The North Platte River Crossing

Along the Overland Trail

The crossing of the North Platte River just downstream from Johnson's Island, was such an exciting event to diarists, that much was written on that topic, but very little about the station itself, located on the east side of the river. At this point, the Platte River was a welcome sight to the weary travelers, large cottonwoods lined the banks offering shade in the otherwise hot, dry, destitute sage brush county, and the water was clear and cold.

An absolutely ingenious ferry, the builder of which remains unknown, was meticulously described by Fitzhugh Ludlow, in June 1863. It basically was a sturdily built scow attached with ropes and pulleys to a cable strung across the river. The current of the river carried it across. Readjusting the ropes would change the angle of the scow, and it would be carried back across the river. It had room for one wagon, with passengers and baggage squeezed in between each other and the horses. This was also one of the higher priced tolls, at around $5.00 per wagon. Emigrants note that they would search along the banks of the North Platte for places to ford the river and avoid the toll, but with cliffs of around 200 feet high, none were to be found.

Even with the ferry, the river was still a challenge. On one occasion the ferry broke loose, capsized, and several soldiers were drowned. Another problem was the waiting in line for wagon trains ahead to complete the crossing. One diarist tells that after waiting all night, in spite of the fact that the next day was Sunday, and a "day of rest the world over," they were up at dawn in order to be first in line at the ferry.

The North Platte Crossing is on the National Register of Historic Places; the eight acres surrounding the site comprise a State Historical Park, and is owned by the state of Wyoming.

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