Menor’s Ferry remembered today: everything you never knew about the famed river crossing

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Today is Menor’s Ferry Day in Grand Teton National Park. It’s a day set aside for what was truly Jackson Hole’s first commercial operation—ferrying people, livestock and goods across the Snake River—that operated from 1894-1927.

Cross reference: Ferry’s importance

Before delving into the history of the ferry, it’s important to understand its significance. Unlike mountain men visitors to Jackson Hole in the century previous, travelers to the valley from the late 1890s through the first few decades of the 20th Century mostly arrived via Idaho using Teton Pass. Sure, some also came up the Hoback or over Togwotee and the Gros Ventre, but when the railhead went in in Victor, Idaho in 1912, most easterners took the train to Teton Valley and then humped it over Teton Pass into Wilson.

Once arriving in Wilson, remember, there was no immediate bridge to great them. The Snake River was a formidable barrier to the valley’s bottomlands and eventual homesteading spots like Mormon Row.

Fording the undammed waterway that had earned a reputation as the Mad River was out of the question during high water—from April through August. Maybe you could swim a horse across, maybe not. But you certainly weren’t getting your wagonful of supplies over. Not at Wilson or anywhere around there as the numerous and ever-changing braids and channels that have come to typify the river made crossing an adventure.

Menor makes a way

Enter Bill Menor. By the way, his last name is pronounced ‘Mean-er’ as in no other was meaner to his brother, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

A 35-year-old Menor arrived to the valley in 1892 from an Ohio upbringing where he was born. Menor had bounced around earning a living as a reported buffalo hunter among many things.

Local bachelors Jack Shive and John Cherry encouraged Menor to launch a ferry service over the Snake and, after searching for the perfect spot where the river was relatively behaved and in just the one channel, he chose a crossing near what would become Moose, Wyoming. He made his homestead on the west side of the river—the sole resident of ‘West Bank’ Jackson Hole for a decade until  Jimmy Manges built a cabin on Timbered Island in 1911.

Menor had a crude ferry running by 1894. The ferry was a simple platform set on two pontoons. An overhead cable system across the river keeps the ferry from going downstream, while allowing it to move sideways. By turning the pilot wheel, the rope attaching the boat to the cable is tightened and points the pontoons toward the opposite bank. The pressure of the current against the pontoons pushes the ferryboat across the river in the direction the pontoons point.

The ferry could hold a wagon and four-horse team. The horses would be unhitched and stand next to the wagon. Loose horses usually just swam across. Later, when the operation became more mechanized, Menor’s ferry could carry an automobile across the river.

Residents often crossed on the ferry to hunt, gather berries and mushrooms, and cut timber at the foot of the mountains.

Menor kept the fare reasonable for the entire time he ran the service. He charged 50 cents for a wagon and team and a quarter for a rider and horse. Pedestrians rode free whenever a wagon was crossing.

Menor was a stickler for the fare. He had a reported fondness for huckleberries and bacon but would accept neither as a substitute for payment and he never came down on the price. The first recorded crossing was made by Maggie McBride in 1896 and she chronicled that Menor could not be bargained with concerning the fare. It was not uncommon for Menor to make 10-12 trips a day during peak season.

When the water was too low for the ferry, Menor suspended a platform from the cable and three to four passengers could ride a primitive cablecar across the river. In later years, Menor and his neighbors built a bridge for winter use, dismantling it each spring.

The only other options for crossing the Snake River at the time Menor’s ferry was operating was Conrad’s ferry andlater Sheffield’s toll bridge in Moran. The Jackson-Wilson bridge in Wilson was constructed in the early 1900s but washed out a few times including in 1917 when it wasn’t repaired until 1922.

Soon a rutted wagon wheel road had begun to appear along the west bank of the Snake River. It traversed basically where North Fish Creek Road and the Moose-Wilson Road are today. For about three decades, Menor’s crossing was a busy hub of economic activity. Eventually, a general store was put in to give traveler’s a place to shop. Menor also operated a smokehouse and blacksmith shop.

Along comes little brother

Menor’s little brother Holiday joined Bill around 1905. The two ran the ferry together but it wasn’t long before they had a falling out and Holiday moved to the east bank of the Snake where he built his cabin and a started a lime pit operation to make whitewash.

When asked about the brothers, most residents would simply note something like: “They get along fine as long as there’s that river between them.”

One fight was so bad the brothers didn’t speak to one another for two years!

Bill Menor eventually tired of the harsh seasons in Jackson Hole. He sold his place in 1918 to Maud Noble, Frederick Sandell and May Lee. He moved to California, followed by Holiday in 1928. Bill died in San Diego on May 30, 1933. Holiday died there on December 18, 1934.

Noble operated the ferry until 1927 when the State of Wyoming built a bridge over the Snake River, rendering the ferry obsolete.

The property was bought from Noble in 1929 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who restored the structures and the ferry around 1949, and donated the property to the National Park Service in 1953. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

The Park Service has restored the hand-operated ferry to operation from 2009. The ferry district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 16, 1969.

Menors Ferry Day, hosted by Grand Teton National Park and Grand Teton Association will take place Saturday, July 27 from 10:30am until 2:30pm at the historic Menors Ferry, located in Moose, Wyoming.

 Celebrate this historical landmark located within Grand Teton National Park. There will be a variety of activities. Take a walk back in time to learn more about Bill Menor, the proprietor who once lived at Menors Ferry, and the lifestyle that he lived. Historical activities include spinning demonstrations, music, historic interpretation, and a walking tour. This event is free and open to the public. 

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