Here’s history looking at you!
Too Deep To Walk:
Too Wide To Swim
The Red River flows between Fannin County and Bryan County, Oklahoma, and men have made many attempts to cross that river, which fights back with rapids, dangerous undertows, and even changing channels. To answer these problems, many crossing devices have been built. The most popular were ferries which operated from just before the Civil War until the 1930’s.
From the beginning there had been a need to cross the Red River, both for business and for pleasure. When the water was extremely low, it was possible to walk across on the exposed sandbars; more often than not, however, it was too deep. Of course, there was always the option to swim but, in the case of the Red River, it was deemed risky. Known for its severe undertow, the river is simply too dangerous and too wide to swim.
Through the years there have been several ferry crossings between Fannin County and that part of Indian Territory which is present-day Bryan County, Oklahoma. These were the first attempts to cross the Red River, other than the use of boats and rafts, and have now been replaced with bridges.
One of the earliest of these crossings was north of present-day Telephone, near Blue Bluff, the site of Philip Nolan’s 1800 camp. (Nolan had come to Texas to obtain horses for the French Government of Louisiana.) Ferry service was established there before the Civil War by Charlie Brown, an Indian whose descendants live in Oklahoma. Although the date is unknown, a full-blooded Choctaw Indian named Dave Bryant became the owner. After operating Bryant’s Ferry for years, the family, Dave, Hugh and Pearl, hired R.E. Snow to help in the 1890’s. Snow later took over the ferry, and hired his nephew, Birt Russell, to work for him.
Plans were often made to build a bridge at the crossing, and finally money was set aside In 1916. World War 1, however, postponed its construction until 1926. At that time, Austin Bridge Company of Dallas contracted the project, and the Bonham Daily Favorite of July 4, 1927, told of its completion.
In building the Telephone Bridge or Snow’s Ferry Bridge, a pier was washed out which called for another. Austin brothers experienced quite a lot of high water and flooding in the work but the fact remains that they built the bridge.
The bridge, which cost almost $80,000, had a center span of four hundred feet and two two hundred foot spans at each end. Beginning in 1927 tolls were collected on the Texas
side by Mr. & Mrs. Jim Freeman. The bridge collapsed in 1940 as Snow drove a truck across it. It has not been rebuilt.
Another ferry, one of the oldest in the valley, was operated by Henry Dawson at Sowell’s Bluff until it was replaced in 1927 by a swinging toll bridge, a twin to the bridge at Telephone. These were the first cable bridges built in Oklahoma. When it 1932 this bridge fell, many people said that acid had been put on the cables to break them so that people from Oklahoma could not cross to Bonham. When its twin fell several years later, the search for foul play intensified, but nothing was proved. It is believed that a norther of terrific force caused the wires to twist and snap.
When the Sowell’s Bluff bridge collapsed, a temporary ferry operated by T. Brown was established until the present bridge was built. In 1940 the river changed course, and men were called in to dynamite the riverbed and reroute it back under the bridge, leaving the site as it is today, south of Yuba, Oklahoma, and north of Bonham.
Two ferries were north of Ravenna and south of Yarnaby, Ok. The Ravenna Ferry, operated by Lowie Pope, was directly south of Yarnaby. About two miles west, A man named Ferguson ran another ferry. At one time a man named Dodson operated one of them.
There were other ferries connecting Bryan and Fannin Counties. One of them was Tulip Ferry, which connected the Albany area in Bryan County with Tulip.
For several years prior to 1867, George Grubbs owned and operated a ferry about a mile from …(Telephone) bridge site. In July, 1867, a flood came and the Red River cut across a narrow strip of land and made a new channel, completely leaving the old channel. Thus the ferry was out of operation. For several years after this rafts and skiffs were used.
According to Casey Grimes another, known as Pryor’s Ferry, was operated from a Fannin County bank on the Red river; however, the operator, as well as the exact Location of the crossing, are unknown.
Prices charged for crossing are particularly interesting. The average prices for crossing by ferry were: $2.00 for horses and an ox team, $1.50 for a two-horse wagon, and a lone rider and his horse traveled for .37 ½ cents. Toll bridges charged .10 cents each for pedestrians; .15 cents for horseback riders; .25 cents for a buggy; .50 cents for
wagons; and $1.00 for cars. Thrifty travelers could purchase toll books at half price.
The "Whiskey Trail" was a common title given to many of the crossings between Bryan and Fannin. This title of course dates the crossing as a business venture of the prohibition era. This crossing in pursuit of liquor is a funny thing. In the early years when the Indians were under the direct supervision of their Uncle Sam they had to come across on the Texas side to get the "fire water" the white man had brought. And in later years when the white man’s drinking was under the direct supervision of that same benevolent Uncle he had to cross to the Oklahoma side to buy it from those who had it hidden in caches and "joints and taverns."
An example of this is Snow’s Ferry. Snow had a beer joint on the Oklahoma side; after Oklahoma got 3.2 beer, he had plenty of demand for the product from Texans (as well as Oklahomans), so on signal he would cross over to Texas and pick up his customers, bring them back to his second place of business and sell them all the beer they wanted, then take them back to their home state.
The present bridge could adequately be given the name "Whiskey Trail" because Fannin is a dry county and many people cross to Oklahoma to buy liquor.
The era of the ferries lasted through the first few decades of the twentieth century. The River, however, shows no traces of that time but flows calmly along the north Fannin County border interrupted only by the Bryan-Fannin Bridge crossing at Sowell’s Bluff. "Red River has challenged and been answered."