The Canyon Ferry
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Driving anywhere in the Helena/East Helena area you see the name Canyon Ferry everywhere. These are reminders that there actually was a “Canyon Ferry” that crossed the Missouri River in the old settlement of Canyon Ferry which was established early in 1865. Rowing across the river was hard work so the ferry was strung across the river in the spot where the first Canyon Ferry dam was built. At Canyon Ferry, the charge for being swept across the river on an open barge was 25 cents for a horse and rider, 50 cents for a team. The heavy barge, anchored by cables, was carried across the Missouri by the river current. The completion of the first dam at Canyon Ferry in 1898 signaled the death of the ferry, for it left the waters below the dam too choppy for safe crossing. Those wishing to cross once again made the passage in rowboats until the first county bridge was built in 1899.
(a touch of local history)
Since 1992 I have been camping at Court Sheriff Campgrounds at Canyon Ferry Lake and have always wondered about the name. What is a “Court Sheriff”? Turns out Court Sheriff is a person! A man’s name. Here is a brief history:
In about 1866 Court Sheriff bought out a ferryboat interest on the Missouri River. Court Sheriff, who ran a stage line, soon added a livery stable and a two-and-a-half-story hotel, the Canyon House at the landing.
Named for its location at the mouth of Black Rock Canyon, the cluster of log buildings called Canyon Ferry served as a center for mining and ranching in outlying flats and gulches around the Missouri River.
His son, Court Sheriff, Jr., ran the ferry when he was about 12 years old.
This became known as Canyon Ferry.
For some 50 years, the Sheriff family operated a stagecoach between White Sulpher Springs and Helena. Canyon Ferry was a meal station midway along the trip.
The Canyon Ferry settlement was located 14 miles out from East Helena making it a convenient stage stop on the Helena-White Sulphur Springs run.
Currently, Court Sheriff Campground is about 14 miles from East Helena.