by Howard Kent
Historian, Boundary County Museum
Did you know that on December 22, 2014, the Ferry at Bonners Ferry will be 150 years old?
Following is a brief history how the event came about.
In 1863, gold was discovered in Wild Horse Creek in British Columbia. The following year a northward rush was in full swing. One of the routes taken by the gold seekers was a trail that had been established earlier by the Boundary Commission when they were surveying out the 49th Parallel. Soon, this route became known as the Wild Horse Trail, passing through today’s Boundary County.
When the prospectors got to the Kootenai River they were temporarily stopped until they could secure passage across the river. Most were being taken across by members of the Kootenai Tribe in their sturgeon-nosed canoes. The canoes were limited in how much weight they could carry, so depending on the amount of supplies carried by the prospector, many back and forth crossings may have been taken. Also, the horses had to be guided across.
It was this scene that greeted a merchant from Walla Walla along with his associates. Edward L. Bonner, John W. Walton, and Richard A. Eddy were heading for the Wild Horse strike to check out the business opportunities. As they observed the situation at the river crossing, they saw an opportunity that was good as gold. They concluded that a substantial ferry could carry men, horses, and supplies more readily than canoes. Also, why not have a trading post to serve travelers as well as the Native Americans?
Their plan was good, but first they had to obtain permission for using the land on both sides of the river. Negotiations with Chief Abraham of the Kootenai Tribe proved successful. Next, a license to operate a ferry and a trading post had to be obtained from the Idaho Territorial Legislature when it met in Lewiston during its second session. In the meantime necessary supplies and equipment would be needed for the initial startup.
Finally, on December 22, 1864, the license was granted, and Bonners Ferry was born. A ferry was constructed from whip-sawed lumber and a log trading post was built. John Walton became the ferry and trading post operator. Edward L. Bonner went on to Missoula where he earned his fortune through a variety of investments. The ferry continued to operate for 51 years until a wagon bridge was built.
In light of this occasion, there will be a 150th Birthday Party on Saturday, December 20th at 1:00 p.m. at the Boundary County Museum. The program will include a proclamation by the Kootenai Tribe, County Officials, and City Officials declaring December 22, 2014 as the Sesquicentennial of the Ferry at Bonners Ferry.
Come enjoy a piece of birthday cake in honor of this day.