Boone’s Ferry – A Brief History


Pioneers traveled the Oregon Trail from all over the country. We can only guess at what they hoped to find or achieve, but there must have been some sense of relief when they finally arrived.

The End of the Oregon Trail

The hardships endured by pioneers on the Oregon Trail has been well-documented, but even still, it is difficult for us today to imagine what it was really like. Yet thousands sought a new life in the Oregon Territory and arrived in Oregon City, only to move on and spread out in the local area, usually the following year. One such story was that of Alphonso Boone, who arrived in1846.

Experience and Drive

Adventure may have been in Alphonso’s genes. He was the grandson of famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone.

He was born in 1796 in Missouri and at age 24 was instrumental in building the first road in the county. Just two years later, he married a distant cousin, Nancy. She died in 1838 giving birth to their eleventh child (one of whom had not survived infancy).

The Adventurous Spirit

By 1840, Alphonso was getting restless. His brother Albert was already traveling to Indian outposts and had planted the seed. Alphonso started planning his trip in 1841 and set up a store selling supplies to travelers in Independence to raise the necessary capital. He made the long and arduous trip across the country, setting out with seven of his 10 surviving children and his sister and brother-in-law in 1846, bound for California.

Dissent on the Trail

Any student of human nature would not be surprised that tough conditions and strangers being forced to share their lot is a recipe for unrest and dissent. Boone’s bother-in-law, Lilburn Boggs, wanted to lead the party, but he was unanimously outvoted by William Russell. The party continued, but alliances formed and reformed as they moved west. Sometimes, it appeared they were not a single party at all.

A Near Thing

Six weeks into their journey, the group were approached by a lone horseman, who urged them to take a shorter route to California. After some discussion, the group split up and the party led by George Donner set off on its ill-fated and infamous journey. Just three weeks after this encounter, another lone rider approached, suggesting that Oregon was a better destination than California and Alphonso Boone decided to split from his sister and follow the Applegate Trail into Oregon.

A Bad Decision?

Travel on the Applegate Trail proved arduous. The weather turned inclement and the Piute tribes of Northern California and Southern Oregon were not friendly. While not openly attacking the travelers, they would take pot-shots at the oxen or make raids and steal food or household belongings whenever they could. As the weather deteriorated, the party was forced to cache many of their belongings to lighten the load. However, when they returned in the Spring to retrieve them they had all been stolen.

Settling on the Willamette

The family made their way to the Willamette Valley and settled on adjoining land claims, totaling 1000 acres abutting the river by Christmas 1846. It was in the Spring of 1847 that it was discovered their belongings had been stolen, and they had to start from scratch.

A Great Need

In the early years, before the establishment of the territorial government in 1849, the land was untamed and harsh. It was a time of rapid growth, yet the settlers used Indian mountain trails, boats or forged new trails. Before long, Alphonso used his experience and business acumen to operate a ferry, together with his son Jesse. This made life a lot easier for those following the old Indian trail from French Prairie to the new town of Portland as they no longer had to go via Oregon City. The ferry operated 24 hours a day, whenever anyone wanted it. Many of the night travelers were moonshiners who operated under the cover of darkness. Gradually a new town sprang up on the north shore of the Willamette and was known as Boone’s Landing.

Gold Rush!

In 1849, word reached the new town that gold had been found in California. Ever the adventurers, Alphonso and his sons headed south again, leaving George Luther Boone, the youngest of the clan, to operate the ferry. Alphonso became ill from some unidentified disease and died of a high fever in the gold fields. The boys, however, made their fortunes and returned to Oregon to continue the family business.

Jesse Boone

Son Jesse is the most remembered of all the children. He bought out his brothers’ share in the ferry business and operated it until his death in 1873, when it passed out of the family and was operated by the Tauchmans. It continued to run until the Boone Bridge was built in 1957. Meanwhile, he cleared the Indian trail north to Portland and south to Salem and the trail became known as “Boone’s Ferry Road”, which is still in existence. The stretch of I-5 between Portland and Salem, completed in 1966, runs parallel to Boone’s Ferry Road.