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The Wanderer, a Ferry on Lake Texoma

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

Two story ferry boat on Lake Texoma.
The Wanderer above the Denison Dam of Lake Texoma (The Sherman Museum).

The construction of Denison Dam in the late 1940s restricted many communities from accessing each other between Texas and Oklahoma. And because bridge building was not yet on the radar, some enterprising people compensated by bringing old options to the modern era like the Wanderer, a Lake Texoma ferry.

This photograph is of the "Wanderer," which the Wilburn brothers (an investment group consisting of Henry, Glenn, and Frank) of Denison (Grayson County, Texas) introduced to Lake Texoma in the summer of 1948. They bought the paddle-wheel boat in Greenville, Mississippi, and in 41 days chugged it up the Red River to shuttle passengers around the lake.

However, a day before official service launched, the "Wanderer" exploded, burned, and sank at the appropriately named "Burns Run Beach" in February of 1949. Sabotage? Tragedy? Insurance claims were denied, with the company claiming "maritime law" and lower courts agreeing. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that, citing that the boat's demise should be compensated under Texas law.

Y'all, is there a shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Texoma?

This was not the only public-access boats on the lake. The Idle-Time was another excursion boat, and a ferry opened in 1953 between "Flowing Wells Resort, seven miles west of Pottsboro, to a point south of Big Joe's Camp near Gordonville." Another ferry, funded by an oilman, was proposed to open in 1953. It was a barge with room for cars and trucks to shuttle people between Gordonville (Grayson County, Texas) and Willis (Murray County, Oklahoma). I don't know if this ferry ever actually launched. The Willis Ferry bridge started construction within the decade.

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