Since its original printing in 1952, the publication of the Handbook of Texas has been made possible through the support of its users. As an independent nonprofit, TSHA relies on your contributions to close the funding gap for the online Handbook and keep it a freely accessible resource for users worldwide. Please make a donation today to preserve the most comprehensive encyclopedic resource on Texas history. Donate Today »


Morris L. Britton

COLBERT'S FERRY. Colbert's Ferry became the main Red River crossing after Sherman and McKinney were established. It was located a half mile downriver from where the U.S. Highway 75/69 bridge now crosses, north of Denison in Grayson County. Joseph Mitchell, a Chickasaw, operated a ferry near the same location in 1842. He died in 1847, and around 1849 another Chickasaw, Benjamin Franklin Colbert, called on Joseph B. Earhart to establish a ferry. The early road from Mitchell's ferry had angled southwest to join the Preston road. After Sherman was founded, the Colbert Ferry road turned more directly south. Colbert's was the Red River crossing for the Butterfield Overland Mail from 1858 to 1861, and served stage lines thereafter. In 1860 M. A. McBride, utilizing the Texas side, challenged Colbert's exclusive service of the road. The controversy was eventually settled when Colbert obtained McBride's riverfront land. The Katy (Missouri, Kansas and Texas) Railroad crossing, built a half mile upriver from Colbert's in 1872, reduced traffic on the ferry. In July 1873 Colbert built a toll bridge. Within eleven months it was destroyed by floods, along with the Katy bridge. Ferry operations resumed, and the Katy began to rebuild. Colbert sold his bridge rights to the Red River Bridge Company of Denison, which rebuilt the toll bridge in 1892. A flood in 1908 again destroyed both bridges. Ferry service was again resumed, this time with a powered boat that lasted until another toll bridge was built in 1915. In 1931 a free bridge was built adjacent to the railway bridge as a joint venture of Oklahoma and Texas. Opening of this bridge was delayed because of a lawsuit instigated by the toll bridge company. After considerable maneuvering between Governor W. H. D. (Alfalfa Bill) Murrayqv of Oklahoma and Governor Ross Sterling of Texas, the free bridge was opened on July 25, 1931.

Richard W. Fossey, "The Red River Bridge Conflict," Red River Valley Historical Review 1 (Autumn 1974). Ruth Ann Overbeck, "Colbert's Ferry," Chronicles of Oklahoma 57 (Summer 1979).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Morris L. Britton, "COLBERT'S FERRY," accessed August 24, 2019,

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Get this week's most popular Handbook of Texas articles delivered straight to your inbox