MOUNTAIN RIVER MEN1
THE STORY OF MENOR'S FERRY
By FRANCES JUDGE
"This ain't W. D. Menor talking, this is H. H. Menor
talking, by God. Holy Saviour, yes!"
Both Bill and Holiday carried a mouthful of oaths
that spilled out whenever they spoke. They cursed their friends and
neighbors, they cursed each other, and they cursed themselves. But to
lighten this burden of words when women were around, Holiday would say,
before a sentence, in the middle of a sentence or at the end of one,
"Holy Savior, yes!" or "Holy Savior, no!"
Bill never bothered to lighten his profanity.
Yet, in spite of cursing, they were men of
Everyone in Jackson Hole knew Bill and Holiday Menor.
They were as much a part of the country as the Snake River or the Teton
Mountains. The type of men they were brought them here.
Then, as now, Jackson Hole had a marked collection of
people. They were unshackled and they had color. Strength was
intensified. Weakness was vivid. Bill and Holiday were plain spoken,
strong-dyed individualists. They belonged here.
The Menor brothers came originally from Ohio. They
were tall men. Bill, 11 years older than his brother, was thin and
long-boned. His nose and sharp eyes were like an old eagle's. Holiday's
long body sagged a little. He had a grizzled beard, long, shrewd nose,
and amused, gray eyes. He prospected in Montana before coming to Jackson
Hole. "My partner's name was Mean, but I was Menor," he would say. He
claimed to have made over one hundred and twenty thousand dollars in one
prospect. When asked what happened to the money, he always said, "Wine,
women and song." He talked of going off to Old Mexico, prospecting, but
he never went. There was too much living to be done on the banks of the
Bill Menor, coming to this valley in 1892, settled on
a homestead by squatter's right. He settled where the Snake River hauls
toward the great mountains. He was first to homestead on the west bank
of the Snake River, under the Tetons. He built a low, log house among
the cottonwoods on the shore of the river, collected a cow or two, and a
horse; a few chickens; plowed up sage and made a field; planted a
garden; built a blacksmith shop; and in time opened a small store where
he sold a few groceries, a lot of Bull Durham, overalls, tin pans, fish
hooks and odds and ends.
And he immediately constructed a ferry to ply the
unreliable Snake. Before settling in the valley, he spent 10 days with
John Shive and John Cherry "on the Buffalo." At that time he considered
establishing a ferry somewhere along the Buffalo, but after talking with
Cherry and Shive, he decided on the Snake River. And his decision was
wise and farsighted.
Many settlers cut timber on Bill's side of the river,
so the ferry was welcome. There were times when it was the only crossing
within a 40 mile stretch up and down the river. Once in awhile there was
no crossing at all, when the river was "in spate" and Bill refused to
risk the ferry. At such a time people were forced to go up one side of
the river to Moran, cross the toll bridge, and travel down the other
side80 miles to travel 8.
The ferry, a railed platform on pontoons, was carried
directly across the river by the current, guided by ropes attached to an
overhead cable. The cable was secured to a massive logcalled a
"dead man." The ferry was large enough to carry a 4-horse team, provided
the lead team was unhooked and led to the side of the wagon.
Menor's Ferry at about the turn of the Century. Where
the mad Snake rolls by, and the shadow of the great mountains moves over
sage, and building, and river. Photo by Al Austin.
Bill Menor charged 50 cents for a team, 25 cents for
a horse and rider. A foot passenger was carried free if a vehicle was
In those early days almost everyone who came to cross
the ferry around mealtime was invited to eat. If the river was too high
for safe crossing and the persons who wanted to cross were in no
particular hurry, Bill would keep them 2 or 3 days, bedding them and
feeding them generously until the waters subsided, and charging them
only the slim ferry fee. "When you see them rollers in the middle of the
river, I won't cross," he would say, apologizing in his grouchy way for
keeping people around.
Anyone who stayed with Bill had to be washed and
combed and ready to leap at the table at twelve-noon and six-sharp.
