Brazos River Ferries

The river that we now call the Brazos was originally known by the Indian name Toschanhono.  During the time of Spanish exploration, it was changed to "El Rio los Brazos de Dios," or "The River of the Arms of God."  Several legends may explain how it got this name.

  • A Spanish padre along with a group of Catholic converts was fleeing a band of hostile Indians when they reached the Toschanhono, which was on a rampage.  Because of the Indian pursuit, they had no choice but to proceed.  Miraculously, they were able to reach the other side. The Indians followed but were swept away.  When the padre witnessed this, he dropped to his knees and named the river "El Rio los Brazos de Dios."
  • Kimball Ferry
    Kimball Ferry with Army wagon, about 1865  
  • A group of Mexicans in search of buried silver encountered a terrible drought so extreme that men and animals in the group were dying.  At last they found a river of clear water, and drank until they were satisfied. A padre with them blessed the river and from then on it was known as "The River of the Arms of God."
  • Juan and Maria, with their baby, were nearing the banks of the river on their journey from San Antonio. Suddenly, a group of Indians appeared from behind.  Juan urged the mules pulling their wagon across the river. The leader of the Indians followed, but was swept away.  Seeing this, the rest of the Indians did not dare attempt to cross. Overnight, a flash flood turned the river into a raging wall of water, separating Juan and Maria from the Indians.  In gratitude, Juan named the river "El Rio los Brazos de Dios."
  • Kimball Ferry Stone Tower
      Stone cable tower for the Kimball Ferry, 2002
  • Explorer Cabeza de Vaca [more] and his crew were shipwrecked in the Gulf of Mexico. They built a raft from the wreckage and headed towards shore.  On the way there, they noticed a reddish streak in the water.  De Vaca tasted it, found it to be fresh water, and followed the streak like an "arm of God."  After all of the hardship they had endured, de Vaca felt he had been led by Divine Providence and so he named the river "The River of the Arms of God."

Kimball Ferry
Kimball Ferry, about 1880  

Regardless of whether any of these legends are true, when the first settlers arrived in the area, the river teemed with fish and turkey and buffalo roamed the prairie.  It was a good location to begin their new lives in.  As settlements grew along the banks of the river, a need arose for an easier way to be able to cross the river.

Sometime around 1865, a ferry was built at Kimball Bend. It was similar to ferries that were built in ancient Egypt, with a barrier cable high above the stream.  The orientation of the wheel could be change to affect the speed and direction of travel. The ferry remained at Kimball until a bridge was built around 1910. 

Biffle's Ferry at Greenwade Crossing, about 1908
  Biffle's Ferry at Greenwade Crossing, about 1908

Soon afterwards, the ferry was floated downstream to Greenwade Crossing near where State Highway 22 now crosses the river.  Jess Biffle had operated a ferry at that location since 1884 -  ferrying people, wagons and buggies across the river.  The Greenwade Crossing ferry, pictured at the top of this page, remained in operation for another four years until the Hill-Bosque County Bridge was built. Everett Jones was the first person to cross that bridge, and thirty-six years later, he drove the first official vehicle over Whitney Dam, located 3 miles south of the bridge.

True Texas Tales of the People, Places, and Events of Hill County, Texas