Monday, January 4, 2021

Lees Ferry, Arizona

By Kristy McCaffrey

Lees Ferry is located on the Colorado River near the Utah-Arizona border. As the only place for hundreds of miles that allows access on both sides of the river, the location was used as a ferry site beginning in the mid-19th century. The original operator was John Doyle Lee, a Mormon for whom the site is named.

Lees Ferry Fort

Lees Ferry is located at the confluence of the Paria River and the Colorado, just downstream from Glen Canyon and above Marble Canyon. Boat trips into the Grand Canyon launch from here.

Lees Ferry

John Doyle Lee—who was escaping the law after taking part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre—brought two of his wives and several children and created a small settlement called Lonely Dell in 1870. By 1873 he had formally established the ferry. In 1877, Lee was arrested for his participation in the massacre, found guilty, and was executed by firing squad that same year.

John Doyle Lee

After Lee’s death, his wife Emma operated the ferry for two years until the LDS Church (Church of Latter-Day Saints) transferred operation to Warren Marshall Johnson and his family.

In 1929, the ferry ceased operation when the Navajo Bridge was constructed.

My historical western romance, THE SPARROW, opens with a scene set at Lees Ferry.

In 1877, Emma Hart comes to Grand Canyon—a wild, rugged, and, until recently, undiscovered area. Plagued by visions and gifted with a second sight, she searches for answers about the tragedy of her past, the betrayal of her present, and an elusive future that echoes through her very soul. Joined by her power animal Sparrow, she ventures into the depths of Hopi folklore, forced to confront an evil that has lived through the ages.

Texas Ranger Nathan Blackmore tracks Emma Hart to the Colorado River, stunned by her determination to ride a wooden dory along its course. But in a place where the ripples of time run deep, he’ll be faced with a choice. He must accept the unseen realm, the world beside this world, that he turned away from years ago, or risk losing the woman he has come to love more than life itself.

2012 Winter Rose Winner ~ Excellence in Romantic Fiction, Historical Division

Excerpt from The Sparrow

Arizona Territory
Lees Ferry Fort
August 23rd, 1877 

Women lied so easily.

Permelia and Samantha Johnson, wives of the ferry operator Warren Johnson, handed the photograph back to Nathan Blackmore and shook their heads, denying knowledge of the whereabouts of Emma Hart, the young woman pictured.

He knew they deceived him. Summoning patience, he tried to think of a different tactic to use on the Mormon women. He was tired, grimy, and he’d come a hell of a long way, accompanied finally to this remote location by a Navajo guide. He’d exchanged one sweltering hellhole for another—Texas wasn’t much different than this God-forsaken country, except here there was water.

Exalted water.

The Colorado River.

Glimpsing it on the trek in, a dark blue ribbon in the distance, he felt a strong, soul-deep pull within to stand beside it, to feel the power of it. He silently vowed to see it before leaving—a part of him would always be a river man. And if he was lucky, he’d also have Miss Hart with him.

Perhaps prayers would turn the pious women to his side.

But Nathan had never been that lucky, nor was he of the religious sort. His ma had soured him on that front.

He decided intimidation wouldn’t work with the two females either, despite the undisguised fear in their eyes. Was he really that menacing? He hadn’t shaved in several days, he was taller than most men, and a glance back at his horse—a magnificent piece of midnight-colored stallion—confirmed that together they must appear threatening.

Well, shit, I don’t have time for this. Black needed rest and so did Nathan. His buddy Matt was gonna owe him big time.

The commotion of youngsters inside the small cabin told him he’d probably not get any more information out of the ladies. He didn’t need to scare children and turn Mister Johnson on him, wherever Mister Johnson might be. Nathan didn’t attack innocents.

Innocents. What if the Johnson’s were hiding the location of Emma Hart because of a darker motive? They were Mormon—purveyors of faith, family, and multiple wives—but that didn’t put them above criminal activity. And a well-placed lead three days ago had led Nathan here, to the only crossing of the Colorado River in these parts. The Mormons used this route regularly to traverse between Utah and Arizona Territory using a flat bottom barge. Apparently, Miss Hart had been headed this way. 

A gunshot cracked in the distance.

The two Misses Johnsons jumped and stared wide-eyed at him.


Where women lied, trouble followed.

 The Sparrow is Book 3 in the Wings of the West series, but it can be read as a standalone.

Learn more at Kristy's website.

The first three books in the series are now available in German!

 Learn more here.



Julie Lence said...

Happy New Year, Kristy! Interesting tidbit of history and happy you were able to use it in your book. Hugs!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Happy New Year to you too, Julie!! Looking forward to 2021. :-)

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Happy New Year! I love how you incorporated that piece of history into your story. So intriguing...I wonder what the gunshot was that had the Johnson women jumping? I loved the images in your post being limited to armchair travel at the moment. Best wishes to all for 2021!

Andrea Downing said...

Happy New Year Kristy. Thanks for a post with some great history. I can't say I feel a lot of sympathy for Lee--the Mountain Meadows Massacre was a horrific part of LDS history, but I love seeing the photos of the ferry site. Thanks!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Hi Patti -- Thanks!! Armchair travel is all we have at the moment. Happy New Year!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Dear Andrea,
Definitely no love for Lee. It was a terrible massacre. But the site of the ferry is really quite pretty. The homestead is still there. Thanks for stopping by and happy new year!!

Shanna Hatfield said...

Love the history you share, Kristy! Happy New Year!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Thank you, Shanna! Happy New Year to you as well!!