Early in the morning, as soon as the fire was built, he yelled at them,
saying, "Come on, get out of bed, Don't lay there until the flies blow
you!" Nothing angered him more than to have someone late for a meal,
unless it was to put a dish or a pan in the wrong place. Bill had a
place for everything and everything had to be in place. Once the Roy
VanVlecks spent the night with Bill. They washed the morning dishes
before ferrying over the river. Bill, leaning against the kitchen
doorcasing, criticized and cursed because the frying pans shouldn't go
here and the kettles shouldn't go there. Yet he did not offer to put
them on their proper nails or even show where they belonged.
That was Bill, and his neighbors understood. He was a
man boiled down to his primary colors.
Bill was generally accommodating, but if he were
particularly out of humor, and had a distaste for a person who came
along after six in the evening, he would refuse to ferry him over the
river or keep him for the night. He apparently got satisfaction out of
being downright mean to a few individuals.
When the Snake is high, it is ferocious. It boils,
seethes, growls, beats its breast, and carries with it everything it can
Once it got Bill.
A huge, uprooted tree swept against the ferry with
such force that the ropes broke and the boat was carried downstream,
taking Bill with it. After a quick trip, the ferry grounded on a
submerged sandbar. Neighbors gathered and conferred and hurried about,
trying to rescue Bill. He stood on the ferry violently cursing the
rescue crew and acting, in general, as though they alone were to blame
for the high water and his predicament.
Holiday Menor came to Jackson Hole about 1905. He
lived for a number of years with his brother, Bill. But the disposition
of each was cut on the bias, and the two disagreed over a neighbor. So
Holiday took up land on the east shore and built his houses directly
across from brother Bill, and let the river run between them. Like a
great many individualists, Bill and Holiday considered strong hate a
mark of character, so they did not speak to each other for 2 years.
Nevertheless, they were proud of each other, and the name of one always
cropped up in the conversation of the other, mixed well with curses. And
each watched across the river for the other, to make sure all was right
on the opposite shore.
One Christmas the brothers were invited to the Bar B
C Ranch for dinner. It was Holiday's birthday. Neither knew the other
was to be there. When each arrived he was given a strong drink of
whiskey to insure amiability. The 2 brothers shook hands over the
Christmas table. Ever after they were on speaking terms.
And sometimes they spoke too freely, shaking fists
and cursing each other over the river. There was much gusto in their
Though Bill read hardly more than the daily paper
that came to him, Holiday subscribed to a number of magazines. He read 7
long months of the year and "talked it out" the other 5. He argued
politically with everyone, whether they would argue or not. "Now, mind
you, I'm telling you, this ain't W. D. talking, this is H. H. Menor
talking, by God." And for emphasis he would bang things with a stick of
stove wood. Once he came down on the red hot stove with his bare fist
and for a short while political views were unimportant.
Gradually the land was taken up by a homesteader or
Government leaser, and the Menors were surrounded with neighbors. Then,
as now, persons living 10 or 15 miles away were considered close
neighbors. Everybody in the valley knew everybody else, or at least knew
stories about him. For Holiday to have a close neighbor other than Bill
was intriguing. Mrs. Evelyn Dornan, a Pennsylvania woman, homesteaded on
the east bank, and her buildings were only a quarter of a mile below
Holiday's. She called him the Patriarch of the Ford, and he called her
the Widow down the River.
To have Mrs. Dornan ask how he prepared some dish
filled him with pride. He enjoyed giving away his recipes. He would say,
"You take two handfuls of flour, that is, and a pinch of salt, that is
..." All his recipes were generously seasoned with "that is's". He was
an excellent cook and loved to have his friends eat with him.
But there was the rooster episode.
Bill had a beautiful barred Plymouth Rock rooster; a
huge single-combed domestic fowl with graceful feathers in its tail, and
pride in its walk. But Holiday's rooster had only two feathers in its
tail, its body was completely bare, and it had no pride.
It was a sad sight.
The Widow down the River laughed every time she
looked at Holiday's rooster and wanted to take a picture of it. But
Holiday said, "No."
"Holy Savior, no! I don't want that rooster shown as
an example of what is raised on my ranch."
