Dusting Off the Old Ones was published in 1961 by W. B. Clarke, Miles City, Montana.
Early Day Ferry Boat Operations
In this story, we will endeavor to give you readers a picture of the ferry boat operations--the only means of crossing the swift flowing Yellowstone before bridges were constructed. The ferry boats were not power operated in those days, at least not in our part of the country, and they were constructed in such a manner that the current of the river furnished the power. For the most part, they were the pontoon-type, that type being considered by far the safest. Two flat-bottomed boats with aprons that could be lowered and raised were usually employed. These boats, placed some little distance apart, were connected or held together with a platform or deck on which the cargo to be transported was placed. The cargo consisted of anything from a man on foot to two well-loaded wagons pulled by horses. The boats were fastened by rope cables to an iron cable stretched across the river and by means of pulleys could be swung in a direction to catch the current which would take them across the river and the direction would be reversed on the return trip. This overhead cable was stretched across a tripod or open "A" made of heavy timbers, and the cable itself was anchored by a firmly set "deadman" on each end. There was a wheel on the deck with which the cables running through the pulleys on the main cable were adjusted and the course of the boat was directed somewhat in the manner of a ship's wheel.

The first ferries were those undoubtedly used by the Government about the time Fort Keogh was activated. General Miles states in his "Personal Recollections," a book which has been recently added to the library, that on October 17, 1876, he moved across the Yellowstone at the mouth of Tongue River with an expedition to intercept the march of Sitting Bull who was on his way to the Big Dry to hunt buffalo. And it is a cinch that he didn't ford the Yellowstone with his troops and supply trains. As to the exact location of the first ferry, we have no authentic information, but it is assumed it was either at the mouth of the draw which runs into the Yellowstone on the opposite side of the river from the present site of the Milwaukee stockyards or located at the Milwaukee bridge site west of Keogh. Remains of the old cables can be seen sticking out of the ground at each end of these spots. The old trail from Buford over which supplies were hauled to Keogh came up on the north side of the Yellowstone and, in order to avoid the Bad Lands between here and Terry, ran considerably to the north, winding down toward the river on the present site of the Cap Rock road. These two ferries were undoubtedly the first except possibly a ferry across Tongue River between Miles City and Keogh. This was apparently inadequate as some of L. A. Huffman's pictures of the old bridge at the end of Main Street show that it was constructed at a very early date. The best guess would be that the location east of the present Keogh bridge was the site of the first ferry.

The main ferry for the convenience of the people of Miles City was probably one which was operated across the river at the site of the Seventh Street bridge. A party by the name of Lewis Currier owned the land upon which most of Milwaukee Park is now situated. Currier lived in a house just about where you make the last turn to go to the bridge (at the location of the Old Flowing Well). There was another house down on the river in later years but Currier is the man who constructed the first ferry boat at that point. He operated this boat for several years and later sold it to Jim McNaney, the old-time buffalo hunter. "Shade Tree Bill" gave us an interesting sidelight when he told us about Currier building a platform in a big cottonwood tree about 30 feet above the ground on which he and his family could take refuge when the rivers broke up in the spring and there was danger of the island being flooded. He distinctly remembers one spring when Tongueriver went out first and as a consequence practically the whole of the west end of the island was flooded and large cakes of ice were piled up beneath this very tree.

Jim McNaney sold the ferry boat to John Truscott but Truscott never operated it. He leased it to different folks, among whom were William Wolff, who lived in the house at the south of the ferry boat landing. Then in 1898 Truscott leased the boat to John Smith. Smith had been living on the property now known as the old Fox Farm. John Smith's sons, Warren, John and Frank, operated the ferry for several years and until the bridge was built opposite Fort Keogh in 1902. When the Keogh bridge was built, Truscott sold the ferry boat to Charlie Hanson who had a store at Fallon. When the boat was sold to Hanson, Smith and his son, John, Arthur Martin and Roland Page drifted it down the river to Fallon and delivered it to the purchaser. Jim McNaney also "captained" the boat that was operated just below the present site of the Fort Keogh bridge, and possibly on the site of the first government ferry.

There was another ferry at Kinsey at approximately the location of the Milwaukee bridge. This boat was "skippered" by an elderly deaf fellow, Emil Struger, and afterward operated by Ed Guenther until about the time the Seventh Street Bridge was built. An incident is related about the operation of this ferry that is well worth recording. The boat was not of the pontoon type--just one single, large flat-bottomed boat. One day when this was loaded with a four horse team from the Tom Cotter ranch in the Little Sheep Mountain district and had reached the middle of the stream, in some manner the boat got directly across the current and was capsized, drowning the team but fortunately no human lives were lost. There are three of these ferry boat captains residing in the community--Reno Walters is a resident of Miles City and John and Warren Smith are residents of Terry.

Some of the rules concerning these ferries were that there was always attached to each boat a light skiff or row boat in case of emergency. These might be termed "life boats on the Yellowstone." The ferryman always chained the wagon wheels to the deck of the boat and all tugs or traces were unhooked so that in case of an accident or unruly horses, the wagon would be unhooked. No passengers were permitted to ride in the wagon or vehicle but were required to stand on the deck. One of the main obstacles in the operation of the ferries was the slush on the river when it commenced to freeze over in the winter and again when the river broke up in the spring. During the winter season, the boats had to be winched up high and dry and out of the reach of the high water and then lowered for the operation in the spring. When the water was low, the ferry sometimes would be grounded in the middle of the river and it took considerable maneuvering to get it started again. Strong winds also had an effect upon the operation of the ferry. If an up-stream wind was strong enough to overcome the side pressure of the river's current that drove the ferry across the river, great difficulty was encountered and sometimes the crossing would have to be postponed until the wind subsided.