Jan 062009

We are always on the lookout for oddball attractions, off the beaten path adventures, the weird and unusual. So when somebody told us about the Los Ebanos Ferry, we had to check it out.

Located on the Rio Grande River a few miles west of Mission, Texas, the ferry is the last non-powered, hand-pulled ferry at any border crossing in the United States. 

Yesterday we drove about 15 miles to Los Ebanos, a depressing little village situated on the riverbank, about two miles from U.S. Highway 83. There is not much to the community; a handful of run down houses, a few abandoned storefronts, a neglected looking park, a post office, and an old Catholic church.  A couple of dogs, a stray chicken, and a small herd of goats inside a barbed wire fence were the only signs of life.
The U.S. Customs House was closed and the ferry was not operating, but we walked down the dirt incline to where the ferry was tied up. Compared to the large twin diesel powered ferries we were riding a week ago between Aransas Pass and Mustang Island, this was indeed a crude affair.

The ferry can accommodate three cars and a few foot passengers, and a cable strung from ebony trees on both sides of the Rio Grande is the only means of propulsion. The ferry operator and his helper, and whatever passengers care to lend a hand, pull the ferry across the river, which is about 75 yards wide at that point.

According to a sign at the ferry crossing, the toll for an automobile and driver is $2.50, and walk on passengers are 50 cents each. Bicycles are $1 each, and forget bringing an RV, it wouldn’t fit on this small barge!

A historical marker near the toll booth says that the first recorded usage of this river ford was by Spanish explorers and colonists led by Jose de Escandon in the 1740s. In 1846 troops crossed the Rio Grande River here during the Mexican War, rustlers and Texas Rangers crossed here in 1874, and smugglers used the low water of the river crossing for decades, especially during the Prohibition years of the 1920s and 1930s. The ferry and Customs inspection station were established in 1950. Even today illegal crossings happen in this area on a daily basis.

The Rio Grande River here is a green, murky waterway lined heavily with vegetation on both sides, and the current was moving along pretty swiftly.  Friends who have spent more time in the area than we have told us that the Border Patrol uses armed patrol boats here, though we did not see any. But the Border Patrol was very visible – two marked cars drove in and out of the parking area while we were checking out the ferry, and a patrol helicopter made several passes overhead. Hey, as far as I’m concerned, whatever it takes to keep our border secure. I’d be very happy to see our troops brought home from the Mideast and see them stationed every few feet for the entire length of the border.

Thought For The Day – Don’t judge God by the absurdity of his children.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  6 Responses to “Los Ebanos Hand Pulled Ferry”

  1. Nick, we do continue to enjoy your blog, and its new format. The access to the full-size pictures is especially good. I suspect that, even if the ferry had been operating, you and Miss Terry would not have taken your van across — why go to Mexico?

    Jerry and Suzy

  2. This is our second winter in Zapata. There are many more border patrol this year. Great pictures !

  3. Love the blog. Can’t help but ask about: a border crossing _north_ of Mission, Texas?!

  4. We agree totally about Mexico…and my son, who went to Iraq, said the same thing about the troops. We have enough problems right here. Nice new blog!!! Way to go…

  5. Hey Nick…Happy New Year and we love the new blog format…great job!
    And John and Doni…thanks for getting that salt for the Margarator for Joe and Marcia…we sure have enjoyed it!:)
    Hugs and safe travels to all!
    Molly & Bob

  6. Hi. My name is Benjamin. My girlfriend Jennifer and I just crossed the Los Ebanos Ferry on our Motorcycle trip to South America. It was an amazing introduction to Mexico. We have walked across other border crossings, and always found them unnerving with all the guns, and border patrol. This Crossing was great! There was even a group of US citizens, about 30, crossing back over to the us from the Mexico side. They had been riding bicycles around the back roads of Mexico. Very cool spot. Sorry you didn’t get to cross. please check out the pictures of the crossing on our blog.

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