On the north bank of the Rio Grande River at the U.S.-Mexico border, just outside the tiny village of Los Ebanos and past the ghostly abandoned buildings that once populated the area, stands a giant Texas Ebony that anchors the last hand-drawn ferry in the United States.
Long before the hand-drawn ferry was licensed by Hidalgo County in 1852, this river crossing was an important ford used by early Spanish colonists, Indigenous Peoples, smugglers, Texas Rangers, American troops, and even a U.S. President.
Originally known as Las Cuevas Crossing due to the many caves that dot the nearby hills, Spanish colonists once used this ford to reach La Sal del Rey, in present-day Edinburg, where they filled their wooden carts with salt rock and returned to Mexico. In 1846, General Zachary Taylor's army marched up from Fort Brown to this crossing point to begin their invasion into Mexico. Later that century, it was the site of several violent skirmishes between Rangers and Mexican cattle smugglers. Then, during Prohibition, the name was informally changed to Smuggler's Crossing due to its frequent use by tequiladores who snuck bootleg liquor across the river.
Finally, in 1950, a U.S. Inspection Station was built at the ancient ford and a hand-drawn automobile ferry was established. Still in operation just outside of Los Ebanos, the ferry can fit three cars and requires 4-5 people to hand-pull the ferry across the river using the rope that's hitched to the legendary ebony tree.