Bellemont Landing History
Before the mid-1950s, the Missouri River made a bend to the west at St. Joseph and to the bluffs on the west side of the river. A good landing site was at the western end of the bend. The ferries that operated there had different names at different times. The last used name was Bellemont – beginning in 1858 into the early 1900s. During the latter years, the Bellemont Kansas Steam Ferry Company ran a ferry from Bellemont to Frenchville (refers to French Bottoms, a settlement in the flood plains in Buchanan County, Missouri.) Although, some early maps show the Bellemont ferry as also running from the wharf at St. Joseph upriver for four miles to the town of Bellemont. The town no longer exists, but at one time it was the temporary county seat of Doniphan County.
However, the first known ferry at that location was operated by Evan Parrott. The March 1846 St. Joseph Gazette said it was the shortest road to Wolf River and the Iowa Sub-Agency. He also advertised a “good lot for the safe keeping of animals immediately at the landing.”
The next was Duncan’s Ferry which was in operation for the major emigration years of 1849, 50 and 51. John Duncan and Aaron and William Lewis were the operators. Flatboats, which were unwieldy, carried the emigrants across the Missouri River. Gustavus Pearson used the flatboat in 1849: “On the first of May our wagons were ferried over the Missouri River at what was called the Upper Ferry, five miles above St. Joseph. The motive power of the scow-shaped flat bottomed boat was the strong current of the river. A large hawser was fastened to a tree on the bank some distance up stream from the point of crossing, and was attached by a smaller rope to both ends of the boat. . . Five dollars per wagon was paid for ferrying four wagons a trip, and the cattle swam across.”
By 1853, James Whitehead had a ferry on the bend of the river above St. Joseph. The July 1853 St. Joseph Commercial Cycle carried the following advertisement:
TO CALIFORNIA AND OREGON EMIGRANTS
Good Crossing near St. Joseph
‘Whitehead’s Ferry, 4 ½ miles above St. Joseph, on the Missouri River, is on the nearest and best route from St. Joseph Fort Kearney and all other places on the northern route to California and Oregon, beyond these points.
‘The undersigned has two good Boats in good order and can cross from 5 to 700 head of Cattle per day. He also has good and sufficient lots on each side of the River for the accommodation of the Emigrants with large herds of stock, which will be provided gratis to those favoring him with their patronage.
‘In conclusion I will say that you ay rely upon being crossed at my Ferry with safety and dispatch. Mistake not the place.
‘James R. Whitehead
‘My Ferry is within one-half mile of the Prairie on the other side of the River and no brush intervening. Opportunity of losing cattle very poor.’
Whitehead had been a Indian trader and when settlement of the territory began in 1855 a town sprang up near the ferry named for Whitehead. He was also given a license to exclusively operate a license for one mile above and one mile below the settlement of Whitehead. By 1858, the name of the town was platted and the name was changed to Bellemont.