Fearing Mrs. Dornan would take a picture of the fowl,
he killed it, cooked it, and invited her to eat it with him. He never
once thought that the bird might have been defeathered by disease. Mrs.
Dornan ate rooster and pretended to enjoy it. She was an understanding
Both Bill and Holiday raised excellent gardens. To be
fairly safe against frost they never planted until the snow melted up to
a certain level in the Tetons. They raised many vegetables. Their
cauliflowers were as big as footstools. They raised currents and
raspberries galore, and made jelly and jam. And they raised flowers.
Holiday always had pansies on the north side of his buildings. He called
them tansies. He and Bill always gave freely of their vegetables,
berries, and flowers.
During the wild berry season, Bill would charge
"huckleberry rates" to the local peoplefare one way onlywhen
the berries were ripe along the ridges and around the lakes under the
Holiday would can between 50 and 60 quarts of
huckleberries during a season. And since he drank periodically he made
wine. At any rate that is what he called it. He would make it of
berries, raisins, prunes, beets, plus whatever else was handyand
never wait for the mixture to mature.
It would knock his hat off.
At five one summer morning, neighbors stopped at
Holiday's returning from a dance. They were cold. They needed a
stimulant, but Holiday had no wine. He had drunk it all. So they drank a
cocktail made of gin and huckleberry juicehalf and half. After
finishing their drinks, 2 young men in the party decided to go shoot a
rabbit for breakfast. They did.
"We shot it right in the eye," one said, holding up
what was left of the rabbit.
The hind parts were shot away, slick as a
That is what gin and wild huckleberry juice did to a
rabbit. Holy Savior, yes! What might Holiday's wine have done to it?
Holiday enjoyed the summer visitors in Jackson Hole.
Bill probably enjoyed them also, but they could not lift him from his
natural state of grouchiness. Once, after looking over the miles of sage
that covered the levels of land that rise from the river to the
mountains, an Eastern lady said to Bill, "Mr. Menor, what do you raise
in this country?"
Bill, a dyed-in-the-wool bachelor, looked at her and
said, "Hell and kids and plenty of both."
He enjoyed startling people.
And he apparently knew what the "outsider" thought of
a Jackson Holer. In 1915 he made a trip to the World's Fair with his
neighbors, Jim and Mary Budge. When they had boarded a San
Francisco-bound train, after a strenuous trek out of Jackson Hole, both
Jim and Bill felt in need of a long drink of whiskey. Entering the
smoker with their concealed bottle, they found one other man there. They
did not like his looks and they felt no need of him. Bill walked up and
looked down at him with his eagle stare. "Do you know where we're from?"
The man made a quick escape.
Though Holiday was more jovial than Brother Bill, his
neighbors steered clear of him when he was in the process of making
lime. He made and sold lime to neighboring ranchers. Some of them, like
Bill, whitewashed their houses inside and out with it. Holiday chinked
his houses with it. He also used it as a cure-all for man and beast.
When he made lime he had to keep a steady fire going for thirty-odd
hours in the kiln just behind the house in the bank. During these hours
he was not fit company for man or beast. But his neighbors accepted his
limy disposition as a necessary part of the process. Holy Savior, yes.
What of it?
When late fall brought bitter winds, heavy fogs, and
snow, the ferry was beached for the winter. From then on all teams had
to ford the river. A little platform was hung from the river cable to
accommodate foot passengers. It would hold 3 or 4 at one time. The
passengers mounted the platform from a ladder and sat down. Bill
released the car; with a quick swoosh it ran down the slack in the cable
where it dipped within 10 feet of the river. Then the frightened
passengers would laboriously haul themselves up the relaxed cable to the
In later years, when travel became heavier, a winter
bridge was flung across the main channel. Putting in the winter bridge
was the responsibility of everyone, friend and enemy alike. When the
time was ripe, word was sent to nearby ranchers. On this day of days all
cars and wagons were stopped and the occupants asked to help with the
construction. If they protested, Holiday would say, "Do you want to use
the winter bridge? Well, then help put it in!"
