Ranger’s Landing Ferry, which was the furthest ferry downstream on Green River in McLean County, was located on Hwy 136, 15 miles southeast of Henderson, and 14 miles northwest of Calhoun. In the 1790s, what would later be known as Ranger’s Landing served as a point of escape for outlaws of that time period. Most notorious of these Green River pirates were the Harpe brothers, known as Big Harpe and Little Harpe — natives of North Carolina, who were said to have murdered somewhere between 30 and 50 people. Because of their notoriety, the landing was once known as Harpe’s Crossing.
The first mention of Ranger’s Landing I found in a newspaper, from a May 23, 1893, article: “The body of a white man was found in Green River opposite Ranger’s Landing. It could not be identified, as there is no one missing in the neighborhood.” The next day’s paper stated that “reports concerning the body found in Green River leave no question but that a foul murder has been committed.” Found by some parties out fishing, the body had been in the water for some time. The man had been robbed and brutally murdered. “The citizens of the locality are very much wrought up over the mysterious murder. No one is known to be missing and the man was evidently a stranger.”
From an article dated May 26, 1893: “A story comes from McLean County which, if true, probably accounts for the mystery surrounding the body found in Green River, near Ranger’s Landing. Parties living near Ashbury claim to have seen two men on a raft, about two weeks ago, engaged in a fierce fight. One of the men, they say, was knocked down. The other stood over the body, which apparently was lifeless, for a few minutes and then coolly walked to the edge of the raft and washed his hands. About the same time, it is alleged, a raftsman stopped at Wrightsville and sent to the drug store for a piece of court-plaster, saying he had been cut on the head with an auger. These facts taken together indicate that a murder was committed and that the body found was one of the fighters on the raft.” A follow-up to that was found in the Beech Grove News of June 12, 1893: “The report that Mr. Booker Robertson, of Spottsville, was the man that was found in the river at Ranger’s Landing is a mistake, as Mr. Robertson showed up at his home.” No further mention of the murder was found.
Per Mrs. Louise Daily, in a 1957 article, “About 1895, Jim Bottoms acquired a franchise to become owner of a ferry across the Green River at Harpe’s Crossing. Until 1932 the ferry was operated by oars or wires which stretched from bank to bank between McKinley in McLean County and the Henderson County side.”
“On the bank opposite McKinley, a thriving town grew up under the promotion of Morris Ranger for whom the ferry was later named. A native of New York state, Ranger took advantage of high prices during the Civil War and built a large tobacco factory on this fertile spot near a transportation outlet. For several years he carried on a thriving business and became tobacco king of the territory. After the war the price of tobacco decreased, and Ranger abandoned his role as king, sold his factory and withdrew. Since then, the “Ferry with a Past” has passed from hand to hand, and is presently (in 1957) owned by James Eschie of Henderson, KY.”
In January 1942, McLean Countians Alvin and Euleen Rector Rickard crossed Ranger’s Landing Ferry with a truckload of scrap iron, which would be used for the war effort. They were headed to Evansville, Indiana, to unload it there. We have photos at the museum of the Rickards, making the crossing on the snow-covered ferry.
From 1952: “The new power ferry boat belonging to Ranger’s Landing Ferry was about to be completed by Mr. E.S. Kirtley.” In May 1965 there was an auction of the Rangers Landing Ferry to dissolve a partnership of the owners (Leo King, James Eschie, O.P. Dyer, Sam McElroy and Jim McElroy). The auction, a “one sale affair” consisted of the franchise, the ferry equipment and real estate — three acres and the residence situated thereon.
Known tragedies at Ranger’s Landing, in addition to the one already mentioned above: In 1902, Mr. John Cornis’ horse, attached to a buggy, ran into the river at Ranger’s Landing and was drowned. In 1912, a 16-year-old who resided near Beech Grove drowned at Ranger’s Landing. He was with some friends and was seine fishing in a small stream when he inadvertently stepped into deep water, and sank from view. In 1933 a 25-year-old man, who was swimming alone, cramped up before someone could pull him safely out. Two months later, a Calhoun family of three escaped through the car window, after the driver lost control and drove into the river. They were assisted out by the ferryman, Mr. Meade. In 1941, two Owensboro men fishing in the Green, by Calhoun, drowned and the current took one victim to Ranger’s Landing. The other victim was found shortly afterward at Delaware. In 1942, an Oregon man visiting Bremen drowned after driving into the river at the Ranger’s Landing Ferry near Niagara. That same year, the body of a woman who drowned at Eastwood Ferry surfaced at Ranger’s Landing Ferry—five miles downstream. In 1953, five occupants of a car plunged into the river when the driver mistook the ferry for a bridge in the early morning haze. Two of the occupants, a woman and her nephew, drowned.
With all the tragedies that occurred there, Ranger’s Landing was also the site of many happy get-togethers. There were family reunions, parties and also homecomings held there, starting as far back in the paper as the 1890s.
O.B. Kirtley was the last owner-operator of the Ranger’s Landing Ferry, which was the last remaining river ferry in Henderson County. A Sept. 24, 1970, article said the following: “Kirtley operates his boat across a 350 foot wide segment of the Green about four or four-and-one-half miles south of the new Sebree Bridge on the Pennyrile Parkway, a bridge which charged 75 cents a car toll until last week. The state at that time announced a reduction in the toll to 30 cents, a reduction made necessary by public indifference to using the span. The reduction slashed into Kirtley’s boat business. He said the 80-foot barge, powered by a reclaimed International Harvester farm tractor engine in a boat snugged to the barge, lost business immediately, with number of fares falling from about 75 cars and trucks daily to perhaps 20 a day now.”
Kirtley said the state claimed publicly that it would not lower the bridge toll until after the bonds that built it were paid off. The bridge had opened earlier in 1970. Kirtley was also upset that his ferry operation was the only one knocked out of business that the state did not try to buy. The Ranger’s Landing Ferry ceased operation on Sept. 25, 1970.
Next week, I’ll cover Eastwood Ferry.
Our next quarterly program at the museum is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 20, at 6 p.m. Our speaker will be Sue Berry, and her topic is “Finding Skeletons in Your Closet.” The Museum and Treasure House are open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — the Museum from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the Treasure House from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We’re located at 540 Main St., Calhoun, and our number is 270-499-5033.
I wish everyone a safe week!