Giving a hot meal to the crew that laid the winter
bridge became traditional with Mrs. Dornan. While they carried logs and
hammered, she baked and fried and boiled.
To find a crew to lay the winter bridge was never
very difficult, but to find a few who were willing to help remove it in
the spring was a very different matter. The ferry was running full
blast. No one needed the bridge. No one was enthusiastic. This was
spring; time to plant and build and plan. No time to tear down. To get
men to the river for this seemingly useless task was worse than trying
to get a fresh cow on the ferry without her calf.
So it came to pass that one spring there was only
Holiday and one other man to move the bridge pole by pole, nail by nail,
oath by oath. As a result any log that looked too heavy for 2 men to
lift was rolled into the river. "To hell with it " Holiday would say,
and dust off his hands. "Holy Savior, yes!"
In 1918, Bill sold his ranch and the ferry. The new
owners raised the prices. Soon after the ferry changed hands, a Jackson
Holer came along on foot. Finding the fare doubled he leaped, fully
dressed and full of anger into the Snake River and swam across. The
pilot stood on the ferry, cursing the swimmer and yelling that he hoped
he would drown.
Bill sold because he had enough of high water and low
water. He had enough of fog, rain, wind, snow, and sunshine on the
Yet he could not drag himself away. He hung around
his house and at twelve noon, and six-sharp he would pace what was no
longer his floor and swear because the meal was not ready. Mrs. Dornan,
who was then boarding at the Menor place, would get him to the door and
say, "Go on out, Bill. The meal will be good when you get it." But this
was no longer home. At last he dragged himself away from the ranch, away
from the valley. He moved to California.
In 1925 the Gros Ventre slide occurred which brought
tourists flocking to Jackson Hole. The great rump of Sheep Mountain had
dropped away, damming the Gros Ventre River and forming a lake 4 miles
long. This landslide occurred directly across the valley from Menor's
Ferry and brought the owners a landslide of business. But Bill had sold
and left the country.
By 1927 a huge bridge spanned the Snake not far from
the Menor houses, so the ferry was beached and in time dismantled. But
before the bridge was completed, Holiday had sold his land and followed
his brother to California.
Now they were old men.
Just before leaving the valley, Holiday bought a new
suit and a new hat. He stayed a few days in Jackson at the Crabtree
Hotel. One night, while he was in town, the ladies of some organization
were having a dinner in the Club Housethe upper floor of a huge
frame building. An outside stairway led up to the hall. Holiday happened
along just as a woman stepped out on the stairway with a pan full of
dishwater. She threw the water all over him. Holiday walked on to the
hotel, wet and violently angry. After a string of oaths that would reach
from one end of the Snake River to the other and all its tributaries, he
said to Mrs. Crabtree, "A man gets dressed up once in 17 years and a
woman has to climb up above him and throw dishwater all over him. Why
couldn't it have been a minute earlier or a minute later? Hell!" And he
stomped off to his room.
Shortly before Bill's death, Mrs. Dornan found the
two brothers in San Diego, in a little hospital on Juniper Street. Bill
was bedridden, but his mind was keen. He cursed the bed in which he lay,
and talked of Jackson Hole. A sympathetic nurse had pinned on the wall
at the foot of his bed a crude oil painting of the Teton Mountains.
Holiday was able to be up and about, but his mind had
begun to fade. Mrs. Dornan took him mahogany "tansies" like those he
once grew. Knowing he would never see her again, he gave her a
handkerchief with his initials in one corner. H.H.M.
She knew that never again would she hear him say,
"Now mind you, I'm telling you. This ain't W. D. Menor talking, this is
H. H. Menor talking, by God!"
The brothers died within a year of each other.
But living or dead they belonged to Jackson Hole.
They were vivid, strong grained men.
Holiday's buildings are gone. But Bill's low,
whitewashed house still stands.
And the mad Snake rolls by, and the shadow of the
great mountains moves over sage, and building, and river.
1 Reprinted from the Empire
Magazine of The Denver Post and from the Jackson's Hole
Courier with the permission of the editors and the author.